Finding a Major

Some people are born knowing what they want to do with their lives. I was lucky enough to not. When I was little, I wanted nothing more than to be the Red Power Ranger.  Failing that, my next best bet was a pokemon trainer. While these days my aspirations and goals are (thankfully) a bit loftier, it still took me a long time to settle on a major at college.

I’m here to tell you: “Undecided” is okay.

The Yale College Programs of Study publication, or as we call it, the Bluebook, can be your greatest friend and diversion over the four years of school, but it can also scare the living bejeezus out of you. When I first cracked mine, within minutes I had dogeared dozens of pages from totally disparate departments before realizing with a bit of sinking dread, “I have to cut this down to four or five”.

Most of those classes that first jumped out at me had little to do with my supposed plan when I matriculated at Yale: double-majoring in Chemical Engineering and Theatre Studies (I still laugh a little bit when I see that, but I know of at least one graduate who did exactly that.) But shopping period allowed me to try out tons of long-shot, “that might be cool” kinds of classes, and every time I saw something shiny I chased it.

To sum up ever so briefly my major course:

  • Started at CHEMICAL ENGINEERING / THEATRE STUDIES (My original plan was to save the bananas from the viral epidemic threatening to kill them within 10 years, and I also love to perform)
  • Took awesome ear training and accompaniment classes that made me consider a major in MUSIC
  • But my intro psych class was so cool! Definitely PSYCHOLOGY.
  • Then on a whim I discovered Insect EvoDevo, swore to study genetic mechanisms of butterfly eyespot development in ECOLOGICAL AND EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY
  • How can I combine psychology and biology? Eureka! BEHAVIORAL NEUROSCIENCE!
  • I’m secretly a granola-crunching tree-hugger hippie: switch to ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES
  • Except I used to love student congress debate in high school… how about POLITICAL SCIENCE?
  • No, I just read this awesome book on the sigatoka banana virus in Ecuador and I should study its cultural impact through HISTORY. (Full circle to the banana epidemic!)
  • And after I weaseled all over the mulberry bush, I pulled a complete 180 and settled on EAST ASIAN STUDIES (JAPAN) the fall of my junior year. And I love it.

Though I put a lot of effort into things that ultimately have no relevance to my current major, the experience I gained in this huge range of fields was not wasted. My stint considering myself a music major gave me a strong background to arrange classic 80s rock for the Yale Precision Marching Band, and when I was part of the Evolutionary and Ecological Biology department I went on a fully funded spring break trip to Ecuador with my lab to conduct ornithological field research. And I learned cool things everywhere.

Even now that my academic load is much more focused onto topics pertaining to Japan, I still make a point to keep one class free for unexpected exploration. Like last fall, I took a class on US Gay & Lesbian History. The professor, George Chauncey, is among the pioneers of the still emerging field of gay history.  It’s cool when almost every assigned reading for class continually cites the professor, and you start to realize it’s not because the professor narcissistically assigns his favorites but because he’s kind of a big deal. The class gave me a new perspective to examine how minorities are able to mobilize politically to protect their civil rights, a topic I’m hoping to incorporate into my eventual senior thesis.

While some majors, particularly science and engineering, might not be so flexible that you can jump in Junior year, a huge number are. Even if you think you have your whole life mapped out, stay open to try a subject you’ve never considered before. I’m glad I did.