Posts Tagged ‘STEM’

The Random Act of Choosing a College Major

April 28, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Andrew Van Dam in the 30 March 2019 issue of the Washington Post. This post provides a neat follow up to the immediately preceding post “Missing Healthymemory Themes.” The article begins by stating that this potentially life altering decision is often made based on something as trivial as what time of day you took a particular class, or what you happened to be studying when the deadline for picking a major arrived. Even when students are doing well in a course, perhaps even in Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematic (STEM) discipline, they will switch majors to be with others who share genre or background. This has been suggested as a possible explanation for lower participation of females in these disciplines.

Economists like to study U.S. Military Academy Cadets because they are assigned schedules, and some classes at random creating a data set that allows them to answer questions such as what’s causing a student to pick one major over another. The author writes, “The answer, it turns out, is dumb luck. Students who happen to be assigned classes in one of four required subjects during the semester when they’re supposed to pick a major are twice as likely to major in the assigned subject, according to University of Maryland economist Nolan Pope, and Richard Patterson and Aaron Feudo of the U.S. Military Academy. This held true regardless of how well a student performed or how much they liked the course according to the analysis of class data from 2001 to 2015. Their database included grades, class times and students opinion about the course. Pope said, “Small and seemingly unimportant things can really have a large impact. Often students cite a specific class or teacher for a choice of major.”

Carnegie Mellon University professor Karem Haggag, showed students are about 10% less likely to major in a subject if they took a class at 7:30 a.m. Likewise. as students grown more fatigued during the day they grow about 10% less likely to major in the subject covered by each successive class.

Given these data it is not surprising that 37% of students eventually switch according to a paper from University of Memphis economists Carmen Astorne-Fiagari and Jamin D. Speer. These economists conducted a long-running survey of almost 9,000 students born between 1980 and 1984. Not surprisingly, students with lower GPAs are more likely to leave their major. But women of all ability levels are likely to change majors. However, men are more likely to drop out instead of trying a different major according to a study by Astorne-Figari and Speer.

Students doing poorly tend to switch majors, which makes perfect sense. Business, social sciences and economics tend to gain the most from students major switching, while biology, computer science and medicine (medical and health services) lost the most.

About a third of the men and a fifth of the women start out in STEM, and about 30% of those men and 43% of those women switch out of the subject area. Women who leave STEM tend to go to majors that cover similar subjects but are less competitive and less male, such as nursing. Speer said, “There are a lot of women who are very competent in math and science. They typically go to other fields that use science or other fields that use science but are less dominated by men.

Just because one has difficulty with a subject, does not necessarily mean that one cannot be successful in that area. The case of Barbara Oakley is instructive here.
Her father was in the military and she moved constantly doing her childhood. Her father wanted her to attend college and study math and science. Unfortunately, the only thing she was certain about was that she did not like math and science and did not think that she had any aptitude in math and science. However, she did like studying languages so she began studying French and German. At the time there were no available college loans so she enlisted in the military where she could get paid to study a language. So she studied Russian and learned the language.
When she got out of the army, she could not find any interest in her Russian skills. The jobs were in engineering and science and required advanced mathematical skills. So she moved into a new area for which she thought she had no aptitude. However, she found through diligent work that she was able to learn these subjects, and as she became proficient in these subjects, she found that she enjoyed them. So today she is a professor of engineering, firmly planted in the world of math and science. Along with Terrence Sejnowski, the Francis Crick Professor at the Salk Institute, she teaches the most popular online course in the world—“Learning How to Learn”—for Coursera/UC San Diego.

There are several posts on Dr. Oakley. She has also written a book “MIndshift.”
She writes that a “mindshift” is a deep change in life that occurs thanks to learning, and that is what this book is about. She relates true and inspirational stories of how people change themselves through learning—and who bring seemingly obsolete extraneous knowledge with them that has enabled our world to grow in fantastically creative and uplifting ways.

Another Post on Psychology as a STEM Discipline

September 1, 2016

HM likes to address this topic at the beginning of the school year.  Psychology is officially a STEM discipline.  STEM stand for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics and these are the disciplines highly prized for our economy.  Many are probably surprised that psychology is a STEM discipline because they think of psychology in a clinical sense and often confuse these psychologists with psychiatrists.

Well there is a scientific version psychology, parts of which are frequently termed neuropsychology because of the neurological structures and brain imaging techniques that are used.  For the student interested in science psychology is recommended because it crosses many levels of science.  Some psychologists image the brain and make recordings and measurements of the brain.  Cognitive psychologists study perception, memory, decision making, problem solving, and creativity.  Social psychologists study how groups of people interact.  Organizational psychologists study how organizations work and prosper.  Each of these sub-disciplines of psychology has special methodologies for dealing with these problems.  There are also mathematical psychologists and engineering psychologists.  HM had the privilege of serving as President of Division 21 of the American Psychological Association (APA) which is the Division for Engineering and Applied Experimental Psychology.

