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Undergraduate Programs: mine is harder than yours: The Great Debate

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4 minutes ago, ranchonpizza said:

Hi all! I read through this thread and it got me wondering about whether any empirical data exists revolving this question. So I did a bit of Google-foo to see if any universities publicly release GPA information per program. The only Canadian university which does seems to be Queens, but unfortunately you have to be a student/alumni to access the data, so I couldn't look into it. I did a bit more digging and found out that UC Berkeley does publish their data in a very accessible manner, which allowed me to copy it into Excel and do a bit of summing/averaging. What I did was I took the data, sorted it by Division (the easiest, most straightforward way to figure out if a certain program is sciency or artsy), and calculated the total GPA for that division (sum of average GPA per program * headcount for that program divided by total headcount for that division). I presented the data below; note that I removed the divisions "Letters and Sciences Administered Programs" and "Letters and Sciences Undergrad Studies", as they appear to be generalist divisions which encompass a range of subjects in both science and arts.

  • Clg of Environmental Design, Bachelor of Arts, GPA 3.27
  • Clg of Chemistry, Bachelor of Science, GPA 3.30
  • L&S Math & Phys Sciences Div, Bachelor of Arts, GPA 3.34
  • Clg of Natural Resources, Bachelor of Science, GPA 3.35
  • Clg of Engineering, Bachelor of Science, GPA 3.38
  • L&S Biological Sciences Div, Bachelor of Arts, GPA 3.38
  • L&S Social Sciences Division, Bachelor of Arts, GPA 3.39
  • L&S Arts & Humanities Division, Bachelor of Arts, GPA 3.47
  • Haas School of Business, Bachelor of Science, GPA 3.54

Takeaways:

  • None of the division range by more than a letter grade, so at the end of the day none of this matters - this is the important one!!
  • Business appears to be the "easiest" to get a higher GPA in, by a relatively "large" margin (we're talking tenths of a GPA point here, bear in mind), and Arts & Humanities are second, again by a relatively "large" margin over the third
  • Environmental Design, which encompasses such things such as architecture and urban design, appears relatively "harder"; kind of makes sense when you consider it as a professional program
  • Bio and engineering seem to be smack dab in the middle; that should extinguish any elitism from those fields (as an engineering student myself, I can testify that engineers are particularly prone to a superiority complex...)

I would love it if someone with access to the Queen's data did a similar dig!

I don’t think you’re looking at the right data for the debate that’s going on. I don’t think anyone is debating what the average GPA for different fields is — they’re mainly debating how easy it is for the average person to get X grade in that field. 

The suggestion is that an average person dropped into a fourth year maths class would do worse than if the same person was dropped into a fourth year history class. Average GPA doesn’t tell us anything about that. 

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8 minutes ago, providence said:

If you look at the crap that comes from some humanities profs like Jordan Peterson or that prof that castigated the TA for discussing Peterson in class, it's hard to imagine an equivalent for even the shittiest science prof.  

Really?  I've heard/read some true nonsense from scientists, when they're speaking outside their area of expertise (as Peterson does - strictly speaking, he's not a humanities prof, he's a psychologist, which would make him a social scientist).  Listening to scientists or engineers talk politics can be a terrifying experience (David Suzuki? Phillip Rushton?).    

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I think the topic has focused too much on which UG degrees are "harder" or require more intellectual efforts. Why don't we talk about relative value of what you learn?

This point has been raised by others in the thread, but I think it's important to point out stress that some (most?) of the really difficult STEM subjects (the ones that make you say: "shit, that person must be smart"), aren't all that practical/useful in real life, unless you're going to continue on in some kind of technical/academic function, which most ppl do not. (I'm talking about, for example, really abstract mathematics, and not engineering, which obviously has practical application.)

There is no doubt in my mind that understanding Real Analysis is more difficult than grasping some pretty basic concepts from polysci or philosophy 101, but if you forget how to solve these problems 1-2 years after graduation, who cares? The basic skills of critical thinking and being able to think conceptually will follow you around for life, and I'd argue that a BA-type program teaches more of these skills and they are more directly transferable to the "real world".

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45 minutes ago, providence said:

If you look at the crap that comes from some humanities profs like Jordan Peterson or that prof that castigated the TA for discussing Peterson in class, it's hard to imagine an equivalent for even the shittiest science prof.  

Information sciences?

"On May 14, University of Akron professor Liping Liu sent an email to his class sections saying certain categories of students—including women—may see their grades "raised one level or two." Liu claimed his approach was a part of a "national movement to encourage female students to go [in]to information sciences."

Fortunately, the plan appears to have been vetoed. Asked for comment, university officials say that "no adjustment in grades along the lines suggested by the professor has occurred or will be permitted to occur." But Liu's suggestion is still troubling.

