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Piano and PreMed: How I Prioritized Both My Passions In College

In high school, if someone asked me what my passion was, I would have told them it was creating art. Though I had a ton of homework and extracurriculars in high school, I knew at the end of the day I was going back to my house and that I would have time before I slept to play a little piano, write a song, or pull out my acrylics and make a painting that I’d still find beautiful—even in all of its stress-induced chaos. 

In college, if someone asked me what my passion was, I think the answer would change slightly. In college, taking science-geared classes, joining science-geared clubs and organizations, shadowing in medical settings, and joining a research lab all contributed to me finding new love through my selected major: neuroscience. For the first time, I realized I could choose my own concentration and tailor all my classes to fit my interests and career goals.

Being a pre-medical student and a neuroscience major opened up a whole new world for me. Suddenly, I was thrown into a world where I could be almost anything I wanted if I just put my mind to it and worked hard: a Doctor, Neuroscientist, Nurse, Clinical Psychologist, and much more. I found my courseload growing and growing as I added two minors and contemplated a secondary major. Suddenly, I realized that I had less time to create art the way I did in high school. Though I got home at a reasonable time most days, all I had time to do was hole myself up in my room, go to study sessions with friends, or cram on the 23rd floor of the library. Even heading down to Starbucks or Vivi meant I had my backpack with me, always reviewing notes or writing an essay, trying to learn a new concept from class. That creative part of me was slowly disappearing, and I realized that I didn’t even give it any thought. 

When I did have some free time, I’d sit in front of my laptop and I’d try to do some creative writing. When I was particularly inspired by a pretty Amherst sunset or the gorgeous view of the Campus Pond, I’d try to jot down some lines for a poem on my "Notes" app. Some late nights when I didn’t feel like sleeping, I’d try to paint something. Although I tried, my creative wells ran dry. I couldn’t find inspiration in anything. I couldn’t write long enough to form a story, none of my lines of poetry amounted to anything, and I trashed more canvases than I could count and my dorm garbage cans were full of my ruined art. 

It took a lot of time and a lot of wholehearted trying, but over the last few semesters I’ve been on campus I figured out how to balance both things. I knew it was hard, but the first lesson I learned was to stop trying so hard at everything. I was driving myself crazy trying to fill my schedule with a thousand things solely related to my career goals, and in the process I had given up on my creative side entirely.

The second thing I learned was time-management. People always use time management as an important skill you need to order your academic tasks, but I use time management to make sure I make time to create. I usually make a schedule once classes are over. I block in time to do homework, study for exams, attend extracurricular meetings or work, and make sure before I go to sleep that I have at least 20 minutes to do something art-related. There’s that age-old rule for creating: Focus on the task for at least ten minutes, and if you’re still interested at the end of ten minutes, keep going till you’re satisfied.



Often, I’d get stressed that I was wasting time doing art, but I reminded myself that although art isn’t what I want to focus on career-wise, if I lost this part of me, I’d be missing half of me. And to be honest, creating art was probably the better part of me. 

As a musician, I found that the best way to get rid of my problem of not being able to play or write music was to actively bring music to me. I brought a keyboard from home to my apartment and I set it up with headphones. So whenever inspiration strikes and I happen to be at home, I plug in the headphones and I’ll play. Personally, just coming home and seeing my keyboard sitting there will strike inspiration in me. Just like that

Now, I’m more proud of myself than I ever could be. One painting I’ve done hangs on my room in my dorm, among other drawings I’ve made. Every single day, I write a little bit more towards a creative writing project I’m working on. Some days I can barely remember the names of the piano keys, let alone play a song. Some days, I get out three words before sighing and logging off my computer. But other days, music pours out of me. I finish a whole story. I figure out a new way to paint ocean waves, one that makes me so proud my cheeks hurt from smiling. Some days are better than others. Some days, everything in me is balanced. 

So if today someone asked me what my passion was, I’d have a list for them. And they’d all count, because all the pieces of me count. 

Images: 1, 2, 3 

Rachel Prince

Amherst '22

Rachel Prince is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is part of the Honors College, majoring in Neuroscience with the hope of becoming a doctor later in life. She loves playing the piano, creative writing, singing, and riding her bike at sunset. When she is not busy hanging out with her friends, she is planning out her next roadtrip, creating smoothie recipes, or trying to a find a new book to read.
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