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Letter to the Editor: Brain hemispheres don’t dictate learning
Published 7/17/2013 6:00:00 AM
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In Michelle Chan's recent article, "Pursuit of life, liberty and a liberal arts degree," she asserts that "STEM careers aren't for everyone" because "(right-brained) students more fit for the liberal art guarantee their future unhappiness" when attempting to go into what she terms "left-brained" fields. This is a gross (but common) simplification of how the mind works.

While it is true that certain functions reside most often on one side or the other, individuals are not merely left-brained or right-brained, nor does assuming the qualities of one side automatically disqualify you for success in a specific field.

For a moment, however, let us assume that people are left-brained or right-brained. Even doing so, we create conclusions that make no sense.

Engineering, the "E" in STEM, is solely a left-brained field, according to Ms. Chan. But if engineering students relied primarily on left-brained skills, they wouldn't be engineering anything. Engineering is a two-part field relying on both mathematics and design. It requires advanced spatial thinking, a process addressed most adeptly by the right hemisphere.

Every engineering student has been forced to take the infamous "rotate the shape" test, where they mentally rotate a 3-D object in order to visualize it in a different position. That test relies very heavily on processes located in the right brain.

Traditionally "right-brained" thinking is imperative in the science fields. How do you imagine scientists conduct groundbreaking experimental design? They can't do it without creative thinking.

Student in liberal arts fields also need the skills Ms. Chan attributes to left-brain thinking. How else do English majors conduct literary analysis and create logical arguments? How else do art students construct visual symbolism to deliver such powerful messages?

I seriously hope that students interested in breaking out of their comfort zone do not take Ms. Chan's words to heart. As a student living in both right-brained and left-brained worlds, I can readily attest that this thinking model is outdated and ridiculously oversimplified.

If you want to understand the difference between students who are able to succeed within the STEM fields and those that are not, I suggest you take a dive into papers detailing education methods and learning styles instead of faulty, outdated psychology.

Laura Abbott
Junior neuroscience and creative writing major

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