Part 23, “And yet we isolate students instead of connecting them” of Seth Godwin’s STOP STEALING DREAMS caught my attention this week. I felt isolated during my entire undergraduate program. I was lucky to have one or two friends in any of my classes. Like Godwin said, it’s because all assignments, tests, quiz, and homework are done individually for the most part. This is especially true for science disciplines, where everything is rote memorization, even the upper-level classes.
Biology, chemistry, anatomy, athletic injuries, exercise physiology, nutrition across the lifespan, even organic chemistry lab, whatever class you wanted to name, the course structure of the majority of my undergraduate classes was the exact same. We’d have our multiple choice tests, online quizzes, and homework assignments. If there weren’t homework assignments in a class, you would be expected to take tests every 3 weeks. This made it really difficult to get to know the other students in the class. If you weren’t able to make friends in your major, you likely wouldn’t have anyone to study with for the tests or anyone to ask questions about the homework assignments. You were isolated from everyone else who had friends within the major. I feel like the most successful students in my major were the students who had made friends early on, like in their first year, and continued through the program with the same set of friends.
“Oh but a solution would be to talk to whoever you’re sitting next to in class and make friends with them so you can study together.” That’s not easy. Especially if that person is introverted, shy about meeting people, or if everyone in the class is different from them. I was the latter. My career goals did not match any of my classmates, I wasn’t interested in the same hobbies, I didn’t participate in club activities that were related to my discipline, and I wasn’t interested in finding a physical therapist to shadow with. For the most part, students in my major (nutrition and exercise) were interested in a limited number of careers, becoming a physical therapist, physician’s assistant, or a dietitian. I wanted to do research in a public health setting. I thought I was in the wrong major because I wasn’t meeting anyone with similar interests.
I only had three friends who were in my major and I met them externally through my social clubs. Two of them were a year ahead of me so we didn’t have our core classes together. My major is the 5th largest major on campus and yet I had such difficulty making friends and meeting people through my classes. My friends in other majors, such as business or engineering, always had a solid group of friends that would study for exams together, work on homework assignments together, and, lacking in my program, do group projects together. We criticize our engineering and business programs for their issues with teamwork but we often overlook our science programs where there is virtually no teamwork opportunities.
I made my first in-major friend my senior year. She and I shared the same interests; we wanted to pursue a graduate degree in some sort of public health program and work in research. How did I meet her? We were two out of five students in a new class that our department was testing, Food and Nutrition Toxicology. The class centered around discussions and presentations. How did we both individually decide to take the class? We found that the course content was interesting and seemed applicable to our research interests. Also, we both struggled in traditional classroom formats.