The Search, S2, Episode Seven Transcript

The Search

Major Minor

Lee Coffin:
From Dartmouth College, I'm Lee Coffin, dean of admission and financial aid. Welcome to The Search.

When high school seniors are quizzed about their college plans, one question is more common than the others. What's your major? Alternatively, when students approach admission officers, that same question is often framed to one of us. I plan to major in X. Do you have it? Is it good? I hear your engineering program is strong. I'm pre-law. Do you have English? I once said to that, no. And the student said, "How could you not have English?" I said, "You're asking the wrong question. What kind of English are you hoping to study?" Are you a creative writer? Are you a literature person? Are you comparative literature? Different flavors of the same idea?

Of course a college's program, its course of study, is the reason for the season as they say. Fundamentally college is an academic experience and the degree it generates after four years certifies a student's achievement in a certain discipline. So it makes sense that "what's your major?" dominates so many conversations during this admissions moment. But here's the rub. Do you really know the answer to that question as a high school senior or junior? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe you've had an internship and that's moving you in a certain direction.

Maybe an idea in AP biology sparked your imagination and that's on your mind. That's good. But being undecided is also good. Being open to what comes next when you get to college to exploring, particularly during your first year, to meeting faculty in disciplines you've never heard of is the exciting adventure that awaits you as you move from high school to college. So to think about this with us, I've invited three members of Dartmouth's faculty to bat around this idea of majors and minors, but more broadly, your course of study. How do you transition from being a high school senior six or seven periods a day with a bell separating each of them to being a college student or wherever it is you end up, with professors engaging you in really specific topics and sometimes broad topics?

So let's say hello to Alexis Abramson, who is a professor of engineering and Dean of our Thayer School of Engineering. Hi, Alexis.

Alexis Abramson:
Hi. Glad to be here.

Lee Coffin:
Lisa Baldez is professor of government and Latin American Latino and Caribbean studies. Hi, Lisa.

Lisa Baldez:
Hi, Lee. Nice to be here.

Lee Coffin:
And Sam Levy is a professor of philosophy and he is also the associate dean of the arts and humanities at Dartmouth. So, hi, Sam.

Sam Levy:
Hi Lee. Thanks for having me.

Lee Coffin:
You're welcome. Let's get in a time machine and go backwards to start. So I'm going to bring us all back to your senior year of high school, wherever that was. As members of the faculty, as college professors. I think it'd be interesting to see where you each started. So when you were in high school applying to college, Alexis, did you know you were on your way to being an engineer? Lisa, were you always wired to go into government? Are you a politician by the way? Because you have a degree in government. Sam, when did philosophy come onto your radar? So I won't call on you, but who wants to jump in first and talk about the young version of your intellectual self?

Alexis Abramson:
I'm happy to jump in here, Lee.

Lee Coffin:
That's Alexis.

Alexis Abramson:
Okay. So, I was good at math and science as you kind of hear sometimes when somebody says, "Oh, I want to be an engineer." And that is a path one could go toward, but I also really enjoyed my other classes. And so when I was looking for a college, I wanted to make sure I didn't go to an engineering school that was more solely focused on engineering. I wanted to go to a broad school where I could take the philosophy classes and the history classes, and really try and bring those classes together for a fuller experience while at the same time preparing me to be that engineer.

So I went to Tufts University as an undergrad because I was looking for that mix. But I think even today, when we think about do I want to be an engineer or not? The students don't necessarily have to be great at math and science, and they don't necessarily have to know they want to be an engineer. And really it's okay to think about it and kind of decide once you get there which path makes sense for you.

Lee Coffin:
That's really helpful. As a kind of the kernel of your college search, once upon a time, was this interest in math and science. Even then that part of your high school curriculum was tickling you in a way that made you say, "Hey, this could be what I study."

Alexis Abramson:
Exactly. And I was very focused on getting a job and doing something very applied. So, it was sort of part of who I was and who I wanted to be. And so engineering kind of seemed to fit sort of that personality that I had.

Lee Coffin:
Okay. That's helpful. And where did you go to high school?

