Pep Talks for 4 Non-STEM Gen Ed Classes you Have to Take

Written by Hannah Edstrom

We all know that college makes you spend two whole years taking general education courses, many of which bestow you with knowledge you will never need to bring to living memory again.

But gen ed classes can actually be super interesting! Here are some reasons to stay awake in that whole semester of reading-and-writing you’ve got to check off your list.

English Composition

A couple days research can save you months in the lab. And right now, with the quarantine and all, research is basically all that I am doing.

That means reading way more science papers than I ever thought possible. You probably won’t be reading from scientific journals in your Comp 101 class, but you will learn applicable reading skills. Much of the advice in How to Read a Book applies to Redfield ratio based on chemical data from isopycnal surfaces just as much as it does to The Scarlet Letter. And once you start moving beyond analyzing one source, and start synthesizing ideas from multiple books or essays or whatever – that is, after all, the start of graduate-level literature review, which will become the launching pad of your very own experiments.

So reading analytically is a good skill to work on. Writing is important too. In today’s market, it helps to be able to communicate well; writing is part of that. But so is . . .

Public Speaking

Once I started my job, I was reporting on my work a couple times a week. Sure, a lot of that was informal, but once you start diving deep into lab, you’ve got to start making slides. There is no surer way to put a scientist to sleep than by talking about what’s going on in lab and explaining it with your hands. They would very much prefer pictures, diagrams, and – for gold stars – graphical representations of the data.

So public speaking classes help prepare you for communication in the business world. Another, slightly prejudiced tip? One thing I learned during my master’s was that there was one major skill separating the undergraduate and graduate students I knew: public speaking skills. Grads are typically at the point where they’ve presented so often it’s no big deal anymore. Many undergrads are still in the phase where it’s terrifying, so they mumble, look down, talk to their slides, or fidget ad infinitum. Work hard to develop your communication skills – especially public speaking – to the point where it’s easier to shrug off the pressure. I know it’s a stressful course (for many of us!), but it will help set you apart.

Confidence under pressure like that will also prepare you for the interview, for which I am nervous regardless but a little public speaking practice helps a bit.

Philosophy

Science is moving at an accelerating pace. Topics like artificial intelligence, embryonic STEM cells, Crispr Cas9, and self-driving cars come with their own ethical dialogues that spark cultural discussion. Oppenheimer and his team were often so focused on the science of their work – of answering the question Is this really possible? – that they didn’t stop much to consider what would happen were their technology actually used.

Another aspect of ethics in the sciences: plagiarism is not taken lightly. Period.

Other applications includes environmental law and ethics, which has a fairly recent history. There are obvious ethics associated with the medical profession. A working knowledge of philosophy, ethics, and culture equips well-balanced individuals to see their work within a context larger than the lab.

Of course, philosophy of science is also a thing. But for that I turn to . . .

History

History is an exciting place where people, politics, religion, geography, art, war, and economics come together to tell a marvelous story of who we are and how we got here. Science is a part of that story – who doesn’t want to know the roots of what we study today? The pitfalls of past scientists we can learn from? That geniuses struggled as much as or as long as we do in lab – maybe longer?

(Ok, I may be totally biased here. I love this subject.)

The philosophy of science is sprinkled throughout history too, including the development of the scientific method, cultural shock waves Darwin sent throughout the Western world, misapplied science in the form of phrenology and eugenics, and modern dialogues of science and faith.

It’s an exciting story and we’re all a part of it.

  • Do you love or hate your general education requirements? Are they interesting asides or frivolous wastes of your time?
  • What’s your favorite subject outside of your major and why?

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