University News

Science concentrators less likely to study abroad

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Over the past two years, only 9 percent of students studying abroad have been science concentrators, while 65 percent have concentrated in the humanities or social sciences, according to Kendall Brostuen, director of international programs and associate dean of the College.

The Office of International Programs encourages all students to study abroad, regardless of their concentration, Brostuen said. The majority of students choose Europe as their destination, with Spain, France, Italy and the United Kingdom being the most popular locations. Two-thirds of students who have gone abroad in the past two years have been female — the same as the national average — and almost half identify as white.

“I think maybe part of it is the fact that, if you look at humanities and social sciences, there are more women studying those fields,” said Brostuen. The disproportion between humanities or social science and science concentrators is a national trend, he said. “Not that there aren’t opportunities available for those students,” he added.

Students in the sciences often think it is more difficult to get away from Brown because of the nature and number of concentration requirements, Brostuen said. Engineering is a common example of such a field, but Brown has “study abroad programs specifically designed for engineering students,” Brostuen said.

These programs include a new option at the University of Cantabria in Spain that allows engineering concentrators to study alongside local students in courses taught in English. After completing a full year or spring semester, students are eligible for a six- to eight-week summer engineering internship placement in Spain. The Brown Plus One Program at the University of Edinburgh and the Chinese University of Hong Kong also caters to science students, particularly engineers. The program allows students to study abroad during their junior year and earn credit toward a master’s degree to be completed in a fifth year of study following their graduation from Brown. The University also offers programs in Latin America, among others, that are more field-based and geared toward the biological sciences, Brostuen said.

Brady Caspar ’13 spent last semester at the University of Edinburgh studying mechanical engineering. He chose the University of Edinburgh because its campus  is dedicated to engineering, he said. At the same time, the School of Engineering is not a separate entity from the main campus, and he still felt integrated with non-engineering students.

Being an engineering student abroad “definitely posed an extra challenge,” he said, adding he always knew he wanted to study abroad but he did not consider any non-English-speaking programs, mainly because he “didn’t really want to try learning engineering in another language.” Before committing to studying abroad, he needed to ensure that he would be able to fulfill all of his remaining concentration requirements during his remaining time at Brown. After returning to campus this spring, he said he will need to take at least two, if not three, requirements every semester from now on.

Computer science concentrator Jordan Place ’13 is currently studying at the University of Edinburgh because of its mix of science and non-science courses, he said. Since starting at Brown, he has taken two or three concentration requirements every semester. Like Caspar, he also mapped out a timeline for fulfilling the rest of his requirements.

“I’m definitely locked into my next two semesters, but I’m okay with that,” he said. It was worth it to study abroad, Place said, especially because computer science courses at the University of Edinburgh are run differently — a “complete 180”  — from those at Brown. “I think people tend to not go abroad because they’re a little bit scared about not finishing things,” he said.

That was cause for hesitation for Cara Rosenbaum ’12, a psychology concentrator who is also pre-vet. “I was really nervous about it,” she said of being able to fulfill all of her pre-vet requirements, and “it was a very hard decision” to go abroad because of the inflexibility she would have after returning. She spent the fall of her junior year in Copenhagen, in a program with a core curriculum in psychology dealing with children’s needs that ended up being “a perfect fit.”

As a varsity athlete on the equestrian team, Rosenbaum also weighed her commitment to her team when deciding to study abroad. After receiving a nomination to be a junior captain for the following year, she said the hardest part about being abroad was missing her team and not being able to practice and compete for a whole season.

“I do think I appreciate Brown more for being away,” she said. “I don’t regret going abroad. Not at all.”

Place echoed this sentiment as well, saying that he would “a 100 percent encourage everyone” to study abroad.

Science concentrators who decide to study abroad almost always choose semester-long programs rather than full-year ones. “We always encourage a student, wherever possible, to remain in a local setting as long as possible,” Brostuen said, though he recommends students consult their advisors about concentration requirements when deciding how long to study abroad.

Short-term programs are “very valuable experiences” as well, he said, adding that they are often theme-focused and intensive in only one topic. Such opportunities usually take the form of field-study programs, such as Brown’s “four-plus-four” model for a short-term program that started last summer. Students in this program will engage with local students at the Chinese University of Hong Kong for four weeks and then return with them to the U.S. for four more weeks to incorporate both perspectives on a given theme.

“We always like to do something that puts a Brown twist” on studying abroad and goes beyond the traditional programs, Brostuen said. Students looking to study abroad for less than a full semester can participate in community service programs, take internships and conduct research in order to incorporate study abroad into their experience at Brown.

“It’s not separate,” Brostuen said, but is instead a “transformative” part of a Brown education.

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