STEM at Bryn Mawr

To students accepted into the Class of 2022:

Congratulations! We don’t know you, but by virtue of having been admitted to Bryn Mawr College, we know that you are intelligent, curious, and driven. You are accomplished both in and out of the classroom and ready to grow as a student and as a person even more at Bryn Mawr. We love Bryn Mawr, but for STEM students, the College falls short in a number of key areas that you should consider. Here are just a few:

  • Gross, sometimes intentional, misinformation and misadvising in the Dean's Office (which regularly prevents students from majoring in their chosen fields and/or studying abroad)
  • Severe resource shortage and limited course offerings in several STEM departments, particularly the Computer Science Department (zero to one elective offered per semester next year, declared CS majors being lotteried out of all CS courses)
  • Racism in the classroom and in the Dean's Office (different advice given to students of color vs. white students)

We acknowledge that the College is investing in STEM. The College often talks about its renovations of the Park Science Building (which houses all STEM departments) and 4+1/3+2 Master’s or dual Bachelor’s programs with large universities like UPenn, CalTech, and Columbia, and we are appreciative of these efforts. However, we feel that the investments are more image-focused than student-focused, long-term rather than short-term.

Future students will experience much nicer facilities than current STEM majors ever will. They will technically have the option to pursue more dual degree programs like the 4+1/3+2 programs at Penn, CalTech, and Columbia. This and the renovation of the Park Science center are moot points, however, if a student is simply unable to pursue a degree in computer science at Bryn Mawr or Haverford simply because they couldn’t get into the courses necessary for the major.

Many science courses are waitlisted beyond any reasonable capacity forcing students to drop their majors or consider transferring colleges, in fear of not being able to graduate. The offering of dual degree programs are not beneficial if the person is unable to complete their undergraduate in the major, and if the Dean’s Office - even after many interventions - continue to dissuade students from pursuing these programs.

It remains to be the only member of the “Seven Sister” colleges to have a STEM major (Biology) as its most popular major. Ten years from now, it could be a leading liberal arts college for STEM students. However, the Class of 2022 will not benefit from the long-term investments the College has made. Certain STEM departments are stressed to the points where students choose to transfer or pick different majors in favor of graduating on time. While Bryn Mawr as an institution boasts its support of STEM, we as students struggle to fight for bare minimums necessary to make it to graduation.

We value Bryn Mawr’s openness in discussion and students, like ourselves, have felt empowered enough to bring these issues to the administration and attempted to work with them many times over the last five to seven years. At this point, we feel that we have exhausted our options, and now conclude that no matter how hard we try, the state of certain aspects of the STEM experience at BMC will not improve in the near future.

We don’t have answers for you. We do truly love Bryn Mawr. But we cannot tell you that the road for you ahead will be an easy one, especially if you choose to pursue a STEM field and we believe that you, prospective members of the Class of 2022, deserve to know about these problems before confirming your enrollment.

If you would like to learn more about these issues, feel free to reply to this post and we can either put you in touch with a current student or provide you with more information.


as a prospective stem student (chemistry + premed), would you recommend that I come to Bryn Mawr over other top lacs (Hamilton, grinnell)? it’s very very important to me that I receive a high quality education without major roadblocks, like others here, and even if I love the environment at bryn mawr I won’t choose to attend if the academic offerings are lacking.

So . . . I’m wondering why you didn’t make use of the tr-co or bi-co or attend classes at UPenn? Or even Villanova as you can cross register there in some cases.

I’m amazed that “different information” to different students is defined here as “racist”? That’s an extremely harsh charge to level at someone much less an entire institution, especially a school that has a history of going out of its way to be fair to people regardless of color or religion. Using that language so rashly makes you appear as a gripey ungrateful snowflake who is bent on seeing a system as out to get people rather than out to help them. Students often have different information . . . they’re different students. That’s not racism. That’s individual attention. In addition, information changes over time and people also remember things differently at different times, as they are human. People also make mistakes. Before you level such a serious charge in the future, I strongly suggest conducting a proper study with controls. As a stem student you should know how to do that and why that’s important. Anecdotes told anonymously are insufficient evidence.

And yet you profess to “truly love Bryn Mawr”. This love isn’t coming through in your post. What’s coming through is frustration (maybe justifiable). What also comes through is self-righteous sanctimonious leveling of charges that overshadows any genuine issue. Your tone destroys your argument. Your tone sounds like an attempt at destroying stem-students’ hopes and love of this school that they’ve worked hard to get into. Why? Because your tone makes the post feel inaccurate and biased.

If you’re a current BMC stem student, how is it that you’ve attempted to change things over a 5-7 year history? You would have been there about 3+ years.

Who is this “we” doing all of this accusing?

