C/O Tony Sebastian, Unsplash

While we may perceive ourselves as worlds away, we’re much closer than we think

Let’s set this story during Welcome Week of 2019. Surrounded by other 2023s, I ventured into the thick swarm of students on the field outside Burke Science Building. Before I could take a breath, I was asked a question that all of us had heard countless times during that week.

“What program are you in? Like, are you a science kid or an English kid?” 

I’d answer with “science kid” and move on with my life. No big deal, right? Well, not exactly. As I went through two more years of university, I discovered there was a greater divide in the sciences and humanities than I had first realized. Science kids were the kind that would rather solve complex chemistry problems than go near an essay. Humanities kids could write 20-page essays but god forbid they took a physics class.

As far from the truth as these generalizations may be, they do exist and they do persist. The general public’s perception of students who pursue science and students who pursue the humanities are closer to these reductive statements than we may think. 

This issue has been discussed at length, not only by students like us, but also by renowned professors across the world. In 2018, the University of King’s College in Halifax held a roundtable discussion on this exact topic. These scholars, particularly Evelyn Fox Keller, talked about the territorial criticism they felt as an expert in history, physics and biology. The roundtable came to the conclusion that the sciences and humanities are often presented with the same problems, such as climate change, but rarely work together to solve them.

Not only does this divide affect worldly problems, but it also affects us all on a smaller scale of interests and extracurricular activities. Why are only science students expected to take on research positions? This rush to get involved in research activities is a constant discussion in the echo chamber of undergraduate science students, often with no mention of research efforts in the social sciences and humanities.

With such a binary in expected extracurriculars, this frame of thinking has also found its way into job interviews. Mahnoor Malik, a third-year health sciences student, reflected on her experience of this phenomenon. 

With such a binary in expected extracurriculars, this frame of thinking has also found its way into job interviews.

“I was in an interview, hoping to get a position writing for this website I’m really fond of. The interview was going great, but they did comment on how my writing experience was largely scientific. I understand where they were coming from, but it was also shocking to see how my scientific writing experience wasn’t valued as much as other writing experiences were,” explained Malik. 

This experience isn’t unique to one individual. The separation between these two fields has led to a lack of understanding of each other from both sides. By allowing this distance to exist, we inevitably divide ourselves into different social and professional groups. 

By allowing this distance to exist, we inevitably divide ourselves into different social and professional groups. 

We allow these preconceived notions to affect our judgement of each other. From a STEM perspective especially, we’re all somewhat guilty of assuming that non-STEM programs have fewer career opportunities. However, graduates of social sciences programs not only have similar employment rates to STEM graduates, but are also valued by employers for their critical thinking,  emotional intelligence and ethical reasoning. 

On a personal level, I have had a passion for writing for as long as I can remember. However, I assumed that once I chose my path of health sciences, writing could be nothing more than a hobby. My label was now to be science and science alone. 

Imagine my surprise when I joined the Silhouette and found just as many science kids as humanities kids as arts kids on our staff. In a short couple of months, this team has opened my eyes to the fact that these insurmountable obstacles that we created are largely imaginative. 

As students, we need to take it upon ourselves to throw this arbitrary barrier to the wind. By doing so, we gain the chance to learn more about ourselves, each other, and the plethora of opportunities available to not just X or Y students, but to all of us. 

There are benefits of taking humanities courses for students in any program

C/O Madeline Neumann

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

McMaster University’s integrated business and humanities program is a complete game-changer for commerce education in Canada. Combining practical business elements with ethics and other humanity-based courses teaches students to learn the value of making a sustainable and effective difference as opposed to focusing on the bottom line.

However, it is not just business programs that could benefit from integration with the humanities. While the argument has been made for mandatory ethics courses, I believe that every program should contain at least a few humanities courses for a variety of purposes.

For one, the humanities help us think and reflect, as opposed to simply memorizing. In most science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, answers, concepts and theories can be memorized. Most are logical, require technical skills and have definite “yes” or “no” answers. 

The humanities, on the other hand, are at the other end of that continuum. When we consider major topics like philosophy, linguistics and ethics, there often is no “correct” answer for significant research questions.

We must think about our positionality in society, our previous biases and our own opinions to formulate our answers. This is invaluable in fostering the next generation of critical thinkers.

The IBH program specifically mixes core business courses like leadership, accounting and marketing, with humanities courses like ethics, linguistics and community outreach. Through this, we know that we have to consider and be tolerant of all perspectives on business-resulted issues.

