Why I Declared: STEM Edition

By Lydia L. Cawley

Totally bamboozled about your concentration? Stressed beyond words about the upcoming declaration deadline? We asked Flyby sophomores why they picked their field of study — or the fields of study they're still choosing between. Welcome to Why I Declared 2018.

Applied Math: Trula J. Rael

I came to Harvard without the faintest idea of what to concentrate in, but after taking SLS20 freshman fall, I became fascinated with psychology. I wanted my concentration to answer the question “How do I want to explore the world?” As the ramifications of what I was learning in class began to pop up in daily life, psychology seemed like an interesting lens to take. Harvard’s intro Math M sequence sat quietly in the corner as a non-negotiable everyday occurrence until freshman spring, when I realized I’d happily do a pset over a reading response any day. Embracing my inner math nerd, I discovered I was fascinated by the idea of learning one technique and using it to solve an incredible array of problems, how I loved the little thrill I got after figuring out the key.

Trula's future academic home beckons.
Trula's future academic home beckons. By Jacqueline S. Chea

Meanwhile, as I memorized terms for Social Psych, I loved the concepts but couldn’t get past the methods. Even though Applied Math began to look like a potential avenue for combining my interests, I had never really considered a concentration in anything math-related. Having not even gotten to Calculus before college, the climb seemed steep and I wasn’t sure if I had a place in the math community — I still feel a twinge of shame when I tell anyone in STEM that I started with Math Ma.

While I don’t know if I’m making the right choice, and I certainly don’t know where this choice will lead me, I want to explore the world through numbers and equations and formulas without leaving the fascinating implications of psych behind. I chose Applied Math with an application in Psych because I’m hoping that it will let me do just that.

Integrated Biology: Ben S. Rhee

Ever since I got to Harvard, I knew I was interested in pursuing something related to STEM, and I figured that I would be able to narrow down my options with time. After freshman year, I zeroed in on biology, but had no clue which kind. After getting advice from upperclassmen friends, advisors, and the course websites, I decide to take OEB10, the gateway course for the integrative biology (IB) concentration.

Did this bug, which Ben spotted at Boston Harbor Island, factor into his IB declaration? You bet.
Did this bug, which Ben spotted at Boston Harbor Island, factor into his IB declaration? You bet. By Ben S. Rhee

Two months have passed, and so far, I can sum up my experience in this path with three words: accessible, interesting, and familiar. Not only is the staff friendly, but the class is just small enough that one can actually feel recognized. The subject matter is refreshing: after a year of molecular biology and chemical reactions, learning about biodiversity and exotic invertebrates was a breath of fresh air and a new perspective on how to approach STEM. Finally, the class is very hands-on: section is filled with relevant experiments, and my class actually took a field trip to Boston Harbor Island a few weeks ago.

All in all, I feel secure and excited about declaring a concentration in IB this fall. I look forward to exploring this subject further and enjoying the company of the staff and the other students who have already demonstrated how awesome IB will be.

Neuroscience: Claire J. Hoffman

As someone really interested in medicine, I've always loved to know how things work and what makes people tick, and on the most basic level, that’s what neuroscience is. I get to learn about how and why the brain works the way it does, which is super cool in my opinion. It gets better though, because I’ll also study how things such as diseases and drugs can impact the brain, and therefore the rest of the body in in different ways, which I think is fascinating.

Not to mention, neuroscience combines a few different disciplines, including biology, chemistry, and psychology, and I think it’s really fun to be able to take classes in a pretty wide distribution of fields — it means I get plenty of choices on how I fulfill my requirements! After all, the brain is running the show when it comes to the human body ­— understanding cognitive function at both the chemical and behavioral level helps us understand so much about why our bodies work the way they do. Finally, on a more practical level, neuroscience fits the premed requirements super nicely, and who doesn’t love to make life a little easier when you can?

Claire and Linda have signed away their Harvard lives to the Science Center, but they're happy about it.
Claire and Linda have signed away their Harvard lives to the Science Center, but they're happy about it. By Michael Gritzbach

Neuroscience: Linda Lee

I am concentrating in Neuroscience on the Mind, Brain, and Behavior track with a secondary in Computer Science. No, I’m not pre-med. But what made me stay on the path of neuroscience was my rooted passion for the brain and how its molecular and biological pathways influence how we think, learn, and feel, and ultimately, who we are as people. The MBB track allows me to approach my studies in neuroscience with this more niche angle. It can be difficult to choose within the life sciences, especially when there are so many at Harvard. Personally, although I love studying biology in general, I’m more interested in how biological concepts apply toward a more specific field. Also, the brain is cool. I would recommend asking yourself not just “What am I interested in and hope to pursue in the future?” but also “What can I devote myself to for four years that won’t drive me to the edge?”

I also decided to pursue CS secondary because CS50’s marketing tactics actually worked on me. Working on CS challenges me in a new way, and the possibilities of the field are endless. Tech is truly everywhere, and those skills can be applicable for any career. It can be frustrating when you have no idea what you’re doing, but the rush of dopamine from finally solving a pset is just enough to carry you to the next one. CS is a field where you are constantly learning, no matter how high up you are in the workplace, so you’ll never be bored.

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