Again: why doesn’t Bryn Mawr and the various consortia it belongs to work for STEM in your opinion? it seems to be working for its 42 graduates in Biology, for its 14 graduates in geology (not including the several that come from Haverford to take part in its amazing geology program); for its 32 graduates in math and statistics and eight more in chemistry and 10 graduates in computer science–a relatively new department. And again, it seems to be working for its 82 post-bac premed students who have great track records of getting accepted into med school.

The school is completely remodeling and updating it’s STEM facilities and most likely its offerings are following suit, probably because it knows that it can improve. You say “the renovation of the Park Science Center are moot points” – in fact they are not moot. This multi-million dollar upgrade of the facilities seems key as they obviously are improving STEM as fast as they can.

Also, may I add that when we toured the students we spoke with were universally happy with their STEM courses of study. But that’s an anecdote. You would be correct to discount my anecdotes as much as I’m discounting yours.

Given Bryn Mawr’s track record of getting students into PhD programs, in addition to the excellent points referenced in post #2, I think the OP should be read with skepticism.

I, too, am curious who is “we”?

@lacscn Unfortunately, we can only speak to our experiences at Bryn Mawr, so we cannot advise you about your decision. We are happy to connect you with students who can talk to you about Chemistry+Pre-Med.

@Dustyfeathers This post does not serve to explore every single issue completely. It is meant to be broad, and if prospective students are interested in hearing more about any of the bullets, they can contact us to be connected with current students. In this post, we do not attempt to fully explain each of the three bullet points. There simply isn’t enough room. The consortia is helpful, but not necessarily accessible in all cases. The problems we discuss exist even with the Quaker Consortium. Also, departments have strict limits on how many courses from outside the Bi-Co can be counted for the major. We are glad that when you toured, you found students that were happy with STEM at Bryn Mawr. We are offering alternative experiences. It sounds like you are not a prospective student. You clearly have a high opinion of Bryn Mawr. We are glad that you love Bryn Mawr so much that you are willing to defend it so strongly. We are here to offer our experiences as a group of STEM students who have not only toured Bryn Mawr, but attended Bryn Mawr. Again, this post is not all-inclusive and we do not try to explain everything fully. We offer this post so that prospective students can reach out to us for further information or to be connected with current students outside of this forum.

@Dustyfeathers as a computer science major our course selections are severely limited. Although we do have the option of taking classes at Swarthmore and UPenn, we are only allowed to have 2 outside courses count towards our major, and this includes study abroad. This semester there were only 2 courses that I was eligible for and they were both overenrolled by 20 people. Even though I am a CS major, I was unable to get into those classes and was forced to take classes at UPenn and Swarthmore, therefore using up my 2 outside credit courses. However I am one of the lucky students. There are students that I know who have struggled for the past 3 semesters to get into introductory and 200 level courses that are necessary core classes. Yes, a lot of students have successful post-grad opportunities but that is not due to Bryn Mawr’s help. Almost all students have to seek out opportunities via word of mouth or independently because the career services does not know how to cater to tech students (although they are making a noticeable effort these years). I don’t know what that sounds like to you, but personally that is not a school environment that I would want to deal with if I were comparing between different schools.

Some questions:

Can you point to any other posting/publications/letters to the editor on this topic? Or is this very first public complaint? Why here? If this is such a major issue, I’d expect to see articles in the school paper, etc.

Are you complaints only about Computer Science? Your title is very broad, but none of your specifics point to “STEM” as a whole.

Can you say more about how the current renovations to the science building will fail to serve the class of 2022? It appears phase 1 will be complete Fall 2018.

I know several CS students/recent grads at Haverford that haven’t had the issues you describe. BM students are able to freely take classes at Haverford and even major at Haverford.

@lacscn : One indication of a strong chemistry program might be the presence of a first-term course option (i.e., beyond the basic intro course) designed for students with advanced chemistry preparation.

@daffodilpetunia as a current math student I have found none of the complaints in this letter to be accurate within my major department.

This letter is a clear attack on the merits of one of the best STEM colleges for women, which will only end up hurting the people who decide not to enroll based only on this letter. If you have questions or concerns, EMAIL A FACULTY MEMBER! They are very nice and usually very willing to set up a time to meet or just reply to your questions. If you’re on campus, try to sit in on a class! Even if you know none of the material, you’ll be able to see how a department functions.

Take this letter with many grains of salt. There are many current students and alums that disagree wholly with the tone and content of this letter. It is not indicative of the BMC community and should not influence anyone’s decision.

is it true that you only get 2 outside courses for your major???

You get 2 non-Bico classes for the computer science major. Don’t worry, you get to take plenty of non-major courses (it varies by major.)

We are, and it’s very helpful for both schools!

