Oberlin Blogs

Stress Hike

November 13, 2017

Ruth Bieber-Stanley ’21

If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know that I promised my readers a healthy dose of angst regarding declaring a major and deciding what to do with my life. Well, I’m not one to back down on my promises, so here is the first installment of some of that angst.

During fall break, I took a hike with my dad. As I struggled through my legs cramping and the Albuquerque altitude, I also struggled to explain to my dad a lot of the internal conflict that had developed in my brain over the course of my first seven-ish weeks at Oberlin. This semester, I am taking 5 classes:

Chemistry 101

Introduction to Biostatistics

German 101

Contemporary Dance III

Pirates and Piracy in Times Past (Freshman seminar)

Coming in to Oberlin, I felt confident in my ability to succeed in humanities classes. Writing and critical reading were prioritized at my high school, and taking German this semester has allowed me to relish in my language geekery. Dancing with a professional ballet company throughout high school gave me confidence in my adaptability with respect to my body. These areas of confidence cover about 60% of my classes. What remain are chemistry and stats.

Oberlin is a fantastic place to be if you don’t know what to do with yourself, because people here have such diverse interests that being undecided early on is more common than not. Of the first-years I spend time with, most of them are also undecided. The ones who aren’t are in the conservatory and have to know already. Yet I still find myself anxious about the prospect of choosing a major, and I wanted to cover some bases, which leads me to the course selection for my first semester.

I am a planner. This can be a really good thing, and also a not good thing, because I tend to get disappointed or anxious when things don’t work out the way my (confused) brain decided they would. I knew I wanted to take a math class, for my personal benefit as much as to fulfill the Quantitative Reasoning distribution requirement. I decided on statistics because I had already taken two years of calculus in high school and the math department at Oberlin suggested that I take it since it’s required for many majors. So I did. I assumed that the class would be an easy A. That was my first big mistake. I took a statistics and applied math (STAM) class my senior year of high school. STAM was the class that students who didn’t want to take calculus took, and I ended up there by chance because I couldn’t take Latin IV and needed a sixth academic class to appease the admissions gods and my college counselors (both ex-admissions gods). STAM ended up being quite the academic fiasco. I’m not sure how many of the details I’m allowed to reveal to the world wide web, so let’s just say in addition to learning virtually nothing about statistics and far too much about the size of our solar system, I had no idea what a REAL statistics course would look like. Turns out, stats is, well, hard. And confusing. And not easy? (I know all the adults reading this are laughing at me, so sorry for my naïveté.) The class is going reasonably well now, but the first few weeks were quite the rude awakening (think male elk bursting into your bedroom at 4 AM and bugling authoritatively).

Unlike with statistics, I knew from the beginning that Chem 101 is a notoriously difficult course at Oberlin. The pace is quick, and the weekly 3-hour labs are no joke. I was still quite surprised when in 4 weeks of chemistry at Oberlin, we had covered most of what I did in one year of chemistry at my high school. I found myself complaining about chemistry and stats all the time, even though I am doing well in the classes. To my parents and friends, I know it seems like I HATE chemistry. I don’t. I like it, but I don’t love it. I remember saying to my dad on the hike, “I just wish I HATED more things. That would make things EASIER” (que drama, I know). I am interested in so many things, and when I tell people that, they always say, “That’s a good problem to have.” Well, not always. When the time came to think of classes next semester, the thought occurred to me that no one was requiring me to take any STEM classes. I could take all humanities classes if I wanted. The idea of this, however, filled me with some panic.

This panic was strange to identify. What was its source? I think some part of me wanted to be a STEM major, or felt there was some expectation for this to happen. Maybe because many of my close friends are majoring in STEM fields. Maybe because my grandfather tells me I need a career that can’t be replaced by a robot 20 years from now (option: build the robots instead??).  Maybe because my brilliant younger sister is probably going to stop climate change and make a carbon neutral car by the time she’s 20. Maybe because I think that being a woman in STEM will make people approve of me. Maybe because I don’t want to be a liberal arts special snowflake who’s scared of math and science, or a woman who can’t succeed in STEM, or a stereotype…oh wait…hold the phone.


I am very aware that I care too much about what others think. My dad has told me that when I was very little I would show him pieces of art that I made and ask what he thought of them. He’d said, “It was fine and I loved seeing your art, but sometimes I wished that you would just make the art for the sake of the process.” Something about me just intrinsically needs validation, I guess. That, combined with some stereotype burden, made me worry so much about what classes I was taking this semester and what I wanted to do with myself.

So. That’s a lot of feelings for one 5’ 2.5” girl. When I got back to Oberlin after fall break, I relayed some of these concerns and inner turmoil to my friends. They were very supportive, and my friend Piper said something that really helped me out a lot: “You don’t need to prove you dislike STEM in order to decide you prefer humanities.” I was so concerned with the fact that I do actually like STEM, but that I don’t love it. If I truly, truly hated it, then I could justify only taking humanities classes. But I don’t hate STEM, and I do like humanities.

After a few weeks back at school, I am now more adjusted to the fact that my class schedule in the next semester won’t be the same content as this semester, and that it probably won’t be as intense as this semester, or at least not intense in the same way. My friends and my parents have been very supportive in helping me figure this out. I know that class schedules aren’t always this stressful, and that I’m making this a lot more stressful than necessary, so any prospies reading this, fear not. You’re probably a healthier and more adjusted human than I. I know now that not taking any STEM classes next semester does not mean that I am cutting out STEM indefinitely and that I am still allowed to be curious about science. And I don’t have to dedicate my life to those things in order to be interested by them. I will no longer apologize for passion.

Today, I registered for my second semester of college. This is what I decided on:

Psych 100

German 102

Intro Sociology

Arthurian Fictions (actually, I got blocked out, but I'll make it work, so just pretend)

Intro to Creative Writing (fiction)

So, to those who have helped me figure this out, thanks. If you’re ever stressed, take a hike. It might help you out. 

Leave a Comment

Similar Blog Entries