Switching Majors

Did you know that you don’t have to declare a major at Caltech until about halfway through the third quarter of your freshman year? That gives you an entire two-and-a-half quarters to decide what you really want to major in. That’s quite a bit of time if I do say so myself. In fact, enough time that somewhere between coming to Caltech and declaring my major, everything changed for me - I didn’t just change my major and my projected course selections, but what I wanted to do in my future. This is my story of going from an intended bioengineering major on the pre-med track to a Computer Science/Business, Economics, and Management double major looking to go to grad school.

“Roy, you obviously chose CS over medicine so you can make the same money without all that extra pain!” No, let’s get this straight: I’m not a sellout, because I still intend to go to grad school. And grad school is plenty of pain, not to mention another few years of being VERY broke. So believe it or not, money was not a deciding factor. Buckle up, because let’s go all the way back to pre-Caltech days.

I’m not too sure how prevalent in your life this is, but throughout late elementary school (grades 5-7, yes we don’t do “middle school” in Vancouver) and early high school (grades 8-9), I was endlessly asked about what I had planned for my future. So much so that one day, I just gave in and said that I wanted to be a doctor - an anesthesiologist, to be exact. Well, that somehow stuck. My high school life revolved around this singular statement, one that I definitely did not think through before I committed myself to it. As with all things you don’t think too carefully about, sooner or later problems start cropping up. And it did not take long for the doubts to arise. Was I really fit to go into medicine? Did I have the right personality? Would I get along with patients well? Was there really nothing that suited me better? At the time, the answer to that last question was a resounding no, so I pushed the first three questions aside. Well, I tried, because they continued to bug me in the back of my mind throughout all of high school.

Enter Caltech. I took scattered courses during my first and second terms, partly because I want to take advantage of pass-fail and explore the various scientific disciplines, but partly because I was hoping, just hoping, that I would finally find something that would suit me better. Now, I had learned computer science in high school, and I was accustomed to using it as a tool in the biological and bioengineering/biomedical sciences. But in the way that I was using it, I saw it as purely a boring tool that spit out the numbers and data that I needed, and that was it. I actually knew NOTHING about what the field was all about. So I talked to seniors, I took the CS courses available, and I dug into the CS field a bit more - I wanted to know what it was (besides money) that was drawing SO many students to CS, or maybe I was just trying to see if money was the only reason CS was popular. As it turns out, CS was nothing like I had imagined it to be as a field. It was more than typing code out and calling it a day - it was about brainstorming, solving problems bit by bit, and working with others to design and maintain just about everything in this world. I was especially drawn by the idea that even if I chose CS over medicine, I’d still be helping people on such a wide scale. Just think about all the things you interact with today and the actions you take - scrolling through social media, finding all the answers to your homework on Chegg, staying connected to your friends through any messaging app, ripping Wikipedia info for your paper, listening to music via a streaming platform, etc. All of those things are only possible because of the engineers who work in computer science. CS engineers HELP people and provide for people - a lot of people at that.

So it was safe to say that I took a very strong interest in CS. So strong, in fact, that I took the dive. I put aside all my past work and experience in the biological sciences and in medicine, and I committed myself to computer science. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Computer science courses can be mind-numbingly difficult: my most challenging courses have all been in CS. Nothing has ever challenged me so much, but I’ve never had so much fun being challenged either. At the end of the day, I’m appreciative of the way Caltech allows freedom and exploration in our studies: if we weren’t allowed such an opportunity to branch out and find or confirm our interests, I’d still be bugged by the voice in the back of my head, forever feeling like I’m missing something. So I guess the moral of my story is this: explore widely and don’t be afraid to try new things at Caltech. Take advantage of pass/fail, menu classes, and the upperclassmen who are in all sorts of majors. Who knows, you might just discover what excites you like nothing else has ever been able to before.