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Navigating a STEM School as a Humanities Major

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Living with three roommates who are all pre-med, the mood of my house rides the wave of organic chemistry exams. It effortlessly plummets the week before a midterm and soars once my roommates step out of the exam. As the only person not subject to the unique horrors of studying science, I have assumed the role of the sounding board and morale booster for any STEM related frustrations my roommates might possess. I am always ready with helpful comments whenever my friends come home ranting after a lab or deflated after an exam. If any humanities majors need help knowing what to say when a friend spouts science phrases that you don’t understand, might I suggest utilizing the following universally helpful phrases. For example, if a roommate describes how her lab experiment failed, you might reply with “that’s annoying”. If a friend describes how she was up until 2:00 am working on a lab report you might say, “wow, that’s a lot of work”. These statements may seem vague, but when you don’t know what the heck metagenomics is, they will take you far.

I’ve always felt like the odd one out with my roommates, a feeling that has sat with me through the majority of my time at UCSD. Since UCSD is a STEM focused school, most research opportunities, extracurriculars, and classes are aligned with those subjects and I’ve often felt adrift in a sea of science. When I hear another student mention a literature class I comically lunge towards them, desperation in my eyes, and ask “are you a literature major too?” Being a humanities major at a STEM school comes with a burden too: having to constantly counter the skepticism of the question, “and what are you going to do with that” from family members, classmates, and the occasional Uber driver. And while I humor my roommates by poking fun at the fact that I get stressed about reading and drawing comic strips for my classes instead of laboring over math homework or 3 hour labs, the stark contrast between our college experiences retained a weight that settled into my stomach and gnawed at my gut; prompting me to question the validity of my chosen career path and substantiality of my studies. My first two years of college I wrestled with confusion and self-doubt when it came to being a humanities major at a STEM school. This is the advice I would have liked to give my younger self and any other humanities major who struggles with feeling like they don’t belong. 

  1. Value what you study because you love it, even if others don’t understand

My second year, I was concerned that there was no real world application of my literature degree, so I signed up for economics classes hoping desperately to discover a passion for math (is there really such a thing?).  However, after a couple quarters I found myself missing the creative drive found in my literature classes. I learned that you can’t force your passion to be something it’s not, and that there is inherent value in what you love to do simply because of the love you have for it. I learned that I need to lean into my talents and skills, instead of worrying that they are not enough or less valuable than the skills that others might have. 

  1. A statement that never fails to be true: comparison is the thief of joy

The root of all my self-doubt was comparison with other students. Observing what other people were learning and the career goals they had dulled my passion and convinced me that I was making a mistake in studying literature. Now I know that just because my workload looks different from others doesn’t mean that I am not working hard enough or that the work I’m doing isn’t valuable. UCSD has an intense and competitive academic environment and it can be easy to feel that if you are not constantly stressed, you are not working hard enough. But I have learned to give myself some credit and celebrate the days that I have light homework and am in bed with a cup of tea by 10:00pm.  Above all, I learned not to compare my college experience to someone else’s. Every person’s path is unique and we need to value our own journey.

  1. Create community; there’s strength and assurance in numbers

Something I wish that I had done sooner was reaching out to others in my classes and joining different organizations on campus. Once I started to feel like I wasn’t alone, the knowledge of having a community of like minded people created a gratifying sense of validity in my studies and career goals. Another game-changer was finding people that I looked up to in the field I wanted to be in. When I had concrete ideas about who I aspired to be, I had proof that I was on a track where I could be successful. 

It’s not easy being a humanities major at a STEM school, but it has taught me to stay true to myself and become the person I want to be, not the person I think I should be. In the end, you find success because of who you are and if you love what you study, that combination is the foundation of success regardless of your major.  

Caroline is a Literature/Writing student at UC San Diego. When she is not writing, she can be found reading on the beach, trying new recipes, and convincing friends why scenes from her life would be great SNL skits.