Alexis Abramson:
So I went to a public high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. A large public high school. Very diverse public high school in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. So grew up through that school, and had a really great math and science experience there too, which is always helpful if you want to feel good about who you are. Yeah. And go that direction.

Lee Coffin:
Thanks. Thanks Alexis. Lisa, what's Jr. Lisa thinking?

Lisa Baldez:
So I grew up in the Washington DC area, and politics is always kind of part of my family, part of what was like to grow up there. And so I think I never really questioned that politics was something I was interested in. That said as a college senior, I applied to college early. I got in early, and I thought I'm done. I completely kind of stopped thinking about intellectual endeavors. I didn't give any thought to what I was going to be studying in college whatsoever.

Lee Coffin:
Wow. As I hear you say that I'm smiling at the idea that Ivy league professor just kind of shared that insight about you kind of took your foot off the gas pedal a little bit when in high school, and you still got on track. So, you went into college where you had a political focus kind of it sounds like part of your DNA, but did you go in thinking I'm pre-law, or I'm going to study policy or you just saying, "Let's see what happens?"

Lisa Baldez:
So I did take a political science class my first term in college. It was a notoriously difficult class. And then I also took a class on East Asian politics, and East Asian history. And I absolutely fell in love with it. And my freshman year, I was absolutely determined that I was going to study Japanese, and I was going to be a scholar of Japanese politics. And that lasted until the end of my freshman year. And then I decided I was going to major in politics. At the same time when I was at college, I did a lot of modern dance.

I wouldn't say it's my extracurricular activity, but that was also for course credit. And it was something that was very, very important to me. It was something I had never done before. I happened randomly on a modern dance class, and it was just like, "Oh, this is where I'm meant to be." And it was a really important part of my experience there. When I look back, I regret that I did not really commit to that, to the same level that I committed to my major in politics. Because I just didn't really think that that was possible to do, or that it was okay to do. And now I know, yeah, it's absolutely okay to do both of those things or one or the other. I would have learned just as much from whatever choice that I would've have made at that time.

Lee Coffin:
Great. Thank you. Sam?

Sam Levy:
So, I grew up in a small town in Maine, Winthrop, Maine, and went to a small public high school there. And I was through my senior year, and I think through many years of college just dreaming my way through. I had lots of interests, no particular focus on what I thought I would study. But there were topics, subject that I was quite interested in just to find out about. And in my senior year, about the same time that I was having to decide where to apply, and then as the acceptances were coming through where to go, I was involved in a science project. Where I was in the basement of my house, putting lasers together to make holograms.

Which was a path of discovery is completely out of nowhere. I remember the day downstairs where it worked, and we'd produce the film, and then a hologram was there. It was visible. You could see the thing and thinking maybe this work on optics and lasers combined with interests that I had in physics would lead me into study of physics. The other thing I really liked in high school at that time, I had a class with a charismatic teacher in a psychology course. So I went off to college thinking I would probably try to double major in physics, and in psychology, but not with a particularly strong view about what the degree would mean, or what it would do. I just thought those are two things that I like and colleges have them.

So I ended up going to the University of Colorado at Boulder, which was in every way, exciting and thrilling and big compared to the tiny town I'd been in. But it was quite some time before my academic pursuits actually sort of straightened up, and took me to where I ended up, which was a major in philosophy. Which is what I've continued to study since then. And even that I would say it was only partly academic intellectual path. It was my first term in college, and I had the standard intro science-ish sampling widely kind of curriculum where 8:00 AM was calculus, 9:00 AM was physics, 11:00 AM was psychology, 1:00 PM was philosophy, and maybe French later in the afternoon.

That was eight and 9:00 AM courses. Didn't agree with me as much. I love the content and did fine, but it was sort of hard to be sharp in the morning. And that 1:00 PM time slot was pretty agreeable. I had a very charismatic professor. I didn't know what philosophy was. I'd never heard of it really. And I had a very charismatic professor, Wesley Morrison, who would hang around after class and shoot the breeze with three or four or five students. And of course it was very discussion intensive courses, philosophy classes tend to be. I thought this looks like a pretty good thing, this faculty gig. We get to have this exciting discussion in class and then hang around, and it just keeps going. Felt a little boundaryless and felt like open discovery and inquiry. I just kept kind of taking philosophy classes while I was checking out other stuff. So for each step in this for me, it's been sort of chance encounters with individuals who were doing stuff that I found interesting and just pulled me along. I was not somebody who arrived, who left high school, or arrived in college with a plan. I had ideas, but that was about it.

