Northwestern students dropping pre-med majors part of national trend

Daniel Schlessinger

When Zaynab Quadri came to Northwestern, she planned to pursue a molecular biosciences major on a premed track. However, after taking Chemistry 101, she began to doubt her decision.

“At this point, I’m not sure if the benefit of being a doctor is justified by the amount of work I have to put in to get there,” the Weinberg freshman said.

According to The New York Times, a recent study completed by the University of California at Los Angeles reported about 40 percent of students pursuing engineering and science degrees never fulfill these goals. Instead of the sciences, they change their majors to other disciplines or do not earn a degree at all. This number increases to 60 percent once pre-medical students are added, The Times wrote.

Weinberg sophomore Catie L’Heureux is one such student who is planning to abandon her premed ambitions at the end of Fall Quarter. As a member of the Weinberg Curricular Review Committee, which receives new course proposals, L’Heureux said she saw classes that seemed more interesting than her premed requirements.

“Unfortunately, as a premed I would never get to take them,” she said. “I just don’t want to lose anything by being a premed, committing to 10 more years of schooling.”

According to Northwestern Chemistry Prof. George Schatz, nearly 230 students enroll in his Chemistry 171 course in the fall, but the number decreases to about 190 by Winter Quarter when the same students take Chemistry 172. Many of the students in the class are premeds, science majors or engineers.

“There are a certain number of students who drop out of the University because of personal problems and certain (students) who switch from (Chemistry) 171 to (Chemistry) 101,” Schatz said. “Some might go from science to engineering.”

Although some students may encounter difficulties in NU’s introductory science classes, Schatz said he thinks most students can handle the curriculum.

“The great majority of students do well,” Schatz said. “We’re not talking about losing half of our students or anything like that. The students are, for the most part, very well prepared.”

Associate Dean for Admissions at NU’s Feinberg School of Medicine, Dr. Warren Wallace, said when medical schools evaluate candidates, the introductory science classes play a large role.

“We look carefully at the performance as undergraduates because we know that it is an indicator of performance in the future in the basic science curriculum,” Wallace said. “We really are looking for people who do well in coursework but also do have reserved capacity for getting acquainted for medicine as a career by shadowing, research, etc.”

That said, Wallace emphasized that grades aren’t the only factor in medical school admissions.

“There is a buzzword called ‘holistic review.’ It refers to the admission committee looking at the whole application,” Wallace said. “We look at the grades, but we also look at the other things like research, altruism, experience with medicine as a career, and diversity.”

Even though Schatz said his goal is to see students “master the material” in his chemistry class, Quadri said she cares more about her grades in these courses.

“It needs to be less about what’s in the book and more about what’s on the test,” Quadri said.

In order to aid students through introductory science courses, NU has created tutoring opportunities and workshops, such as the Gateway Science Workshop, which is led by students who have already succeeded in these courses.

Nancy Tapko, the assistant director and health professions adviser for the University Academic Advising Center, said students should take advantage of these programs if they wish to do well.

“Are they talking to the professor? A lot of the time, the students don’t know to go to office hours,” Tapko said. “We host study skills workshops. A big part of it, even as a freshman, is just that adjustment to college.”

However, Quadri opted not to participate in GSW because she said she did not have enough time in her academic schedule.

“Everything is a gigantic balancing act,” she said. “I didn’t do the GSW course, because I’m already pressed for time as is. I’d like to go to bed before 2 a.m.”

McCormick freshman Avy Faingezicht said his NU chemistry courses influenced him to change his previous career aspirations when he realized that being on a materials science track would require him to take more chemistry courses after Chemistry 171.

“Now I’m definitely not going to do it,” Faingezicht said.

Faingezicht and Quadri said they want NU to change the way the intro-level science classes are taught, with Faingezicht citing smaller lectures as one solution.

“Smaller classes mean you can ask more questions,” Faingezicht said.

Schatz said although NU has considered this smaller model for chemistry, there simply aren’t enough tenured faculty to teach intro level chemistry.

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