STEM vs. humanities: a conversational guide

Picture this: you’re sitting in the Blue Room munching on a French toast muffin alone and someone asks to join your booth. You of course say yes, and in an effort to make sharing a table a little less awkward with a complete stranger, you look to the notes they are pulling out to make small talk about their classes. But alas! It’s all chemistry and calculus, and all you know is humanities. Disillusioned, you are forced to return to the uncomfortable silence and weird looks when you accidentally play footsie with your STEM stranger.

We all know and love and stress about Brown’s open curriculum, which gives us the freedom to take (or not take) whatever classes we choose. But the ability to focus on either STEM or humanities creates a gap in understanding our friends on the dark side (the dark side being up to interpretation).  Those awkward pauses in conversation when you have no idea how to comment on some class a friend is complaining about, or straight up don’t know what they are talking, are avoidable. We want to help you navigate those conversations with confidence, so study up.

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CS 15: First of all, I had no idea what CS stood for, and in the interest of saving others from the embarrassment of having to ask, it’s computer science. CS 15 in particular is essentially Intro to Computer Science, and the bane of existence for those students, so be sure to express extreme sympathy for people complaining about it.

Fishbowl: Where dreams go to die. It’s where are aforementioned CS students go to get help during TA hours, but are usually never heard from again. If your friend says they’re going there, send regular text updates assuring them they will some day see the real sun again.

Labs: It’s not your high school lab where things changed color and that was it. Chemistry labs in particular take up entire afternoons, and the pre-lab and lab reports that go with it, so don’t expect to see friends in lab much.

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Science Beyond the SciLi: Representation in Science

Though this is Science Beyond the SciLi, the issue of representation permeates the walls of the SciLi, the greater Brown campus and the rest of the scientific world. Read on to learn about some students’ perspectives on representation within the scientific community, from the SciLi basement to the Nobel Committee.


Last weekend, the Brown Political Forum held a community forum to discuss “Representation in Science,” in collaboration with the Neuroscience DUG. A panel of five students, the “conversation starters,” reflected on their experiences in different fields of science at Brown and beyond through the perspective of their identities. The attendees also had the chance to break into small groups to discuss these issues and share personal experiences.

While minority groups, including women, racial minorities and members of the LGBT community, are underrepresented and disadvantaged in many fields, the statistics in science are particularly grim. Hispanics make up 7 percent of the STEM workforce, and blacks make up 6 percent. Women hold a quarter of STEM jobs, and in many fields this number is actually declining. I could go on and on listing the cold hard facts, but students’ personal stories are just as telling.

At the forum, the student panelists recalled experiences of professors and peers making judgments based solely on their identity.

Katie Byron was intending to declare computational biology as one of her concentrations, and she went to the concentration fair to discuss this with a faculty member. He responded, “Are you sure you’re up for taking all those math classes? Have you thought about just doing pure bio?” While the professor may have thought little of this afterwards, these kinds of comments are internalized and can bend the trajectories of students pursuing science.

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