Sunday, April 18, 2004
Does size matter?
I'm back from my brief visit to Swarthmore. Renowned as a liberal-arts college, Swarthmore (like many similar schools) has been placing increased emphasis on having science faculty that do research, with impressive success. We talked a little about the pros and cons of being a science major at a small school vs. a big school. At a big research university you definitely get the feeling of being at the center of a lot of action, with great work being done all around you. More pragmatically, you can take advanced courses in special topics that won't generally be offered at a smaller place, and there will (or should) be grad students and postdocs lurking around to ask for advice. But your contact with professors will be nothing like it is at a liberal-arts school, and your place in the totem pole is correspondingly lower. I think the happy truth is that there's no right answer; different students will respond differently to the different environments. (This is part of a larger secret that we don't like to tell prospective students when we are recruiting them: namely, that the success of their education depends much more on them than it does on what school they go to.)
Update: Victoria Swisher of the Swarthmore student newspaper wrote a nice article about the talk I gave.