@lacscn I chose Bryn Mawr over Grinnell. I wasn’t STEM when I made the decision, and am only STEM because of Bryn Mawr’s supportive, empowering, and nurturing atmosphere. Even for computer science, which is the main major targeted in this letter which lacks hard evidence and data and is unfounded, I’m eternally grateful for the support I’ve received, and do not regret it. I have many pre-med friends and have heard many great things about their professors, courses, and different departments (bio, chem, biochemistry)

Hi all,

I am a BMC STEM grad who went on to get a PhD. I also happened to end up as a professor at another 7 sisters college. I have seen both sides of this subject.

First and foremost, I love science and math — I have chosen them as my career. The culture of STEM, however, is problematic, especially for women and people of color. All of the inspirational movements trying to get children, middle school and high school students into STEM sets them up to encounter a culture that can be hostile, unsupportive, and doesn’t give a hoot about the people who practice STEM. Now granted, there are some really nice people and really AWESOME workplaces within STEM, but it can take some time and patience to figure out. I am doing my best to help change the culture, but it is still a long road ahead.

That said, even for those who have all the advantages, STEM is HARD. This not to say it isn’t worth it or fun. But once you graduate, it just gets harder. It’s competitive, it requires self-discipline. You have to seek out and sometimes fight for mentorship at every stage of your career…no one is giving out advice voluntarily.

Bryn Mawr (and other womens colleges specifically, and to some extent other liberal arts colleges) create a much safer, more nurturing environment for STEM students than larger schools. They do this generally without sacrificing rigor in the core classes and most students get research exposure. The tradeoff is there usually aren’t as many required courses for a major (we are less immersed in the subject) and that class sizes have to be small(ish) for this to work. However, a positive to less major requirements is that someone who hasn’t had ____ in high school can elect to major in _____. For instance, at many large schools, you have to apply to the CS major before you even set foot on campus. If you try to get into the major after getting to campus, you will have a tough road ahead as you have to apply to transfer into the major and even when you do will both have less advising and have to maintain a higher GPA than everyone else. I know, right?

A few more things I’d like to address. While BMC may be the only 7s with a science as its most popular major, it is not the only 7s with a strong STEM population. For instance, I believe at Mount Holyoke at least 40% of students are STEM majors. I am probably too old to comment on BMC now, but it was extremely supportive of STEM when I was there and I believe all comments on this and on the facebook post indicate that it is still this way.

Racism in the classroom: I am very sorry to hear about this. My institution has called faculty out on this as well. Creating opportunities for dialogue is key. Unfortunately, sometimes the grown-ups don’t realize what they are doing – they are often too busy to even realize what they are doing. Keep fighting, keep making it visible. If there is a diversity and inclusion officer/dean, see if they can reach out to faculty.

Deans misadvising: Yep. We have this problem too. We have a somewhat different advising structure, but we still give bad advice with some frequency. Part of this transforming from a humanities dominant school to a science dominated school. So the people giving advice are often humanities and don’t understand how science majors work. We’re trying to fix it, but it’s slow. One bit of practical advice for students, that carries forward in your life/career: you have to ask for information AT THE SOURCE. If you’re thinking about majoring in physics, you have to talk to a physics professor…in PERSON is best. Talk to the department chair if you can. Demand (nicely and respectfully) a short meeting to start. They won’t mind…it is in their best interest to have happy students.

The computer science issue: Unfortunately, this is true everywhere :frowning: It sounds like the department needs to sit down and really think about how to deal with this. But the fact is: CS enrollments are growing at a faster rate than departments can grow. It is REALLY hard to hire in CS anywhere. CS faculty are limited, because they have options in the private sector. It can be hard to hire in CS at large research schools. Liberal arts colleges often have a tougher time finding candidates. One way to theoretically close the gap is to hire visitors or adjuncts, but they are even harder to find!! I have no doubt BMC CS wants to add more faculty. They also have to get hires approved by the administration. The administration can’t just create new faculty lines out of thin air…I didn’t truly understand this part until I was a faculty member. So, best case scenario, they might add a new faculty member every 5 years, and might get 1-3 visitors some years. Probably still not enough bodies to keep up with demand :frowning:

Anyway, sorry to get a bit ranty and rambly.

For a student considering Bryn Mawr for STEM: I’d say you ultimately want to get a PhD, you should go for it. It’s one of the best places you can go to set yourself up for success. It’s a really magical (and weird, but good weird) place. I have so many dear friends from my time there who are still my closest friends. I loved being near a city so I could do city things when I wanted, but also loved the daily living on a beautiful and easy-to-navigate campus.

For Prospective Students:
It seems to me that the main message of this post is just to consider the pros and cons when choosing a school and to understand that barriers/downfalls students face at Bryn Mawr are often not discussed. This is evident by the dismissive reactions of the post where it makes it difficult to provide any constructive critique because the institution like to upheld itself as the gold standard at all time. The post is not saying that Bryn Mawr isn’t the best in STEM for women and marginalized identities just that there is still alot of work that needs to be done from my understanding.

