Oberlin Blogs

How I picked my major

May 4, 2009

Zoe McLaughlin ’11

This week, the chemistry department had its end of the year banquet to send the seniors off in style and to provide a forum for the students to thank their professors. The head of the department gave a short speech for the seniors, in which he stressed that they should all think of themselves as chemists, no matter what they go on to do. This, combined with Sebastiaan Faber's post about the prevalence of double and triple majors led me to examine - again; I do this a lot - why I picked my major.

I declared a biochemistry major at the end of last semester, because I had too many credits to register for classes without some sort of major declared, but I'd known for a while that i was going to major in biochemistry. Since seventh grade, or so, I've been interested in genetics, and while a bio major might seem more applicable to genetics than a chem major, biochemistry, which deals with the chemical process inside living organisms, is also very applicable. With this in mind, when I got to Oberlin, I started taking chemistry and biology classes.

I quickly learned a few things. I hadn't taken a biology class since ninth grade and found that, while I liked it, there were other things that I liked a lot more. Writing reaction mechanisms in my organic chemistry class turned out to be one of those things. I gain a certain amount of pleasure from starting with one molecule, following electrons around, and ending up with an entirely new molecule.

This change in interests confused me for a while and made me seriously consider a chem major instead of a biochem major. Practicality and time eventually intervened. Biochemistry is more applicable to things I'm interested in - namely the chemical process of organisms - than chemistry. Also, by the time I started questioning my major, I'd already taken all the bio classes I needed for the biochem major, anyway.

Of course, if you're observant, you'll see that under the pertinent details about me I'm also a creative writing major. That's sort of a lie. You can't become a creative major until you've taken one upper-level workshop, which I haven't yet. I do, however, fully intend to be a creative writing major as soon as that happens.

So why a second major? Probably one of the reasons is that I like to keep my options open. More than that, though, if I dropped one of my majors, I would feel like I was neglecting half of my brain. I've always had an aptitude and an interest in both the sciences and the humanities, and I don't want to give one up for the other's sake, at least not yet. This is probably also why I picked a liberal arts college at all: there are enough opportunities that I can explore all of my interests. That's also why you shouldn't worry too much about what your major is going to be - there are enough options that you'll figure something out in time.

And on an entirely unrelated note, here's something of the Bollywood dance from Asia House's party this weekend:

photo courtesy of Samantha Conroy

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