Reactions to your Major

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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Parsifal » Thu Jul 21, 2011 10:33 am UTC

Hah, I had to respond to this one because my most recent haircut went:

"Yep... last haircut before I move away to go back to school."

"Oh really, what are you studying?"

"Just getting started toward a PhD in computer science."

*crickets*

And no, I don't make fun of *all* liberal arts majors... my roommate majored in art history and aced German, Latin, French, Greek and Italian. Concurrently.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby GrueTodayBleenTomorrow » Thu Jul 21, 2011 4:23 pm UTC

My majors were math and philosophy. Philosophy is a tough one because people outside philosophy usually have absolutely no idea what it is that you do. When people heard that one of my majors was philosophy, I would get the craziest responses. "Oh, you do philosophy? Let me tell you my opinions on this current event." "Oh, you do philosophy? What are some of your sayings?" (<--This person thought philosophers wrote the "profound" little one-liners on greeting cards) "Oh, you do philosophy? Let me tell you about the dream I had last night!" and, the ever-infuriating "So what's your philosophy?"

The other thing I would often get in response to the math+philosophy double major: "Oh wow! Those two are, like, complete opposites. They're so totally different, man." To which I respond "No, not really. Not at all." Then they would ask me to read their palms.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Tenth Speed Writer » Tue Jul 26, 2011 1:04 am UTC

"I'm a Civil Engineering major; specializing in environmental and water res-" "Oh, you want to build bridges?"

Every. Single. Time.
WITHOUT FAIL.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby raike » Tue Jul 26, 2011 3:24 am UTC

Me: "Oh, me? I'm Electrical Engineering and Math."

Mother: "You're the electrical engineer - repair [Insert broken object or malfunctioning device] for me."
People from High School: "... sounds fun ..."
Relatives: "Impressive. You getting on alright with that?"
(Randomly Assigned) Roommate: "Oh, wow! That's pretty cool! Me? I'm a Biochem major."
Father: "There are no jobs in math. Why are you wasting time studying it when you could be taking more engineering courses?"

Tenth Speed Writer wrote:"I'm a Civil Engineering major; specializing in environmental and water res-" "Oh, you want to build bridges?"

Every. Single. Time.
WITHOUT FAIL.


I hate to admit this, but I'm kind of guilty of this as well (apologies to all you Civil Engineers out there). Until recently, I didn't know too much about the specializations in the fields of engineering besides electrical (and maybe mechanical).
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Jul 26, 2011 4:02 am UTC

Apology accepted.

Though I usually lead with a self-deprecating line about bridges so that I can segue into, "but actually, I'm more interested in..." yadda yadda.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby nehpest » Tue Jul 26, 2011 6:11 am UTC

True facts: civvies build targets. Mechies build weapons.

Us EEs? We make sure the latter can find the former.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby KestrelLowing » Tue Jul 26, 2011 12:43 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Apology accepted.

Though I usually lead with a self-deprecating line about bridges so that I can segue into, "but actually, I'm more interested in..." yadda yadda.


What are you more interested in? (I'm a MechE, we always make fun of the civils as you seem to only work with concrete. Lame!) I don't really know what civils do besides bridges and concrete.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Tue Jul 26, 2011 11:06 pm UTC

My program has five "group options" within CivE: Structural, Environmental, Transportation, Geotechnical and Water Resources. I think a sixth group having to do with sustainability and green design is currently awaiting approval. We also have a few CivE minors related to energy, and one in construction management (which sounds way more boring to me than designing a bridge, but I bet it pays pretty well).

I don't fit neatly into any of those boxes (which is common within the major) but generally speaking I'm interested in environmental stuff. (At some institutions EnvE has a separate undergraduate major; in the US, it has its own professional organization, separate and distinct from the American Society of Civil Engineers.) I'm trying to focus on the way that physical infrastructure affects and is affected by energy and resource use. "Environmental systems analysis" is a term I've heard used that's probably the most concise way to describe my field. Practically speaking, this means my coursework is focused within the first three group options I mentioned above, and that I should probably be taking every extra math course I have room for.

Of course that last bit could probably be said of just about every engineering major. In any case, I like math coursework, so that works out.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby KestrelLowing » Wed Jul 27, 2011 12:19 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:My program has five "group options" within CivE: Structural, Environmental, Transportation, Geotechnical and Water Resources. I think a sixth group having to do with sustainability and green design is currently awaiting approval. We also have a few CivE minors related to energy, and one in construction management (which sounds way more boring to me than designing a bridge, but I bet it pays pretty well).

I don't fit neatly into any of those boxes (which is common within the major) but generally speaking I'm interested in environmental stuff. (At some institutions EnvE has a separate undergraduate major; in the US, it has its own professional organization, separate and distinct from the American Society of Civil Engineers.) I'm trying to focus on the way that physical infrastructure affects and is affected by energy and resource use. "Environmental systems analysis" is a term I've heard used that's probably the most concise way to describe my field. Practically speaking, this means my coursework is focused within the first three group options I mentioned above, and that I should probably be taking every extra math course I have room for.

