How Did I Decide What to Study?
As an individual with a variety of interests and passions in art, music, language, psychology, etc., it often catches people by surprise when they ask what I’m studying while at university. My answer isn’t exactly what they would expect. What are my majors/minors? Why did I choose them?
International Business—I wanted to be in a curriculum that emphasizes the development of an international mindset and a people-oriented approach to promoting cultural awareness through business practices. I wanted to learn how to take business tools that are necessary for an organization to thrive, and how to leverage those concepts to promote social good.
Operations and Supply Chain—I decided to educate myself about process management because whenever newsworthy events hit the headlines, I recognized that my interest was often in the processes surrounding the event rather than the event itself. When the Thai soccer team was trapped in a cave, I was wondering how expert scuba divers and rescue teams even got to that remote area of Thailand so quickly. Who calls whom? Where did they get the medicines from? What systems are in place in disaster relief to provide solutions to big problems?
If you look at the world around you, everything is the result of a supply chain. The chair you’re sitting in, the clock on the wall, the phone sitting next to your laptop. Every item in the physical world has some sort of process required to get it to where it is now. Some people choose to study supply chain because they want to sell things. That’s not me—I don’t want to convince people to buy things they don’t need, nor do I want to sell the most toothbrushes or bicycles or [insert product here]. Everything is a supply chain, but not all of them distribute products. I’m interested in the ones that spread ideas.
Psychology—I love psychology. I read books about psychology in my spare time. I love examining behavior, I love thinking about cognition, I love pondering how complex and incredible the human brain is. Think about how complicated a “simple” sense like vision is. Your eyes take various wavelengths of light and translates that information into visual cues that accommodate color, size, texture, and form. Then there’s depth perception. Then there’s meaning attached to each item which is only created by instantaneous firing of trillions of synapses that each respond 5-50 times per second. And then you think about how the eyes processes information upside down and the brain has to flip it back right side up. I could go on and on in perpetuity. Simply put, I find psychology utterly fascinating.
French—There was a time where I never would’ve considered pursuing additional language study. But now I want to, and that’s a personal reminder of the immense personal growth that I’ve undergone with regards to my passion for languages. At one point, I was sitting in a taxi belting out “Formidable” by Stromae with my taxi driver. That’s why I’m minoring in French, as an ode to the fact that I’m still growing.
Russian—This interest is something I owe to my professor, Dr. Kalb. Maybe once or twice in a lifetime, you meet a mentor as incredible as her. She is brilliant, her love for learning is infectious, her passion for Russian is undeniable, and she has reinvented my own perception of what it means to truly enjoy learning. I had never tried to learn something as challenging as a language with a different alphabet… and I have never enjoyed being pushed to the edge of my academic limits as much as I am with Russian.
I’m having to learn how to read and write and speak again. I’m forcing myself to rewire my brain, and approach language in a new way, assigning meaning to characters and words that meant nothing to me just a matter of weeks ago. I’ve started messing up writing English words because my mind is still in Russian. In French class the other day, I accidentally answered in Russian. Some may find those experiences embarrassing, but I love messing up like that. ’m literally rewiring my brain to associate meaning with another set of characters that used to mean nothing to me. I think that’s awesome. Mistakes mean that you’re learning and growing and challenging yourself. I do my best to be intentional about embracing it. You can’t truly grow until you don’t care if others judge you for trying. I’d rather raise my hand when no one else wants to and have my answer be wrong than be too afraid to raise my hand at all.
Overall, there are a few key takeaways and guiding questions that I would encourage any current or prospective student to keep in mind when choosing a course of study.
Above all else, it doesn’t matter what you study, it just matters how you study it. Are you curious? Are you eager to learn? Do you arrive ten minutes early and then stay ten minutes late to ask questions to your professor? Are you learning for the sake of learning or are you just there to get points and go home?
Everything is interdisciplinary. You can study history and go to medical school. You can study philosophy and be a successful entrepreneur. You can take an education in any field and with the right mindset, figure out how it relates to another. Focus less on the specific material and focus more on the overarching themes. How is your field making you approach problems in new ways? How is your field teaching you about people? How is your field teaching you about yourself?
Diversity is becoming more and more important. This is a tangential thought to the item above. Not only is it okay to be coming from a different perspective, you should want to be coming from a different perspective. While certain prerequisites and technological qualifications can and should exist (i.e. I hope the civil engineers that designed the next bridge I’ll drive over had at least some understanding of the most basic laws of physics), project teams thrive in environments where they utilize a non-homogenous talent pool. As long as you can pitch yourself and your experiences in an interesting way that tells a story about who you are, I firmly believe you can earn a seat at any table.
Regardless of everything else, as long as you make the conscious decision to always be learning from the environment around you, I am confident you will end up better off than when you started.