I’m always a little dubious about writing things for the general public on account of 1) I’m not always sure people will read them and 2) I’m not always sure people will like them if they read them. Actually, when I told my friends I was interested in doing this, I was met with a very confused “Why would you do that to yourself?” followed by fairly repulsed looks. Well, here goes…
So what can I tell you?
Well for a start, I could introduce myself. That would be a good route to go.
As you can see from that little description on the bloggers’ page, I’ve just started senior year at Dartmouth. Brief aside—that note about “laconic” was not supposed to be there. In my awkward haste, I couldn’t figure out much more to say than “It’s senior year. Let’s keep it interesting” (or something to that effect), and in a personal note to the managers of Dartmouth Direct, I added that little bit by way of apology for my lack of creativity. Apparently, it didn’t work.
And then it made it to the site. What an auspicious beginning.
So. FAQ time (were there FAQs about myself, they would probably be these):
What do you do academically? I’m a Classical Languages and Literature major and a Neuroscience minor. Oh yes, and I’m pre-med.
I don’t like subscribing to any label, but that is one which I can’t seem to avoid. Here’s why I’m not a fan of that identifier: you tend to get a routine set of questions if you tell people that you’re a pre-med student and you look like me (I kid you not, I have gotten this, in some variation or another. It’s stereotypical almost to the point that it’s unbelievable. Well, believe it).
“Oh, you’re pre-med?”
“Are your parents doctors?”
No. Is that a prerequisite?
“Did your parents make you do pre-med?”
That’s not always how it works.
“But that’s, like, really competitive.”
That’s not even a question. And some of us pre-med differently.
And then I mention that I’m a classics major.
“Are you allowed to do that?”
Of course not. I tell my family that I’m a biomedical engineer and fabricate clever and elaborate engineering projects to describe to them in detail during our frequent phone conversations.
And then I read Latin by night. It’s my cunning plan. Of course, that BA in Classical Studies is going to be hard to explain later this year, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
“Wait…are you Asian?”
“Did you play the piano or violin growing up?”
Oh sweet Jesus.
(Incidentally, I did play the piano growing up. My brother played the violin.)
How did you get into classics? I read Latin through high school (not well, I might add) and thought to do comparative literature when I came to Dartmouth. For this discipline, you need to be competent in another language that isn’t English. The only non-English language in which I am competent is Latin, so I went to the classics department located in Reed Hall for a freshman open house:
Fun story: As I was lurking at the edges of various groups, a professor approached me and asked me about my interests. I do not recall which professor, but that’s beside the point.
I told him about my Latin background. He regarded me for a little while and asked me if I was intending to take Greek.
Oh boy. Greek. That’s a whole different language, and a whole other alphabet…I’m dubious. Plus, I have to take chemistry, and bio, and who knows what else…ain’t nobody got time fo’ dat.
Of course I told him this more tactfully: “Hmm. Greek. Well, you see, I’m thinking about pre-med, and I really want to do comparative literature. So…I don’t really know if I’ll have the time for Greek. It sounds so cool, but I think I’m only interested in Latin.”
His response? “Huh. Well. Seventy-five percent of pre-med students drop within the first year, so you might as well take Greek.”
I started taking Latin courses and comparative literature courses. And while the comp. lit. work was very interesting…it really wasn’t my thing, as I found out during freshman year. It’s quite a great interdisciplinary major, but just not for me.
Also. Pre-med. That was yet another can of worms. Pre-med is not easy. Fortunately, you have a lot of people with whom to suffer. But suffer you do.
So, by the time I got to my spring term at Dartmouth, I was tired. I remember sobbing to myself sometimes in the privacy of my room. Why, oh why did I do this to myself? Do I actually want this? When will the RNA world ever be relevant to my medical career? Am I cut out for this, or should I just quit now? WHY DIDN’T I TAKE GREEK?!
Alright, I’m just waxing lyrical at this point, but you get the idea.
Cut to the classics department—I started taking a course on neo-Latin epic with this lovely man you see below:
(courtesy of the classics department website)
Meet Professor Pramit Chaudhuri, secretly one of my favorite people on campus, but he doesn’t know about that. Shh.
I wasn’t totally sure what to expect when I walked in the room…and met with a couple horrifying things simultaneously.
1) Almost everyone in the class was a junior or senior and ALL seemed extremely well-versed in Latin (the chair of the department’s daughter was a senior in this class, for example, and she is absolutely brilliant. It was daunting). The only other freshman seemed to have gone to some prestigious boarding school, and his ability to translate far superseded mine.
2) Then I glanced down at the syllabus and saw the second horrifying thing: my two least favorite words in the English language, “Class participation.” Oh boy. How can I participate and contribute anything of value…compared to ALL THAT?! What did I get myself into this time? Nope, nope, nope, I want out.
So, I lurked in the corner for about a term, perpetually nervous as a sinner in church.
This isn’t sounding good, is it? Don’t worry, it gets better, I promise.
After my first test (disappointing), I needed to figure out what I was doing wrong. I scheduled an appointment with the professor, and he gave me a pretty solid 20 minutes to half an hour of his time, pointing out my areas of weakness and giving me generally constructive criticism. It’s awesome when a professor is willing to do that for you (and a good number of them are willing to do that at Dartmouth).
And then I forgot my keys in his office and had to come by hours later to claim them.
Anyway, I started working. Hard. I spent hours on Ecerinis, Achilleis, and Procne and Philomela for the next few weeks.
And whether it was the fact that my ability to translate and interpret improved dramatically, or my confidence in my work just grew, or Stockholm syndrome set in, I LOVED that class.
I figured, Hey. I’m getting a pretty decent liberal arts education…I should take advantage of it. And I REALLY like this stuff! When am I ever going to do classics again? Never. So why not for the next three years?
So that’s what I did. That was the class that turned me into a classics major.
As for pre-med…I was going through that pre-med crisis that I believe every pre-med should go through—where you seriously question whether or not this is for you. It’s better to find out sooner rather than later. I strongly believe that medicine is not a profession for someone who gets into it purely for the practicality, the potential money, or the plausible prestige. You have to want to do what you’re doing.
To cut a long story short: I shadowed in a few departments at NYU Langone during my freshman summer, decided that it was what I wanted to do with my life, and got my act together for sophomore year. I started performing much better and was generally contented with myself.
And then, mostly because I wanted to, and partially because I’m incredibly stubborn and wanted to prove to that ornery classics professor that I wasn’t going to drop pre-med, I finished the requirements by my junior year and took the MCAT.
And I have yet to take a Greek course.
(For the record, Greek is fantastic. Please don’t think I have a personal vendetta against it).
What do you do around campus? I’m so sorry for that long-winded thing…but just to close:
Outside academics, I am a Big Brother Big Sister mentor, co-chair for the Cluster Council in the East Wheelock dorm, co-coordinator for Dartmouth Classical Society, Nathan Smith Society committee member (governing board for the pre-med society on campus), and I did cancer research for three years in the medical school’s department of pharmacology and toxicology.
And that’s quite enough about me.