Diderot and Dissections: The World of the Non-Science Pre-Med

UPDATED: July 27, 2013, at 1:19 p.m.

With concentrations, secondary fields, and language citations, a Harvard undergraduate’s schedule can fill up quickly. For some students, the added challenge of filling pre-med requirements while concentrating in a non-science field has spread them across even more disciplines.

Balancing Diderot and dissections, these students are everywhere academically—running from the Barker Center to Northwest Labs. Even though they might be left with fewer electives during their four years, they see two sides to their undergraduate education, unlike some of their peers who are only in the humanities or the sciences.

“You don’t fit completely into either,” says Ghassan S. Gammoh ’14, a pre-med undergraduate who is concentrating in history and literature. “You exist in this middle path, which has been hard to navigate, but I find that it’s a really good experience.”

According to Oona B. Ceder, director of premedical and health career advising at the Office of Career Services, medical school acceptance rates between non-science and science concentrators are about the same.

“The most important thing is that there is evidence in the students’ coursework and research that they chose their concentration and courses because they were interested and passionate in those areas of inquiry,” said Ceder.

Below are the stories of three students who say the combination of their concentrations—history and literature, social anthropology, and history—and pre-med requirements have given them a unique view on their futures in medicine.


Gammoh pulled clean, latex gloves taut against his fingers before reaching for the scalpel. For Gammoh, whose older sister and parents are all doctors, this procedure would not be difficult.

A few hours after incising, Gammoh had completed his lab for the week. He had successfully dissected a cat.

“It wasn’t fun necessarily for a lot of people, but I found it exciting,” Gammoh says.

Gammoh, who will be finishing his pre-med requirements this year, is a history and literature concentrator who plans on heading to medical school directly after he graduates.

“I wouldn’t say that I knew from when I was a small little kid, like a lot of other people,” he says. “But I knew that I wanted to help people.”

But while Gammoh knew he wanted to be pre-med before even matriculating at Harvard, he did not know what concentration he wanted to pursue until sophomore year. Instead of pursuing a science track, however, he decided to look at non-science concentrations.

“I eventually found that by doing hist and lit, I could include a lot of my interests in politics and political movements and immigration, for example, while also being able to read such great literary works and look at such great works of art,” Gammoh says.