Wednesday, February 18, 2009

What a Science Degree Can Do for You

Deciding to double-major was one of the smartest choices I have ever made—particularly deciding to double-major in a science. At the time I was choosing my course of study, I wasn’t making my choice according to the future I had mapped out. In fact, before I ever arrived at college, I already had the vague notion that I might want to study both science and humanities of some sort. After all, my favorite classes in high school had been Anatomy, Biology, English, and Etymology, and since there was no seemingly feasible way to combine all of these, the best I could do was attend a school that would let me study all of them rather than tell me I had to go study history and calculus instead.

Unfortunately, when I arrived at Rochester, Biology was immediately ruled out as my second major for the sole reason that the beginning classes were made intentionally impossible in order to weed out the students who “weren’t serious” about becoming doctors. Essentially, those students included me (although I probably would have worked just as hard as the students who would go on to become doctors, anyway). Therefore, I enrolled in a class that what looked to me to be an equally or at least the next-most interesting subject: cognitive science.

Meanwhile, I immediately pursued the course of study I knew I would major in no matter what: English. I was fairly certain I would concentrate in Creative Writing, regardless of its practicality, because that was what interested me the most. But then, that was what drove most of my undergraduate career work: I studied what interested me. And this was why I ended up double-majoring in both English/Creative Writing and Brain & Cognitive Sciences—because both subjects interested me.

Yes, they were quite diverse. Yes, they demanded extremely different ways of thinking and working and studying and learning. But I liked it that way. If had had to spend all of my time memorizing data and spitting it out on tests or writing lab reports for Brain & Cognitive Science classes or reading hundreds upon hundreds of pages every other day for English classes, I might have gone crazy. Balancing both majors over the course of four years probably made me enjoy the work more than if I had completely immersed myself in one discipline or the other. Maybe I would have produced more writing if I had studied only English, or maybe I would have been included in some substantial research papers had I worked in one of my Brain & Cognitive Sciences professor’s labs, but I am a girl of varied interests, and my “well-roundedness” has always made me a more valuable person in the long run.

Which brings me to why double-majoring in a science was such a smart move: this unlikely pairing of majors—and its resulting “well-roundedness” has proven to make me more valuable than I otherwise would be; this time, in the professional world. I am currently undergoing my 6-month review at work. This is a harrowing time, for one thing because it involves a self-grading process, but for another because it involves being evaluated by not only one, but by both of my bosses. Plus, on top of that, my status within the company, as well as a potential raise in salary, all depends upon this evaluation. So, suffice to say, it is important that I do well. (Not to mention that my own sense of self-worth has always rested heavily on evaluations like these. In spite of knowing that you cannot control opinions of others, I have always tried hard to please my superiors in every activity, from school to sports, and now, in having a Real Job, I cannot help but want to be liked and respected by these important people more than ever.)

Fortunately for me, my review is halfway over, and the first half has gone positively. It has gone so positively, in fact, that I will be receiving more work as a reward for being such an efficient employee. To some, this may seem a punishment, but I welcome the challenge, because with more responsibility comes more power (although I believe someone’s famous quote traditionally reverses those two terms), and with more power comes more respect…. And of course with more power and respect comes more money, but everyone knows that publishing is not the vocation to pursue if you want to make money. In any case, my new project was given to me on the basis of my “being a scientist.” And, in fact, my last project—the task of interviewing a Princeton researcher who won a prize from the Wiley Foundation, which has not happened yet but will take place in April—was also given to me in part because of my background in, familiarity with, and appreciation of science.

I certainly did not study Brain & Cognitive Sciences with the intention of going into the publishing industry and using it there. In fact, even once I figured out that it would be an asset to my application, in certain circumstances, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use it, because I was convinced that I would be best suited for a career in book publishing. I envisioned myself working on fiction books, reading slush piles, maybe finding misplaced commas and missing periods. But, as some people strongly believe, everything just might happen for a reason; and now here I am at this grand publishing company, working in life science journals and current protocols, having upper management refer to me as a “scientist” and give me duties accordingly. It’s actually kind of cool, when I stop and think about it. Who would have thought that little bookworm me would ever be considered more science-y than the next guy?

1 comment:

Daniel said...

thank god you are science-y.