Science and numbers have never been my thing, so when I arrived at Duke, I made a non-STEM schedule and loved it. No math classes, no boring science worksheets, and no more time spent stressing over the fact that no matter how hard I study math and science, I will not become an expert in time for the exam. I saw my friends who wanted to be engineers and doctors stressing over chemistry and math and whatever else they were taking (it all just kind of blurred together after a while). When midterms rolled around I had one assignment, and it was a paper.
Now things have changed. Readings are much more important now and the amount of reading has increased exponentially. Three of my classes assign readings twice a week and these readings range from lengthy book chapters to dense academic papers to opinion pieces on topics I don’t have much of an opinion on. Attendance is mandatory because classes are usually pretty small and oftentimes become a group discussion (so you have to be engaged). Readings can be done in one sitting, but unless you really pay attention, you can read 50 pages and get nothing from them (and good luck trying to reread them). The other option is skimming, but if you do that too fast, you also won’t get any of the main points.
The final thing that makes the humanities and social sciences extremely difficult is the fact that there still seems to be a social stigma. When you tell people you want to major in history, or sociology, or any ethnic studies department, people always seem to reply with “Oh, what do you want to do after school?”, implying that the non-STEM fields won’t take you very far. Sometimes you make friends in the humanities or social sciences only to realize that they are pursuing this to supplement a STEM interest. Other times your STEM friends try to relate to the concepts you try to discuss and they can’t go as deep as you want to go. It’s definitely tough.
This isn’t to say that you should reject all of your STEM friends. Rather, it’s a reminder that just like your brain may not think in numbers, and science may feel foreign, other people don’t see the humanities and/or social sciences as natural or fun the way you do. If most of your friends are interested in STEM, be proud that you are following a path that is different, but also equally challenging. If you still need a boost of confidence, remember that if you pursue a career in the humanities or social sciences, chances are math and science will be a distant memory. People in STEM, however, need the cultural understanding, critical thinking, and communication skills that you can only get from the humanities and social sciences. So if you think about it, you’re actually the lucky one.