Lee Coffin:
Well, what's interesting too if you go to the very high level like, Alexis engineering, Sam philosophy—we'll get to Lisa in a sec. That like you've got these specialties hiding below that kind of major word, but what's interesting about Sam's story as someone who started out thinking physics and psych and making lasers dance around his basement is now a philosopher, and the dean of the humanities, but there's enough mathematics hiding in your discipline …

There's a math basis here talking about logic and mathematics. That charismatic faculty member, Sam, was my experience as well. It was my first semester and I was taking a survey US history through the civil war course of big lecture. Jack Chatfield was the professor. And he was the most charismatic dynamic lecturer. 300 people in this auditorium, but he was on fire three times a week. I caught myself saying, "This is so different than any US history course I have ever taken." And there was a survey course. So it wasn't even a specific topic. But I ended up taking him three times over my undergraduate experience and became a history major in the same way all of you have said like something presented itself, and my interests shifted once I got to college.

I was thinking English. That wasn't a huge leap from where I was to where I ended up. But I think that moment of, particularly during the first year, is this really important moment when you take this toolkit from high school. Which is you're a good student, you know how to study, you know how to be attentive and write papers, and then your brain starts to open. Then you get to wander and wonder as you meet the curriculum. What advice would you give admitted students right now? So they're at the penultimate moment of their college search. Like they may have already enrolled or about to enroll. They're going to start picking classes soon. As faculty members, what would you hope they're thinking about as they wrestle with this question of what will I major in? Is it too soon for them to be asking that question?

Lisa Baldez:
I actually think that we, as you mentioned the beginning of this podcast, Lee, we ask students what is your intended major? And we kind of prime them to think that way. And so by the time many of them come to university, they have a plan. When I advise first year students, my tactic is always to try to get them to think outside of the plan, and to put the plan aside and to take something that is just speaking to them in some way to try to move them toward that serendipitous class that might change their life. I think one piece of advice I would have would be to... I think it's great to acknowledge, like here's what you're interested in and here's what you're thinking. But be willing to set that aside, and not worry so much about thinking from your freshman year to your first job. Which I think a lot of our students are thinking, and I think many of their parents are thinking.

College courses are incredibly precious commodities, and here you get 35 of them. And each one is something you don't want to take because it's part of this kind of I'm going to say march toward a particular end. But I liked the idea of a path, and a way to get lost in intellectual endeavor. That's a really exciting thing, and it's really exciting to be with students on that path.

Lee Coffin:
I like that idea of each course is a precious resource, because it's easy to lose track of the idea of college, and the macro that there are these little units, 35 of them in the dark of example, which are course by course. And they add up to a degree and they add up to a major very pragmatically, but each one is this little discovery. Let me ask a kind of interest existential question. Yeah. So high school students have teachers, and then they come to college and they have professors. What's the difference?

Alexis Abramson:
I'll jump in from the engineering perspective, at least. So, the professors that are typically in front of our students have spent years and years studying a relevant field. A field of relevant to engineering and in our particular case, and obviously relevant to the fields of study that students are enrolling in classes right in those departments. They've spent years and years of their lives studying these very specific fields. They're bringing to the experience of the course. This knowledge that really nobody else on earth will bring.

There's a real specialness to that. So in engineering, my background is energy efficiency and buildings, and how to mitigate climate change. I come with my own unique perspective built on years of doing work in the laboratory, experimental work on materials to save the world's climate change problem. And looking at using data analytics to solve problems to help us change what we're doing in our buildings to use less energy, things like that. And so when I teach a course, even on thermodynamics, which is a sort of a fundamental engineering course, I can bring these real world examples in that are relevant to today. That are relevant to sort of cutting edge technologies, and understanding of the world around us. It adds this layer of depth and breadth to what might be thought of as like, "Oh, a thermodynamics course, you just crack a textbook open." It's not the case.

