To an uninitiated stranger in the science complex at University of Oregon, it will likely seem like a cold, inhospitable place—the concrete castle design of Willamette Hall, the countless long, fluorescent hallways and labs occupied by solitary, intensely focused people in lab coats. But to the science majors who have made it their job at UO to understand what goes on here, the science department is a busy, energetic place filled with talented people from all fields.
Junior Hannah Seeley, for example, who is majoring in Human Physiology, loves all of her teachers. She feels like they genuinely want to know her and care a great deal about her comprehension of their subjects. Seeley named Sierra Dawson as one especially lovely and masterful teacher. Teachers like Dawson have inspired a new passion in Hannah for human physiology. She says she loves the subject because through it she can “see what you need to live, what you need to survive,” particularly when she dissects corpses in the cadaver lab. Though Seeley dislikes having to take “stupid prereqs” that don’t apply to her major, all of her gripes usually fade from her mind after a while in the cadaver lab, which she charmingly claims is her favorite place on campus.
Mckay Breuner, on the other hand, doesn’t share Seeley’s total enthusiasm for the science faculty. He is a junior majoring in Biology, and though he agrees that science professors are generally brilliant, he says this sometimes is sadly their defining feature—“sometimes professors act a little bored with their subject, because they just want to do their research, not teach you. They just want you to get out of the way.” So, Breuner’s inspiration tends to come from the many graduate students who are set up to help undergraduates through their graduate program. He often goes to labs to see them, and always receives the helpful, individualized attention that it seems the science faculty is too busy to give.
Disillusioned Biology major Cole Lendrum’s critique of the science department runs much deeper than Breuner and Seeley’s. He dislikes its general lack of creativity: “It’s very repetitive and they don’t let you think for yourself at all. You have to do things exactly as they tell you and there’s only one way to get to an answer,” he says bitterly. “And classes between teachers were always the same. The same PowerPoints, clickers…” Lendrum argues that the truly groundbreaking scientists now and throughout history are the ones that look at things in a new way and find creative new ways to discover and overcome, but that is not how UO’s science professors encourage students to think. However, he relishes the how cold and serious his biology classes are, and says it makes him and others better students. “It’s a hardcore environment definitely. It’s kind of an “every man for himself” major—people are pretty cutthroat, not very friendly. But I like the challenge of it. I liked how difficult the courses were, and how much work you had to put into them,” Lendrum says with his eyebrows furrowed. “It made it seem like it was something worthwhile.”