For most college students, the most popular majors among the sciences are neurobiology, biomedicine, molecular biology, and chemistry. Many students interested in the sciences cling steadfastly to the same interests they had in high school. There is absolutely nothing wrong with knowing what you want to do with your life by the time you enter college, and that certainly makes declaring a concentration come sophomore fall an easier task. Even so, the majority of us begin college with vague ideas about our passions and interests.
The ultimate purpose of college is to learn about yourself and hopefully choose a career that will give you the most happiness. Unfortunately, taking the road less traveled can be quite the frightening feat. If you happen to lose your passion for oncology and instead want to try your hand at astrophysics, all is not lost! In fact, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. Be assured, your family will still love you even if you don’t become a neuroscientist, and most importantly you will love yourself that much more for following your passions.
If you have unique interests in the sciences that differ from the majority of science concentrators, don’t fear; you are not alone. Harvard undergrads Carina Fish and Elizabeth Matamoros shared their stories about how they found their best-suited concentrations. Carina is a senior in Quincy house doing a joint in Earth and Planetary Science (EPS) and Environmental Sciences and Engineering (ESE). Elizabeth is a junior in Winthrop house with a joint in Environmental Science and Public Policy (ESPP) and Earth and Planetary Sciences.
“It isn’t too late to try something new.”
Carina entered Harvard with plans to concentrate in Mechanical Engineering. “Once here, EPS stole my heart and it took me until my senior fall in order to declare a joint between EPS and ESE,” she said. Elizabeth came to Harvard with chemistry on her mind but said that, “after thinking about it I felt like the Earth and Environmental Sciences were more applied and I could feel like I was making more of a difference with my work.”
“There will be great opportunities outside of popular scientific research.”
According to Carina, finding research in EPS is a relatively stress-free process. “On our department’s webpage there’s a link that… shows you a page of about 30 professors in the department looking to hire undergrad research assistants for anywhere between $11-$15 per hour on various research projects they need help with”.
“Well, why are some science majors less popular?”
When I asked Carina why she believes EPS and ESE aren’t as popular as other science concentrations, she responded that “most don’t know enough about them in terms of that they a) exist, b) what we actually learn about and study, and c) all the amazing opportunities the small departments offer for travel, hands-on learning, and research experiences.”
Similarly, Elizabeth commented that “for ESPP it is hard to say why it isn’t that popular considering most people believe the environment is very important and there are lots of environment jobs. Lots of people find ESPP interesting but are frustrated that it is either too ‘sciency’ for their liking or not ‘sciency’ enough.”
“Dare to discover what you love, and do what you love.”
Elizabeth added, “I love that we get to go on field trips, we have a small department that is very close, and we get lots of advising.” Carina loves her concentrations because of “all of the many trips I get to go on: from Cape Cod to SoCal, from Bermuda to the Azores, and from Indonesia to Hawaii. All expenses paid trips are the best!”
There are many great science departments and resources available to you. Maybe Molecular and Cellular Biology, Human Developmental and Regenerative Biology, or Human Evolutionary Biology will best suit your passions. On the other hand, perhaps Earth and Planetary Sciences, Environmental Science and Public Policy, Environmental Sciences and Engineering, Astrophysics, Astronomy, or Archaeology would be better options. These science concentrations all have their strengths and weaknesses, so don’t write one off because it isn’t as popular but rather write off a major because you don’t love it enough or don’t have enough of an interest to pursue it. Whatever it is that interests you, be fearless!