Matt Venezia is a sophomore biology major with a minor in writing.
Every student needs classes in order to complete their degree. Obviously, this isn’t breaking news — if you look at your major’s degree completion criteria, you’ll notice that they’re mostly made up of classes.
As someone who hopes to become a scientific researcher, I can confidently say that my classes are important to my biology major and overall career prospects — the basics of cell biology are needed in a career of studying cells, after all.
But one area that degree requirements rarely emphasize is experience outside of the classroom. For many students, myself included, classes alone may not be enough to prepare students for the workforce.
To gain that experience, I am currently conducting research at Stony Brook and am an intern for the Grow More Foundation. This can be stressful. My schedule is jam-packed, with over 20 hours of my week dedicated to duties outside of class. It’s difficult to balance courses and job experiences — more difficult than it should be.
By spending 12 to 18 hours per week in the lab, I can check off a single lab course from my biology major requirements but am still required to take introductory lab courses. My internship, on the other hand, only counts for an experiential learning credit that can be received from one semester of work. Anything beyond this one semester does not count toward a specific requirement for graduation. Regardless, the experiences I am getting from these two activities are invaluable for my future and are teaching me more than I can learn in a classroom.
In the lab, I can apply the knowledge of molecular biology to discover new things. Currently, I am researching the response of plants to viruses and learning both the technical and theoretical aspects of research in biology. Through my internship, I am given the chance to mentor students through projects and write about pressing issues such as world hunger and biotechnology.
Experiences such as mine are what universities should provide for their students; these opportunities are, however, a minimum.
The proper show of a university’s commitment to student growth is allowing students who have taken on many experiences outside of the classroom to do so without fear of moving back their graduation dates or missing requirements. Working one-on-one with students who take part in internships to create reasonable modifications to existing requirements should be a normal occurrence. This is not even to mention those who have changed their major and want to pursue internships that can help them get a better idea of their chosen career paths.
At Stony Brook University and most other universities, modifications to existing graduation requirements are rare and there is no emphasis on extracurricular experiences. In fact, for most majors after the first semester of an internship and the second of a research experience at Stony Brook, there is not much incentive to apply for credit from these activities. It does not count toward graduation, discouraging students from reporting their full credit load.
Working one-on-one with students who participate in internships to create reasonable modifications to existing requirements should be a normal occurrence. Current requirements can be tweaked, and internships, which fulfill both credit and basic class requirements, can be applied more significantly toward graduation.
This policy should extend to larger departments and throughout the university. Unfortunately, it does not.
My internship and research experiences are just as important as my courses. University departments must allow for some flexibility in degree requirements and prioritize these experiences over classes in order to accommodate all students and encourage everyone who wishes to have experiences outside of the classroom to do so.