According to The College Fix, Liu's email claims that some women in his classes aren't doing very well and would probably have to "repeat the courses or leave the program" without any sort of grade inflation...." [emphasis added]

https://reason.com/archives/2018/05/23/prof-bumps-female-students-stem-grades-b

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1 minute ago, maximumbob said:

Really?  I've heard/read some true nonsense from scientists, when they're speaking outside their area of expertise (as Peterson does - strictly speaking, he's not a humanities prof, he's a psychologist, which would make him a social scientist).  Listening to scientists or engineers talk politics can be a terrifying experience (David Suzuki? Phillip Rushton?).    

Philippe Rushton is a psychologist and definitely full of shit - I should have specified hard sciences. I'm lumping pyschology in with humanities thinking of them as arts or social sciences - so sociology, psychology etc. Things based more on subjective than objective data. Suzuki is an interesting one because he has a science background (genetics, I think?) but has become more of an activist/politician since. And I guess I should specify further that I meant scientists teaching in their area of expertise. Obviously a microbiology prof trying to talk about the history of the Civil War or even string theory will sound like an idiot. But I meant that a hard sciences/math prof teaching their subject in class is less likely to sound stupid than Lindsay Shepherd's boss, in my experience. 

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29 minutes ago, conge said:

I think the topic has focused too much on which UG degrees are "harder" or require more intellectual efforts. Why don't we talk about relative value of what you learn?

This point has been raised by others in the thread, but I think it's important to point out stress that some (most?) of the really difficult STEM subjects (the ones that make you say: "shit, that person must be smart"), aren't all that practical/useful in real life, unless you're going to continue on in some kind of technical/academic function, which most ppl do not.

There is no doubt in my mind that understanding Real Analysis is more difficult than grasping some pretty basic concepts from polysci or philosophy 101, but if you forget how to solve these problems 1-2 years after graduation, who cares? The basic skills of critical thinking and being able to think conceptually will follow you around for life, and I'd argue that a BA-type program teaches more of these skills and they are more directly transferable to the "real world".

Real Analysis does teach you to think critically and conceptually. 

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6 minutes ago, epeeist said:

Information sciences?

"On May 14, University of Akron professor Liping Liu sent an email to his class sections saying certain categories of students—including women—may see their grades "raised one level or two." Liu claimed his approach was a part of a "national movement to encourage female students to go [in]to information sciences."

Fortunately, the plan appears to have been vetoed. Asked for comment, university officials say that "no adjustment in grades along the lines suggested by the professor has occurred or will be permitted to occur." But Liu's suggestion is still troubling.

According to The College Fix, Liu's email claims that some women in his classes aren't doing very well and would probably have to "repeat the courses or leave the program" without any sort of grade inflation...." [emphasis added]

https://reason.com/archives/2018/05/23/prof-bumps-female-students-stem-grades-b

What the hell is information sciences?

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12 hours ago, NYCLawyer said:

Nobody can really think that math and physics aren’t harder than history and law. Some things are conceptually difficulty and some are not.  Nobody ever sat in contracts and had the professor explain that a contract requires offer and acceptance and consideration and was like “wait what I don’t follow; can you please explain that again.”  But that happens all the time in math class. The “difficulty” of law school, as hoju points out, is just learning to beat the curve when the material is basic and everybody understands it but only so many As can be given out. The difficulty of a humanities degree is nonexistent because 90% of the class didn’t even read the material. 

But people get way too bent out of shape about this.  Understanding difficult concepts is a very overrated skill.  Unless you’re a rocket scientist or a math professor you don’t need to be that smart.  Most of life (and all of law, which seems relevant here) ain’t that complicated. You’re better off focusing on your work ethic, attention to detail, people skills — stuff that actually matters. 

[emphasis added]

Yes, they can. Again, it depends on the individual. In engineering, I knew some people who found high-level mathematics much easier - both took them less time to study/do problems/assignments and they got much better marks, than in required outside electives in history and other humanities. They got stressed-out about history assignments and tests but not math. Etc. And I don't only mean people for whom English was a second language.

I was mostly the other way round, but what was trivially easy for me was difficult for some others and vice versa.

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26 minutes ago, conge said:

I think the topic has focused too much on which UG degrees are "harder" or require more intellectual efforts. Why don't we talk about relative value of what you learn?

This point has been raised by others in the thread, but I think it's important to point out stress that some (most?) of the really difficult STEM subjects (the ones that make you say: "shit, that person must be smart"), aren't all that practical/useful in real life, unless you're going to continue on in some kind of technical/academic function, which most ppl do not. (I'm talking about, for example, really abstract mathematics, and not engineering, which obviously has practical application.)

