Keeping your options open: A college English major falls in love with neuroscience

This story written by a student at a prominent midwestern liberal arts school is worth taking seriously:

My senior year of high school, I used to tell extended family and curious teachers that I was going to major in English or French or maybe anthropology.  I loved reading and learning about people and was sick to death of math and science…

…I hesitantly enrolled in a lab science the fall of my second year.  A few weeks into that intro psych course, I declared a psychology major with a neuroscience concentration.  

Most 18-year-olds are uncertain about their career paths, and many who think they are certain are going to change their minds, anyway.  That’s why it’s so important to prepare for anything in high school, particularly for careers that require strong math and science backgrounds.

The student who told the above story was able to make the switch to neuroscience because she had eaten her math and science broccoli in high school and was ready for anything she might encounter in college.

Contrast the story of the liberal arts student with the story of the second-year creative writing major who showed up in my office several years ago and wanted to switch to physics.  The key question in these conversations is this:  What was your last math course, and when did you take it?  The answer the creative writing major gave me was Algebra 2, in the sophomore year of high school.  I had to tell the student that he was facing five more years of college to complete a bachelor’s degree in physics, and that his prospects for success in that academic program were very uncertain.  Not surprisingly, I never saw this student again.

Every university-bound student should keep open the option of majoring in a STEM field in college by taking a strong math and science program – including physics and calculus – in high school.  It just doesn’t make sense to make a decision at the age of 15 that can eliminate these career paths.

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Four Florida physics majors earn 2014 Goldwater Scholarships; four more awarded Honorable Mention

Four physics majors from Florida have been awarded 2014 Goldwater Scholarships, and four more earned Honorable Mention.  The Goldwater program is the nation’s premier award program for undergraduate majors in math, science and engineering.

The 283 Goldwater Scholars were selected on the basis of academic merit from a field of 1,166 mathematics, science, and engineering students who were nominated by the faculties of colleges and universities nationwide.

The one and two year scholarships will cover the cost of tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year.

2014 Goldwater Scholars:

Michael Samir Calzadilla
Institution: University of South Florida
Major(s): Physics, Mathematics
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Conduct research in observational high-energy astrophysics and teach at the university level.

Francisco Encalada
Institution: Broward College
Major(s): Astronomy, Physics
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Astronomy. Conduct research in planet formation and teach at a university.

Thomas Forrest Kieffer
Institution: Georgia Institute of Technology
Major(s): Physics, Mathematics
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics. Conduct research in mathemtical physics and teach at a university level.

Daniel Richter
Institution: University of Miami
Major(s): Applied Physics, Computer Science
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Applied Physics. Conduct research in supercomputing and aeronautics at Ames Research Center.

Honorable Mention:

James Brogan
Institution: Boston College
Major(s): Chemistry, Physics
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering. Work in an industrial setting with freedom to innovate.

Isabel Alexandra Lipartito
Institution: Smith College
Major(s): Physics, Astronomy
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Astrophysics. Conduct research in astrophysical science in an American research laboratory.

Aaron Kristoffer Magilligan
Institution: Florida State University
Major(s): Physics, Mathematics
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Theoretical Physics. Teach university courses and conduct research in Nuclear Physics.

Maria Leena Kyllikki Viitaniemi
Institution: University of Florida
Major(s): Physics
Career Goals: Ph.D. in Physics. Conduct research in condensed matter physics and teach at the university level.