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Major Guidance: A problematic situation

  1. Jun 1, 2012 #1
    First I may give you some background information and information on relevant classes taken:

    Not that it really means anything anymore, but I was in the top tier of class rank in high school with a 3.91 gpa.

    High school: Mathematics up to APCalculus, APBiology, APChemistry, Astronomy, Physics(not an AP, unfortunately we didn't have it)
    College: Analysis of Calculus (essentially formal proofs and mathematical logic), Biology(dropped. see below.), Logic

    In terms of understanding, I have always found that I tend to grasp relatively complex information easily, or at least this is what I have been told. Rote memorization is usually my weakest point as I must understand something to learn it, but once I do its solid in my memory for a long time. Additionally I find that I am able to extrapolate other consequents and facts from the principles that I know. I cannot express my frustration at the people who merely regurgitate information on tests. Maybe its all fine for them, but to me it seems utterly pointless, for if you cannot explain what you studied in depth but can only pick the correct answer out on a multiple choice test, then what have you really learned?

    Calculus was pretty easy for me and analysis wasn't that bad either. As an English major, I was called upon to proofread papers for one of my friend's Biochemistry class on a pretty regular basis. While I found that I didn't know the contextual meaning of certain compounds expressed, I never found it difficult to comprehend his lab readouts and write-ups. In fact, sometimes to his surprise, I would often times even question him about his work. He used to tell me that I was making a mistake majoring in English if I could understand the information to such a degree without any previous knowledge, but I never paid heed to his words until recently.

    Come fall I will begin my senior year in college, but I am facing somewhat of a quarter-life crisis. Going into college, I had never really put much effort into deciding what I wanted to major in and eventually settled upon Biology for the sole reason that I enjoyed it in high school. However, to make a long story short, growing up, I was a bit spoiled. This lead me down an unfortunate path where I would pretty much do what I wanted. What I mean by this is that I lacked initiative and drive.

    I never studied in high school and would very rarely do my homework at home. Often times I would complete my calculus homework while in band rehearsal. Now this may be partly due to the fact that until recently, unbeknownst to me, I had been struggling with some semi-serious psychological issues not to mention a view of the world that couldn't exactly be described as existing within reality.

    Even in my freshmen year of college, I did decently well in our biology department. Speaking of our department, the very first lecture there were ~110 students in the class. About two weeks into the program, there were only ~90 students left. It wasn't until recently that I found out that the reason admissions is able to claim a 95% acceptance rate into medical school is because, on average, 20 students graduate from the biology department per year.

    Anyway, I got to a point where I knew that I was bound to fail the upcoming and final test due to a lack of knowledge of the material. To be honest I hadn't studied but two days prior while the instructors consistently recommended that students start 2 weeks in advance. There it was again, the lack of initiate. Just wish for it and it will come true; I was such a child. From a statistical standpoint, I had calculated that without a curve I would most certainly fail the course. What I didn't take into consideration is the possibility that the test would be curved, and indeed it was. Additionally, even with failing the aforementioned test, the entire class was curved as well. (I remember one of the tests ended up being curved by an entire 33% Gotta love the departments that try to break you and fail you. Then again if I had put forth the effort I would not have had reason to be afraid, now would I?)

    If I would have opted to stay in the class, I now know that I would have ended up with an 84%, which was 8% higher than the mean grade effectively placing me towards the upper tier of the class. At the time though, this completely devastated any sense of self-worth that I had, which in the end was a good thing. It allowed me to build my idea of self and personal drive from scratch, allowing me to fully realize my prior arrogance.

    Regardless, I was at this point in time a second semester freshmen who had switched to an English major because I liked to read. I know, I really thought that one through, didn't I? Later on I decided to pick up a Philosophy major as well, which has, in an almost comedic sense, helped me with my psychological status. It was as if I became my own therapist through the practice of introspection. My parents and friends were eventually astounded at the differences that I had made.

    Soon enough I found myself in leadership positions in organizations where others viewed me as the only competent option. Unfortunately, while I may have proven to be a good leader, it's not really something I like to do unless it is required of me. I would much prefer to work with people on an equal status or at least close to that. Then again it could be due to the nature of the organization.

