Grieving student points out the difference between STEM and non-STEM professors in viral tweet

A social media user highlighted how STEM and non-STEM professors handle situations that require empathy.

Grieving student points out the difference between STEM and non-STEM professors in viral tweet
Image Source: dina_patina / Twitter

Editor's note: This article was originally published on November 3, 2021. It has since been updated.

Throughout our academic careers, we may have become familiar with several types of educators. If your schools were anything like mine, you know that arts and humanities teachers tended to be more touchy-feely, whereas math and science were more straight-laced. In a tweet, one user pointed out the difference between STEM and non-STEM professors in the most accurate way possible: how they respond to requests from students for time off following a loved one's death. When Twitter user Dina_patina needed ways to make up for lost college credit after a relative died, she was confronted with two very different responses from her professors.


Taking to the social media platform, the user posted screenshots of emails she received from each professor after she requested special accommodations for an unexpected family death. She wrote, "The difference between STEM and non-STEM [professors] when you tell them a relative died." In the first screenshot, she displayed a response from a professor named Maxim. "Hello Dina, unfortunately, we don't have any make-up exams/tests (see the class syllabus)," the professor wrote. "For emergency cases, we do have one drop for the tests, so missing just one test would not affect your overall grade."


After that very comforting statement, the professor went on to state that any assignments missed due to "legitimate reasons" could be excused--that is, if Dina provided the appropriate documentation. The professor shared, "In order to generate the documentation you would need to contact the student emergency services." Of course, when a student is grieving in the middle of a pandemic, they definitely want to traverse the layered bureaucracy of various college departments. Maxim even went above and beyond by providing a link to student emergency services himself (how kind!). There was no doubt that this professor taught a STEM subject.

In stark contrast, another professor who teaches Dina exemplified empathy and kindness. "Dear Dina, oh no, I'm so, so sorry to hear this," they replied. "My deepest condolences to you and your family. Don't worry about the test at all. We'll figure that out later. Just focus on grieving properly and what you have to do for your family right now." The email was written by Professor Alvarez, and I do not even know them, but I love them. I mean, what students could help themselves?

While some Twitter users excused the STEM professor's behavior (claiming, for example, that because "STEM is very high pressure and competitive and tends to be much more strict," Maxim's response was warranted), others admonished his lack of empathy. One user tweeted, "I understand abiding by the syllabus, but that doesn’t excuse a complete lack of empathy. at least attempt to be human, don’t use a copy-pasted template." Another added, "I'm not even playing when I say that if my professor asked for documentation of someone dying I'd go to their open-casket funeral and take pictures and then send them back to them being like, 'This is my grandmother. Need any other documentation?' Because that's absolutely wrong." Although that might be pushing things a little bit, I totally understand the anger. What would you do if a professor responded to your request for time off in this manner?