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Student Comments

Timestamp: Sat Feb 11 01:15:54 2012

Name: Adam Jermyn
E-Mail: ajermyn@caltech.edu

I saw the proposed changes to Core and am not a fan of cutting any terms of math or physics out of the requirements. A lot of what makes Caltech special is tied up in the breadth the undergraduate program provides in the sciences, and the new core drastically cuts this down.

Timestamp: Tues Feb 7 16:18:17 2012

Name: Connor Rosen
E-mail: crosen@caltech.edu

(Note: Comments originally submitted to ARC Chair)

Essentially, the question that I (and many frosh to whom I spoke) had was centered on the stated purpose of HSS requirements. If we have 12 HSS requirements because alumni said they got worse at writing while they were here, why are only 3 of the courses "writing-intensive"? In addition, if HSS requirements are to make us "well-rounded people", why are we required to take 12 HSS while every other college in the nation seemingly manages to graduate well-rounded students taking far fewer core requirements?

(Note: U Chicago requires 9 HSS and 6 math/sci, MIT requires 9 math/sct and 8 HSS, Yale requires 4 HSS, 2 Writing courses, and 4 math/sci - basically our core, even after the coming reduction, is far more substantial than anywhere else)

My idea goes something like this - we should have fewer hums required, but they should be more rigorous  classes (i.e. make them actually 9 units worth of work, which definitely doesn't seem like the case in my frosh hum or in advanced hums my friends are taking) and more should be "writing intensive". This, I feel, addresses every serious complaint I've heard raised on both sides of the issue (not counting "I don't wanna take hums!" as a serious complaint by students).

1) We would have more writing practice because our hums are focused on writing intensive courses.

2) We would be taking fewer HSS classes, which allows for more flexibility in scheduling (particularly now that frosh are having difficulty taking their frosh hums in frosh year because of the 45-unit cap in the first two terms - I knew a lot of people who had to ignore HSS first term so they could do CS1 - a very popular class - and Aph9 or a frosh seminar).

3) People would start putting more effort into their hums, and getting more out of them as a result. If the classes are of a higher quality, more work, and require actual thought and writing, people are going to care about them more (they will also whine, but people whine about anything and everything). One thing I've seen and heard from upperclassmen is that "HSS are easy A's and no work". When I mentioned to you yesterday that I didn't want to have to double/triple hum, you mentioned that that isn't really a big deal - implying that hums are less work and less important to focus on than other classes - because we all know that triple mathing, for example, is a lot of work that people do because they are passionate about math. Remove the mindset that HSS are easy classes to blow off, and people will become as well rounded from 6-8 classes they really try in as 12 classes they don't give a damn about.

4) One HSS a term is quite a lot. This goes back to points 2 and 3, but I'll use my schedule as an example. 2nd term sophomore year for me, as a chem major, is going to be quite tough with the remainder of core math and physics, Ch41, and CH4, which is a really difficult and time-intensive lab course. If I take a hum (which I probably will so I don't fall even farther behind on my hums and have to triple hum senior year, see above), I'm not really going to pay attention and put my full effort in, and so I won't get much out. Having fewer HSS requirements lets me arrange it so that my Hums will be during terms where I don't have as intense a schedule for my option. That benefits everybody - I will do better in the Hum, I will do better in my option courses, and my professors won't have to deal with distracted me who doesn't care about the hum because I'm half-crazed by organic synthesis.

I've come up, after talking with a bunch of my friends (who are, admittedly, mostly frosh or upperclassmen skurves, and so a limited sample, and people who don't all know what the profs in HSS think or want very well), with a couple ways I think this could work, just as food for thought - depending of course on the HSS department and faculty desires.

1) 8 HSS requirements - 1 frosh hum, 1 intro SS, 6 writing intensive (2 Hum, 2 SS, 2 any course deemed writing intensive)

Emphasize the WAFT more. If people do poorly on the WAFT, they still have to take En1/2 or whatever that course is. If people do only OK they have to take a frosh hum. If they do very well on the WAFT - i.e. demonstrate the ability to write at a college level coming in, then they "pass out" of the frosh hum and have only 7 HSS requirements (1 intro SS, 6 writing intensive).

2) 8 HSS requirements - 3 hums (writing intensive), 3 SS (writing intensive), 2 other HSS classes

Again, we could use the WAFT to still require people who can't go straight into a writing-intensive class to take either an extra En1/2 or just to encourage them to take the "other HSS" first. This proposal also allows for credit for those non-writing intensive HSS classes like language or super-math-based economics, which people will probably want to take and should still get credit for.

