Double major dilemma

If you go on Williams Students Online (WSO) and search “Scott Wieman,” I can almost guarantee the first thing you notice is my lack of beard. Yeah, for you sophomores and freshmen out there, there was a time that I didn’t have a beard. Maybe juniors and seniors remember this. Once you’re able to get past the lack of whiskers on my face, perhaps you may be struck by the words “Garfield 114.” Yep, I live in Garfield. As a senior. And finally, “Katonah, N.Y.” might strike some people as odd. New York, Westchester County even. Not Montana or Washington or even Alaska as one pre-frosh once suggested. What probably won’t jump out at you is the heading just below my name: “CHEM and MATH major.” And why should it? Those words mean I’m a double major – at least officially – and put me in line to be a member of the 38 percent of my class that will graduate with a degree in at least two subjects from the College.

But I’m actually not going to graduate as a double major, as I am not planning to finish the math major (and the math department knows that). I will leave Williams with a degree in chemistry. Just chemistry. And I see nothing wrong with that. When I declared as a math major sophomore spring, I had every intention of actually completing the major. I declared it because I had already taken several math courses, knew I wanted to take many more and knew I wanted to take all of the required courses. Over the following year, this changed. My mathematical interests shifted and I found that I really had no desire to take abstract algebra (sorry, Professor of Mathematics Susan Loepp!).

So what did I do? I dropped the math major. There are many people (and a rather small part of me) that say I should have stuck it out, taken abstract and graduated with degrees in both math and chemistry. But for me, it wasn’t worth it. Personally, I would rather take this last semester and use it as my last chance to take interesting but vastly differing courses in astrophysics or history. It’s my last semester of college, and my last time, depending on what I do in the future, to explore many subjects in a rigorously academic manner.

Some people I’ve talked to about my decision have criticized it, saying that I’m so close, that the cost of not doing a math major, not having those few extra words on my official transcript, means I shouldn’t drop it. And this brings me to why people double major, which is of course for a variety of reasons. For me, although this may be oversimplifying things, there are three broad groups. First, you have the people who are double majoring to double major. The people who feel, in order to stay competitive in the rat race out there, that they need to be double majors because well, that gives them an advantage. In my opinion, this is the worst reason, and those of you who know me well probably understand why.

The second broad class of people who double major are those whose interests line up exactly with their second major. This was me and would still be me if abstract weren’t part of the equation. This kind of double majoring makes complete sense to me, since if you want to take all of the classes anyway, you may as well have that extra line on your transcript and résumé.

The final group of people is the group of students that falls between the other two. These are people whose interests overlap with their second major but who aren’t truly interested in all of the requirements. For these people, many factors contribute to their decision to double major. One of my friends, for example, wants to continue doing research in biochemistry but knows that he will not be taken seriously with a degree in only biology, so he is also getting a degree in chemistry. For some people, it’s a compelling reason, but for others, the benefits just aren’t there. For the various lines of work and paths I hope my life treads, getting a math major will not “improve” my chances over other people.

For those of you out there who are double majors, I’m not criticizing you. In fact, I applaud you for doing the work of two majors and sticking with it. But for those of us who aren’t double majors, we’ll be fine anyway. Maybe some of us will even be better off.

Scott Wieman ’14 is a chemistry major from Katonah, N.Y. He lives in Garfield.