At the university level, you're bringing this additional experience to the classroom that those students on the other side, hopefully are experiencing in that way. And can appreciate the depth and the richness of the topic much more than what you would typically get from a textbook. You would likely get in comparison to a high school class on a similar topic.

Lee Coffin:
In this professor construct, you are teachers, and you are scholars. You are researchers, you were pursuing new knowledge. Can you give me an example of how one informs the other? How your scholarship has translated into a course you're offering?

Lisa Baldez:
So my last book was on the UN treaty on women's rights, and why the United States has not ratified that treaty and our history of US engagement on that issue. It was a new topic for me. I had never done research on the United States. This was a new realm of the United Nations and international organizations and human rights issues. I started the project. I started the research by teaching a seminar on it. That was a little risky, but I was at a point where I was willing to do that and ready to do that. So the students and I learned together what are the questions, what does the research say, kind of what does that knowledge that Sam had talked about earlier? Then I was able to kind of get some feedback from them, and they could also see the process of what it is to start research, right?

I didn't really have a clear sense of where that was going to take me, or even if this was a viable topic. Then I was able to, as the project progressed, teach that seminar every year. That ongoing conversation with my students, and the process of like, "Here's the research as far as I know. Here's a chapter that I wrote. What do you think?" I remember one student saying to me she had read one of my draft chapters and she said, "Professor Baldez, I don't really hear your voice in this."

And it was like such an awesome moment. She was absolutely right. So that process of working with my students as more as colleagues, it made the research sharper because I had to articulate what I was doing to an audience. It also I was able to learn from them, from their feedback, from the brilliant questions that they asked that I would not have considered what was worth pursuing. So it was a really mutual process. There was no boundary between teaching and research on that project and it was incredibly valuable.

Alexis Abramson:
Well, I think I can answer that question in a few different ways. I've taught a class, a seminar style class on climate change. I think to have sort of a scientist and a practical sort of focused engineered sort of engaged in a seminar style classes are really great opportunity, right? It's not something that your typical engineering school necessarily engages in. But to have that opportunity at Dartmouth and some other institutions to do that, it's a good experience, I think, for the faculty member and the students. So, I can kind of bring to that seminar style class sort of that more practical side of things, right?

So it's not just about the impact of climate change on our world and the different populations in our world that are being affected by it more and more today, and will be more in the future. But it's about what can we really do about it, right? What are the technologies and the solutions that we can bring to the table. And so being able to go into that seminar style class, and explain what nuclear energy is, for example. And to give the students sort of this tool box of beyond the social science understanding that climate change is going to have, give them an understanding of really how does a solar cell work, and how does nuclear power work? Why aren't we saving more energy and buildings? Sort of that practical piece is really important.

Lee Coffin:
Professor Levy.

Sam Levy:
Yeah. I have similar experiences. I think teaching material that I do in the philosophy courses that I teach through the history. It's often the case that trying to figure out how to deliver that material, the ideas in the classroom requires me to go back to the historical texts and read them very carefully. I realized early on that trying to figure out the best way to pitch this to students broke open the conversation for me in ways that I didn't understand what I was seeing the texts until I needed to explain it in a classroom.

The students, just like Lisa was saying, ask these terrific questions. I think, "Oh, right. Now, I understand. I'm seeing connections I hadn't seen before." So there's some nice road testing that happens in talking to students.

Alexis Abramson:
I think I'll build on that if I can a little. There are other ways when students say, "I want to go somewhere to do research, or I might want to go somewhere and do research." There are other ways to get exposure to these topics. So one thing that I always see students maybe not taking advantage of enough is some of these more extracurricular, co-curricular type opportunities. Speakers on campus. Take advantage of those things as Lisa was saying to expand your horizons and try some things out.