We also have more awareness about what problems affecting our society may look like and how they are affected by language, ethics and the world as a whole. When we lack this mindset, we are limited to our own personal perspective and that of the traditional business focus: profit.

Rather, the IBH program is creating a future where business leaders consider the people and planet of the business world first and then the profit.

Rather, the IBH program is creating a future where business leaders consider the people and planet of the business world first and then the profit.

Sciences and technology programs could also benefit from the abstract nature of the humanities. Besides being able to think more critically considering the logical nature of most scientific concepts, the humanities can foster curiosity, creativity and empathy. We can then discover new or covert problems that need to be solved through new engineering methods or pharmaceutical research. 

The creativity that comes from looking beyond the answer, questioning why and how it has come to be, alongside the understanding and tolerance for everyone else’s opinions and how they can congregate can construct a more enriching STEM community.

Moreover, enrollment in liberal arts programs is steadily dropping, suggesting that many people are not considering the humanities as much when choosing their educational programs. If students are to experience these different subjects, they could find that they truly enjoy them and want to pursue something different than traditional science and medical-related degrees.

Even if they do choose to stay in their current program, any participation in any humanities courses has been proven to foster critical, clear and creative thinking: an asset for a workforce in any industry or sector. 

Even if they do choose to stay in their current program, any participation in any humanities courses has been proven to foster critical, clear and creative thinking: an asset for a workforce in any industry or sector.

Overall, we need to move away from the narrative that arts and humanities-related degrees are just not as profitable or worthy as STEM-related degrees. Our brain is one of our most powerful and complex assets; the humanities stretch and challenge it in a way that is incomparable to other programs.

 When considering the next steps in your educational journey, consider expanding your course or program selection to include the extensive humanities offerings. A linguistics, ethics or gender studies course might just completely change the way you think and how you live your life for the better.

How students are becoming disillusioned with their science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses

With dreaded multiple choice midterms only days away, the genuine love for their science, technology, engineering and mathematics subject of choice is likely the last thing on the minds of students at McMaster University.

Canadian and American STEM students are dropping out of their degrees at an alarming rate, all because post-secondary institutions have changed scientific education to conform to what is comfortable.

No longer is scientific study oriented towards an exploratory field that is accessible to those who have a genuine interest in the content and put in the effort. Rather, it has become a numbers game with pieces consisting of a brutal grading scheme. “Weeding” courses, the dreaded mandatories or a synonym for hell. Whatever you call your introductory science and math courses, many students have at least once viewed themselves as “bad” in these subjects.

Whether one is a STEM student, former STEM student, or a shocked observer who would not touch an equation with a 10-foot pole — almost everybody in academia is wearily aware of the difficult reputation of university STEM courses.

As a culture, we are so used to perceiving science and math as a linear process where one is good at it only if they get the right answer, that we have forgotten why we developed a passion to explore these fields in the first place.

As a culture, we are so used to perceiving science and math as a linear process where one is good at it only if they get the right answer, that we have forgotten why we developed a passion to explore these fields in the first place.

It is understandable that university STEM education is intended to ensure that students attain a certain standard of proficiency in the technical aspects of their scientific subjects before they graduate to more abstract classes.

However, I feel that in attempting to use this method to get the highest achieving students in higher-level STEM courses, the current system eliminates the majority of their potential contributions, by the sheer force of academic discouragement.

Is it truly necessary for universities to do this to students? If the ultimate goal of putting students through such rigorous courses is to select the “best of the best” students in one particular course, why is it that we root for a smaller group of students to succeed instead of working to ensure everybody is performing to their full potential?

As a student who looked forward to every single reasonably difficult high school chemistry and calculus class, I was shocked at the nature of university-style scientific learning.

I found that one of the greatest faults with this type of instruction is that simple scientific concepts are taught in an overly complicated manner. This is most apparent with many of the mandatory first-year courses.

I strongly believe that it is not just a student’s fault when they are hit with the stark reality of their introductory classes and drop STEM in its entirety, when in fact the whole system is set up for students to fail. The system is built not to favour scientific advances per se, but to sustain this frankly toxic model we have created and fostered for our own egos.

The system is built not to favour scientific advances per se, but to sustain this frankly toxic model we have created and fostered for our own egos.

Even just a century ago, the fields of scientific and mathematical inquiry were considered a frivolous waste of time due to their inquisitive nature and lack of practical implementation in the lifestyle of the time. How is it that now we have managed to beat and dissuade the passion out of students in an age when scientific innovation is moving forward at the speed of light?