Of course that last bit could probably be said of just about every engineering major. In any case, I like math coursework, so that works out.


Ah, so you're going to work with sewers! (Sorry, there's a seperate environmental engineering major at my university and obviously it's filled with females who 'want to make a difference' (awesome!) but they don't realize that what it really sets them up for is working with water systems and sewers.) No, actually it sounds fairly different. Although it does sound like water systems are right up your alley.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Jul 27, 2011 3:05 pm UTC

I have pretty much no academic interest in hydrology or water resources. And I'm kind of appalled by the sexist tripe you just spouted about your fellow engineering students. Was that supposed to be a joke?
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby charolastra » Wed Jul 27, 2011 3:26 pm UTC

Seconded Bakey. I studied international development and my GOAL was to work in sanitation. Not even talking sewers- think more pit toilets. I'm sure those women who "want to make a difference" (love the backhanded compliment there) know exactly what they're getting into.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby KestrelLowing » Wed Jul 27, 2011 3:44 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:I have pretty much no academic interest in hydrology or water resources. And I'm kind of appalled by the sexist tripe you just spouted about your fellow engineering students. Was that supposed to be a joke?


Ah, ok, that's cool. I just misread/don't really know what environmental resource stuff is. I had just assumed it being water as that seems to be the thing that a lot of people are worrying about now.

And it was partially a joke (the sewers part), but kind of serious as well. When you're one of the girls in an engineering program, you tend to get to know a lot of the other girls. The main reason I can see why girls flock to biomedical and environmental engineering is because they feel like they can do something constructive for the world and for people. From the stats at my university (Michigan Tech) for the major engineering majors:

Biomedical 44% female
Environmental 40% female
Materials 32% female
Chemical 30% female
Civil 26% female
Computer 14% female
Electrical 13% female
Mechanical 13% female

Note that the overall ratio of females to males at my university is 1:4, so that may indicate that elsewhere the percentages of females is higher in each major.

The ones at the top of the list all have the same things in common - you can easily see how they could directly positively affect someone's life, or the environment. Materials and chemical is not as direct, but chemistry in general is seen as a way to help people by making medicines, materials for biomedical things, etc. And of course you have the fact that if there are a fair number of girls in a major, it will attract more females.

The ones lower on the list can often be seen as just perpetrating the current state of things (like, mechanical engineers just make more cars to make more pollution - the environmentals have to tell them to increase the mpg) even if this isn't true.

Anecdotally, when I've asked females in biomedical and environmental why they chose that major, nearly all of them will state that they want to help people/the environment. It's never "I was interested in the subject" - even if that's very well what they might actually think. In order for females to explain why they choose a traditionally male field to people who actually care about those gender roles, it's much easier if it's still along the 'mothering' side of things - taking care of people, taking care of the earth. I think that's a major reason why the percentage of female doctors jumped quite quickly.

As one member of the 13% of female MEs, I might be a bit biased, but that is what I've seen.

EDIT: one more thing
The biomedical and mechanical engineering degree at my university are remarkably similar. (The biomed was originally a concentration in the ME department) The basic difference is that biomedical have to take biology and physiology. Also, some of their classes comparable to the mechE ones are specialized towards bio materials. Obviously, due to the increased biology they drop some other classes like vibrations and heat transfer, but they are very similar in difficulty and material. We take nearly all the same foundation courses. (I know this due to one of my friends who is double majoring in biomed and mechanical - a lot of the classes in mechE can be substituted for those in biomed as they're usually more in depth due to the fact that biomed has to put in a lot of biology)

Biomedical engineering has 44% female, mechanical has 13%. I think that reason of "helping people" is very instrumental to why that gap is so large.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:09 pm UTC

So, male students in these fields aren't doing it to "make a difference" and they understand better than female students what their degree is leading them into? I don't buy it. To be sure, women are expected to be saintly and go into "helping people" fields like education, social work, medicine; but just because this is a factor in the popularity of the major among female engineering students doesn't mean it's okay to take such a dismissive tone toward them and single them out as knowing less about their career prospects than males in their major or females in other majors. How many of your male MechE classmates chose the major because they think they're going to get a job building robots, jet planes or sports cars?