    Now fast-forward back to the present. While I do enjoy philosophy, I fear that my love for the hard sciences and mathematics still remains unquenched. I remember in high school how much I loved Calculus. It felt like a puzzle to me with one of the most fascinating elements being the fact that one can arrive at the correct answer through multiple routes. This was especially the case with trigonometric integration as I am sure you are aware. Fun times with those identities. Even growing up I remember how much I loved the sciences.

    In high school physics, biology, mathematics, and music were my favorite subjects. Now I am sure that you can start to see a bit about why I fret. I am not to keen on studying philosophy in graduate school as, in my opinion, I think that this would be a complete waste of time and money. I love reading philosophy and learning through it, but I have no desire to contribute to the literature.

    Now I am not entirely sure what to do. I know that no matter what, I want to continue learning, and complex material at that. I do not wish to pursue something to gain a certain level of expertise and then go into the business world. In fact, I believe that I would much love to do research.

    For me, the greatest initiatives are achievement and knowledge for knowledge's sake. (philosophy has done this to me. hah) I guess the biggest problem is the fact that now I can find just about anything appealing so it leaves my options too open for the amount of time that I feel that I have in which I must make a decision. After all, college is not cheap where I am attending.

    So here is my set of questions to ponder. I could see myself pursuing a degree in physics. The level of difficulty as well the mathematical component is very appealing to me, and in it's own way it can be slightly philosophical. I always hated impractical philosophy anyway. (Is that an oxymoron?) Epistemology is a truly fascinating subject; it's just rather useless to me. Now that I've grown up a bit, I believe that I could also see myself pursuing a degree in either mathematics, chemistry, or biology but I have no idea where to start.

    To be honest, I think my inclinations lean more heavily towards mathematics, so I would probably opt for physics. Do you guys have any advice for how to decide beyond simply "do you like it?" Of course I like it, I wouldn't be here otherwise, nor would I have taken the classes. It indeed has been awhile, but I still haven't stopped reading scientific journals and research online.

    English major or not, I guess just basically wrote a novel. Whoops. I hope someone read it XD
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 1, 2012 #2
    Did you learn anything from your past?? Physics, mathematics and chemistry are majors which are not trivial. If you show the same lack of initiative, then it's best not to start with those studies.

    Pursuing knowledge for knowledge sake are all very nice thoughts, but in the end you will need to put in a lot of effort. You should decide whether you are really willing to put in the effort.

    Also, "I loved it in high school" is not really a good motivation since physics and mathematics tend to be completely different in college. I would suggest you take some good college-level textbooks (for example "Calculus" of Spivak for mathematics, and Halliday and Resnick for physics) and work through them. You should see if you like it.
  4. Jun 17, 2012 #3
    I'm confused as to what you're asking. Are you contemplating changing your major or going back for a second bachelor's after this year or getting into some kind of transitional master's program or....?

    I'm also not understanding what exactly your academic background is. You say you've only taken AP Physics, yes? So how would you do a physics degree if you're in your senior year and you've not taken any physics since high school? You seem to be in a similar boat in math, unless by "analysis of calculus" you mean something like real analysis/advanced calc. I'm not suggesting you won't be able to handle the material, just that it would take you a long time to turn around at this point. Another thing to consider is that what you see in intro coursework is often not reflective of what you end up doing in more advanced classes.

    I'm inclined to think anything is possible if you're willing to work hard and take a leap of faith. But you have to keep in mind that what you expect when you start and where you end up may be two very different things. I was a creative writing major in undergrad and I started doing math after geeking out in my math-for-non-majors graduation requirement. It took me places that I didn't expect--seldom have I worked as hard as I did in math class, and I had to deal with a lot of ideas that were more abstract than I was used to. I was used to being able to read something once and move on, and I had to study a lot harder in math. Also, if you get into a tricky spot in an English class, you can often BS your way out of it in a way that doesn't really work so well in math. I started the calculus sequence at the beginning of my sophomore year, which was already a little late to turn around because of the way course sequencing worked at my college. The things that I liked in my original math class ended up being pretty different from what I had to study in my other math classes, and I still haven't gotten through all the tiers of math abstraction (next up are analysis and abstract algebra). I've made it through okay so far, so I think it's definitely possible to switch between weird things. It's just, how much are you willing to commit to something you've only spent a little time in? That's a question only you can answer.
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