STEM education is different

According to Physics Nobelist Carl Wieman it’s a lot like “effective coaching”. This in his testimony to Congress after stepping down from OSTP–story is here.

I couldn’t agree more. The fundamental problem with STEM education as its practiced here in the US is the notion that that effective pedagogy involves lecturing in front of a class. My best chemistry professor at Amherst College taught quantum chemistry by having us solve progressively more difficult problems, all while being available (seemed like 24/7–and before the Internet) to coach us through what seemed impossible.

Math, Physics and Chemistry: my opinion

I get asked a lot about the types of courses one should take during the undergraduate years in order to become successful as a professional neuroscientist. This is an interesting question because very often the inquiring student mentions such alternatives as biology or psychology as being reasonable approaches. I disagree. From my standpoint, based on both growing up with two neuroscientists as parents, and my own career in academia, the key proficiencies need to be in the afore mentioned fields: mathematics, physics and chemistry. Master a base of knowledge from these fields, and you’ll be well positioned to pick up the rest (psychology, biology etc.). I’m not sure the reverse is true. The important point is that the knowledge embedded in math, physics and chemistry is absolutely essential to the ability to fully understand much of the keystone work coming out in neuroscience today. That doesn’t mean one can’t glean the basic ideas and current theories without (in contrast to say quantum mechanics), but to understand in depth, these quantitative and foundational knowledge areas are required.

I was a chemistry major at Amherst College, quite against my own plans–the sheer force of will on the part of my parents pushed me at chemistry. But it was a wonderful thing that they did for me in terms of opening doors into hard science.