You're not wrong that water quality is big in EnvE, though here in California, water resources is even bigger. I dug up last year's curriculum sheet for UCD CivE, which has group options on the second page, if you're interested in seeing some of the core classes. Air quality is also pretty big within EnvE, and more relevant to my interests. Not listed on the curriculum sheet are some energy-related technical electives that are also relevant. Soil chemistry and contaminant remediation are a sort of in-between area. The idea that "environmental engineer" is simply a re-branding of the term "sanitation engineer" is widespread, but somewhat antiquated, as it emphasizes processing and remediation issues at the expense of production, conservation and usage issues, which are increasingly relevant to the field as it becomes more understood that processing and remediation alone will not lead to a sustainable society.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby KestrelLowing » Wed Jul 27, 2011 5:35 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:So, male students in these fields aren't doing it to "make a difference" and they understand better than female students what their degree is leading them into? I don't buy it. To be sure, women are expected to be saintly and go into "helping people" fields like education, social work, medicine; but just because this is a factor in the popularity of the major among female engineering students doesn't mean it's okay to take such a dismissive tone toward them and single them out as knowing less about their career prospects than males in their major or females in other majors. How many of your male MechE classmates chose the major because they think they're going to get a job building robots, jet planes or sports cars?

You're not wrong that water quality is big in EnvE, though here in California, water resources is even bigger. I dug up last year's curriculum sheet for UCD CivE, which has group options on the second page, if you're interested in seeing some of the core classes. Air quality is also pretty big within EnvE, and more relevant to my interests. Not listed on the curriculum sheet are some energy-related technical electives that are also relevant. Soil chemistry and contaminant remediation are a sort of in-between area. The idea that "environmental engineer" is simply a re-branding of the term "sanitation engineer" is widespread, but somewhat antiquated, as it emphasizes processing and remediation issues at the expense of production, conservation and usage issues, which are increasingly relevant to the field as it becomes more understood that processing and remediation alone will not lead to a sustainable society.


I'm sorry it got so out of hand. Really, it's just a joke at my school because the more 'girly girls' tend to go into environmental and the thought of them wading through the sewers is comical. It's not what actually happens. They probably know just as much about their major as anyone else. Sorry. I just thought it was amusing :oops:

While I understand it can be more hurtful as I divided it along gender lines, I really don't think it's that much different than saying civils build targets and mechanicals build weapons. There's also some fun ribbing between civils and mechEs because they typically can't do our statics homework (their statics class happens to typically be taken after ours, but we joke at them because things that don't move are their specialty).

And really the only truths that I think actually exist here is that environmental is a buzzword (as is biomedical), and women are expected to go into the 'helping' careers.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Feddlefew » Tue Aug 09, 2011 9:30 pm UTC

I decided that I want to study toxicology after I get my bachelors in Biochem. I'm concerned about how people might react besides the inevitable "Well, what are you going to do with that?"

At least people would stop asking me why I want to go into pharmacology.....
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby TheDancingFox » Sat Aug 13, 2011 6:55 am UTC

Usually the response I get from other students here is "You're insane." Generally this is with an attitude of jest, but with a touch of seriousness behind it. That'd be cause I'm double majoring in Bioengineering and Neuroscience. Buuut totally worth it. And it is doable in five years, just...busy. Very busy.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Mirelle18 » Fri Aug 26, 2011 12:05 pm UTC

I'm planning on majoring in History, Secondary Education, and Russian/Eastern European Studies.
From my family I mostly get reminded about how much teachers get paid, and hear rants about how all teachers are stupid/slackers who couldn't do anything else- so why would I want to do it when they know I'm a smart girl who could do something else?
(Apart from being offensive and wrong, this also doesn't make much sense, because what they're essentially saying is- 'I've noticed that the education system in America is full of stupid slackers. So we definitely don't want a hard-working smart person to go into that field'. Er, if they really think all teachers are stupid, shouldn't they be trying to encourage me, not discourage me..?)
From my friends, I mostly get laughter and nods, or something like- 'Mirelle wants to be a history teacher? And she likes Russian ? Wow, wouldn't have expected that..' in heavy sarcasm, because I'm known for being a huge history geek, who particularly loves Russian history. So it just comes as no surprise to most people who know me.
Or I get something like:
'So who do you want to be like when you grow up?"
"Hmm. I think I'd be most happy if I was a mixture between Mr. Mahar and Ms. Todh-'
'Oh my gosh. You're going to be a female Mahar...no, that's not a question, that's a statement...'
It took me awhile to figure out why, although given how popular he is, I wasn't offended, just because I never thought of us as having a lot in common. And then I remembered that we're easily excitable, ADHD-addled history fanatics with really quirky/Cloud Cukoolander senses of humor...
I'm now a little more excited about my future...
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby harpyblues » Fri Sep 02, 2011 1:42 am UTC

So, I'm double-majoring in Biology and English. Naturally, people pretty much go 'wtf, those are totally unrelated, what are you going to do with them?' Or they ask me if I'm going into teaching or something (which I'm not; I'd be a horrible, horrible teacher). I don't really know what to tell them other than that I want to go to law school, which leads to another long explanation of how some companies like patent lawyers with a background in the sciences over lawyers that just got philosophy/English/etc. And then another explanation of what patent lawyers do and everything else. And I don't even know if I'm going to do that or just end up dropping my English major, sticking with biology and going to graduate school for that.

