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Minors Broaden Education At MIT

Choosing A Minor May Allow an Undergraduate to Study Two Fields

By Sonali Mukherjee

While most majors at MIT are fairly structured, with required core classes, restricted and unrestricted electives, and intensive laboratories, many students also decide to pursue minors.

There are many different reasons to choose a minor. Most students decide to minor based on personal interest or career goals, but some may close their eyes and point randomly at a list of course numbers.

BME mixes science, engineering

Zofia K. Gajdos ’01, a major in Course VII (Biology) and minor in Biomedical Engineering (BME), chose a major and minor which complemented each other.

“[BME] 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,” she said.

The BME minor requires the most classes of any minors offered at MIT, but Gajdos believes that the extra work is definitely worth it.

She spoke enthusiastically of several BME classes that she has 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 (Physics II) and 18.03 (Differential Equations) skills again for the class, but it was fun to look at biology from a more quantitative rather than qualitative perspective,” she said.

Mixing science and humanities

Studying science did not completely satisfy April A. Deet ’02, a Course VIII-B (Physics) major. Deet, who sings and plays the flute, decided to pursue a minor in Course XXI-M (Music).

This choice allowed her to study music composition, perform, and earn a minor at the same time. Many students like Deet pursue humanities minors because they are personally satisfying.

“I think my most memorable music experience was the first time I wrote a piece of music -- 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.”

Many students decide to pursue minors in areas such as foreign languages or writing. Jennifer P. To ’03 chose to do a minor in Exposition and Rhetoric (part of the Program for the Writing and Humanistic Studies).

To actually planned her minor even before she came to MIT, having participated in writing-related activities in high school. “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,” she said.

“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,” To said.

Minors may relieve stress

Humanities minors can often alleviate the stress that burdens students taking science and engineering classes. However, this is not necessarily because humanities classes are easier. Rather, they allow students to think, explore, and learn in different ways.

“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 ....” To said.

In addition, To lets many of the more pleasurable aspects of her minor 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 lose 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,” To said.

Jeanyoung Kim ‘02, a Course II (Mechanical Engineering) major, enjoys her minor 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/humanities courses that I enjoy,” Kim said.

Language minors expand horizons

Foreign language minors often allow students the chance to study or even work abroad. Liza Leung ’02, a Course X (Chemical Engineering) major and a Course XXI-F (Spanish) minor, wishes to travel and work in Spain in the future. She decided to pursue a minor because it allows her 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 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 significant 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.”

Minors open up new opportunities

It can be quite easy for students to pursue a minor if there is significant overlap between classes. Deet found it easy to pursue a Course XII (Earth, Atmosphere, and Planetary Science) minor because of the similar requirements for EAPS and her major, Course VIII-B.

Doing a minor in EAPS 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) in Arizona, and was able to work with astronomers at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff to 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 said.

Courses give real-live experience

Kim admits that the requirements for Mechanical Engineering have made it quite a challenge to complete the architecture minor, even though it only constitutes six classes. Even so, Kim has had many interesting experiences while completing the required coursework, which have had effects outside of MIT

“I enjoyed 4.101 (Exploring Architectural Design) the most because you really got to work on modeling and design -- something meant for a real life client.

Choosing a major in itself can be a difficult decision, and one may not want to also pursue a minor. However, there are many advantages to pursuing a minor, such as flexibility in required classes, the chance to study abroad, or better job opportunities.

As different departments begin to hold open houses and pull students towards their major, freshmen will should keep minoring in mind as a potential option.