Wednesday, July 30, 2008

B.A.? Bah!

As I mentioned before, I went to a SLAC as an undergrad. I graduated with a B.A. When I started working in consulting, most of the technical folks had B.S.s, but having a B.A. wasn't terribly unusual either. In any event, the details of my undergraduate education were necessary only for me to get a job. Within a very short time frame, what mattered was my performance - could I be trusted with greater responsibility, was I producing scientifically acceptable work, etc. And my school's insistence on writing ability meant that I had a great foundation for scientific writing at my job.

Most of the grad schools I applied to did take into consideration and appreciated my years of relevant experience. Several schools required a resume, and my references included a mix of academic and industry folks. Although I had taken a fair number of courses as an undergrad that had no immediate relevance to the grad schools I was applying to, I certainly didn't feel that I was lacking important scientific background. One school did make acceptance conditional on my taking a year of biology, which I thought was silly considering that the work I'd be doing there would not involve an iota of bio.

My grad school is considered a STEM (science, tech, engineering, math) school, but really what it's known for is more TEM, unless you count computer science in the S. Yes, we do have a liberal arts area, but it's not really well-respected, internally or externally.

As a result, I am the only grad student here I know who did not get a B.S. I tell people that I took a terrific pottery class in college, and they assume that the class (and by extension my undergrad career) was an exercise in feel-good fun. I do not tell people I also took a drawing class, sight-singing (1/2 credit), several history classes to round out my pathetic world history knowledge, minored in a foreign language, and took several classes along the advanced creative writing ladder.

Is a B.S. more rigorous than a B.A.? Not mine. My pottery class took at least 12 hours a week of "homework" to keep up with the assignments. Some classes were easier than others, and one was indeed a waste of time (can you really go through college without one of those?) but in 95%, I had to think critically, justify my positions, do research, and write at a high level. When I got to grad school, I was missing several prerequisites, but it just took me some more effort to make sure I got what was glossed over as review in the first couple of classes. My grade average is hovering in the low 90s, so I haven't fallen behind.

All this makes me wonder: what percentage of STEM academics have a B.S. vs. a B.A.? Is it really that low for B.A.s? What about the percentage of people who consider themselves scientists? I would like to think there's plenty of room for any endeavor.

1 comment:

Oger Lawyer said...

The idea that a BS is more academically rigorous then a BA is pure foolishness (avoided the obvious pun). Academic rigor is more dependent on the school and the expectations of the faculty then on taking an arbitrary number of science classes. The purpose of an education is to give you a firm background in whatever field you choose to study so that when you move into a professional career you have the basic building blocks you need to grow as a professional. Chief among these is the ability to learn, because no one graduates knowing how to do a particular job, regardless of whether they have a BA or BS undergraduate degree.