The Study of Life

At the beginning of freshman year, I was a neuroscience and LJST double major. Ha. That lasted all of… like two days here, and then I realized that not only was that physically impossible, in terms of requirement math:

4 x 2 x 4 = 32
32 – 1 freshman seminar = 31
31 – 11 LJST courses = 20
20 – 16 neuroscience courses (two of these are optional but recommended) = 4

4 non-major classes in my whole time at Amherst? Hells no, FML. I also realized that it would be incredibly emotionally draining for me to be a major in both of those departments, not to mention double theses…

Basically, I am not DFW and I refuse to kill myself as part of my academic trajectory. So I toned down and decided to triple major in English, Religion and Biology. Clearly, I had not yet gotten the message.

What I discovered in my first year here (along with how to do my own laundry and the slutside/creeperside* dichotomy in Val) was that classes at Amherst were hard, and undergraduate sciences were a soulless pit of despair.

I am now a biology and religion double major, and I find the disparity between the two to be bizarre/upsetting. I came to this school, thinking that I was the shit and could handle anything academically because, before I came here, I always could. Okay, so I realize that I wasn’t The Best … what I didn’t realize was that the sciences here are built to make you feel bad about yourself.

The humanities majors want you to join their majors so they can have more thesis students and therefore more grants coming in and more money appropriated to them from the college. Therefore they have, what I’d like to call “seeder classes.” Seeder classes get people excited about the major on a very introductory level. For example, last year, on a whim, I took a class called “The End of The World” about apocalyptic thinking with Professors Niditch and Doran. Before this class, I hadn’t even considered a religion major, but the topic got me thinking in a way my other classes that semester did not. NB: if youre interested, Niditch is teaching a very similar class this spring.

The biology departments and premed track, on the other hand, have “too many” interested students. (h/t Mr. Fan for this thought) Well, sorry, Amherst, you accepted us all, and we’re super ambitious and want to be doctors. They deal with this by being intense, intimidating and giving overwhelming/impossible workloads in the intro level classes. I am in bio 191 right now and THIS week I have a midterm, 7-page lab report, problem set, and 3 lectures in which attendance counts towards our grade. I’m not saying that classes can’t get harder that this, or that it is completely unmanageable, but that does seem like a bit much, right? (Right, ConstantLy, have no fear, it really is this bad. Talking to myself? #toomuch #caffeine) The worst part of it is, that I took this class in high school and did well enough that I could have skipped out of it. I figured that it would be a good refresher (read: easy), so why not. Little did I know the devil was writing our exams.

Um... lab today...

Okay, yes I am saying that its hard to get good grades, but that’s not really my biggest problem. The most frustrating part of the biology major is interacting with professors. I came to the sciences, and biology in particular, to study life. I want to understand living systems and why they function because I care about them. And I want to have certain skills because I believe that medical skills are a systematic and quantifiable way to improve the lives of others. Both biology and religion are the study of human systems of control and hope. The only thing connecting the two disparate halves of my education is people…. In other words, I like people, and want to make sure that they are okay.

However, the biology department, and perhaps all undergraduate sciences, is built in such way that it becomes hard to actually interact with people. The professors need to be working on their own research all the time, and their actual classes, especially the intro ones, don’t really matter to them. There are way too many of us, all the time, for them to give a shit about whether or not I get how DNA-RNA hybridization works, or why we’re doing this whole weird section on biotech right now. They’ve been asked those questions before, they’ve answered them, and now its not interesting to them anymore. They hold office hours at times they know are inconvenient for us (early mornings) or when they know we cant get there (during orgo and chem 12).

So now I’m a little stuck.

Maybe this is shitty, but I was reading about it for my religion class: The Malay people believe that everyone has their Inner Wind called “agnin.” If they have a way to express their inner wind, they are considered gifted members of the community. If they are not able to express it, than their agnin becomes constricted inside them and they develop a whole host of affective disorders – they becomes troubled. Your inner wind is sort of like artistic temperament, that thing that makes artists keep doing that artist thang, but everyone has it.

like a compulsion, but less negative...

I love studying religion, and reading my poetry at coffee house, and writing on this blog, but when I think hard enough about it, I see no other choice but to go into the sciences. I feel like there aren’t enough doctors who get feminist theory, or insular religious communities, and if there were, big changes could be made to the field. And I think that those people are incredibly important for the medical fields. It often seems to me that the biggest thing impeding scientific progress is scientists. Scientists have spent so much time ignoring students, and talking to E. Coli, Drosophila and mice in their looming towers of grades, and really long DNA annotation labs that they forget why they came to science in the first place. Okay, maybe some came for the prestige/money, but I have to imagine that people hole themselves up in labs, or with their noses ground to textbooks like that because they care. Despite everything it requires to become one, anyone who makes it into real adult science feels themselves compelled, inextricably pulled towards it, by their inner wind.

Which I guess means I’m sticking with it, despite the shittiness that is my week. I just can’t allow for the undergrad system of face-grinding work to deter me, mostly because I feel like it should.

Aight, thnx for reaffirming my life plan, she-bomb readers. Peace out! <3 constantLy

* TBW, which means To Be Written