Still, it's sort of better than some of my friends who are majoring in music and get a lecture right at the beginning of their first class about how 60% of them will drop/change their majors and only something like 4% of the remaining 40% will actually find careers in music.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby B.Good » Fri Sep 02, 2011 3:30 am UTC

So I got some new reactions to my major (math), the most notable being:

Wow you must be crazy/How can you pull that off?

To which I usually reply "Not really, I like math. At the very least I have a passion for failing at it. On the other hand, if I were to go into physics I'd be crazy since I'm horrible at physics and always get frustrated with it."
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Anonymously Famous » Fri Sep 02, 2011 3:32 am UTC

My major for my recently-completed master's degree: Translation and Localization Management.

The usual reaction: That's cool. What does it mean?
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Fri Sep 02, 2011 3:56 am UTC

Does it mean you are a master of moving things around in straight lines such that they all end up in the same place?
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby ZoraPrime » Wed Sep 07, 2011 10:01 pm UTC

For me, I came in as a physics major, and due to taking too many units changed my major to classics because Latin came easy to me (probably because I already took the class), but now back on a physics track, but if I genuinely don't like my studies this semester, it'll be classics for good. So far though, since I can commit to my sciency classes, I've been really enjoying them. Whenever I tell people I'm a physics major, they usually nod and eventually the conversation dies. Like what happened with you and the OP. Whenever I told people I was a classics major, they just gave me a confused look, and even a few college freshmen thought I was talking about music. No, I'm talking about the actual classics :roll: In my physics class (which most people are taking for their own majors, e.g. computer engineering), I often get a "you poor soul" sort of look.

Edit: Not to mention the "oh, so you must be smart sort of look." Really, can I just relish in modesty? :roll:
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby nasalhernia » Fri Sep 09, 2011 11:32 pm UTC

During undergrad, as a Psychology major, I'd get asked to psychoanalyze people or diagnose stuff as if having a Bachelor's could allow me to do that. That, or people would just give me a look as if I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. They were right.

Funny thing is that now as a graduate business student, the reactions are different. People assume I have money, which is simply not true, because I was a Psychology major.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Red Rule » Sat Sep 10, 2011 1:09 pm UTC

"Oh god, poor you." or "Awesome!"
At the uni at least, other times it's mostly "oh, that's nice *blank starte*" or "You must be really smart".
I'm doign a double bachelor mathematics/physics. I just started and the drop-out rate is ~30% so ask me again later :P
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Vangor » Sun Sep 11, 2011 6:10 pm UTC

Education is an interesting one. Support is common. When the inevitable question "What do you teach?" is asked, the answer of "Gifted students" always gives me an interested audience. But this is meeting me. Few other professions have such a swath of the population who feel qualified to speak on what curriculum should contain and what proper pedagogy is. Folks peddle snake oil and diagnose via WebMD, but no one dares to act qualified to practice medicine or rebuke what a surgeon or pathologist or similar says. For most of you, the reactions are dumbfounded, not knowing what your major means or how you use this. My stack of texts, numerous classes, observation periods and experiences and internships, diverse portfolios, and more apparently does not mean as much.

Never found a person who, upon speaking with me, was not supportive of teachers and interested in my knowledge on the field of education, but plenty exist and plenty are vocal.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby KestrelLowing » Sun Sep 11, 2011 11:04 pm UTC

Vangor wrote:Education is an interesting one. Support is common. When the inevitable question "What do you teach?" is asked, the answer of "Gifted students" always gives me an interested audience. But this is meeting me. Few other professions have such a swath of the population who feel qualified to speak on what curriculum should contain and what proper pedagogy is. Folks peddle snake oil and diagnose via WebMD, but no one dares to act qualified to practice medicine or rebuke what a surgeon or pathologist or similar says. For most of you, the reactions are dumbfounded, not knowing what your major means or how you use this. My stack of texts, numerous classes, observation periods and experiences and internships, diverse portfolios, and more apparently does not mean as much.

Never found a person who, upon speaking with me, was not supportive of teachers and interested in my knowledge on the field of education, but plenty exist and plenty are vocal.


The thing about education is that everyone is so involved with it from an early age. The only jobs I really knew about was what my mother did and what teachers did. Whereas we know we don't know what doctors do as we haven't had that extra schooling they have. However, we all (well, I assume) made it though high school and know what worked for us and what would have been helpful later on. Often times, people also have had very bad teachers who were from the bottom of their class and didn't know what the heck they were doing. So while I can understand why it would be so frustrating to have everyone just ignore you when you obviously know more, I don't think it's unjustified for a typical person to have a strong opinion on education (although I may just be saying this because I am a typical person with strong opinions on education!)
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Sun Sep 11, 2011 11:29 pm UTC

I guess it's not unjustified for me to have strong opinions about mechanical engineering, since I've been so involved in it from an early age. Riding in cars and elevators and so on, day in, day out. And I use my blender like a goddamn pro—not to mention the automatic garage door opener, I've completely mastered those.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby doogly » Mon Sep 12, 2011 12:07 am UTC

These are not at all the same though.