Where we once revelled in our marvellous ability to observe the very rudimentary particles which made us and allowed us to understand our place in the universe, we have merely reduced down to boring lecture videos and practice problems that make us cry.

The question thus remains on how can we as the McMaster community facilitate a trend of paradigmatically shifting away from STEM elitism, all the while preserving the proud legacy of our institution? Whatever the answer is, it is sure to benefit professors, students and our progress as a university.

The pioneers who spent decades discovering the theories and equations we memorize from a lecture slide in one night for a test would surely hang their heads in shame at the current state of our institutions.

Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor 

By Kayla Freeman, Contributor

University is hard, no doubt about it. With the constant stress that many students face, it is easy to see why they may look for easier and less strenuous classes when possible. This is where “bird courses” come into play. The idea surrounding these types of subjects is that one can fly through the course with little to no effort to achieve relatively high marks, such as an 11 or 12.

In reality, bird courses do not exist. Being successful in a course is largely dependent on the skills of individual students, their timetable, their motivation or their effort. To be fair, the harshness of a teaching assistant’s grading or a professor’s teaching style are among other contributing factors that can affect your mark. However, these issues are generally consistent across all courses. 

Being successful in a course is largely dependent on the skills of individual students, their timetable, their motivation or their effort.

Courses in certain faculties have become associated with easier courses or workloads. Faculties such as humanities and social sciences are often the faculties that are considered to have a greater proportion of “bird courses” including courses such as microeconomics or medical terminology. This brings a negative attitude towards students and staff in certain faculties or programs. For example, students that are in a class for personal interest may feel that their efforts are worth less if they are investing time and effort into a course with a bird reputation. In a society centred around those in the fields of science and engineering, faculties such as the humanities and social sciences are often belittled and have their legitimacy second-guessed. 

Faculties such as humanities and social sciences are often the faculties that are considered to have a greater proportion of “bird courses” including courses such as microeconomics or medical terminology.

Being a part of the social science faculty, I can tell you about the effects that the perception surrounding bird courses or even “bird programs” have on other students. For example, many current students in social science transferred into the program after their first year, which is perceived by some as a step-down from programs in science or engineering. This is disheartening for people that worked hard to get to where they are, who are enjoying their courses, and/or who continue to strive to maintain a high GPA in their program. It almost creates this hierarchy among different faculties, giving other students the idea that social science courses are not as worthy or respectable compared to others.

Some students choose to take bird courses only because they have heard that it will be easy. What they may have failed to consider is that if these courses are from a different faculty, they will likely be taught in a completely different manner than what students are used to. This, along with a disinterest in course material may result in poor performance. For these reasons, bird courses typically have low class participation and general class morale. There is no inherent problem in seeking out less taxing courses based on your own preferences and strengths. Some students may pursue this in order to balance challenging mandatory requirements. However, looking down on others and assuming their intentions and capabilities based on the courses they take is not okay, as it promotes a negative mentality and division among students and faculties. 

For these reasons, bird courses typically have low class participation and general class morale.

People might be less likely to engage in the course content or with their fellow classmates if they view that the course is beneath them or an easy A. Rather than focusing on the bird-related differences between programs, I believe that everyone should simply embrace the variations that are inherent to each program. Within the same course, some students will struggle and others may not, but those who struggle will likely face difficulty in other courses. 

Each program and faculty offers unique skills and abilities that can provide students with benefits across many disciplines. As each course has something different to offer, we may as well slow down and try to appreciate and understand the content rather than fly through it.  

 

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Photos C/O Steel City Stories

By: Neda Pirouzmand

Abeer Siddiqui, McMaster’s librarian and adjunct lecturer for the school of interdisciplinary science, partnered with Steel City Stories to create “Science: an evening of true, personal stories about science,” an event held on March 12 featuring personal stories told by STEM professionals to community members.

Hamilton storyteller Lisa Hunt, a member of the Steel City Stories Planning Committee, met Siddiqui through the LIFESCI 4L03 course. This new course was designed and implemented just this past fall by Siddiqui and her co-instructor.

Hunt introduced students to the art of oral storytelling through a guest lecture and provided feedback to students in the class.

Speakers at the story-telling event last week included Roopali Chaudhary, the owner of a cake business called (C6H12O6)^3. Her first order came from the McMaster’s biology department. Chaudhary made them a Madagascar hissing cockroach cake for a retiring entomologist who supposedly loved the insect.