3) 8 HSS requirements - 4 hums (2 intro, 2 writing intensive), 4 SS (2 intro, 2 writing intensive) + 1 other writing intensive course

For this proposal, you would probably take the option requirements in the speaking / writing (E10/11, Ch90/91, Bi24) and beef them up to actual 9 unit classes with a substantial writing component - that could involve collaboration with the writing center or something (I know you mentioned that during the ARC meeting yesterday).

It all depends on how the options feel about their writing courses and what the HSS department wants. Nonetheless, it seems to me that this way, we have more interest and effort put into the HSS classes and more emphasis on writing while reducing the (frankly excessive) HSS load and allowing much greater flexibility in scheduling for students.

I hope something like this can be accomplished or at least brought to the attention of the faculty as an alternative way of thinking about HSS requirements.

Timestamp: Fri Feb  3 12:30:29 2012

Name: Anonymous

I am concerned about the removal of Ma 2ab from core. I recognize that options can add these as their requirements, but I feel that these are basic topics that all students should learn. In particular, I strongly believe that a working knowledge of probability and statistics is crucial to being an educated person, in addition to being extremely useful in analyzing experimental data.

 On the other hand, I support trimming the physics core to Ph 1abc

Timestamp: Fri Feb  3 12:00:20 2012

Name: Priyam Patel
E-Mail: priyamp@caltech.edu

 Regarding the proposed core changes:

Everyone who graduates from Caltech must know quantum physics. That being said, Ph2ab in its current form sucks. The quantum it teaches is nothing like the quantum used in actual physics. For instance, Ph2a does not introduce the matrix formulation of quantum mechanics, which has been the language of modern physics since Heisenberg. Extending this to three terms as Ph2abc will not fix this at all. The class needs to be completely redesigned. Or else almost all options should require students take Ph12b.**

HSS requirements are too much. Nobody attends Caltech to gain a strong background in humanities. Requiring 8 HSS classes is way better than requiring 12. Even our peer institutions do not require so many HSS classes.

Ma2ab are useful classes. However, Ma2a overlaps in content with ACM95b, which most options require. This makes ODEs redundant for most students.

**On a personal aside, I took Ph2a and Ph12b (and APh17a instead of Ph12c). I did this because I felt that Ph2a gave me an insufficient understanding of quantum mechanics. This proved advantageous in that I only took half a term of wave physics and one and a half terms of quantum. I personally think this is how Ph2/12 should be restructured. A complaint I hear a lot from students in Ph12a is that an entire term is too much to focus on waves. And for students who do not go on to learn quantum mechanics in Ph125, Ph12b is a decent introduction to quantum mechanics. I propose merging some of Ph12b into Ph12a, or introducing an additional term of Ph2 dedicated to an axiomatic approach to quantum mechanics.

Timestamp: Fri Feb  3 11:47:43 2012

Name: Caroline Werlang
E-Mail: cwerlang@caltech.edu

I believe that the new changes to core will only serve to undermine Caltech's reputation; above anything else, we are known for requiring all of our graduates to take an extensive and comprehensive core. The fact that every one of our students - even pre-meds- takes quantum is what sets us apart from other universities. Core allows us to have a basic comprehension of a variety of fields that allows us to understand the research of all of our friends and colleagues, regardless of field. This understanding is what allows us to cross fields and perform truly unique and exciting science. This understanding is what sets us apart.

As the email sent by the ARC Chair mentioned, these changes will probably only affect a few majors - majors that currently have some of the smallest unit requirements for graduation and could benefit most from diversity in their fields. Don't rob these students of the opportunity to learn; don't let them be average. If they wanted a high GPA, they could have gone to another school. Our extensive Core is what brought me to Caltech, and I would be extremely disappointed if it was turned into a weaker form of its former glory.

Timestamp: Fri Feb  3 09:53:32 2012

Name: Erin Hoops
E-Mail: Erinh@Caltech.edu

Do the changes to core still involve adding a building requirement?

Timestamp: Tue May 10 15:36:19 2011

Name: Outraged Student
E-Mail: outragedstudent12345@gmail.com

These changes are terrible!  Why are they being implemented?  What on earth is a "Freshman Seminar?"  Don't make freshmen take some stupid waste-of-time class that won't teach them anything.  WHY ARE YOU REDUCING THE AMOUNT OF MATH AND PHYSICS!?  CORE IS NOT TOO HARD!  DON'T MAKE IT EASIER!!!!

