Dealing with the Competition Within the Stern Science Department

By: Sarah Brill  |  December 18, 2019

By: Sarah Brill, Sci-Tech Editor

Science majors at Stern College for Women are highly sought-after. This popularity pairs with an unparalleled academic rigor set by the professors and students. When 68 fellow science majors, including, but not limited to, computer science, biology, chemistry, and nursing students, were presented with the question of whether they thought there is competition within the science department, an overwhelming 56 out of 68 respondents said they felt there is. Even more striking, out of all the pre-health respondents, only 6% reported that they felt there was no competition in their department. 

It has become the norm within the science department to witness a student crying in the bathroom or in the lounge about their recently released grades. Some students may cry about getting a B-, and others are forced to hide their emotions due to the fear of getting ridiculed or shunned by their friends about their grades. According to the experience of one Stern science student, “[…] Students obsess about grades and talk down to their peers as if they are ‘less intelligent.’” This attitude not only creates a hostile atmosphere, but can also affect the mental stability and health of the peer to whom you are targeting your aggression and competitive energy. “As a bio major […] I have witnessed the competitiveness between [pre-medical students]. […] The stigma surrounding getting anything lower than an A- within the science community is ridiculous and detrimental, even to those who thrive under pressure,” said another student.

Even something as trivial as having an exclusive clique within the science department, has been brought to attention. A pre-medical student depicted a Stern-clique as a group of people who “disclose resources only to those whom they want to help.” 

It isn’t just the students who create a competitive environment. According to one pre-dental student, professors “make [tests] really hard […] friends don’t want to help each other so the average won’t be so high, so hopefully the teacher won’t make the next test too difficult. [My] organic chemistry professor specifically said that the average was too high and we would need a ‘bell curve’.” This would either create a “harder” next exam, or lead the professor to grade with a close attention to detail. 

When discussing this article with a friend, I was met with a sigh of relief as she said: “I am so glad you are addressing this issue, [as] it has caused me great mental and emotional strain.” As a Jewish and scientific community, our job is to raise each other up. Competition will not help anyone get into any graduate program they wish to attend. Graduate schools are not asking students, “How did you mentally destroy your classmates in college?” There are countless commandments in the Torah that forbid the actions taken by these students , the main one being “do not harm a fellow Jew,” which can be interpreted to mean both mental and physical harm.

 The fact of the matter is, if someone is too “slow” in your group, or cannot “keep up,” instead of ostracizing them, help them and learn from them. This is especially important for students who intend to go into pre-health professions. You will be dealing with people on a daily basis, some of whom may not understand their prognosis or fail to recognize the significance of it. What do you plan to do then? Laugh at them? Walk out of the room and ignore their plea for help? 

Our time in college is considered a learning process, but concepts like empathy and sympathy should have been embedded into our morals from a very young age. So next time you decide to either exclude another classmate from a group, compete with someone who is clearly not competing with you (or even if they are), and mock or shame other women for being “less than,” think twice. Be a kind person; it really shouldn’t have to be said. 

Editor’s note: for all of you who submitted the survey thank you for your thoughts and expressions! Please reach out to me if you ever need someone.

***   ***

Photo: Beren Students in the Science Department

Photo Source: Yeshiva University