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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

A science major responds

Published: November 18, 2005
Section: Opinions

Ill admitIve never had a 3-hour essay exam. Nor have I had to write a 25-page research paper, or done 300 pages of reading in one night. None of these sound like a good time. But lets look at the reality of the situation. How long did you have to do that research paper? A month, maybe 2 weeks if youre really being pushed. In the sciences, weekly problem sets and weekly lab reports are expected. The average science student churns out 20-25 pages in labs and homework problems on a weekly basis. As for exams, its one thing to write for 3 hours straight. Its something quite different to stare at 3 problems for 3 hours straight, with no idea how to do them. The average humanities student would probably not be able to pass, much less excel in an upper level science class.

By design, the science majors are more difficult than those in the humanities. For example, a history major requires 8 semester courses, most without prerequisites. On the other hand, a B.A. physics major takes no less than 11 semester courses, 2 semesters of math, and 3 semesters of labs. In other words, nearly double the course load of the history major. Some people compensate by double majoring. The reason why science students dont double major is twofold- its too difficult, and it takes too long.

While 300 pages of reading each night might make up the time difference, I assure you it doesnt. Science problems arent concepts you can look up in the library and reword to fit your opinion- and even if they were, they would be written in a language that you wouldnt understand. This might be a shock, but in the sciences there actually is a right and a wrong answer. Proof of a physical concept is derived from mathematics, not a roundabout reasoning that can never be validated by proof.

Next, science is not technology. Science and technology, while often linked, remain separate and should not be confused. Maxwell didnt write down his equations as a stepping-stone to the construction of microwave ovens, nor did Einstein postulate relativity in order to make your cell phone function properly. Science aims to explain the universe and its systems through mathematics. You can feel, hear, taste, and see the presence of the social sciences and humanities everywhere. Take for example, the Mona Lisa., or Ravels Bolero. On the other hand, have you ever witnessed alpha decay? How about the physical meaning of a Bessel function or a Fourier transform? What gives matter mass?

Science students all appreciate the humanities in its various forms. We fulfill the same graduation requirements that humanities students do, and recognize that our equations do not explain each and every natural phenomenon (yet). But next time, dont complain about the paper youve had months to do. Science doesnt wait that long.