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Surviving Weed-Out Classes in Science May Be a State of Mind

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A mini-cohort.

There is evidence that weed-out classes disproportionately hinder underrepresented groups from pursuing STEM degrees.

Credit: Simone Noronha

"Look to your left, look to your right. One of you won't be here in the next semester."

It's a typical lecture delivered at the start of a semester in the sciences, and one that Ainissa Ramirez remembered hearing early during her undergraduate studies at Brown University.

Now a successful materials scientist and science writer, Dr. Ramirez recalls that she was almost pushed out of pursuing a career in science because of her weed-out classes. As their name suggests, the classes are common especially in the sciences and mathematics at American universities, and are designed to demarcate students who are likely to do well in a given subject from those who are not.

Those who excel in these introductory classes can proceed with completing a major on the topic if they wish. But there's evidence that weed-out classes disproportionately hinder underrepresented groups including women as well as Black, Native American and Hispanic people from pursuing STEM degrees.

"Everyone should have some science in their life," Ramirez said, adding that classes should be tailored toward different students' needs rather than constantly trying to eliminate them.


From The New York Times
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