You encounter lots and lots of engineered *things* in your daily life, but you don't encounter *engineering* all that much. Whereas with education, the process is right there in front of you, for years, and you quickly learn what methods are effective or not *for you.* People learn in different ways; the challenge in good teaching is to reach all the students there. For students who learn the same way I do, I don't have to extend an ounce of effort to teach them effectively. So this is the hard part, getting together the variety of approaches. Having a strong opinion on what you've seen work for you is not at all unnatural.

The immediacy is also what makes you feel more entitled to your opinion on the discipline. When we have a shitty garage door or car, that isn't functioning in some way, it's hard to see where the engineer should have done something differently (even if we have tons of experience with properly working garage doors and cars). But when your 3rd grade teacher is awesome and your 4th grade teacher sucks, you can see pretty directly what their contributions to this are.

Certainly I do not think every comment made to Vangor must have some all important anecdote to back it up (anecdotes being the best thing ever, obvi), I just see why Kestrel would say it is not so unreasonable or ridiculous as Bakey seems to find it.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Sep 12, 2011 1:16 am UTC

Because Kestrel is, I think, failing to understand the nature and extent of the problem (possibly because, as a self-identified Person of Such Opinions, she is part of it—no offense intended).

The process is only "in front of you" in a very limited way and from the perspective of a consumer—just as with my automatic garage door opener (which, I should inform the audience, I happen to have broken quite effectively and so far failed to repair). You (doogly) brought up but seem be dancing somewhat around what I think is a pretty critical issue: That what we pay attention to in our education, as the consumers in the relationship, is mainly, "What does and does not work for me." Having a strong opinion about about "what works for me" is, at least to my mind, not at all what Vangor is complaining about—namely, people without an Education Education feeling "qualified to speak on what curriculum should contain and what proper pedagogy is." The former might go something like: "It would be really helpful to be able to download your PowerPoint slides after class so I can review them on my own time." The latter: "Of course PowerPoint isn't an effective instructional tool! I don't need an M.Ed. to see that—it's obvious, because I don't learn well from PowerPoint."

To continue the appliances analogy, I have strong opinions about what functionality I want in a blender for my own personal use, but I apply those strong opinions by being discriminating about the blender I use. I might go so far as to tell someone responsible for engineering the blender's parts about what I want the blender to do, but it would be ridiculous of me to tell them how to design the part or what sort of materials to make it from, having only the background of a consumer of appliances. I took Vangor's complaint to be that people seem perfectly willing to tell teachers how to design their lessons and what sort of curriculum to use in doing so, which I see as eminently analogous (read: similar not same) to telling the engineer how to design the part, or why don't they use brushed nickel for that gear assembly because it's just so great. By all means, tell the engineer about the functionality you think is desirable in an appliance, and tell the educator about the outcomes you think are desirable in the classroom. And I will freely admit that the experience we have as students gives us far more insight into education than does that of most "consumer" experiences into the corresponding field, so it's reasonable to feel a bit more confident in discussing methods and such with an educator, and even understandable to feel as though you know quite a bit on the subject. But I don't think it comes anywhere close to being enough to justify how entitled so many people feel to not only offer advice to, but to outright contradict educators about how they should be teaching, full stop.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby KestrelLowing » Mon Sep 12, 2011 2:24 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:Because Kestrel is, I think, failing to understand the nature and extent of the problem (possibly because, as a self-identified Person of Such Opinions, she is part of it—no offense intended).

The process is only "in front of you" in a very limited way and from the perspective of a consumer—just as with my automatic garage door opener (which, I should inform the audience, I happen to have broken quite effectively and so far failed to repair). You (doogly) brought up but seem be dancing somewhat around what I think is a pretty critical issue: That what we pay attention to in our education, as the consumers in the relationship, is mainly, "What does and does not work for me." Having a strong opinion about about "what works for me" is, at least to my mind, not at all what Vangor is complaining about—namely, people without an Education Education feeling "qualified to speak on what curriculum should contain and what proper pedagogy is." The former might go something like: "It would be really helpful to be able to download your PowerPoint slides after class so I can review them on my own time." The latter: "Of course PowerPoint isn't an effective instructional tool! I don't need an M.Ed. to see that—it's obvious, because I don't learn well from PowerPoint."