Then if you really do kind of get interested in a particular topic, there are at many institutions opportunities to then go that next mile, and link up with a professor, or there might be a program at a university specifically for undergraduates to do research. Seek out that program, applied to that program. Sometimes there's funds to pay you for research. Sometimes you can get course credit for it. So try and reach out, navigate that process. And then ultimately if it's something that you really seem to connect with the topic, you really seem to connect with, and you'll hopefully have that opportunity to go deeper.

Lee Coffin:
Well, and across all three of your scholarly areas, you're practitioners in some way. You're taking these ideas from your fields and you're applying them whether it's directly in policy, but you're doing research. And that feels like even for students in the high school thinking about program. Where do I go to college? Who's going to teach me? A lot of students I meet talk about this interest in doing research on their own or with you. So as you each think about that, like what advice you have for high school students around thinking about research in a undergraduates space? So, some places will be more open to it than others, but how can they know that this is a place where that's possible?

Lisa Baldez:
I think one thing we tell students is study what you're passionate about. Study what you're really passionate about, but a lot of students don't really know what they're passionate about." I'm passionate about fantasy football. I'm passionate about hanging out with my friends." That was certainly my case in high school. But I think another way to ask that question is what are you curious about? what kind of stokes your interests? You read something in the paper, you hear about something in the news, you read a novel. What do you want to know more about?

And that is a way of thinking about how you might go from where you are now to thinking about engaging in academic research. Another little dirty secret about research often research is really boring, right? So it might be copying and pasting numbers from one document into a spreadsheet. It might mean sifting through long documents looking for particular mentions of topics, right? It's hundreds of thousands of pages that you do that, or writing programs to figure out certain problems. I think that's part of the process of doing research. Maybe I'm overstepping here, but maybe it sounds glamorous to people and it is, and it's exciting, but there are also parts of it that are really... it required a little bit more discipline and focus. I think I'm happy to introduce that to students and kind of share all parts of that process with them.

Lee Coffin:
I'm mindful of the pandemic moment we're in, where people can't come to us. So they're sitting on their laptops or phones typing away to find information. So you come to a college website, and it is an avalanche of information. So I'm a student who's thinking, "Yeah, I'm broadly interested in the humanities." I'm trying to figure out what that means. I land on the Dartmouth website. Maybe this is a mom or dad also helping kind of guide a college search. What resources do faculty have on your departmental pages, or your personal pages that you see as useful?

Sam Levy:
I think in my own experience, it was the courses that took me in to find the faculty, and got me embedded in different ways and mentoring relationships. So I don't know that seeing so much what a faculty member is working on for their research would be the first point of entry. Because oftentimes there's a pretty big distance between what you're prepared to talk about, and what the faculty members writing about. But what the faculty member is teaching, that's pretty close contact.

Finding your way into a space like that, I think there are lots of different paths. But for me talking to the faculty and just following my curiosity got me into a conversation where then someone can take you to that next step. And then things become very clear rapidly. Like, "Oh, this is what we're up to. This is what we're trying to do."

Lee Coffin:
Let's imagine someone's listening to this conversation, and this feels intimidating. For those of us who might be a little less confident out of the gate as we meet the curriculum, and then we meet you. Does that make sense? Have you seen students kind of hesitate on the inbound moment and lack the confidence to kind of seize the moment?

Alexis Abramson:
Yeah. I think certainly you hope as a professor that your students feel comfortable enough maybe because they've taken a class with you, or they've talked to some of their peers that they feel comfortable enough reaching out, sending that email or coming to office hours. I think really just knowing that we as professors expect that of our students. We love when our students come to office hours. So don't be afraid.

Please do take advantage of that opportunity to go, and have that one-on-one conversation. Be it about questions you have in the class or questions you just want to ask them about the research that they're doing, or the sabbatical they took last year that you read an article about. So we're as professors really welcoming of students coming and talking to us.

Lee Coffin:
So they got in, they've chosen a college, they're now first years, and they're picking courses, and there's this thing called office hours. And for a lot of students, particularly in the selective realm of college admission where we the admit rate was tight and they got in and they might be wondering, "How the hell did I get in?" And they're used to getting A's because that was the motivating force through high school to get them into the college of their dreams. Now maybe they get a B.

