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Humanities majors at Caltech? Unheard of (false)

I love to read. It’s one of the first things people will learn about me, whether through talking or seeing me with a book somewhere on campus. My love for reading somehow led me down the path towards becoming an English major at one of the most, if not the most, STEM-focused schools in the country. To be clear, I did not plan on studying English when I came to Caltech, but here we are now. On the bright side, getting books for class means more frequent library trips or adding to my own personal collection.

Pasadena Public Library

The requirements for the major are actually pretty reasonable when considering the scope of the humanities requirements students already take. With a required 2 first-year humanities, and 3 writing intensive humanities, that’s up to 4 English courses already. With the 4 miscellaneous humanities courses, that’s up to 8 already. To fulfill the minor, a total of 7 courses are needed. For the major, a total of 9 courses plus a two-term senior thesis are needed. As a result, I’m only taking 3 additional humanities courses beyond the school/core requirements. To fit the English major in with my materials science requirements, I had to meet with my advisors to ensure that I would meet both sets of requirements by graduation. And when filing a petition to add English as a second option with the Registrar, I had to include a tentative four-year plan including how I would fulfill both requirements.

As part of the English option, I get flexibility and priority in selecting my humanities courses, or higher spots for course waitlists. However, the part I’m most excited about is the senior thesis. As it’s rooted in literature and close readings, and finding time to close read novels is difficult with the Caltech courseload, I spent a lot of my free time reading books or listening to audiobooks. My thesis is focused on South Asian diasporic works, with a loose focus on gender and sexuality. One of the challenges in the option has been the lack of diversity in course offerings, and so, being able to explore my thesis in such a different field than the other Caltech humanities offerings has been very refreshing. Building my reading list is an ongoing task, but I look forward to delving deeper in the fall with the guidance of my thesis advisor and getting a mandated break from STEM. My interest in English also led me to attend the Association for Asian American Studies conference in Spring 2023, a conference I hope to attend again in the upcoming year.

Ankita standing next to a sign stating "Welcome to the AAAS Asosciation for Asian American Studies Conference http://aaastudies.org"

I found the English option to be a very rewarding path. I like reading and making annotations in personal copies of novels. I like discussing books in class or with friends and putting aside time to do so. But that’s not for everyone. A lot of people at Caltech will take the humanities courses only for the requirements, and that’s okay. But I found a surprisingly interesting outlet in the humanities at this STEM institution, and I’m very happy with the way things have turned out thus far.

Image of Ankita
Ankita Nandi ’24

Hi! I’m a senior in Page and involved with a number of student organizations on campus. I’m Director of Operations in student government, part of the Executive Board for Asian Pacific Islander Desi Americans Plus (APIDA+), and involved with student publications like the literary magazine Looseleaf and the newspaper, The California Tech. Outside these activities, I enjoy spending time with friends outside on or off campus (like the Huntington Gardens), and love to read and get books from the local library.

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