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Geosciences, astrophysics departments see increase in number of concentrators

Both the geosciences and the astrophysical sciences departments experienced a near doubling in the numbers of declared sophomore concentrators this year.

Ten students in the Class of 2016 signed into astrophysics, compared to five students from the Class of 2015, while 19 students signed into the geosciences department, compared to 10 students from the previous year.

Astrophysics department representative Neta Bahcall said the department has not done anything differently this year to attract more students. She said that 10 concentrators is not unusual because the number can vary from five to eight each year, though it always stays low.

“Astrophysics in general is a small field. It’s a subfield of physics, so it’s a separate major, but it’s not a big field — even professionally,” Bahcall said.

Bahcall said she also thinks recent breakthroughs in astrophysics have served as a draw to the department.

“There are loads and loads of exciting, fundamental new understanding about our universe, and that attracts a lot of people: students as well as the public,” Bahcall said.

Alice Eltvedt ’16 said it was the small size and community aspect that attracted her to the major.

“They really work to create a family atmosphere,” Eltvedt said. “They helped me pick my courses for next year, courses that I wanted to do for the next few years, and the professors talked to me about their research, which was very interesting and very friendly and open.”

Maggie Thompson ’16 said it was the astrophysics department that drew her to the University in the first place.

“One thing that’s pretty unique that Princeton has is having its own astrophysics department,” Thompson said. “A lot of other schools have physics and astronomy and in order to do both, you have to double major.”

Some of the sophomores in the geosciences department said they stumbled upon the subject and discovered they enjoyed it once already at the University.

“I took the Geo freshman seminar in the fall of my freshman year, and it was just a great experience,” geosciences major and premed student Collin Edwards ’16 said. “I got a lot of good exposure to the material and really fell in love with the department.”

Like Edwards, Alyson Beveridge ’16 said she wanted to major in a science department and found geosciences gave her the most flexibility to have time to participate in theater and music.

Both Beveridge and Edwards said they were deciding between the ecology and evolutionary biology and geosciences departments.

Beveridge said she is not surprised by the sudden increase in geosciences majors.

“I think more and more people are realizing that Geo offers a lot of ways to study climate change and environmental change, which is a very popular topic. It’s good that people are finding this hidden gem,” she said.

The computer science department saw a decrease in A.B. concentrators, with 22 students signing in compared to 32 last year. The total number of concentrators from both A.B. and B.S.E. remained fairly similar, though, with 101 in the Class of 2016 compared to 107 last year.

Computer science department representative David Walker said the differences in being an A.B. and B.S.E. computer science major lie more in the differences in the A.B. versus B.S.E. degree rather than in the department itself. While A.B. students have two junior independent work projects, a senior thesis and a language requirement, B.S.E. student students have one semester of independent work as well as physics and chemistry requirements.

Walker said he wasn’t sure why there was a drop in A.B. computer science concentrators, although there has always been a skew in difference between A.B. and B.S.E. concentrators.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with advertising or COS being less compatible with A.B. degrees,” he said.

Hannah Swenson ’16, an A.B. computer science concentrator, said that she chose the A.B. degree because she wanted the flexibility to take requirements outside of engineering.

Haley Beck ’16, a B.S.E. COS concentrator, said she was originally considering biology or chemistry.

“I took COS 126, and I really liked it. The TAs are very accessible and there’s a lot of well-known professors that really care about teaching,” Beck said, explaining why she ultimately chose computer science as her major.

She added that she chose B.S.E. computer science because B.S.E. students do not have a foreign language requirement.

The other A.B. science departments did not have significant changes in enrollment. The physics department had 21 students declare as concentrators compared to 22 last year. The mathematics department had three fewer sign-ins at 30. The chemistry department increased to 44 concentrators, up from 38 last year. Molecular biology had about the same number of sophomores declare: 60 as compared to 57 last year. The number of ecology and evolutionary biology department sign-ins increased by 12 this year from last year with 54 sign-ins this year.

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