The whole POINT of this school is that it's hard.  It's SUPPOSED to be hard.  Don't ruin my school by making it easier!  I don't WANT it to be any easier.  Core is supposed to be hard because it is supposed to prepare students for Caltech.  THE STUDENTS ARE ON PASS/FAIL FOR THIS EXACT REASON!  Making core easier and leaving students on pass/fail is redundant and stupid.  DON'T MAKE CORE EASIER - PASS FAIL MAKES THINGS EASY ENOUGH.

For that matter, I am not really sure why frosh hums are going to be graded no matter what.  What is the reason for this?  There is none.  It's just going to force the freshen to focus on hums rather than science their first two terms.  They should be exploring science without worrying about grades in some silly humanities class they aren't interested in.

What is an Algorithms class?  I have no idea.  That's really vague.  Just make the kids take CS - oh wait, you already did!  So why make them take algorithms?  Let me pause to add that making them take CS is a GREAT IDEA!  Everyone should be exposed to CS because it's as important a branch of science as any.  THANK YOU.

Finally, for the love of all that is good, don't make them take science communication.  That sounds like a horrible class where students won't learn anything.  No one will take it seriously.  STUDENTS DON'T NEED TO TAKE SCIENCE COMMUNICATION, BECAUSE WHEN THEY DO A SURF, THEIR GRAD STUDENTS/PROFESSORS WILL TEACH THEM WHAT THEY NEED TO KNOW!  THE ONLY THING THAT WILL HELP THEM IS EXPERIENCE.

Please, please, please, don't make this school easier.  I'm going to graduate from here after putting myself through hell to get good grades, and all I'm going to do is walk around to my prospective employers and try to explain to them, "No, no, no, you don't understand.  I graduated from Caltech BEFORE it became easy.  I was on the harder form of core."

Timstamp: Tue May 10 14:41:45 2011

Name: Isaac Sheff
E-Mail: isheff@caltech.edu

We have been told (though the most recent minutes are not yet on the website) that the proposed "micro-core" curriculum, which was mentioned as "not recommended" at SFC, has been chosen to be the new core. Why go against the recommendation of SFC? I feel I am not alone when I say that I would be displeased by such a turn of events.

Timestamp: Thu Apr 14 01:53:57 2011

The main problem with the core curriculum is with the humanities requirement. At a school as intense as Caltech in the sciences, we don't have time as students to read 70-100 pages per week when we have upwards of 35 hours of homework to do. In response, many students just don't take the classes seriously or go out of their way NOT to take a class where the reading exceeds 20 pages per week. Further, when we write papers in the humanities classes, we rarely have to revise them.  If we never revise them, no one ever reads the comments. We can't get better at writing by writing a lot; we can only get better at writing and analyzing our feedback.

Timestamp: Wed Apr 13 13:47:30 2011

I think reducing math and physics requirements to 4 terms is a positive step towards reducing the "burnout" phenomenon that is often seen at Caltech. As a chemistry major, I found some of physics core interesting, but much of it was a tremendous, boring struggle that turned me against physics for life. Likewise, I enjoyed math in high school, but hated it by the end of core. On the other hand, many people love core, so maybe keeping the optional 3 terms of Ph12 or similar would be a good compromise.

Timestamp: Wed Apr 13 13:05:37 2011

I have no complaints about core.  I have found the classes useful and enlightening.

Timestamp: Wed Apr 13 05:14:35 2011

Please don't water down core.  Caltech is special because of it.  Don't ruin it.

Timestamp: Wed Apr 13 01:52:13 2011

Name: Qunchao Sun
E-Mail: shuimitao119@gmail.com

I feel that the core is generally good. The only thing I wanna say is that Chem and Bio have too much stuff to learn and thus too much work. It would be better if they were easier for those of us not majoring in Chem or Bio.

Timestamp: Wed Apr 13 00:43:58 2011

Name: Audrey Liu

I think not allowing students to pass/fail all their humanities is reasonable. However, I think that they should be allowed a limited number of pass/fail humanities which can count towards the requirement. For example, we could let students pass/fail two humanities which can still count towards the requirement.

Timestamp: Tue Apr 12 23:08:00 2011

Name: Mia Oviatt
E-Mail: moviatt@caltech.edu

Shadow grades might be discouraging to first term freshmen, so I don't see any need to have them. 

Timestamp: Tue Apr 12 22:50:38 2011

It seems that some of the faculty enlisted to teach core classes may be prioritizing research and other concerns over giving the best quality of teaching.

Timestamp: Tue Apr 12 22:14:51 2011

This freshman seminar seems like an idealistic proposal that will fall flat. It is unlikely that enough professors will be both willing and interesting.