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'Fun' Becomes 'Hard'

The New York Times' Christopher Drew says that while middle and high school students view challenges in science and engineering as fun, that "excitement quickly fades as students brush up against the reality" — university-level STEM studies are often viewed as tougher than they are fun. "Freshmen in college wade through a blizzard of calculus, physics and chemistry in lecture halls with hundreds of other students. And then many wash out," Drew says.

Citing data from a new University of California, Los Angeles study, Drew says "roughly 40 percent of students planning engineering and science majors end up switching to other subjects or failing to get any degree," and adds that "that increases to as much as 60 percent when pre-medical students, who typically have the strongest SAT scores and high school science preparation, are included." UCLA's Mitchell Chang tells the Times that "we're losing an alarming proportion of our nation's science talent once the students get to college. It's not just a K-12 preparation issue."

To combat the problem, the Association of American Universities announced a five-year initiative in September "to encourage faculty members in the STEM fields to use more interactive teaching techniques," Drew says. Still, time and funding for such initiatives is sparse. "While the National Science Foundation went on to finance pilot courses that employed interactive projects, when the money dried up, so did most of the courses. Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates," according to the Times.

The Scan

Researchers Develop Polygenic Risk Scores for Dozens of Disease-Related Exposures

With genetic data from two large population cohorts and summary statistics from prior genome-wide association studies, researchers came up with 27 exposure polygenic risk scores in the American Journal of Human Genetics.

US Survey Data Suggests Ancestry Testing Leads Way in Awareness, Use of Genetic Testing Awareness

Although roughly three-quarters of surveyed individuals in a Genetics in Medicine study reported awareness of genetic testing, use of such tests was lower and varied with income, ancestry, and disease history.

Coral Genome Leads to Alternative Amino Acid Pathway Found in Other Non-Model Animals

An alternative cysteine biosynthesis pathway unearthed in the Acropora loripes genome subsequently turned up in sequences from non-mammalian, -nematode, or -arthropod animals, researchers report in Science Advances.

Mosquitos Genetically Modified to Prevent Malaria Spread

A gene drive approach could be used to render mosquitos unable to spread malaria, researchers report in Science Advances.