Name: Alex Neville
Year: Class of 2010
Hometown: Born in El Paso, TX; live in Severn, MD
Major: Natural Science
THE THIRD WAY
I was a BME (Biomedical Engineer) for two years and a neuroscience major for a single semester, and in that time, I was never satisfied with my classes or happy being here at Hopkins. I felt like there was so much that I was missing. My schedule was crammed with intense science classes, classes like organic chemistry, physics, biochemistry, and systems and controls. I missed humanities. When I was in high school, I excelled in math and science, but I also loved my European and American history classes, and all the wonderful books I got to read in English. When I entered Hopkins as a BME, the only humanities class I took freshman year was Expository Writing. It was a change that I did not much like.
That summer, I took Art in London, a fantastic class that I would strongly recommend to anybody who has any interest in going to London or looking at art, and I remembered suddenly and strongly how much I missed learning about other places and other people, and how much I missed reading books that had pictures of classical paintings instead of graphs of mathematical functions. But I stuck to my BME major. It isn’t an easy major to get into, and the mystique of being in one of the country’s top engineering programs led me to believe that I would regret leaving the major for another major that might fit me better. Sophomore year, I had no humanities classes whatsoever, except one brief, wonderful writing class called “Weird Stories” that I took during intersession. As I became more and more frustrated with the restrictive curriculum presented by the BME program, I became more receptive to the idea of changing majors. And so I became a neuroscience major, and plunged myself into Nervous Systems I without having taken the prerequisites, hoping to pull off a degree in it within the usual four years.
That was not a very good idea. I still didn’t have time for humanities, and because I intended to finish my degree in four years, my schedule was now just about as restrictive than it would have been had I stayed an engineer. Finally, after talking with my academic adviser (the wonderful Ms. Breckenridge), I learned of the existence of a major called Natural Science. A brief glance at the requirements had me convinced to make the switch, but as I learned more about the major and its idiosyncrasies, the more I realized that this was the major I should have started out with.
Natural Science requires all of the basic pre-med classes except for Organic Chemistry I and II. That means you have to have a year of chemistry, physics, calculus, and the associated lab courses. It also requires that you take two semesters of a foreign language, five upper level science classes from no more than two departments, and five upper level humanities and social science courses from no more than three departments. The required upper level humanities and social science courses may be taken pass/fail. The major is designed for students who want to do a science major, but who have an inclination to the humanities and social sciences as well. It allows a student to pick out the sciences that appeal to them, while also requiring and encouraging them (by allowing covered grades for the upper level humanities requirements) to branch out and try courses outside of the sciences that they might not have thought about taking had they chosen a different major. “It’s a little less restrictive than individual majors,” says Dr. Ruth Aranow, from Academic Advising. Essentially, it allows you to design your own science program here.
It’s a good major for pre-meds, naturally, given the overlap in pre-med requirements. But it’s also good for those seeking to study something that isn’t specifically achieved through one of the other majors. Dr. Aranow recalls one Hopkins student with an interest in Marine Biology (a major not offered at this university) who chose Natural Science instead, using the major to take classes from Earth and Planetary Sciences and from the Biology department. That student graduated Hopkins with a double major in Natural Science and Near Eastern Studies, and went on to get a graduate degree in Marine Biology.
Natural Science is the ideal major for those seeking to study the sciences without neglecting the incredible selection of history, writing, language, literature, psychology, sociology, and all the other humanities courses offered at this university. It offers a balance between a straight humanities major and a more restrictive science major, and it lets you design your own science curriculum based on the subjects that interest you. I know there must be others who feel now as I did before, who are frustrated with the classes they are required to take, and who wish they could choose classes on the basis of interest in the subject, and not simply because those classes are required for them to graduate with a particular degree. It is for those who aren’t satisfied with the other majors offered on campus, and those who wish to study science, but who have a passion for the humanities and social sciences as well.
To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the Natural Sciences question thread.