Finding the Right Lense

When I was applying to colleges as a high school senior, I applied with a different major to every university I hoped to attend in the future. At that time I was rather indecisive and did not exactly have THE one “purpose” or “passion” that many high schoolers surrounding me had for their lives. All I knew was that I wanted to attend a prestigious, highly-ranked, public university (considering that I went to a private school for most of my primary and secondary education) and that I wanted to pursue a major in STEM. Hence, in order to keep all the doors open and as many options open as possible, my strategy was to apply to different majors at each school.

As a high school applicant, I applied to pursue Public Health at Cal, although I wanted to apply for bioengineering. At my school, I was a top student in math and the sciences, so I thought I could combine my interest in both engineering and medicine into bioengineering or biomedical engineering. Also, I wanted to impress my Indian parents by showing them how cool and how much of an overachiever I was by combining ⅔ (the 3 being engineering, medicine, and law) of the acceptable careers in India. But, I knew that I would not have a shot at being accepted into UC Berkeley if I applied into the College of Engineering considering how competitive it is. So despite my better judgement and my questionable end goal of going to medical school, I applied to Public Health.

This strategy worked out well until I arrived at UC Berkeley. In my first week as a freshman, I found out that all students in the College of Letters and Science (L&S) were undeclared for the first 2 years and that Public Health had a separate application process to declare the major. It took me several months to come to terms with the fact that I had chosen Public Health over Engineering or a hard science major. And another few months to wrap my head around the idea of applying again through a competitive process to Public Health. In the meantime during my first 2 years, I took classes to complete my 7 breadth requirements in L&S and the prerequisite classes for Public Health.

During that time, I also happened to stumble upon a Decal, a student-run elective course, called the #GlobalPOV decal and was sponsored by the Global Poverty and Practice Minor (GPP) on campus. As I went to every class for that decal and as I completed more of my humanities classes for my 7 breadth requirements, I struggled very much with facing the harsh reality of the structural barriers and social inequalities that affected much of the world’s population. But that was when I truly understood the power and need for education in the realm of global affairs. Therefore, in my freshman year, I declared the GPP Minor (even before I declared a major).

After having declared the GPP minor and taken classes in other departments, I realized how much I loved the humanities. Through the humanities classes I took, I began to idealize a degree in Public Health even more due to its proximity to community health, human centered care, and interwoven sociocultural factors that impact healthcare.

By this juncture, it was time to apply for the Public Health major. I applied and…I got rejected. Getting rejected from Public Health totally changed my perspective and trajectory because I had no backup major. Although, I had taken many hard core science classes, I was no longer interested in a purely STEM major. I wanted to have a major that equally emphasized STEM and the humanities. I wanted a major that would allow me to pursue technical research while taking a community based approach.

After my rejection, I spent hours looking through every single major in the College of Letters & Science. I compared several course descriptions, opportunities within the field, career options, prerequisite classes, and more. Having looked at all of the majors, one caught my eye. Linguistics.

Linguistics is the study of languages through a technical, technological, sociocultural, and socioeconomic lens. It was the perfect combination of STEM and humanities in the sense that we learn many technical skills like how to use Praat to analyze speech and we learn the socio-political climates that affect language use in community groups. UC Berkeley also has a program that pairs undergraduate students with graduate students to work on research projects in relation to various world languages, which has allowed me to explore field research and data analysis.

Even though it took a lot of convincing to get my parents on board with the idea of me studying Linguistics, eventually they came to support my decision and are fascinated when I share with them what I’ve learned in my classes and research experiences.

Having declared an interdisciplinary minor (GPP) and a unique, newly-emerging field of Linguistics, I came to realize my love for the humanities and my interest in the intersectionality of various majors. Also, I now know that it is completely normal to be interested in multiple fields without having to pursue a double or triple major. If anything you could just get like 3 minors (haha joking)!

Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with wanting to have as many choices as possible. In fact, I am still like that. I try to say “yes” to every opportunity that crosses my path now, not because I am indecisive or have no life purpose, but because I am intrigued by many different fields and am still seeking my purpose.

Finally, over the course of my time as a Cal student, I have learned that your major does NOT define you (just like your GPA does not define you). A major is mainly meant to narrow your focus and frame the lense by which you view the world and its problems, but it is not meant to restrict the view. Additionally, your major does not encompass everything you are interested in studying. And it should not. Because there is no such thing as the perfect major. There is only the academic lense by which you want to see the world and most people wear multiple lenses.

Forget finding the perfect major — make college about finding your best self and finding the lenses you want to wear to experience and change the world.

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