I'll go back to Jack Chatfield. My history professor.  I got a C on my first test in his course. I never got anything less than an A in high school. And I remember being crushed by the C on that exam. I did go to office hours to see him and with my blue book, for those parents who were more the blue books. And I said, "What did I do wrong?" And he flipped through it. He said, "You did nothing wrong." He said, "You answered all the questions correctly. You just didn't expand on them to the degree you needed to." And coming out of my public high school, no one ever taught me expository writing. So it was this really interesting recalibration with that.

He said, "You're smart. You just have to go a little more deeply on the answers to these questions." And then off I went. I think a lot of us have that moment when we get the college where the A's are a little harder to earn, or there's this pressure to still earn an A. What advice do you give to high school seniors around that transition from being a high achieving high school student to being one of the many high achieving students entering class? What do you see in your classrooms than your advising work?

Lisa Baldez:
So my first grade in college was a D. Equally shocking. And so I know what that's like. I have lots of experiences that I am pretty open with my students to say like, "Look, here's my experience." And we know that failure is essential to learning. You have to fail in order to really learn something. Some colleges and some professors are kind of trying to incorporate that into pedagogy. Into building like low stakes quizzes and low stakes tests so that you can fail, and learn from that and still do well in the class. It is a very real thing. And I think that, that fear of failure for a lot of students can be crippling. But that said, exactly what you did, Lee is just to ask.

Tell me what happened? Tell me what you saw that led you to this grade, or these set of comments. It's a high threshold in terms of confidence to be able to do that, but that's where you're going to learn, and kind of go somewhere different from where you were before. Otherwise walking away from that or not inquiring is failing to avail yourself of a really amazing opportunity.

Lee Coffin:
Yeah. I think the sting of that first college grade is as you feel it. I remember going back to my room and feeling like, "Oh, God." My poignant story that I will often tell I had a freshmen seminar. It was on politics, was world communications and people were talking about Play-Doh and I had not read Plato's Republic in high school, and listen to the conversation about why are they talking about Play-doh? I thought, like the toy that kids had. I didn't realize it was something that my high school just didn't include on its curriculum. And they had this moment of feeling like, "God, how did I get in, and why don't I know what they all know?" And that was a cold shower for me, is kind of the a kid coming out of my, not so fancy public high school. Where I was big man on campus and president of national honor society.

All of a sudden I was like, "Okay." But the moral of this story I'm sharing is I had the skills. The college admission officer who took me said like the ingredients were there, I just needed to teach myself a different way to learn. Like what got me through high school was still germane, but in this new environment, I had to rearrange how I understood being a good student meant. Like office hours and part of that, or jumping way ahead of my syllabus or going to the library every night, and reading and buying a highlighter and highlighting things in books. Like these were study skills that my public high school didn't teach me. And you have to learn how to swim in a different stream.

Alexis Abramson:
Yeah. I think when I talked to some high school students, they simplify it a bit by saying, "Oh, college is just another four years. It's just like high school, but it's harder." And that's not it at all. It's this opportunity to really expand your horizons, and go into depth and breadth that you wouldn't normally go into. Lee, your example of taking that extra step to really investigate that topic from a unique perspective you had never thought about before. I think about when I was an undergrad and I was a mechanical engineering major, but as I said earlier, I wanted to take these other courses.

I had a couple of good friends who were not engineering majors. And we took this history of women class together, which I was interested in and we had to write an essay on the history of women. I decided, "Well, I'm going to take an engineer's approach to this." And I talked about how the history of women is like an undammed to oscillator. And so I wrote my whole paper on that, and I spent hours and hours and hours, versus my two friends who were one was a history major in fact. And they did it the night before, of course, and they got A's. I got a B plus, and it was like devastating to me that... But I also, at the same time really understood that like, "Look, this isn't my strength." And really I learned so much by taking this sort of unique dive into things that maybe was untraditional, unconventional in a sense, and broaden my horizons in a certain way.

I got a good grade. Don't get me wrong. Although I was a little bitter that they didn't spend much time and got a better grade. So, it's really about the experience in college. I know it's easier said than done. Grades don't matter as much. They do, I get it, but at the same time, when you look back years from now, it's those experiences where you really kind of went outside your comfort zone, which might have matched you got a lower grade. But it's those experiences that really kind of help you become the person that you will become, and are so meaningful in the end.

