Academic hurdles in college stymie many budding doctors, engineers and researchers: More than half of all college students who enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields change their majors or drop out.
As an undergraduate, Yoo Jung Kim — now a first-year Stanford medical student — and three colleagues at the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science observed this attrition firsthand and decided to do something about it. Together, they wrote a practical guide for aspiring science students, providing insider advice on topics ranging from how to pick a major to how to start a research project. Kim told me about her new book, What every science student should know, in recent emails:
What inspired you to write this guide for science students?
In November 2011, The New York Times published an article titled, "Why science majors change their Minds (It’s just so darn hard)." At that time, all of us [at Dartmouth] had seen friends struggle with their science classes; some of our peers had even been discouraged enough to change their majors. This article confirmed to us that the problems with STEM education were a nationwide phenomenon, and we felt like we already had some of the solutions.
We started interviewing highly successful science students at Dartmouth and other colleges throughout the country to see what they were doing differently. From there we distilled those observations into sample chapters that we pitched to literary agencies and publishers. Too many college students planning to study science and medicine change their minds later in their academic careers. Many of these students slip through the cracks in massive lecture‐based classes where they don't necessarily get much advice or attention. We feel that our book could provide the guidance that most students need.
Who is your target audience?
We wrote this book primarily as a resource for early college students and ambitious junior and senior high-school students interested in the sciences. However, its content can benefit anyone from a high-school freshman to a recent college graduate. Our book covers ways in which students can improve their study skills, master their courses, find mentors who can guide them, conduct scientific research and prepare for their future careers.
Our hope is that readers will find the book to be a pretty comprehensive guide to their life as a science student, as well as their transition from college to the outside world. The book draws on interviews with a full spectrum of different science majors, winners of national scholarships like the Rhodes, founders of startups, researchers, and more — to give a broad overview of where science can take you.
How did you find time to write a book during college?
By the time we had secured a publishing contract, most of us had graduated from college already. We were literally dispersed throughout the world — Beijing, Michigan, and New Hampshire — so we held Skype meetings every two weeks. We kept to a tight schedule based on an outline we had come up with early on in development. As for myself, Dartmouth College let me work on the book for academic credit as part of an independent writing project during my senior year. We all spent many nights and weekends writing the manuscript over the course of a few years time.
Are you planning to write any more books?
Yes! There are a couple of subjects that I've been wanting to pursue, but the biggest problem is finding the time, especially since medical school is already a full‐time endeavor. In the future, I want to write a book that showcases scientific research as a human endeavor filled with setbacks and triumphs.
What advice do you want to pass on to new college students?
Don't get overly discouraged by a bad grade in a science class. Throughout the country, science classes tend to give students lower grades than classes in other subjects. A bad grade is not necessarily a reflection of your work ethic or aptitude for science.
By the end of my sophomore year, I had racked up several Bs and B minuses in college science courses. I wondered whether I’d be able to get into any medical school, let alone Stanford. Fortunately, I found mentors at Dartmouth who helped me regain my confidence — physician mentors who helped me prioritize my time and upperclassman who shared their study tips and cheered me on. Starting in junior year, I aced all of my courses. I asked the upperclassmen who helped me to succeed — Justin Bauer, Andrew Zuerick and Daniel Lee — to join me in writing our book, so that everyone could have the mentorship experience that I had been lucky enough to receive.
Previously: The need to rethink science education, It's time to address medical education's public perception problem and To boost diversity in academia, "true grit" is needed
Image above courtesy of the University of Chicago Press; photo in featured box by James Pan