Although there are marketing psychologists, if you are interested in marketing it might be better to study marketing in a Business College.  If you are interested in how others think and feel, you might be better advised to study literature or drama in college.  Literature is known for fostering empathic understanding, which might be more of what you are interested.  Although HM has not seen any literature on The benefits of studying drama, he has a hunch that the study of and participation in drama might have similar benefits.  However, if you are interested in the scientific study of humans, then psychology would be a good choice.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Psychology is a STEM Discipline

August 22, 2015

STEM is an acronym referring to the academic discipline of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  It  is significant in that it recognizes the importance of these disciplines to economic competitiveness and, accordingly, stresses their importance to educational  policy,  Psychology is recognized as a STEM discipline by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  These STEM disciplines affect immigration policy.

Unfortunately, there are people who confuse psychology with psychiatry, a medical specialty.  Although clinical psychology does deal with mental illness, and clinical psychologists do work with psychiatrists, it is but one branch of psychology, as is counseling psychology.  Psychology is concerned with how humans and animals behave.  This interest extends beyond just behavior and is heavily involved with cognitive processes and neuroscience.  This includes the behavior and interactions of groups of people.  There is a branch known as industrial and organizational psychology that deals with businesses and organizations.  One of the divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA) is the Division of Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology.  I have had the honor of serving as president of this division.

Although psychology is an important discipline and deserves recognition as a STEM discipline, I had long thought that it was best to postpone psychology courses until college.  However, my thinking has changed.  I have long advocated that statistics and experimental design be taught in high school.  The reason for this is that it is difficult to be a responsible citizen, or to make informed decisions about medical care, without a fundamental understanding of statistics.   However, I think all adults should have some understanding about how human cognition works, and the information processing shortcomings and biases we are all prey to.  People need to learn how we understand and come into contact with our environment and our fellow human beings.   People need to understand that we are conscious of only a small percentage of our cognitive processes.  And we all need to learn about mindfulness so we can deal better not only with our own cognitive processes, but also with our interactions with our fellow human beings.

I have also found that psychology, that is scientifically based psychology, provides an expert platform for learning about science.  Psychology involves more than neuroimaging.  There are psychologists who use biological assays in their research.  Cognitive psychology is concerned with how cognition works to include memory, perception, concept formation, problem solving, language, and creativity.  Educational psychology studies the best ways to learn including teaching and computer assisted instruction.  Social psychology is concerned with how groups of humans act, how opinions are formed, and the best ways to persuade.  Industrial organizational psychology is concerned with how organizations work, and how their functioning can be performed.  This includes the performance of teams.  Different areas of research require different techniques, so a wide variety of experimental methods and statistical approaches are used.

It has been my experience that many, certainly not all, but many, from the physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering, know well the methods and techniques needed for their disciplines.  But they still lack a general ability to apply the scientific method.  The function more as technicians in their disciplines, rather than as broadly trained scientists.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

We Can’t All Be Math Nerds & Science Geeks

April 4, 2015

This is the title of a Outlook piece in the March 29th edition of the Washington Post. by Fareed Zakaria.  His article excoriates our obsession with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education and argues that it will make it harder for America to innovate.  He quotes Florida governor Rick Scott’s rhetorical question “Is it vital to the state to have more anthropologists?” and supplied the governor’s answer, “I don’t think so.”  Well I would argue that many, if not most, of Florida’s problems involve people which implies the social sciences of which anthropology is one.  The failure to recognize that social science is science and that the study of the many areas of psychology provide an understanding of the many areas in which the scientific method is being applied is not generally understood  (enter “STEM” into the healthymemory blog search blog to find relevant posts).  Zakaria provides statements by Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg attesting to the importance of liberal arts in the tech world.  Although I, being a liberal arts major, strongly believes in the value of a liberal arts education, I do not agree with his conclusion that everything is hunky dory.  I think there are serious problems in the educational system and that some of them can be found in the hard sciences, engineering, and mathematics.

I am an applied cognitive psychologist who designs experiments and uses statistics.  I work intimately with hard scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.  Please understand that what I am going to write does not apply to all scientists, engineers, and mathematicians as many are brilliant scholars and read widely.  And due to their scholarship and wide reading they have covered up large holes in their formal training.  All scientists and engineers understand the data analyses of their research areas.  But there knowledge is specific to their research areas.  I view them more as technicians than as scientists.  Similarly with mathematicians.  I know mathematicians with a very deep knowledge of certain areas of mathematics, but who do not know the basics of experimental design or statistical analysis.  Zakaria extols education in critical thinking, and I strongly agree with him.  However, I have never seen a book on critical thinking that includes the general linear model (GLM).  The GLM is not some esoteric mathematical formula.  It can be understood by anyone who has had a course in high school algebra.  And it forms the basis of thinking about factors and how they interact.  It needs to be explicitly included in books and courses on critical thinking.

Moreover, I think it important that statistics be taught no later than high school.  Only students who go on to certain fields will need trigonometry or calculus, but every individual needs to have some fundamental understanding of statistics to be an effective citizens and to make informed decisions on their personal lives.  They need to understand both descriptive and inferential statistics.  I believe courses can be made simple enough so that all can have at least a rudimentary understanding of these important disciplines.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.