Lee Coffin:
Post enrollment, pre-matriculation, it's time to start picking courses. Would you advise students to stretch outside their comfort zone for at least one of those three, four or five slots? That's like, "I'm pre-med loading up all on that." What's the virtue of popping outside of what you think you want to study and landing in a course, like the history of women as a mechanical engineer. And saying, "Oh, this has pushed me into a very different intellectual space in the one that feels organic."

Lisa Baldez:
I'm going to answer that by sharing something I hear from seniors a lot. By the time many of our students are seniors, they've completed their major requirements. They've completed their distribution requirements. They've completed their pre-health requirements of their doing that, or they're close. And so they're like, "Okay, now I can take the courses I really want to take." Which I think is not how I would recommend doing it, but they often find themselves there. Then they take a class because they have been really curious about this class. They're like, "Oh, I wish I'd taken this class earlier." And it's okay. They took the class. It doesn't matter that they're not going to major in that thing that it's still valuable to them. But I hear that so often. And I wish for those students that they had taken that class their freshman year, and it would have put them... maybe it wouldn't have put them on a different path.

Maybe they wouldn't have appreciated it at that time. They wouldn't have gained as much they needed to do all they did. I'm going to suggest what you suggested to students. I'm going to keep doing that. I've been doing it my whole academic career. I'd say probably, I'm guessing maybe 5% of students actually take me up on it. And the ones who do usually report back, but ultimately every class you take, every path you're on, you're going to learn something. Even if you think, "Oh, that class was terrible." If you reflect, what was so terrible about it, you know? You can learn from that experience too. So, I don't think there's any wrong way to do it. But I do want to have students avoid that feeling of regret for having waited on something that they loved.

Lee Coffin:
A lot of students think a major is a through-line to a career. Is that true or false?

Sam Levy:
Oh yeah. I'd say half the students I see coming in for a year, they think you major in X because you want to become, or do X later. For me, I mean, apart from trying to get into a PhD program, just the opposite. It's like, let your profession drill that knowledge into you. Do something to construct yourself, whatever it is between now and then.

Alexis Abramson:
I think engineering is a little bit of the exception. You can major in engineering and follow whatever career you you'd like to follow. I believe in that, but it is hard to not if you don't major in engineering than to become an engineer. So, there is that complexity there that yes, maybe takes a little bit of forethought ahead of time. But about 50% of our graduating students in engineering did not necessarily know they wanted to major in engineering when they got to Dartmouth. So it's really worth exploring that further to sort of decide what excites you, and let that be the driver for sure of where you take your major and minor.

Lisa Baldez:
Data on this has shown there is very little statistical correlation in terms of your major and the career that you end up doing. People for whom their major in college does link to what they're doing at professionally, tends to be academics, right? So the very people advising undergraduates are kind of the exception to the rule in a lot of cases.

Lee Coffin:
That's a wrap. Sam, Alexis, and Lisa, thanks so much for this really wide-ranging, and thought-provoking conversation. To our high school friends out there who are absorbing it, I hope the takeaway is let your curiosity guide you, be open to things you don't yet now. And remember that as wonderful as your high school might be, there are things in your college that you just haven't been exposed to yet. Wondering wonder is a phrase I use a lot. Let yourself wander and wonder about what you're uncovering, and how your ideas might shift over time.

And remember, in almost every college I know, you don't need to declare a major until your sophomore year. So you have the gift of time right now to take a couple of terms, semesters, whatever we call them onyour campus, and get to that moment where you say, "This is my course of study that will lead to my degree." But you don't need to be there today.

As season two, and more broadly the series winds down, I thought it would be fun to have a conversation with a young journalist who just happens to be an incoming member of Dartmouth class of 2025. And our next episode will feature an interview with me where I turn the microphone over to my young friend from Michigan. He and I will have a conversation in whatever direction he'd like to bring it. So, until then I'm Lee Coffin from Dartmouth College. Thanks for joining us.