Jan 31, 2018
Give MIT Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences a Chance
This week, I am fulfilling my dream of taking over the Admissions page with a series of six consecutive posts. I am calling the takeover Yultide (credit to the bloggers for the awesome name). Today is Yultide Day 3. Check out Day 1 - "Sketches from the Independent Activities Period," Day 2 - "Just 41 Pictures I Took in 2017," Day 3 - "College Life Changes, Described by a Frosh," and Day 4 - "MIT for Book Lovers."
You may be surprised that MIT has a thriving HASS (Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences) community. Some of our professors are widely recognized experts in the field, and often the world at large. And all of the HASS professors are top academics of the world. MIT is the #1 school in the U.S. in Economics, and #9 in Political Science—these are numbers you can show off to your parents.
I became a Course 17 - Political Science major less than a year after I swore I’d be a Course 18 - Mathematics major—I didn’t know what I’d do without math. Now I’m a double major in Political Science (Course 17) and Philosophy (Course 24-1), though, fortunately, I have not had to give up my interest in mathematics. I simply applied it to other fields to answer fascinating questions about the world.
I describe Political Science at MIT as “basically statistics” and Philosophy as “basically logic.” My political philosophy papers have contained calculus formulas (for example, to determine the optimal size of government). For 17.803 Political Science Laboratory, I wrote a 20-page research paper with additional 19 pages of code in a statistical computing language I had learned in the Lab.
Besides programming, the 17.803 lab taught us the latest statistical and social science methods. In most schools’ equivalent courses, students spend a semester on just regression. We discussed four additional methods, some of which have only gained recognition in the past 5 years. We also learned about the pitfalls of social science that now help me evaluate dubious causal claims and make mindful arguments.
This year, I am working on my Political Science thesis, which is an original research project every senior is required to complete. My project is designing and implementing a social science field experiment on racial bias in non-profit volunteer selection. I will be supported, but not guided, by a faculty thesis advisor of my choice. The five other Political Science majors are writing their original research theses on international relations, charter schools, antimicrobial stewardship, social media, and the corporate campaign donations. Instead of separating us by interest, the department program is tailored for us to learn and get feedback from each other.
Smaller departments provide closer relationships with professors, which lead to fantastic opportunities. The 2 WGS (Women’s and Gender Studies, within Course 21) courses I’ve taken have resulted in 2 summer UROPs with the instructors, one at Harvard Medical School/Boston Children’s Hospital and the other at the Veterans Affairs—that’s a 100% yield! My earlier UROP, at a developing graduate school of education, also came from a connection with an professor of Education (a sub-department of Course 11 - Urban Studies and Planning)—I might have been able to attend that graduate school at no cost.
Community ties are also stronger in smaller departments. When I first met the Course 17 academic administrator, she talked to me for over an hour about all the opportunities within the dpeartment, in a room filled with iguana toys and statues. She showed me the department’s communal kitchenette and lounge, and invited me to the regular Poli Sci majors and minors dinners. WGS majors and minors meet every month for dinners at Area 4, a pizza restaurant with the gooey-est cheese. The majors and minors are also always welcome to the WGS lounge for tea, access to free video subscription services (including HBO), and wonderful conversations. When I met the Course 24 (Philosophy & Linguistics) undergrad advisor, I also met his large dog, whose playmat laid in the middle of the same hallway Chomsky passed on his way to the office. When I was sick and missed a philosophy course lecture, my professor, also a prominent feminist scholar, sent me the following email with the subject line “thinking of you!” (names changed):
Jenny tells me that it has been a hard term - I'm so sorry! And on top of that you are at MGH with a chance of appendicitis! Oh dear!
Let me know if I can help. Know I'm sending good warm thoughts your way.
But what about job prospects, you might worry? Importantly, a Political Science major is not the same as a Government major—the former is a social science. Skills I developed in 17.803 alone qualify me for data science or analytics jobs. Poli Sci majors often move to lucrative fields such as finance, consulting, or law. Even more often, they go into research, policy, or government/NGOs. I’ve even interviewed at a couple software firms. And thanks to my UROP experience, I have connections to jobs in education. Plus MIT requires everyone to take courses in all the basic sciences, two semester of calculus, and two restricted electives in science or technology (REST). Despite my majors, I still had to take a Biology class that was taught by the director of the Human Genome Project and a pioneer in cancer research, a Chemistry class co-taught by a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, and a Neuroscience class taught by a professor who discovered a treatment for one of the forms of autism.
Getting into a graduate or professional school is not a problem either. Recently, I met with a professor from the graduate program I’m applying to, and expressed concern about not having a technical major, which is strongly recommended for the program. He told me not to worry: professors recognize that all MIT students have a strong technical background from GIRs (General Institute Requirements) and REST courses, and even HASS majors have a technical spin.
In the end, the major doesn’t even matter that much. You’re free to pursue internships or research opportunities in any field or explore courses in multiple departments—MIT leaves space for electives, and you can even take extra classes on a Pass/Fail basis your Junior and Senior years. Double majors are common, and some major combinations optimize the number of requirements (e.g. 24-2 - Linguistics and 9 - Brain and Cognitive Sciences). The MIT curriculum ensure that, once you’re here, you can do what you enjoy. That won’t take away your opportunities or access to resources.
In conclusion, here is a list of myths about HASS majors (and minors) I hope I’ve dispelled in this post:
- MIT doesn’t have a strong HASS program.
- HASS classes and majors are not challenging or technical.
- Being a HASS major reduces job opportunities.
- A Course 17 - Political Science major trains you to be a politician.
- Course 24-1 - Philosophy majors study abstract concepts removed from the real world.
- WGS is a useless major for radical feminists.
- It makes no sense for an MIT student to be a HASS major.
Give MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences a chance. It exists, and it is amazing. We would love to have you.
Yuliya K. ‘18, Courses 17 (Political Science) & 24-1 (Philosophy)
minor in Course 9 (Brain and Cognitive Sciences), concentration in Course 11 (Education)