The department of biology now commonly orders cakes from her online business.

Chaudhary promotes her creations by bringing awareness to the importance of communication in science. Her passion is driven by a goal to combine art and science in an edible form.

The story she shared revealed the path that led her to where she is today.

“My story was inspired by a critical moment in my life as a post-doc that completely changed how I viewed science as a whole,” said Chaudhary. “It led me to quit my research position, but also allowed me continue doing everything I loved about science without organizational constraints that had been holding me back. Now I get to bake cakes too, and I am happy.”

Rodrigo Narro Perez shared his story of immigrating to Canada at a young age. He highlighted the first decade of his rocky journey to learn English and integrate with Canadian culture.

“My first day of school is vivid in my mind. My parents decided to enroll me in primary school just three days after arriving in the frigid cold of Canada’s November,” said Perez. “When they introduced me to my teacher Ms. Smith, I did what every good Peruvian boy would do and I tried to kiss her on the cheek. I will never forgive my parents.”

As a sessional instructor for McMaster’s school of geography and earth sciences, Perez piloted a field course to bring 10 McMaster students to his home of Peru. As the liaison between two countries, he is responsible for the translation of documents and conversations crucial to his research on the retreat of South American glaciers.

“The fact that my two homes are collaborating in the pursuit of greater knowledge is extremely meaningful to me. I have fully embraced that Peru and Canada are a part of me, not one is more and not one is less,” he said.

McMaster university librarians built on their momentum from the story-telling event and continued to celebrate contributions to STEM by by giving away about 3,000 pies in H.G. Thode Library, Hamilton Hall and Mills Memorial Library for Pi day.

On April 24, an open house will give students a first-hand look at iconic scientific texts, dating from the 12th century to present day.

 

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By: Lauren Beals

When she was a student, Hoda ElMaraghy ventured where no woman had before. In 1976, she became the first woman to earn a PhD in mechanical engineering at McMaster. What followed was an esteemed career laced with achievement and novelty. This includes becoming the first woman to be appointed as faculty member in mechanical engineering at McMaster, and the first woman to hold the position of Dean of Engineering when she joined the University of Windsor in 1994.

She has since published over 380 papers in professional journals, holds a Tier I Canada Research Chair in Manufacturing Systems and is currently a fellow of the Canadian Society of Mechanical Engineers, Society of Manufacturing Engineers, and the International Academy for Production Engineering.

On Jan. 20 her incredible achievements were recognized as one of 25 Order of Ontario recipients, the highest honors in the province. ElMaraghy was the only engineer recognized amongst this year’s recipients.

“I was indeed thrilled,” said ElMaraghy. “It was great to have my work and leadership acknowledged […] being invested in the Order of Ontario is one of my proudest moments.”

Like any true pioneer, ElMaraghy was left to navigate a challenging field in a time when there were very few females in engineering. “At the beginning of my career there were very few women engineers, and being the first [PhD and faculty] was certainly a novelty. There was a great pressure to prove one’s abilities.”

Despite the odds, ElMaraghy overcame preconceptions by demonstrating excellence in her abilities, going on to become the founding director of the Flexible Manufacturing Systems here at McMaster and establishing herself as a powerhouse in manufacturing and systems design.

Named Hamilton’s Woman of the Year in the Workplace in 1990, ElMaraghy has seen the positive influence women leaders can have across genders. “Women role models in academia and in the corporate world are very important not only for women but also for men who are expected to work with and sometimes be supervised by women,” said ElMaraghy.

When she was a student, Hoda ElMaraghy ventured where no woman had before. In 1976, she became the woman graduate to earn a PhD in mechanical engineering at McMaster. What followed was an esteemed career laced with achievement and novelty.

Right now, she serves as a faculty member as an engineering professor at the University of Windsor and is a collaborator with the Canadian government. ElMaraghy thinks should play a crucial role in the advancement of women in academia and the workplace. “Universities and employers must put in place measures to remove clear and hidden barriers for women’s progress in these fields and promote equal pay for work of equal value,” she said. “They must offer them leadership training and opportunities for progress.”

Looking ahead, ElMaraghy is confident that women can continue to succeed in emerging STEM fields but deserve the right blend of advocacy.

“Women are capable of tackling many challenges in engineering but they need more support, encouragement and recognition,” she said.

Photo Credit: University of Windsor

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