Between September 2014 and December 2015, I managed to change my intended degree 4 times. Granted, I’ve never completely changed my intended paths: I started off in the first-entry Medical Sciences program at Western, became a Neuroscience student in 2nd year, created a specialized degree in Computational Neuroscience and then, realizing that I enjoyed computer science more than neuroscience, changed up my degree to emphasize computer science.
Coming into first year, I knew that I enjoyed learning about the nervous system, and I thought that I liked everything else associated with an undergraduate degree in neuroscience, too: biology, psychology, physiology, the whole deal. However, I found that instead of having fun in my courses and learning about things I cared about, I was waiting and anticipating that at some point, my coursework was going to get more interesting. What initially got me excited about science was the idea of doing my own research and solving global problems and...well, to each their own, but I felt that I spent more time learning increasingly inane details about the powerhouse of the cell every semester.
For me, the real moment of realization came almost entirely by accident. I was taking a computer science course and on a whim, applied to go to a few hackathons. I got accepted to one and well--I just saw that this was a free weekend-long field trip, so I couldn’t say no. I was lucky enough to find a team of people (who were much stronger in programming than me!) and we developed a web-based game for kids with autism. The whole weekend, I was tired, overwhelmed and quite possibly the most clueless person in the building. However, in the weeks that followed my return, I was amazed at how low the barrier to create something cool, new or useful was for computer science students. Teams of students were able to do so in a single weekend! This was much more closely allied to what I had initially wanted out of my degree. Computer science was much easier to apply to a biological context than the other way around--for administrative staff who talked to me after I made the 4th change in my degree, there was a huge concern about how the spontaneity of it all. For me, it just made sense: I wasn’t loving my program, I found something that I wanted to do and I wasn’t about to keep waiting for my courses to improve. I spent a large part of my adolescent life thinking that I would go into neuroscience and I had a lot of time for that passion to develop, but if I could keep my favourite parts of it while developing a skillset that was much more relevant to my goals and could be applied to any field I might later discover...That was enough for me.
I still have more than 2 years left to change my mind, so I really don’t know where my future will go. If you had told me a year ago that I would be under the Computer Science faculty, I would have probably laughed, so it’s really not too much of a stretch that I’ll somehow change it up again. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in the future, and I might just be too open-minded: I’ve considered everything from industry and computer science to business to medical school to graduate school. For me, the first 2 years of university have already lead to a lot of self-discovery (as cheesy as that sounds!) and that’s something I’ve accepted--as well as the fact that as I continue growing and developing my ideas of what I want my future to look like, I might need to reconsider the skill set that I’ll need to get there.
TL:DR? Consider changing your program if...
- ...you feel like overall, what you’re learning doesn’t excite you and bring you closer to achieving some specific goal. Hearing the word mitochondria in passing still makes me cringe with flashbacks to at least 4 courses: if you also can’t imagine yourself continuing to study a subject for the next few years, it might be time to make a change.
- ...the only thing keeping you in your degree is the cost you’ve already sunken into it. You can’t change what’s done, but you can change what you’re going to do, and continuing in a degree that you aren’t happy with is just prolonging the inevitable.
- ...boredom with your courses is the standard. It’s normal to find something challenging. It’s normal to dislike parts of what you learn: not everything is exciting and sometimes it’s not obvious why foundational details are so important, but if you find yourself feeling this way about many of your courses, some alarm bells should be going off.
Written By: Diana Varyvoda