There is no doubt in my mind that understanding Real Analysis is more difficult than grasping some pretty basic concepts from polysci or philosophy 101, but if you forget how to solve these problems 1-2 years after graduation, who cares? The basic skills of critical thinking and being able to think conceptually will follow you around for life, and I'd argue that a BA-type program teaches more of these skills and they are more directly transferable to the "real world".

I'd counter that given the website we are on, the degree of relative value would be most inferred by what program allows you to more likely gain admission to law school in Canada (by means of achieving a high GPA).  If certain programs allow you to break out on the curve more easily among your peers, those programs are more valuable to that end.  However, that sets the stage for another debate, which is whether you should choose UG program based on the likelihood of excelling and attending law school, or based on your interests and strengths and hope that it's enough to gain admission. Because if we are only looking at this matter retrospectively and not as a means of encouraging future candidates to make informed decisions, it really is just a dick-measuring contest.

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17 minutes ago, conge said:

I think the topic has focused too much on which UG degrees are "harder" or require more intellectual efforts. Why don't we talk about relative value of what you learn?

This point has been raised by others in the thread, but I think it's important to point out stress that some (most?) of the really difficult STEM subjects (the ones that make you say: "shit, that person must be smart"), aren't all that practical/useful in real life, unless you're going to continue on in some kind of technical/academic function, which most ppl do not. (I'm talking about, for example, really abstract mathematics, and not engineering, which obviously has practical application.)

There is no doubt in my mind that understanding Real Analysis is more difficult than grasping some pretty basic concepts from polysci or philosophy 101, but if you forget how to solve these problems 1-2 years after graduation, who cares? The basic skills of critical thinking and being able to think conceptually will follow you around for life, and I'd argue that a BA-type program teaches more of these skills and they are more directly transferable to the "real world".

I'd rebut that there are very few undergraduate programs which provide skills directly translatable to a career, besides nursing and some engineering majors that are essentially professional programs. I don't think the ability to compare literature from the 1600s or criticize some political ideology is any more attributable to everyday life than understanding chemical reactions or laws of motion. All these programs due is prove that one has the propensity to think at a higher level, critically and conceptually as we're calling it. In regards to my own major, everything I've studied for six years is so microscopic that I will never actually observe any of it and relies on methods that provide little more than an abstract concept of what's taking place. It requires a lot of critical thinking to draw any conclusions from that.

I think the general public has the same "shit, that person must be smart" reaction towards a person who wears tweed jackets and spouts philosophical quotes, even if none of it has any real-world application. Doesn't make that person any more or less intelligent.

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Just now, providence said:

Philippe Rushton is a psychologist and definitely full of shit - I should have specified hard sciences. I'm lumping pyschology in with humanities thinking of them as arts or social sciences - so sociology, psychology etc. Things based more on subjective than objective data. Suzuki is an interesting one because he has a science background (genetics, I think?) but has become more of an activist/politician since. And I guess I should specify further that I meant scientists teaching in their area of expertise. Obviously a microbiology prof trying to talk about the history of the Civil War or even string theory will sound like an idiot. But I meant that a hard sciences/math prof teaching their subject in class is less likely to sound stupid than Lindsay Shepherd's boss, in my experience. 

How about Paul Ehrlich and his, we're all-doomed overpopulation non-sense (and, rather unsavoury undertone as to who we deal with it), is biology a hard science?  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/22/collapse-civilisation-near-certain-decades-population-bomb-paul-ehrlich. Francis Crick and eugenics?  

You're comparing apples to oranges.  We don't know what Lindsay Shepherd's boss would say in class or Jordan Peterson, for that matter, they earned their 15 minutes of fame for what they said outside of the classroom, and on topics largely unrelated to their supposed area of expertise (by all accounts, Peterson at least is a highly regarded scholar in his area).  

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33 minutes ago, BlockedQuebecois said:

I don’t think you’re looking at the right data for the debate that’s going on. I don’t think anyone is debating what the average GPA for different fields is — they’re mainly debating how easy it is for the average person to get X grade in that field. 

The suggestion is that an average person dropped into a fourth year maths class would do worse than if the same person was dropped into a fourth year history class. Average GPA doesn’t tell us anything about that. 

Thanks so much for your input! I totally agree with you that this data is non-ideal. Orginally, I was looking for data on average grade per course in different faculties, but I couldn't find anything of the sort (though the Queen's data might have that...). However, I think that the GPA information I provided can be used (in a super limited capacity) to guesstimate a "difficulty" for a particular program, if you make the assumptions that the average student goes into one of those programs, that average student puts an average amount of effort into their classes (with such an average being normalized across all programs), and that average student's GPA is some indication of how difficult they found the program. That's a whole lot of assumptions which ultimately make this argument pretty thin. But then again, this is an internet debate about a pointless topic.

