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Help Me Decide What to Do With My Life!

  1. Mar 6, 2013 #1
    Hi. I have this tendency to go into these existential crises, and my current one revolves around deciding what to devote myself to.

    I'm currently a high school senior, and I'll probably be going to Duke U next year for college. I'm strong in most subjects (super in humanities and social sciences), but I'm pretty afraid of chemistry...

    For the last few years, I've been in love with cognitive science and for a longer time I've been studying philosophy (though less seriously in my opinion). First I read Hunt's Story of Psychology, and then at some point later was able to get my hands on things like MIT's Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences, Pinker's How the Mind Works, Lazarus's Emotion and Adaptation, and I was captivated. It was the first subject that ever really took to me. I reorganized my entire identity around it. I can now pretty readily read graduate level works in cognitive science without much difficulty, unless it's thick in neurobiology or mathematics/computation.

    I think I liked it most of all because it gave order to the turmoil that I found in my own mentation, and had this way of making mysterious and interesting even the most commonplace experiences and activities. Life...got color.

    So the tension has shifted from finding something to care about to finding a career path that involves the cognitive sciences as well as the other amenities of a good career path. Like...healthy job market, opportunities to make a difference (and be recognized), good pay, and a sense that I am good at what I do.

    And I'm not sure. I have such an incomplete picture of what I'm capable of.

    - Can I become a great AI guy or computational neuroscientist if I'm beginning college with little programming experience?
    - Can I do well in biology — premed or neurobiology — when I struggle to do well in Honors Chemistry?
    - Can I develop what it takes to compete in very competitive academic job markets?
    - Am I truly good at understanding cognition at this point?
    - Am I just too humanistic-minded to do well in science?
    - Might I make a bigger impact in some unrelated or only loosely related field?

    I came to this forum because you guys give great advice that google keeps bringing up. I'm a little lost. I need help deciding what to go into, what to major in, what opportunities to devote my efforts to...

    Can you help me?

    (PS: Please don't tell me to just wait and then experiment in college. I kinda need to have a vision of the future in order to effectively function. Otherwise I feel purposeless and demotivated...)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 6, 2013 #2
    Have you talked to any advisors at Duke? Thats where I would start.
  4. Mar 6, 2013 #3
    I'm still only in high school...
  5. Mar 6, 2013 #4
    You're in your last semester in high school. Have you applied yet? When I was in high school, our senior year we were allowed two excused absenses for pre-approved college-days. Where we could take the day off and visit a college campus, where we could take a tour and get information. Goto Duke's website and see if you can't find the email of an advisor. They can get you all sorts of information and advice.
  6. Mar 6, 2013 #5
    I, uh, got accepted early and am a finalist for one of their scholarships...somehow. I'm visiting in April for an interview for that scholarship

    I'm trying to get it together before that interview.
  7. Mar 6, 2013 #6
    Perfect, and congrats! That is no small feat. You should have no problem getting in touch with an advisor. Honestly you have nothing to worry about. My senior year in high school, I hadn't even looked at a application before all the deadlines had passed, I was like 75th out of 125 or so overall in my class, and had a 95ish gpa. Its taken me a little longer to get on track than I would have liked, but I'm well on my way now. So what I'm trying to say is, you'll be fine.

    You shouldnt base your major off whether you think can handle the course work. Just choose the major that looks the most appealing to you. It's likely you'll change your mind. Which is fine.

    My final bit of advice, is: Don't spend your last few months of high school stressing about college. You have the next 4-8 years of your life to do that! Enjoy the rest of your senior year. You'll regret it if you don't.
  8. Mar 6, 2013 #7
    Thank you — for the congrats and for responding and everything.

    It's just...I basically need to have some idea of what I want to do in order to get going. I have to basically sign a contract with my parents about my major choice, and be able to show myself as decisive and focused at the upcoming scholarship interview.

