What a Scientist should know – comments for the BSc review

This was my hastily typed submission to the review of the BSc degree at my uni. I feel so responsible and community-minded!

There are two suggestions I would like to make regarding the Bachelor of Science programme design and curriculum:
1) reasons to add a “scientific foundations” component to the degree.
2) consider more interactive tutorials and a common lunch hour – for student wellbeing

Firstly, students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science degree would benefit from core science knowledge and skills being a compulsory or highly-recommended part of the degree.

Scientists should have some sense of the underpinnings of the scientific project. This involves an introduction to the history, philosophy and ethics of engaging in science. Basic competency in mathematics and statistics should also I think be a requirement for graduating with a science degree. Majoring in economics requires taking a calculus paper – yet, while mathematics is at least as important in science, many BSc students do not have an even more basic competency with algebra, graphical representation and the like. Similarly and perhaps more importantly, understanding statistical concepts is a prerequisite for reading scientific literature. Similarly scientific writing and communication skills are also basic requirements for progressing on to postgraduate studies or finding employment, yet anecdotally many science students lack practice in these areas; while some disciplines require large lab reports at undergraduate level, a few involve very little writing and/or verbal communication.

To summarise, core skills ought to be built into the degree; I suggest these include the philosophy of science, statistical understanding and scientific communication. This could be achieved through implementing “core courses”, or modifying existing courses, making them “highly recommended”. I anticipate that a “Foundations of Science” course created with input from other disciplines such as history and philosophy could be a very popular component of an appropriately holistic Bachelor of Science degree.

Finally, the Bachelor of Science degree could benefit from the efforts towards promoting community, as is achieved in some non-science courses. Many Arts courses have interactive tutorials, where students engage with their lecturer or a tutor, as well as with a group of other students, in a format which promotes discussion, engagement and critical thought. Many science lectures are large and consequently quite impersonal; while laboratories can be an opportunity for developing practical skills, asking questions of tutors, and perhaps making friends, students could benefit significantly from a greater emphasis on interaction and sharing of ideas and questions. A related concern is that the timing of laboratories and classes can leave very little (to no) breaks for students, often for stretches of 5+ hours during the middle of the day. A common science-wide lunch hour without classes, even just once a week, could be an opportunity to develop community – for instance, with students being encouraged to be involved in clubs, or to attend faculty events.

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