“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.”-Cooper, Interstellar
I was fourteen when my family and I went to see Christopher Nolan’s film Interstellar. Back then, my destiny was to be an actress. I was represented by outstanding agency and was skipping classes to attend auditions and call backs. My weekends were reserved for acting classes and filming demo reels. We went to watch this movie so we could support another kid at my acting school who was in the film. I remember seeing their face pop up on the screen- it still surprises me that envy did not consume me. My mind was too busy with a far more sinister thought: I wanted to become a scientist.
Almost eight years later and I can say with certainty that I am far from what I envisioned to be a scientist. One year from now, I will be graduating with my Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts in geographical sciences and English literature respectively. Even though I am so close to having my BSc, I no longer want to call myself a scientist. So, what went wrong, or rather, what went right?
Not long after I saw Interstellar, I asked my mom to tell my agent to slow down on giving me auditions so I could focus on school. At this point in my life, I was far from a good student. I knew that if I wanted to become a scientist, then I had to get grades better than the 60% I was averaging in Grade 9 Math. Unfortunately, picking up your grades is harder than it sounds. I barely passed my English 10 provincial exam and my other grades were not much better. I couldn’t even do unit conversions in math class. In the back of my mind, I had this gut feeling that academia was not for me. I constantly debated if I should return to acting but thanks to my Hollywood-fuelled vision of being a scientist, I prevailed. What I did not expect was to end up in the arts, the one place I so stubbornly wanted to avoid.
Why a BA?
The BA was never in my original plan. I failed my AP English exam back in high school and had no choice but to take my communication requirements during my first year of university. Back then, I was enrolled in just the BSc program. I ended up taking ENGL 110 and despite getting a 67% on my first university essay, I found out that I loved English literature. It was an applied way to study history. Literature could be a mechanism of protest, or a way to secretly tell the stories of those censored out of history. Literature was tiring, it was inspirational, it was comedic; I felt like a fraud being able to enjoy myself while doing homework. I also realized that I loved Interstellar because it was a science fiction movie, emphasis on the word fiction. So, I shyly went to my TA’s office, told her I was thinking about adding an English minor to my very hard and difficult science degree (sarcasm), and instantly started planning out the rest of my classes.
I struggled in my 100 and 200 level English courses. I had to play catch up to all the other art students. I didn’t know about annotated bibliographies, how to take quotes from a book, that an essay did not have to have just three body paragraphs. Despite what my science friends were telling me, I found out the hard way that the arts were challenging.
The idea of an English minor did not last long. Before I knew it, I was writing personal essays is my spare time and reading every famous literary book I could get my hands on from Koerner’s library. When I finished reading Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray during the spring semester of second year, I knew that my goals were changing. There was no way around it, I wanted to pursue English literature. So I filled in my application to become a dual degree student (shout out to my ENGL 200 professor for helping me with my application even though my essays were awful), got accepted, and instantly assigned myself an English major. At that point, I had the option to apply to the honours programme, but I already felt so far behind the rest of my peers that I gave up on that before I even opened the application.
The BA was necessary if I wanted to pursue an English MA in graduate school (though, the honours would have been helpful too- oh well, live and learn!). It also was hardly any more credits than doing a double major. Furthermore, I already planned to do a five year degree so it perfectly fit with my goals. To have a BA meant that I could comfortably move on from my past goals of becoming a scientist.
Why a BSc?
To be a scientist felt rebellious. In a commercial audition, the casting director asked each of the children what they wanted to be when they grew up. Everyone answered “actor”, except me, who felt exceptionally quirky with my response of “an astrophysicist who finds new planets.” Needless to say, I did not receive a call back. Back then, I thought that to be a scientist meant that you had power. People would respect you because of your big fancy degree and value your role in society the most. In the mind of my former young Latina self, it felt like I found a cheat code to escape my type casting of “the bad kid”.
I came to university to study physics and astronomy. However, my MATH 100 grade quickly changed that dream and before I knew it, I was a geology major instead. That’s fine, Harrison Schmitt was a geologist and he became an astronaut was my justification.
A science degree meant security. At least, that’s what I was told. I would have no trouble finding a secure and stable job after graduation while making important scientific advances on behalf of humanity. Therefore, like many young students, I came into university with the mindset that the arts was useless and that if I wanted to be anything, I would have to be a scientist. So, when I added my BA to my degree plan, I never wanted to drop my BSc. For one, I spent way too much money on tuition during my first two years of science classes to throw that all away. Two, I was stuck in the mindset that an arts degree was useless and that I would be nothing without the sciences. Three, I like geography. Even though I knew I only wanted to pursue English, I could not bring myself to give up my stubborn mindset that I needed a science degree.
I do not like the division between arts and science. Throughout high school and into my first year as a BSc student, I was told that the arts were useless and that I would end up living in my parent’s basement for the rest of my life. When I transitioned to mostly art courses, I was told that all science students knew nothing about critical thinking and would just plug and chug numbers into a calculator. I realize now that when you are eighteen, people hide their own personal anxieties by putting down others.
In all honesty, my dual degree is the result of me having too many interests and not wanting to give any of them up, along with the fact that I was too afraid to close any doors. If I could, I would have also majored in vegan cooking, raising cats, and Minecraft; I’m a person of many interests! So, even though I plan to pursue English, to leave the sciences entirely is simply not possible for me. It makes me happy. On an aside, there is one benefit to taking two majors that I think most people agree on. Whenever I am stuck on writing an essay, I switch to my science homework, or vice versa. My diverse course load makes it so I always have something to work on and sometimes, writer’s block is just an excuse to study for a lab exam instead.
Also, my scenario is not typical for many dual degree students. Plenty plan to use their two degrees in collaboration, such as becoming science journalists or academic editors. I should clarify now that even though I plan to pursue English, what I learned through my science degree is not useless.
This is the question I am asked most by my peers, so I figured it was time I made a post on it in case there are future English majors debating on combining their degree with the sciences. I cannot answer if I recommend it or not, especially because I know that pursuing two degrees is expensive and time consuming, however, I must say that I do not regret it at all.
Nolan, Christopher. Interstellar. Paramount Pictures, 2014.