Science majors at John Brown University rarely have to write papers. In fact, I am pretty sure that I wrote no more than three papers last year. In addition, the papers that we tend to write are “scientific,” meaning very short, concise, and to the point. Scientists do not believe in “fluffing” essays to make them longer or more eloquent. Rather, the papers we write are usually bereft of opinions and statements that cannot be backed up by testable and observable data.
Science majors do, however, have labs. I once surprised a fellow student when I informed him that not only do four hour classes exist, but I am also typically enrolled in at least two of them at a given time. That extra hour goes towards lab time. Instead of writing large papers, we spend hours in labs. For our organic chemistry final, each of the students had to create a particular compound. After spending perhaps eight hours in the lab the first half of the week, my chemical reagents spilled while I was diligently watching for a color change so I could move to the next step. My final project was effectively ruined until the next day, when the professor realized that the procedure itself did not work, so we all had to restart the project.
Then there was the lab for my Anatomy class. In that, I have been privileged to learn the use of a bone saw on a human cadaver, and that bone saw dust smells like slightly burnt Fritos. Along with that, I learned to ask questions like “Is it still ‘saw dust’ if the dust is from bone matter?” and to use the word “palpate” as frequently as possible because it makes other students uncomfortable. Look it up.
And my current Physiology lab is similarly disconcerting. Between it and anatomy, a student is bound to have squeamish reservations to overcome. In each, in order to be humane towards the animals, we have to perform quick and efficient lobotomies to prevent the frogs and turtles from feeling the experiments we perform upon them. Then we hook them up to the computers, remove whatever body parts may inhibit the experiment, and proceed to poke, prod and send electrical stimuli into the part of the body we are studying. And through this, we do essentially everything that aliens are rumored to do to humans after abduction.
Although I miss writing papers, I love palpating. I like to think that the study of biology is a winning endeavor in the end.