To continue the appliances analogy, I have strong opinions about what functionality I want in a blender for my own personal use, but I apply those strong opinions by being discriminating about the blender I use. I might go so far as to tell someone responsible for engineering the blender's parts about what I want the blender to do, but it would be ridiculous of me to tell them how to design the part or what sort of materials to make it from, having only the background of a consumer of appliances. I took Vangor's complaint to be that people seem perfectly willing to tell teachers how to design their lessons and what sort of curriculum to use in doing so, which I see as eminently analogous (read: similar not same) to telling the engineer how to design the part, or why don't they use brushed nickel for that gear assembly because it's just so great. By all means, tell the engineer about the functionality you think is desirable in an appliance, and tell the educator about the outcomes you think are desirable in the classroom. And I will freely admit that the experience we have as students gives us far more insight into education than does that of most "consumer" experiences into the corresponding field, so it's reasonable to feel a bit more confident in discussing methods and such with an educator, and even understandable to feel as though you know quite a bit on the subject. But I don't think it comes anywhere close to being enough to justify how entitled so many people feel to not only offer advice to, but to outright contradict educators about how they should be teaching, full stop.


I guess my main problem is that I've been subjected to some pretty dang horrible teachers over the years and I know that I could have done a better job than them. (Seriously, we have to do something about them) At the same time, I have had excellent teachers who I am in complete awe of and know that I could never teach as well as they can.

I'm not pretending that I could create a K-12 curriculum with my current knowledge, but I do have some ideas that I really think should be taken into account, perhaps because I'm not an educator and simply know where my education has gotten me.

I guess I was just saying that education is something that most people can and often will have a opinion on that are often valid. I wouldn't want schools to be run exactly how I want them for myself - I know it would be detrimental to anyone not interested in the STEM fields. At the same time though, I think that ideas from all people, highly educated, not highly educated, STEM, humanities, everything out there, can really be valuable for education. I just really wanted to say that because education affects everyone, it's understandable, reasonable, and sometimes even helpful that everyone would have an opinion, even if they're not educators themselves. I feel like educators' jobs are to combine all those ideas into curriculum that will work for the most students possible.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby jmorgan3 » Mon Sep 12, 2011 4:59 am UTC

Bakemaster wrote:To continue the appliances analogy, I have strong opinions about what functionality I want in a blender for my own personal use, but I apply those strong opinions by being discriminating about the blender I use. I might go so far as to tell someone responsible for engineering the blender's parts about what I want the blender to do, but it would be ridiculous of me to tell them how to design the part or what sort of materials to make it from, having only the background of a consumer of appliances.

I work in the gas turbine field, and after that plane crashed into the Hudson due to birdstrikes, I and my friends in the field got a lot of "You guys should put mesh in front of the engines so that birds don't get sucked into them.". I (and my friends, as far as I know) didn't think it was ridiculous; it's a common-sense suggestion with non-obvious flaws. After explaining those flaws, I hope that the other person walks away with a deeper understanding of the trade-offs that inform engineering design.

An analogous response could be "I understand how might think that; you should read the survey article by Brown and Schwartz in this quarter's Journal of Secondary Education. They found statistically significant improvements in retention when teachers used powerpoint correctly." That way, they will see how you use objective evidence to make pedagogical decisions. After all, if they think you just use your gut feelings (and you do nothing to disabuse them), then they have no reason to trust you over their own gut.

tl;dr: Treating suggestions about your profession as learning opportunities rather than "ridiculous" impositions will make these encounters a lot better for everyone.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Belial » Mon Sep 12, 2011 1:18 pm UTC

I and my friends in the field got a lot of "You guys should put mesh in front of the engines so that birds don't get sucked into them.". I (and my friends, as far as I know) didn't think it was ridiculous; it's a common-sense suggestion with non-obvious flaws. After explaining those flaws, I hope that the other person walks away with a deeper understanding of the trade-offs that inform engineering design.


It's still a stupid suggestion, not because of the content, but because of the presentation.

Implications: "Hi, Mr Gas Turbine Engineer. I, a completely untrained layman, have recently been made aware that you have a Problem. Never fear, for I come to lead you out of the darkness to the solution! And despite my complete lack of training as compared to your considerable degree of same, I am going to just assume that you've never once thought of it. Because you're not brilliant like me, you see..."

The problem is, people come in making "suggestions" rather than asking questions. When I think I've found a solution to a problem that people with more (relevant) education than I have been working on for much longer, I try to ask why they're not doing it (with the implication that they probably already have a reason) rather than just telling them they should (with the implication that it's a new and brilliant idea).

It's about not assuming out-of-hand that you know better than trained professionals.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Vangor » Mon Sep 12, 2011 1:56 pm UTC

KestrelLowing wrote:So while I can understand why it would be so frustrating to have everyone just ignore you when you obviously know more, I don't think it's unjustified for a typical person to have a strong opinion on education (although I may just be saying this because I am a typical person with strong opinions on education!)


