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Yuliya K. '18

Sep 23, 2015

The Perks of Being a Humanities Major

Posted in: Miscellaneous, Life & Culture, Majors & Minors

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Such is the life of a HASS major.

There are readings with short names, like “Racisms,” and readings with incomprehensible names, like “Intersectionality and the Ethics of Transnational Surrogacy.”

There are readings on the history of education methods and policies that make me both happy and sad. For every excellent teacher and idea, there is a way to fail.

There are readings that illuminate everyday subjects in an entirely new light. The question then is, “Why didn’t I think of it that way before?” Sometimes it’s also, “Did I ever need to?”

This semester, I am taking two philosophy classes, though entirely by chance. I’m certainly not a Philosophy (Course 24) major, but so far the experience has strained my brain in wonderfully new ways. Or old ones, considering that the readings activate primarily my math-proof neurons.

I had not previously encountered texts that I could not decipher. Now I may not fully comprehend a large portion of an assignment. Professors who interpret it later in class amaze me.

My favorite readings are those that resemble mathematical proofs or provide “scientific” evidence. The proofs employ the same mechanisms that mathematicians use. Except the proofs are about, say, the non-existence of “races.”

All kinds of logic methods can transform social ideas into precise concepts that can be discussed, disproven, or altered. Then to be discussed, disproven, or altered by another philosopher, who quotes his predecessors extensively, mostly to disagree. Many sentences begin with “I will argue” or “I will examine.” Quite different from math class, where we were taught not to use the personal pronoun “I” in proofs.

After hours of absorbing the style of featured authors, I begin to repeat their words or divide my experiences into distinct categories. Quoting articles about intersectionality does not make me the life of the party.

One other class I’m taking is about Economics, a subject which I’m clueless about beyond the popular narratives of public figures. The class is 17.309 Science, Technology, and Public Policy, arguably the most useful Political Science class offered at a tech school. We’ll have guest lectures by MIT speakers who have influenced the class topics in profound ways.

I enjoy my assignments, though their format is shocking after a year at MIT. It’s odd not to pset here. Nor have weekly deadlines. Instead, every day, I have new readings on new subjects. “Essay season” replaces “midterm season.” Instead of a weekly/monthly spike in deadlines, I get a continuous flow of work.

The con of such a lifestyle at MIT is loneliness. I am the only humanities major on my floor, and the only sophomore in my department. I don’t take classes alongside similarly involved people, and thus don’t often get to challenge my thoughts and misconceptions. For most students, the humanities courses are secondary to their technical requirements.

I had to scour the course catalog multiple times to select my five classes. And I can’t imagine what will happen to my schedule next year, when I will have exhausted all relevant choices. MIT doesn’t offer many options for its purely HASS majors, and cross-registration is limited to 24 units (~ two classes).

I can’t utter common phrases like, “I’m taking 3-4 technicals and a HASS.” I’m taking four HASSes and no technicals. I don’t discuss my classes in terms of numbers, and have to instead pronounce lengthy names (try “Science, Technology, and Public Policy”). I don’t get to turn in psets or participate in pset parties or do other pset-related activities.

But there are pros to being a HASS major at MIT as well (and there are quite surprisingly 19 different HASS majors!). I enjoy my work and can still engage in conversations with my friends about the topics covered, albeit informally. My HASSes are “technical” and engaging for the brain. Most of them are offered by several departments, and so I get a variety of perspectives.

I also get the resources of a small department. Poli Sci has 30-ish faculty members for 10-ish students. The picture of every undergrad goes on the departmental wall. All of us can fit into one room for weekly socials. We have 24/7 access to a tiny kitchen with a coffee machine and a fancy tea selection.

I have priority to get into the oversubscribed Course 17 (Political Science) offerings. I get surprised looks from people when I tell them my major. Admittedly, it does feel a bit special.

So there’s that for now. The summary of three Course 17 weeks. I will write more about my classes and activities when those get settled.

For now, the MIT world is still awhirl with all kinds of fairs: for global opportunities, sophomore experiences, and careers. Student organizations hold open houses to lure new members with food and performances.

We are still only getting a taste of academics, though midterm/essay season is slowly creeping close. Tomorrow, I will submit my first essay draft (which I haven’t started in lieu of this post). The freshmen will have their first 8.01 exam, my ever-favorite midterm experience.

The leftover rollercoaster timber has been completely swept away from the East Campus courtyard by students eager to build new things. The careless waste of time from Orientation days is no longer possible. Once again laundry is becoming an ordeal.

Life is back on the MIT track. 

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