UT students deserve more credit for required lab courses

Julia Zaksek

You’re in your first lab. You sit through the one hour lecture and get ready for your experiment. The course listing, CH 204, promises the lab should take about an hour. You start your experiment, but quickly realize the tools you need aren’t there. You wait in line — a long line — to ask the only teaching assistant for a group of 20 students what to do. They gesture to another long line for the handful of tools available. You wait again. And again. And again. You emerge from the lab three hours later, exhausted, frustrated and heading home to write a long post-lab report. 

For most students pursuing degrees in the STEM fields, lab courses — such as Chemistry 204 — are required. These courses are designed to include a one hour pre-lab lecture and a lab experiment. Considering most undergraduate lab courses, such as Chemistry 204, award two hours of credit, students expect the experiment to last an additional hour. However, due to a lack of resources and instructors and the lengthy nature of labs, students are often in the lab for three to four hours, spending four to five hours on a two credit hour course. 

UT’s current lab course system denies students the credit they deserve for their courses. Students’ transcripts do not reflect the work they devote to lab courses. Our time is valuable — UT must award students a greater number of credits for their lab courses. 

“The current credit system doesn’t reflect the amount of work I put in,” freshman Plan II and biology major Kavyaa Choudhary said. “It looks like (I’m) taking less hours than I actually am, like I’m doing less work and not pushing myself.”

The current credit system can make obtaining a degree more difficult and time-consuming for STEM students. Students receive less credit for the course, making it look like they should be taking more classes. But the hours and work needed for lab courses means taking additional classes is almost impossible. 

“I actually dropped a class because of the lab commitment,” said neuroscience freshman Devika Patel. “My lab is an important class that I absolutely have to take.” 

According to Patel, the labs take so long because of the intensity of the material, but also because of the limited amount of help and resources. 

“The issue is staffing and support,” Patel said. “For my last lab, everyone needed to use a balance. There were maybe 15-20 of us and only three balances. There was also only one teaching assistant. If I have a question, I have to wait. If I need to use a tool, I have to wait.” 

Because the College of Natural Sciences is the largest school at UT with an undergraduate enrollment of over ten thousand, an increase in resource availability seems unlikely. Students will have to continue putting long hours into their lab courses. 

UT can compensate for the long hours — and limited resources — by awarding students more credit. 

Choudhary and Patel say that if more credit was offered for the course, they believe students would accept the time commitment. 

“Not getting the credit you deserve is frustrating,” Patel said. “Even three hours, the bare minimum, would be an improvement.” 

UT’s current credit system for lab courses is unfair and hurts STEM students. Students need to receive credit for the time they truly spend in class. Awarding a minimum of three transcript-recognized hours for lab courses is essential. 

Zaksek is a Plan II and women and gender studies freshman from Allen.