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8 minutes ago, providence said:

What the hell is information sciences?

A trivial example would be the use of Google to look up what the hell "information science" is... :twisted:

Here's his bio, he looks to be more on the computer/library/information science side, not e.g. the U of Akron geographic information science side.

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12 minutes ago, providence said:

Real Analysis does teach you to think critically and conceptually. 

Yeah, I figured as much; and if you re-read my post, you'll see that is why I pointed out that critical thinking the type of skill you can learn in these high level math courses that actually follows you around, and the argument is that liberal arts type degrees teach more of these - for example, reading comprehension.

You must have studied math in UG. ;)

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13 minutes ago, TrqTTs said:

I'd counter that given the website we are on, the degree of relative value would be most inferred by what program allows you to more likely gain admission to law school in Canada (by means of achieving a high GPA).  If certain programs allow you to break out on the curve more easily among your peers, those programs are more valuable to that end.  However, that sets the stage for another debate, which is whether you should choose UG program based on the likelihood of excelling and attending law school, or based on your interests and strengths and hope that it's enough to gain admission. Because if we are only looking at this matter retrospectively and not as a means of encouraging future candidates to make informed decisions, it really is just a dick-measuring contest.

Not a bad point, if we're talking about value relative to gaining admission to law school, I think objectively BAs are better for that as well.

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7 minutes ago, maximumbob said:

How about Paul Ehrlich and his, we're all-doomed overpopulation non-sense (and, rather unsavoury undertone as to who we deal with it), is biology a hard science?  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2018/mar/22/collapse-civilisation-near-certain-decades-population-bomb-paul-ehrlich. Francis Crick and eugenics?  

You're comparing apples to oranges.  We don't know what Lindsay Shepherd's boss would say in class or Jordan Peterson, for that matter, they earned their 15 minutes of fame for what they said outside of the classroom, and on topics largely unrelated to their supposed area of expertise (by all accounts, Peterson at least is a highly regarded scholar in his area).  

Biology is the least hard and can be more subjective, yes. 

I guess what I mean is that Lindsay Shepherd’s boss clearly has a particular approach to pedagogy that I can’t see translating to the sciences. I don’t recall having any science profs who seemed to think that way. I can’t speak for all profs and I may be wrong. 

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1 minute ago, conge said:

Yeah, I figured as much; and if you re-read my post, you'll see that is why I pointed out that critical thinking the type of skill you can learn in these high level math courses that actually follows you around, and the argument is that liberal arts type degrees teach more of these - for example, reading comprehension.

You must have studied math in UG. ;)

What's the difference in reading comprehension between reading a novel vs. an essay vs. a science publication? It's all high-level.

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10 minutes ago, chaboywb said:

I'd rebut that there are very few undergraduate programs which provide skills directly translatable to a career, besides nursing and some engineering majors that are essentially professional programs. I don't think the ability to compare literature from the 1600s or criticize some political ideology is any more attributable to everyday life than understanding chemical reactions or laws of motion. All these programs due is prove that one has the propensity to think at a higher level, critically and conceptually as we're calling it. In regards to my own major, everything I've studied for six years is so microscopic that I will never actually observe any of it and relies on methods that provide little more than an abstract concept of what's taking place. It requires a lot of critical thinking to draw any conclusions from that.

I think the general public has the same "shit, that person must be smart" reaction towards a person who wears tweed jackets and spouts philosophical quotes, even if none of it has any real-world application. Doesn't make that person any more or less intelligent.

 I don't disagree with you, but I'm not talking about the ability to compare literature from the 1600s or criticize some political ideology but rather communicate clearly in writing, emotional intelligence, the ability to understand a moral/political concept without agreeing with it, etc. These items aren't directly on the syllabus of a BA, but I think they more prevalent in liberal arts type programs. 

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1 minute ago, conge said:

Yeah, I figured as much; and if you re-read my post, you'll see that is why I pointed out that critical thinking the type of skill you can learn in these high level math courses that actually follows you around, and the argument is that liberal arts type degrees teach more of these - for example, reading comprehension.

You must have studied math in UG. ;)

Math teaches you all of that. It does actually follow you around. It was very helpful to law school study. It does help with reading comprehension.

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1 minute ago, chaboywb said:

What's the difference in reading comprehension between reading a novel vs. an essay vs. a science publication? It's all high-level.

It was a just joke. I'm pretty sure Providence (i) studied math and (ii) misread my post (as ppl do on internet forums when quickly scanning), or perhaps my post was unclear. 

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