Majors and Careers

The teaching of my first tutorial at Williams occurred in Spring 2012, on phylogeneticsthe study of evolutionary trees.  As with most tutorials, I had ten students in my class, grouped in pairs, where their strengths included pure mathematics, biology, art, and computer science.  My tutorial was structured in two parts: the first six weeks of the tutorial focused on a syllabus I created, covering material I wanted all of my students to know. For the second half of the course, each group had the responsibility of creating a personal syllabus based on their interests and passions.

The one requirement I had for all my groups was to spend time understanding how to display large data sets, notably those arising from genetics.  The visual display of information is a valuable skill to have in our world.  I encouraged them to consider the CIRCOS software, beautifully designed for such a task, but only one of my groups (consisting of Hayley Brooks ’12 and Kaison Tanabe ’13) succeeded in getting the program to compile.

Hayley and Kaison came to me, wondering whether they could spend their last week of their course visualizing information about Williams college, notably issues with alums.  I sent an email to the Dean of Faculty, and within a day I had access to the Williams alum data base consisting of an Excel file containing choices of majors and careers.  A week of hectic work, with several emails and meetings, produced this final product.

To me, this graphic tells two stories. First, there is a strong correlation between biology + chemistry majors and the medical field. This is not too surprising, since most medical schools require enormous amounts of these classes (unlike law school, which only requires the LSAT).  The second story is that there is no other correlation: you can study what you love and then go do what you want. It seems to be the quintessential liberal arts message.

Professor Devadoss studies algebraic and combinatorial structures in geometry and topology. In 2007 he won the MAA Alder national mathematics teaching award. His careers graphic is a Williams College Featured Story and appeared in the Fall 2012 Williams magazine.