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Looking for a dock

January 20, 2014 at 12:43 am

I found out this past week that sophomores declare their majors two weeks into their sixth term at Carleton, or in my case, in less than four months. I has been under the impression that I was going to be able to take at least another term’s worth of classes before I had to decide the trajectory of my next two years, but this seems to be it.
The deadline to change my classes for this term was last Friday, and I’m currently in two Psychology courses and Organic Chemistry II. When I found out how soon I had to decide my major, I had a minor flip-out because I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to major in Psych or Chem. I spent hours that day looking through the course catalog to see if there was a class I wanted to try, and I came to the realization that if I was being honest with myself, my favorite class of all the ones I’ve taken at Carleton was my educational studies course. And what I’d really loved about it, other than how alive the classroom was in discussion, was reading ethnography-type things that gave insight into the culture, emotions, and lives of people unlike any I’d met before. Which if I’d thought about it more, would’ve meant that I should take a course in Anthropology in the near future...
As it stands, I’ve taken the usual load of three classes a term thus far. If you count this term, it comes out to two biology, one computer science, one philosophy, one math, one cognitive science, one in education studies, four psychology, and four chemistry (“a little science-heavy”, as my advisor usually comments). The bio department here is great, but I’m not good with Biology because I get stuck asking, what makes this do that at the molecular level? and run out of time to learn concepts on the level at which biology treats them. Computer science was a good challenge but I’ve learned that for me, computers are better left a mystery. Philosophy was very difficult for me because I’m easily influenced by other people’s opinions and think better sitting down alone as opposed to talking things through. My cognitive science was much like philosophy, and math is math even at Carleton, although our math skills center has definitely saved me from mathematical despair more than once. And of course, I find psychology fascinating. Studying psychology from the social science side is right up my alley and has definitely given me useful new ways of looking at ordinary interactions. The empirical science side is somewhat tedious to me, due to the nature of studying behavior--the need to consider numerous controls to outsmart the brain to get significant results can give me a headache, and contradictory results are everywhere. All sciences are like that to an extent, but chemistry almost seems more manageable in that respect. I also feel as though a background in chemistry can only help in my understanding of psychology and biology. One thing about the Chemistry program here is that the major is so structured that the majors in your year for the most part end up going through all the classes together, building a camaraderie not found in many other departments. I’ve never had a chem prof who wasn’t engaging and hardworking, and the major seems like a winner...except for the fact that it doesn’t come naturally to me like other things do, such as writing. But I’ve never been one to choose the path of least resistance--I do like a good challenge, and the tiny things that do so much in chemistry capture my imagination like nothing else.
What is the purpose of a major other than giving you tools to succeed in your chosen life’s work, professionally or otherwise? This weekend, two of my friends and I listened to a senior’s firm lecture about how we should take advantage of our sophomore-hood to double major--two degrees for the same amount of money, he said, and proof that you have the skill sets to apply either, to which my friend countered that she was at a liberal arts college to study a wide range of subjects. To which he kept saying that at the very least we should take more statistics classes because those skills can only help you find a job. Do I want the security and routine of a 9-5 office job, or to do ethnographic research, or to set things on fire in the name of science for the rest of my life? I don’t see a clear path yet, but I’ve made peace with the uncertainty. After all, I do know a senior who switched into computer science less than a year ago...


  • April 9 2014 at 1:31 pm
    Emily R.
    I am a junior in High school and I am currently thinking about majoring in Chemistry or Psychology. I am really interested in Psychology but I also like concrete ideas, such as those in Chemistry. What major did you decide on? (:

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