I should note, having an opinion, offering an opinion, etc., is acceptable and welcomed. Bakemaster emphasized exactly my central point, people feel "qualified to speak on what curriculum should contain and what proper pedagogy is." Please reread my previous comment and realize "a typical person with strong opinions on education" is not who I rail. I speak about folks entering school boards or other positions to control what and how we educate, ones with no experience or formal training or theoretical knowledge, and all of their supporters or a handful of parents also without.

Could spend time railing other teachers as well, do not doubt, but this is on reactions to my major. You or I could tell a doctor this or another prescription causes significant side-effects or has been ineffective, and this is the same as offering to me what teachers did to reach you and what teachers did to frustrate you. I liken the flat opposition to my teaching methods to telling a doctor he is using his stethoscope wrong; unless the earpieces are against your chest, you probably do not know.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:05 pm UTC

jmorgan3 wrote:
Bakemaster wrote:To continue the appliances analogy, I have strong opinions about what functionality I want in a blender for my own personal use, but I apply those strong opinions by being discriminating about the blender I use. I might go so far as to tell someone responsible for engineering the blender's parts about what I want the blender to do, but it would be ridiculous of me to tell them how to design the part or what sort of materials to make it from, having only the background of a consumer of appliances.

I work in the gas turbine field, and after that plane crashed into the Hudson due to birdstrikes, I and my friends in the field got a lot of "You guys should put mesh in front of the engines so that birds don't get sucked into them.". I (and my friends, as far as I know) didn't think it was ridiculous; it's a common-sense suggestion with non-obvious flaws. After explaining those flaws, I hope that the other person walks away with a deeper understanding of the trade-offs that inform engineering design.

An analogous response could be "I understand how might think that; you should read the survey article by Brown and Schwartz in this quarter's Journal of Secondary Education. They found statistically significant improvements in retention when teachers used powerpoint correctly." That way, they will see how you use objective evidence to make pedagogical decisions. After all, if they think you just use your gut feelings (and you do nothing to disabuse them), then they have no reason to trust you over their own gut.

tl;dr: Treating suggestions about your profession as learning opportunities rather than "ridiculous" impositions will make these encounters a lot better for everyone.

I've bolded the part which I think was a poor assumption based on inexperience interacting with irate students and parents. The kind of person who will make a suggestion about turbine design is a lot more likely to accept your objective evidence; they are thinking about how things work, and probably have encountered enough non-obvious flaws in their own diy projects and whatnot to understand that you know what you're talking about. In my experience working in student services at the college level, there is such a prevalent attitude that what we do is far easier and more straightforward than it really is. (When I say "what we do" I am perhaps being too liberal—my work as a staffer in admissions and financial aid was of course very, very different from the work done by faculty in the classroom, though I felt this perception was applied to us as well by virtue of also being under the umbrella of working in higher education.) The students and parents who would respect your objective evidence, or even give a shit that you know the word "pedagogy" to begin with, are the ones who will not get into a debate with you in the first place; they will come to you to have a discussion. But there are so many who come to debate you. I don't have the experience to know how elementary and secondary education compare, but all these students and parents I interacted with at the college level were at one time students or parents of students at the elementary and secondary level; that, combined with the fact that people of course think the lower the grade, the easier it must be to teach (because it pays less and everyone knows how to add 2 + 2 and spell "vegetable"), makes me suspect it's a hell of a lot worse from the parents, at least.

I've been an offender myself! One semester, I had a class with a young new instructor (new to the school, and presenting a curriculum that had been newly revised in a process she was heavily involved in). General biology for science majors. I had just finished a really, really great public speaking class, and so after a couple lectures with PowerPoint slides absolutely crammed full of information, nearly all of which existed in the required textbook for the class, I thought, "Aha! I can help by sharing what I learned in that great public speaking class, about how when there's too much text on the slide, people stop listening to you because they're too busy writing notes or trying to take in the slide." I wanted to be helpful, and also to make my experience in that class better—those slides were really awful! So I approached her after class and voiced my concerns, trying to be tactful, friendly, not disrespectful; but firm about my concern. She sort-of agreed but was resistant to the idea of trimming down the slides because she was afraid there was so much material to cover, and she wanted the students to have absolutely everything in the slides when reviewing for the exams. So now I'm thinking to myself, "I've said my piece, she doesn't see that I'm right, but I'll drop it for now, don't want to be an ass."

