Ask the DOSCs: Academic Passions and Majors

A lot of sophomores right now are thinking about what major (or majors, or minors, or modified majors, or entirely new majors) they want to declare, and it’s also not far off many freshmen’s minds either. But the truth is, the process of finding a major can often start far earlier than that, and more often than not it’s more of a question of finding what you’re truly interested in. The major, hopefully, should fall in line with that – but not always. Sometimes the major isn’t a perfect fit with what we’re interested in, but it’s possible to work around that. With this in mind, we asked the DOSCs how they found what they truly loved to do, and how it fits with their majors.

Jingna says: “I don’t think my major reflects my passions very well, but at the same time, my major hasn’t kept me from taking those classes I’m interested in, such as economics, government, and public policy. Sure, you could really make a statement about yourself by crafting a major that is super specific to your passions and core interests, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I am a biology major out of convenience, given that I’m pre-med, but that hasn’t kept me from acing senior seminars in other departments. I enjoy my non-major classes very much and actually feel less pressured and more free to learn for the sake of learning.”

Jihan says: “My academic and professional interest is addiction medicine. I am fascinated by the current researches in neurogenetics, molecular biology, gene and environment interaction, and neurochemistry – not just psychiatry – that are collaboratively trying to explain substance abuse and other addictive behaviors as the illness that can be diagnosed, treated and prevented. I am also interested in an interdisciplinary approach to understanding and analyzing social/personal issues co-found in substance abuse within the study of medicine. For example, how does stigmatization of drugs in the modern society perpetuate the addiction lifestyle? Who do we turn to for help and how do we recover as a community? What are the currently available clinical treatment options for addiction and how are they progressing with regard to the public understanding of addiction as a biomedical disease of the brain? I am a Biochemistry major and History, with concentration in History of Medicine, minor.”

Alicia says: “I decided to major in French Studies after returning from my Foreign Study Program in Paris. Through art history lectures at the Louvre Museum, weekly excursions to historical sites, and classes taught by local professors (one of whom published a book on World War II during the program), I gained a new enthusiasm for French literature and history. More importantly, the on-campus courses offered by the department has continued to sustain my interest with their breadth and diversity, and this term I am researching the representation of physicians in 20th century French novels. I’m grateful that the French FSP gave me so much guidance two years ago and, for this reason, I believe every underclassman should consider a Dartmouth study abroad program, even if he or she isn’t planning to major in that program’s department. I am a pre-health student myself, but I have found studying humanities to be very fulfilling. After all, I did not start my Dartmouth career with the intention to major in French, yet I am now a few months away from graduation having become fluent in a third language. Take advantage of the off-term opportunities at Dartmouth. These may or may not lead to a change of heart in terms of your academic plans, and you shouldn’t be afraid of new possibilities!”

Jesse says: “What interests me, simply put, is the brain. I started here at Dartmouth, however, as a physics major. I’d grown up with some old Carl Sagan VHS tapes and an Audubon Society guide to the night sky; the basic ingredients for your average nerd. The universe, how it started, and how it worked on the atomic (or subatomic) scale fascinated me, and still does. I may or may not read some Stephen Hawking before I go to bed every night. But I couldn’t see myself doing that sort of career (integrating, derivating, solving, and repeat) behind a desk for the rest of my life. That’s when I decided to take some different classes, and immediately became obsessed with neuroscience. The human brain is beautifully complex, and the more I learn about it, the more questions I have. The professors here in the Psychological and Brain Sciences department are as incredible as they are interesting, and I recommend any one of their classes to anyone. I’ve recently become interested in how the brain develops from the beginning of childhood to its final state in adulthood. Here at Dartmouth, I get to design my own experiments and run them through participants (both adults and kids) to answer any number of questions that I might have. How does the brain change, what is it learning from when you’re a kid to an adult, and how does its development shape our development? My favorite part of the brain is just behind and beneath your ear. There, you can find a bunch of little patches of neurons that have specialized functions. There’s even one that gives you the ability to process and recognize faces. You could imagine what it might be like to lose that ability, in fact, the lab I work in at PBS studies just that. Of course that is just one of hundreds, if not, thousands of fascinating topics that are just starting to be researched in neuroscience. Many questions still remain about the human brain, and if you have any, just talk to me or the neuroscience department to get involved!”

Pierre says: “When I came into Dartmouth, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to study. I took classes in 8 different departments my freshman year. After that first year though, I reflected on my experience and what I found the most interesting. Fundamentally, I’m interested in how what shapes human interactions in our daily lives. Of course, there a lot of different ways you can approach this, but what I found the most engaging was government.”

Angela says: “I’m the daughter of two physicists, so the pressure to study math and physics was especially high. However, I decided fairly early on that math wasn’t really my thing. In high school, I discovered that I ADORED Model United Nations and international development, but when I started college I still felt pressure to be pre-med. However, I took one class in the Geography department (Geo 6: Intro to International Development, if any of y’all are interested) and was totally hooked. After freshman year (with many less than impressive grades in bio and chem, but having done great in two more Geography classes) I decided to pursue a Geography major instead. I love the inter-disciplinary nature of Geography classes, and those have been hands-down the coolest classes I’ve taken. I’ve also gotten a chance to take a lot of other classes that I was interested in and think would help further my knowledge of international development, such as classes in Government, Biology, Women and Gender Studies, and Chinese. Put together, I’ve definitely had a ton of opportunities to explore a lot of my interests in college, both inside and outside of my major.”


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