Thoughts on First Semester (And What Changed)
I didn’t think a lot would change in terms of my academic aspirations during my first semester of college. I was a stubborn incoming freshman. In retrospect, that was a dumb mindset. Because a lot did change.
I had walked into Vanderbilt as a pre-med student planning to major in anthropology, a subject I’d known about in high school (and liked) but wasn’t entirely sure on its description. A few months later, I entered second semester still as a pre-med student, but now working towards a neuroscience major with a Medicine, Health, and Society double major.
Since I’d been relatively involved with neuroscience in high school (through science competitions and such), I decided to take Dr. Leslie Smith’s Introduction to Neuroscience class. My advisor, as well as a few of my upperclassmen friends, warned me that the class was somewhat difficult, especially while taking it with another challenging STEM lecture-based class like General Chemistry. And it was. But it was very manageable and perhaps even more importantly, interesting.
The class itself was very lecture-based. In 75 minutes of class time, Dr. Smith dove into the complexities of the neurological concepts we were asked to read about in the textbook. In all honesty, I thought the textbook covered far too much information, and frankly, was a little boring to read. Knowing this, Dr. Smith strove to make the class interactive, never hesitating to perform physical in-class demonstrations of abstract concepts whenever she could. For example, to supplement her lecture on the nomenclature of various cross-sections of the human brain, she sliced a cantaloupe disguised as a Mr. Potato Head in several different angles, each angle cut more aggressively than the last. Later on, she had the TA’s cut the fruit and pass it around the lecture hall for those that hadn’t eaten breakfast yet.
After taking the class, I realized that I wanted to pursue neuroscience as a major. This decision didn’t quite change the list of classes I was eyeing for my second semester, but it did ultimately change the trajectory I wanted to follow, both in and outside of school. I picked up a research position at a neuroscience lab studying stem cells, and while I haven’t yet gotten the opportunity to work with a human brain (or rather, a model of the human brain composted of stem cells), I’m loving it so far.
The Medicine, Health, and Society (MHS) major came about after taking an incredible MHS class taught by Professor Jenel Cassidy: Health, Trauma, and Violence. The class is primarily discussion-based and focuses on the psychological implications of traumatic events as well the aspects that make an event traumatic in the first place. The workload wasn’t stressful at all and incited a genuine interest in psychological trauma as we analyzed several IRL cases of kidnapping, natural disasters, and mass shootings.
This semester, I wasn’t able to take any neuroscience or MHS classes (due to AXLE requirements). My schedule is much more diverse than I’d expected and while I wasn’t sure I liked my classes initially, I’ve come to enjoy every one of them as the weeks go on. For reference, I’m taking Country Music (taught by Prof. Peter Cooper), Introduction to Statistical Analysis (Prof. David Cole), Religion and Film in India (Prof. Anand Taneja), General Chemistry pt. 2 + Lab pt. 2 (Prof. Tara Todd), and Caribbean History, 1492-1983 (Prof. Richard Blackett).
In my first semester of college, I developed (or rather, revived) a passion for a subject that I now consider my major. And in my second semester, because of AXLE requirements, I’m exploring a wide variety of academic fields that would have otherwise remained uncharted to me. This, I think, is what life at Vanderbilt is — straying away from idealities and welcoming the unknown. I’ll keep y’all updated as I continue to create my own path.