Taking on a second major is no easy decision. You might want to pick a major that complements the first in terms of subject matter while staying within certain university requirements. When picking my second major, however, I thought about what made me the happiest.
When I tell people that I am an English and Pharmaceutical Chemistry double-major, some implicitly degrade or question the relevance of the humanities.
The importance of the humanities may seem obvious to several of you; however, there are many people out there who put us down without understanding the grueling work we have to do. When individuals pursuing a humanities degree express their fields of interest, they should be considered valuable contributors to society. Believe it or not, the fact that I’m a humanities major sparks criticism even though I am a science major as well.
Here are some of my favorite questions to answer about my academic life choices:
1. “Oh wow, English. Must be easy – a nice break from the science and real life, huh?”
Yeah sure, let me take a break from memorizing the amino acids, organic chemistry mechanisms, and the entire periodic table to go read Chaucer’s Middle English, Thomas Pynchon’s postmodernist texts, or Kant’s discussion of aesthetics and subjectivity. Reading those texts is about as easy as playing darts with spaghetti, and sometimes, it’s just as messy.
As English majors, we often read texts that make us question our capabilities as literary scholars, but they also make us question how we perceive the world around us. These dense texts don’t provide us with a break from our realities – they immerse us in them. Coming to terms with the idea that “reality” is not a stable definition is rather, to put it lightly, “trippy”. Sometimes, we don’t even read fiction with a comprehensible plot. Sometimes, we have to make sense out of nothing. Even then, it’s not about what you read but how you read.
When people say the English major is easy, they might be equating the terms easy and fun. Just because something is fun does not make it easy or vice versa. We can have fun when we are challenged, and let me just say: we are being challenged.
2. “Having a liberal arts degree seems pointless. Why would you do that?”
Any major that teaches you how to communicate is invaluable. We all know that it’s important to communicate, but we tend to take this idea for granted and don’t explore the further benefits of this skill.
There’s more to just communication than talking when asked to talk. A liberal arts degree teaches you how to think about the world around you— how to adapt to any situation involving other people. It teaches you how to say thank you to those who have helped you, expand your empathic capacity, admit when you are wrong, and learn how to make yourself better. A liberal arts education gives you a framework to use when solving problems.
In a science-based discipline, it’s also important to be educated about social issues and differences in perspectives. Science works to make human lives easier, but you must consider the humanity and identities of the people you are working for.
3. “Aren’t you wasting time?”
Millennials are constantly criticized for living in the present and wanting immediate gratification. In short, when we say YOLO, it’s taken as a sign of disregard for our future.
Consider this for the future: there’s no guarantee that you will be make money or be happy no matter what job you have. Why not simply focus on the present where you have the free will to decide what makes you happy? The more satisfied you are with your field of study, the harder you will work to gain experience in this field. Your future isn’t being ignored; it’s being created.
Celebrating the present does not undermine the importance of the future. You can do both, in the same way that you can get both a B.S. and a B.A. degree.
Happiness is a valid goal to strive for. You can make it work.
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