    But deeper than that, I need a sense of direction in order to keep motivated and happy. I'm trying to find a purpose imbued with meaning and scale so I can feel like my efforts are worthwhile...
  9. Mar 6, 2013 #8
    And an advisor will be able find a major based on your goals, and their knowledge of the curriculum. You may even be able to talk to your high school counselor, or even a teacher at your school that you've developed a relationship with, they should be more than willing to help you as your success is their success.
  10. Mar 6, 2013 #9
    I wouldn't worry too much about it. Definitely chat with an advisor during your visit, if not sooner.

    Some things that jumped out at me: it sounds like you are interested in psychology and neuroscience. What about going into training to become a licensed psychologist our therapist?
  11. Mar 6, 2013 #10
    I don't care much for that sort of psychology, to be honest. My interest in the mind comes from a desire to understand mechanisms more than anything — and therapy tends to be weak in that regard, focused more on useful abstractions than rigorous theory.
  12. Mar 6, 2013 #11
    I feel like you are letting your current disparity in chemistry influence you decision. Don't do that! You will be sitting down doing homework one day, and you'll see something and it will all just click.
  13. Mar 7, 2013 #12


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    I suspect you can become an AI person or computational if right now your programming level is minimum. That would, eventually have to change of course. Also, definitions of 'great' may vary.

    Yes, it is possible for you to do well in biology and various premed courses. Does that mean that it'll always be easy, probably not. In college, there always exist a select group of courses within your major and also outside of that give you a headache and require a second life at a library. Nevertheless, if you're willing to put the time and effort into the course, then yes you can do well.

    Yes, you can develop a lot of skills that can be useful academics. It takes years but eventually it happens. Nevertheless, competing is only half of the equation. A will to put up with the less than certain life the initial forray into academics tends to provide is the bigger challenge. I suspect if you are a person who needs constant validation or a clear and direct path for success, you'll be stressing yourself out for the better part of a decade.
    Probably not. A lot of people can read all day about very complex theories. The real challenge is not having a basic "feel" for the ideas, but being able to use them and apply them (or know when not to apply them.) That only comes with experience, which is not something you have right now.
    I have a second major in English, somehow I do stats. I could've asked the same question, "Am I to mathematical for writing?" Maybe. Nevertheless, any field will bring in a diverse group of people and trying to act like the stereotype or using what you see to be how the majority of the people within the field act as baseline to see if you would fit in is never a good idea.
    If your goal is to make a big impact, then the odds you do that in any field is low. I also suspect if you want a wikipedia article on you one day, your life in science will seem to be disappointment to you. Being a scientist is a real job that requires hours of work. That work includes doing a lot of non-science related task. If you don't love the chance to be employed to learn about your chosen field, and instead just focus on the 'next big discovery" you'll just end up miserable.
  14. Mar 7, 2013 #13
    Oh, I'm not that bad. The only reason I'm anxious now is because — well, that doesn't matter.

    Are there any well-known computer scientists who didn't know any programming until college? I suppose that might be an unfair question because of how young the field is, but it's one worth asking.

    I suspect you're right about that chemistry. I did have a teacher who wouldn't have done well on RateMyProfessor if my high school participated in that. >.<

    I think for now I might pursue a double major in Neuroscience and Computer Science, and then as my interest wavers, turn one of those into a minor or less. I'd have a lot of flexibility, and no matter how it turns out, I won't have "wasted my time" on the other subject since the two are so connected.

    I do have some significant experiences with cognitive science. They helped get me into college. >.>
  15. Mar 7, 2013 #14


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    Education Advisor

    I think what you qualify as signficant experience and what I do are probably two very different things. Nevertheless, I do suspect you have more experience than your peers. I have a (bad) habit of judging everyone at a professional baseline.

    As for well known computer scientist who knew who didn't know how to program before college. I have no idea. Nevertheless, I always felt computer science was more than programming. It is a highly theortical field, where computers and programs are not the focus per se for a good number of computer scientist. It's can be a very mathematical discipline. So with that said, I believe to be a 'good' computer scientist, it isn't so much about your programming skills (I've known some very terrible CS programmers) but rather your ability to think and solve problems that require some very logical thinking that can really dig into details.
  16. Mar 7, 2013 #15
    You're probably right. ^_^
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