By Sonali MukherjeeBy Sonali Mukherjee
As the time comes for each member of the class of 2004 to decide upon their majors, it becomes evident that there is a plethora of diverse routes from which to choose. While every major at MIT is fairly structured, with such requirements as core classes, restricted and unrestricted electives, and intensive laboratories, many students often decide to pursue minors in addition to their regular coursework. There are many different reasons to obtain a minor. Most students make these decisions based on ideas such as personal interest or career goals. Maybe some just close their eyes and point to a list of course numbers: that is probably not the best way to choose either a major or a minor. An infinitely better suggestion is to draw upon the experience of people who have already taken the path you wish to follow.
As the different course departments begin holding their open houses, as the persuasion and confusion begins, it is hoped that each freshmen will remain perspicacious enough to remember that there are possible minors out there, just waiting for them to realize their presence.
Harmonizing a Science Major and a Music Minor
For April Deet '02, a physics major, just studying science did not completely satisfy her. She also decided to pursue a minor in Music. Deet, who sings and plays the flute, wanted to find a way to express her love for music. Pursuing music as a minor was the perfect way to do that because she could study music composition, perform, and profit from the experience in the form of a minor degree. Many students, like Deet, pursue humanities minors such as music because it fills them with personal satisfaction. "I think my most memorable music experience was the first time that I wrote a piece of music - [it was] just an 8-bar melody with a harmony, but I played it back on the piano and was just amazed that I was able to write something that came from me, from my heart."
Hybridizing a Science Major and a Writing Minor
Music is just one of the few HASS minors offered at MIT. Many students decide to do minors in areas such as foreign languages, or writing. Jennifer To '03, chose to do a minor in Exposition and Rhetoric (part of the Program for the Writing and Humanistic Studies) in addition to her Biology major.
Jennifer actually planned her minor even before she came to MIT, having participated in activities germane to writing in high school, so finding the people to guide her in the right direction was not difficult. "I wanted to continue with writing through college and it seemed the only way to do that while having such a busy schedule was to officially minor in writing", said To.
Humanities minors can often alleviate the stress that often burden students taking science and engineering classes. However, this is not because the classes are easier: rather, they allow students to think, explore, and learn in ways different from the usual analytical methods used in other courses.
"Writing classes tend to be more work than other HASS classes because of the amount of reading and writing that can't be dismissed. But...the added reading and writing is really a pleasure..." said To in response to the added workload. In addition, she lets many of the more pleasurable aspects of her major filter into her life. "I like to keep a journal everyday because writing in it is very cathartic and promotes exploration of identity. We are often so caught up in our day-to-day lives we loose the few chances that we have to really think about things beyond our problem sets. Just the opportunity to explore facets of our 'forgotten humanity' is, if nothing else, a relief."
Expanding Horizons With an Engineering Major and a Language Minor
Foreign language minors often allow students the chance to study or even work abroad. This is the intention of Liza Leung '02, a Chemical Engineering Minor and a Spanish minor. Leung, who wishes to travel and work in Spain in the future, decided to pursue a minor because she wanted to continue honing her speaking and writing skills after high school without the added requirements of a double major.
"In my opinion, the course work is reasonable as long as you like what you're studying and don't view it as a burden", Leung said. Studying foreign languages can also help reach across communication barriers: Leung also had the chance to obtain a pen pal from Valencia as part of her Spanish Conversation class. And, like To, she believes it has enhanced her education in many ways at MIT. She pointed out the stark differences between her two courses of study.
"Chemical Engineering is very scientific and problem set oriented. The line between a right answer and a wrong one is very clear. Spanish literature, like all art forms, is open to interpretation. It flexes a different part of your intellect."
How about a Science Major and a Science Minor?
It is sometimes easy for students to pursue a minor because of the overlap between classes. For Deet, obtaining an Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Science (EAPS) minor is not extremely difficult because of the similarity of classes between her science minor and her major, Physics (8-B). Doing a minor in EAPS also gave Deet a chance to have an experience only a few other courses allow their students: during IAP 2000, she attended a class entitled Astronomy Field Camp (12.411) that was held in Arizona. In addition to working with astronomers at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, where she was able to help analyze data from the Hubble Space Telescope, Deet also had the opportunity to do some other amazing activities. "The best part was all the hiking we got to do, including hiking on the Grand Canyon" she reminisced.
Pursuit of an Engineering Major and an Architectural Minor
For Jeanyoung Kim '01, a Mechanical Engineering major, doing a minor in Architecture was not something she had initially planned, but she decided to pursue it because of her personal interest in the field. Another reason she enjoys her minor is because of the respite it gives her from the often overwhelmingly analytical nature of engineering. "[Architecture] is interesting because I get to take a lot of the visual arts/humanity courses that I enjoy", said Kim. She admits, however, that completing the architecture minor can often be quite a challenge, even though it only constitutes six classes, due to the large number of requirements already needed for Mechanical Engineering. Even so, Kim has had many interesting experiences while doing the required coursework, which included some hands on work that had purpose outside of MIT.
"I enjoyed 4.101 (Exploring Architectural Design) the most because you really got to work on hands on modeling and design something meant for a real life client."
Studying Biology with a Biomedical Engineering Minor
Zofia Gajdos '01, can empathize with freshmen that are a bit bewildered by all the choices available to them in terms of majors and minors. A senior majoring in Biology and minoring in Biomedical Engineering, Gajdos didn't have all the answers when deciding upon a major when she was a freshman. However, Gajdos's decided major and minor complemented each other because they gave her a scientific as well as an engineering perspective on her education.
"It relates pretty closely to the major, and it's good for people who are interested in some of the more quantitative aspects of biology. I like the fact that it [has] an engineering twist, so you get more exposure to some applied aspects of biology." The biomedical engineering minor requires the most classes out of all the minors offered at MIT. According to Gajdos, however, the extra work is definitely worth it. "A couple of the classes I took I really liked a lot", she commented, when asked about the various classes she had taken.
"10.02J (Biotechnology and Engineering) is a neat class because you get to look at how drug development within the biotechnology industry might work. 6.021J (Quantitative Physiology: Cells and Tissues) was also a memorable class because it was biology from a very different standpoint. I had to drag out my rusty 8.02 and 18.03 skills again for the class, but it was fun to look at biology from a more quantitative rather than qualitative perspective."
Choosing a major can be a difficult decision, and one may not want to pursue a minor on top of it. However, there are many advantages to pursuing a minor, such as flexibility in required classes, the chance to study abroad, or better job opportunities. It also broadens one's range of experiences, as evidenced by the students in this article who have successfully pursued minors. Minors can often give a more humanistic approach to the pursuit of education that is so fanatically emphasized at MIT. Jennifer To commented quite philosophically on how her minor has personally affected her.
"The subject of writing is very broad and can address all different aspects of life within a society. It is a form of communication that strives to strike a personal and resounding chord with all people."