It wasn't until later in the semester, when I started prepping for group tutoring sessions I was leading for a conceptual physics class, that I realized how much I had underestimated the difficulty of her task, and how I had internally disrespected her by thinking she just wasn't canny enough to recognize I was right and cut down her slides. I am glad I kept it internal but still I was compelled to tell her, somewhat apologetically, how I hadn't realized just how hard it is to decide what you can and can't present, when you have a group of people (and I usually had 6-12 in those group sessions, which is a *beautifully* small group to be able to work with) with different learning styles and some pretty solid curricular goals you need to meet in order to feel you've done any sort of good job of teaching. Yeah, her slides were still pretty terrible, and I wasn't wrong that they needed to be more concise, but I was wrong to think she hadn't considered that already or that it was any sort of quick fix. What I realized was that since this was the first time that class was being taught, not just by her but by anyone, it was necessarily still a work in progress. There's no other way to get the data you need in order to analyze the effectiveness of your lesson plans, than by using them and observing things not working. If this had been any other field, I would have accepted her hesitance as being informed by experience and study; instead I attributed it to her being young and new and not knowing what I knew because hey, I got an A in my public speaking class and I'm all puffed up about it now. Never mind that there's no way in hell she got through her M.Ed. without ever having to study how to deliver a lesson in far greater detail than I had studied how to hand them a sandwich.

It's really insidious, this idea that teaching is easy. The fact that we pay our teachers so poorly and have so much less respect for the difficulty of their preparation than we do for that of doctors and lawyers helps to feed that myth, and really, so does the way that we refuse to systematically hold bad teachers accountable by demanding they improve their skills. We think "some people are just good at teaching, and some are just bad at it" without considering that educators can become more educated, can be taught to use the results of good research when selecting textbooks and designing lesson plans, can improve when given the proper resources and guidance.

I am totally off on a sermon so I'm going to just stop now.
Last edited by Bakemaster on Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:17 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby doogly » Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:14 pm UTC

Eh, you're totally right though. If her main reason for having bonus info on the slides is having them for the exam, she could annotate them. Then the info is there when you print them out or look at the presentation file, but isn't cluttering up the slides during the lecture. Using the same medium to scour over while studying and to visually guide a lecture is just not going to work; they will not be adequate to both tasks.

I mean, I recommend respectfully, of course. But uuuuugh, powerpoint abuses are like, everywhere.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Sep 12, 2011 5:20 pm UTC

Yeah, you caught me in the process of an edit because I realized I needed to emphasize a bit differently. It's this bit now:
Yeah, her slides were still pretty terrible, and I wasn't wrong that they needed to be more concise, but I was wrong to think she hadn't considered that already or that it was any sort of quick fix.

It was a huge pet peeve about that class, and at the end of the semester when feedback forms came around I made sure to make my case in detail and with more respect after having had the tutoring experience. But I see where she was coming from, I really do; she thought that if she said "It's in the book, make sure you read the book, and use it to study" that students in a 101 sort of class mostly just wouldn't do that, and so wouldn't learn the material; but if she put it in powerpoints she thought a lot more of them would study it because it's in a condensed form.

And I think she was right about that, but then the debate becomes, what's more important? Having the most students learn enough to do okay on the test, or providing incentives for students to improve their study skills by flunking them when they don't read the book? And I think that's actually a really, really tough debate to call for either side!
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby monduli » Mon Sep 12, 2011 10:04 pm UTC

I'm an Environmental Health major. When I tell people, their reactions are usually along the lines of "Oooh cool! You save trees!"

Um, no.

People confuse it with Environmental Science. Environmental Health is about how human health is affected by our surrounding environment--for example air/water quality, waste management, food protection, animal diseases, radiation, even workplace safety.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby jawdisorder » Tue Sep 13, 2011 5:15 am UTC

Recently I've got this several times:

*hears I'm in engineering*
Them: Oh cool! What kind of engineering are you in?
Me: Computer.
Them: uhhh....
Me: Yep.


As far as I can tell they're just fishing for the same as them or something similar to what they're in.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby topquark » Tue Sep 13, 2011 10:01 am UTC

I studied physics for undergrad and then moved more towards maths for phd. I would usually get a reaction along the lines of
"Oh, you must be so smart to do that!"

Um, no, I just have a particular skill in one narrow area, namely maths and physics. That's no smarter than someone doing, say, English and having to churn out a load of essays every week, it's just a different kind of intelligence - presumably a more unusual one, given by the number of people who seem to think maths is completely incomprehensible.
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Re: Reactions to your Major

Postby gorcee » Tue Sep 13, 2011 7:37 pm UTC

topquark wrote:I studied physics for undergrad and then moved more towards maths for phd. I would usually get a reaction along the lines of
"Oh, you must be so smart to do that!"

Um, no, I just have a particular skill in one narrow area, namely maths and physics. That's no smarter than someone doing, say, English and having to churn out a load of essays every week, it's just a different kind of intelligence - presumably a more unusual one, given by the number of people who seem to think maths is completely incomprehensible.


Completely right.

I'd say it's more akin to being a professional woodworker or a defensive coordinator for a football team. Or a dancer, or really any trade that requires specific training: your interests merge with things that you tend to find more natural than some other things (though not savant level), and then you train lots and lots and lots to be really good at them -- good enough to get other people to pay you money to do it more often.
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