From Doctor to Writer – Dakota Student

My journey to becoming an English major

In high school, I remember telling my senior English teacher, “I’m never going to graduate in English.” He told me I was excelling in class, engaging — something that was rare for me in high school — and just having a good time. I denied that. I was actually having a great time reading “A Streetcar Named Desire” and analyzing Blanche and Stella’s dynamic as sisters. But I made it clear to her and all my other English teachers growing up that I was going to college, majoring in psychology, and becoming a physician assistant. (A fancy way of saying a doctor without a doctorate). The thing is, as I was told a million times growing up, you can’t have a career with a humanities degree.

I grew up in Champlin, Minnesota. The schools in my neighborhood were exclusively science and math schools. I went to a primary school specializing in math and environmental science. My college proclaimed to be a “Special School for Mathematics and Science”. And my high school ran an international baccalaureate program – I still have no idea what the point of that was, but it sucked. I grew up surrounded by the influence of a STEM career. STEM also partnered with Girls in Science, a program that took girls on college trips where they could do science experiments and eat at the college food center. The only reason we girls went there was, A) to get out of school, and B) to get drunk at the buffet. They also offered specialized courses at surrounding technical colleges. My parents encouraged me to pursue a career in healthcare from an early age, and for a long time I thought that was what I wanted to do. My mom is a surgical tech and my dad does something with heart monitors. My family has always been pro-STEM.

When I talk about STEM, I’m talking about science, technology, engineering, and math. It is important to note that STEM and the humanities work hand in hand. They work together to draw conclusions and solve problems. Ideally, students in either major should be encouraged to take a variety of courses from each other. However, over time, society has sought to separate them. From Study Break, writer Madison Feser notes that the decline could be due to the Great Recession. They note, “Between 2009 and 2015, the number of STEM majors in bachelor’s and above programs increased by 43%, while humanities decreased by minus 0.4%.

When I became a student at UND, my starting major was psychology with a focus on pre-physician assistant. I was in the pre-health chat group and was enrolled in math, biology, chemistry, and psychology classes. And like many others in my class, we maintained our grades and sanity in the fall of 2020 – in the midst/peak of a pandemic. Being a freshman at that time was very depressing. It was towards the end of my first year, in the spring of 2021, that I realized: I hate science. I didn’t care about significant figures or chemical reactions. And while I liked some aspects of these classes, I didn’t feel passionate enough to continue. And as many health majors know, the next class after CHEM 121/122 is organic chemistry. A class that everyone hates. (If you like this course, I’m sorry.)

The one class that caught my attention during this time and kept me engaged was ENGL 110. My teacher really inspired me. And I know that graduate teaching assistant teaching a zoom class at eight in the morning might not be in the mood to inspire students, but the class made me realize how much I love it. ‘English. I love analyzing stories and media and uncovering their hidden meanings. I like to read and write, and I prefer a ten-page essay to a multiple-choice test.

So, with my parents’ permission, and much to their dismay, I became a General Studies major. Which is a good thing to do when trying to figure out what you want to do with your life. I took a course in creative writing, introductory business, public speaking, and a course in women’s studies. I was literally trying to get a taste of what classes I might take or who I might become. After a month of semester, I realized that I would become an English major. And with that, I was screwed. I had always been the girl who would grow up to be a doctor. I was supposed to be the successful dermatologist who would take her family on a lavish vacation and put her parents in a nice retirement home. I remember getting a call from my parents when I texted them about my decision. My dad was more confused than upset, but I remember him asking me what I would do with an English degree. I remember my mother saying that I wouldn’t earn any money. They asked me what I wanted to do, and I didn’t know.

After this call, I strongly doubted my choice. I thought I had just ruined my whole life. After Googling “What can you do with an English degree”, I was in a better place. There are actually a lot of things you can do with an English degree. You can become a publisher, get into digital and book publishing, grant writing, and one of my favorite crossword puzzle makers. I could also go to law school and become a lawyer, which reassured my parents of my decision. (I don’t plan on going to law school, but if my parents ask, I am). I started writing both creatively and technically. I even get money to do what I love. Writing, researching and just expressing myself. I got a poem published, started working for an online blog, got a job at the library, and started working for the school newspaper – this newspaper.

STEM and the humanities have worked hand in hand throughout my life to teach and guide me through my education. I don’t regret my journey to my major. But I regret the influence that has been exerted on me since my youngest age. That’s not to say that I despise all STEM majors, I just wish I could discover my true passion early on, rather than discovering it “late in the game.” College is about figuring out who you are and what you want to be. We are often encouraged to figure out what we want to do in high school, declare our majors, and stick to them for the rest of our lives. I don’t know about all of you, but I was an idiot in high school. And it’s unrealistic to have our whole life planned from the age of seventeen. So, if you decide to switch majors, don’t be hard on yourself. Do what makes you happy. Do what you want. And maybe take an English class.

Claire Arneson is a student writer from Dakota. She can be reached at [email protected]

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