As a current student at Bryn Mawr, I can definitely attest to a lot of issues bmcstemstudent brought up. Please note that everyone has different and varying experiences at Bryn Mawr even in the same space. Some students definitely have opportunities that are more accessible to them than others.

Deans are much like guidance counselors in highschool. Since Bryn Mawr is a small institution, deans work very closley with students which is great but they also hold a lot of power of students’ academics. STEM requirements are far stricter than humanities and not having much productive guidance on how to get a STEM degree, getting into my classes, getting courses to count for my degree, etc has only been detrimental to myself.

Lack of guidance in STEM is a huge issue. Discouragement in STEM for students of color is also a huge issue which shouldn’t be minimized. There have been too many stories of students of color telling deans they want to major in Biochemistry, Chemistry or want to pursue passions in medicine, PhDs in Mechanic Engineering, etc. Particularly, some deans continuously and actively push students into the opposite direction and places barriers onto their paths (i.e- through telling students of color they need prof recommendations before taking a STEM class (which is not any policy), emailing professors if that’s the right level they’re on, emailing people to take away opportunities like withdrawing study abroad applications, etc). I’m sure this is all unintentionally with the belief that they might be able to “handle” humanities better but still reveals low expectations for students regardless of how well they are doing in classes. You could have a 3.7 and deans would still do this which show this is racialized. It makes it so that failing a test, assignments, etc (and failing is a normal part of STEM) gives them a reason to invalidate your goals.

With “Severe resource shortage and limited course offerings in several STEM departments”… this is just a statement/fact and clearly effects students getting Computer Science degrees. It also means that you don’t have many choices with your classes at the institution you are currently attending. Haverford College has many of the same issues with their Computer Science department.

On another note, there hasn’t been one single black computer science graduate in the history of Bryn Mawr. I would definitely say that many white students don’t know a quarter of the unprecedented barriers that are constructed and placed on underrepresented students to get their degrees.

Personally, I know my peers and I will graduate on a positive note despite being set up to fail at moments (yes, this might be bold to hear). I will have several successes and accomplishments under my belt and I will go on to do fantastic things in the realm of STEM. I’m sure I will be showcased as a Bryn Mawr alum representing the small percentage of women in STEM. My degree will represent my strength, resilience, and ability to overcome the worst of situations. We as Bryn Mawr students make a way out of no way! I also know that I was plenty strong before coming to Bryn Mawr. When I discuss what I’ve gone through at BMC trying to get my degree with friends at other schools, they wonder why I’m still here. Bryn Mawr gave me a fantastic financial aid package and it, unfortunately, came at a cost. To my prospective students (particularly underrepresented premed folx) I would advise you to really look into the negatives and determine what sacrifices you’re willing to make and don’t assume that there won’t be any (which is what I did). For premeds, also as an aside- know there is a bit of grade deflation compared to other schools.

Like the original poster, I love Bryn Mawr. There are so many positives to going here! However, hopefully Bryn Mawr as an institution can have a wakeup call, start being more bit empathetic/less personally defensive towards others, and admit we can be very easily doing better!

If there are any prospective students who need advice, feel free to DM me. Otherwise, I’m not associated with this poster so I do not plan to respond to comments. Thank you.

Question re: Geology. My D would be fall 2019 and very focused on geology with a minor in computer science. She would apply ED and receive no financial aid b/c my employer provides a tuition benefit. Although the tuition benefit is wonderful, it only pays for eight semesters. I will have two in college and both must graduate in four years - no flexibility. Do you have any insight into whether geology is affected by faculty and class bandwidth? Thank you for any information.

My D (BMC grad) had a close friend from high school who went to Swarthmore. Her friend, a Geology major, ended up taking almost all of her Geology classes at BMC because that was where all the higher level Geology courses were offered for students in the Tri-co (BMC, Haverford, and Swarthmore). D’s friend graduated in four years–no problem. After graduation D’s friend went on to Boston College for a graduate degree.

Sorry I’m late on this topic. Although getting into courses can be a challenge regardless of the institution or major. From experience, my daughter has excelled though BMC CS STEM. She has taken some courses at Haverford. As a sophomore, she was selected for a competitive summer internship. That is rare considering most companies want juniors or seniors to screen for later hire.

After that, she was one of a few invited to return this summer. She complete in August and was offered full-time position at graduation (a year away). She attributes this to not only her ability but also the skill in utilizing her Bryn Mawr.connections.

Furthermore, she was developing her thesis topic and her advisor went above and beyond to encourage her to submit her topic for a national fellowship and it was approved.

So while there are drawbacks to any college, I disagree with the OP, it’s what you make of the opportunities that the schools offers.