Every Vanderbilt student should take an intensive STEM class

The experience of these classes force you to acquire valuable learning skills

When I was registering for courses this past summer, I made a classic freshman move. Thinking that intro classes weren’t difficult, I chose Introduction to Biological Sciences to fulfill an AXLE requirement. My ‘easy’ class turned out to be the one I needed to put the most effort into, costing me hours and hours of my time yet still dragging down my GPA. As someone who is planning to major in economics and public policy, I have little interest in math and science. But I do not regret my decision to take a class full of premeds.

Every Vanderbilt student should take at least one intensive STEM class. It will no doubt be a tough experience. However, it will also be rewarding, stretch learning abilities and leave some lasting impressions.

In bio, the professors cover an extremely broad range of topics, from photosynthesis to DNA replication. And very often, the lectures go into extreme detail on these subjects, with heavy text, step-by-step diagrams, and animations. Once the lecture is over, all this information needs to be organized in an accessible way. By the time a midterm rolls around, there will be so many convoluted topics that it is necessary to organize the information first in order to study. When I first started out in bio, I thought that my old way of just writing down everything that was in the PowerPoints was sufficient. But, it wasn’t enough to help me score well on tests. By the time the second test rolled around, I found a way of organizing the information in a way that was much easier to retain.

STEM classes force students to learn the most effective way to retain information in the long term. To study in other classes, many students just reread the information until it sticks. This does not work for bio. When reviewing for bio midterms, simply revisiting the Powerpoint slides only helps with retaining the information in the short term. And soon enough, when I review too many topics, the earlier ones just don’t stick. Reviewing the topics each day and reducing the amount I needed to memorize at one time proved to be a much better technique. I would look at figures and diagrams and try to explain them without looking at the captions. Through this class I’ve learned that deep understanding requires practice–not just rereading.

Finally, taking a STEM class is so rewarding because of the companionship it brings. Although bio has caused me stress and sleepless nights, I’ve made the deepest connections with my peers in this class. Thinking about conversations with my friends, I’ve noticed they are largely about this class. Albeit most of those were full of complaints and whining about the difficulty, knowing that everyone else is going through the same thing and feeling the same emotions reminds me that it is okay to struggle at times. When I received a birthday card filled with bio puns and jokes from my friend, I knew that these were going to be memories that will last me a lifetime.

So non-STEM majors: take intro to biology or intro to chemistry. Take up the challenge, and see how you can refine your study skills. Learn about things in depth that you aren’t used to. If you succeed, you’ll come out stronger and better prepared than ever before.

Eryn Lin is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at eryn.t.lin@vanderbilt.edu.

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