Biology and English: Making a Combined Major Work

duel major

This guest post was written by Sarah Sherman, a com­bined Eng­lish and Biology major here at NU

Choosing a major is a unique expe­ri­ence for everyone. For a lucky few, it is barely a choice at all. There are those who have wanted to be doc­tors or teachers or busi­ness man­agers since they were young, and who under­stand what aca­d­emic road­ways they want to travel to get there.  How­ever, for many people, (including myself) the journey is rarely straightforward.

I entered North­eastern as an Unde­clared stu­dent, and although I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted, I knew that I was fas­ci­nated by  Biology and Eng­lish.  For a while my thought process alter­nated between trying to figure out which one I wanted to focus on and trying to figure out if it was pos­sible to double major in Biology and Eng­lish.  I soon found out that the latter wasn’t fea­sible without over­loading classes for at least one semester or by taking classes for more than eight semes­ters, nei­ther of which appealed to me. Despite this real­iza­tion, I still felt no closer to making a deci­sion.  This brings me to my first bit of advice-​​never under­es­ti­mate the value of fig­uring out what it is you don’t want to do.  Some­times a deci­sion doesn’t come in a flash of inspi­ra­tion or from a deep inner knowl­edge of what it is you want.  Some­times it’s as simple as exploring around and fig­uring out the things you don’t want to do, until you hit on some­thing that ignites your enthusiasm.

My first break­through came when I was attending an Unde­clared event, and I had the oppor­tu­nity to talk to the head of the Eng­lish Depart­ment. I men­tioned how I’d been strug­gling to decide whether I wanted to study Biology or Eng­lish. She replied, “Why not do a com­bined major with the two?”  “I can do that?” I asked.  “I don’t see why not” she said.  I would later learn that a com­bined major was dif­ferent from a double major in some impor­tant ways.  A double major is two degrees, and involves com­pleting all of the courses for each one.  A com­bined major is one degree, and some of the courses from each dis­ci­pline are removed to make a more com­pact cur­riculum. It also includes an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary “bridge” course, making it easier for the stu­dent to under­stand how their two fields of study con­nect and interact. This brings me to my second piece of advice-don’t be afraid to talk to anyone and everyone at the uni­ver­sity about what it is you’re inter­ested in or looking for.  They are likely to be much more familiar with the resources and oppor­tu­ni­ties that are avail­able than you are.  You may end up learning about pos­si­bil­i­ties that you didn’t even know existed!

This five minute exchange started me on an almost two year journey to pursue the edu­ca­tion that I was pas­sionate about. Although the com­bined major I wanted did not yet exist, I knew there was a process in place for cre­ating it.  This process included count­less meet­ings, paper­work, cur­riculum revi­sions, and sev­eral road­blocks.  This brings me to my third piece of advice.  When you find what it is you’re looking for, pursue it with per­sis­tence, patience, and pas­sion. The idea that I was so excited about-​​a new major com­bining Eng­lish and Biology-​​often came across to others as strange and some­times even non­sen­sical.  How­ever, I knew it was what I wanted.  I stood my ground even when I could sense dis­ap­proval from others.  I may have been met with skep­ti­cism at first, but I wasn’t met with a “no” or “we simply can’t do that”.  So I kept pushing for­ward. The journey was long and some­times dis­cour­aging, but it was worth it because I had found my passion.

Your own journey to declaring a major might be more con­ven­tional than mine, or per­haps even less so.  No matter what the case, it is impor­tant to keep in mind one overall truth-​​there is no one “right way” to land your­self a cer­tain future.  In talking with pro­fes­sors and with other adults in the working world, I have learned that there are mul­tiple paths that lead to the same des­ti­na­tion.  The impor­tant thing is to do some­thing that you get excited about, and to do it well.

Sarah is a third year stu­dent at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity pur­suing a Com­bined Degree in Biology and Eng­lish. She has com­pleted one co-​​op at the Boston Center for Phys­ical Therapy and Sports Med­i­cine. She trav­eled to Italy in the summer of 2013 for a Dia­logue of Civ­i­liza­tions, and is looking for­ward to trav­eling again during an ASB trip to the Dominican Republic this March.  Con­tact Sarah for more infor­ma­tion about her com­bined major or her expe­ri­ences at sherman.​sa@​husky.​neu.​edu.

Image Source: Carol Simpson Car­toon Work and Illus­tra­tion; I want to grad­uate with a dual major…fiction writing and cor­po­rate accounting.