Another highschooler wondering about majors

The school experience. School related queries, discussions, and stories that aren't specific to a subject.

Moderators: gmalivuk, Moderators General, Prelates

Greentigerr
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:27 am UTC

Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Greentigerr » Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:45 am UTC

I'm a high school junior in the US, and predictably worrying about the fate my college and major choice will doom me to. (jk)
For reference I'm a nerdy student with straight A's in advanced classes. The only weakness I've found is history, bleh.

I've always thought I'd be a biologist of some sort, maybe a wildlife zoologist sort of person. My dream was always to be one of the people in National Geographic who travels to rainforests and other amazing outdoorsy places and discovers frogs and tracks llamas and chases lemurs. Camping and hiking and watching squirrels sounds amazing. Maybe I could be a herpetologist, since nobody's going to compete with me for the chance to hug baby seals in that field.
Then I realized that most biologists seem to end up in labs, looking into microscopes. Or they study humans. Or memorize all the organs of every kind of bird. Or they spend most of their time trying to get grants for funding instead of chasing lemurs. I don't want to study humans, or microscopic things, or memorize long words unless I'm holding the ill-named thing in my hand. And my family doesn't exactly approve of a low-paid job that doesn't "stimulate my intelligence." Basically they say I could do better. I'll defy that if I'm sure I want to do this, but I'm not sure yet.

Apart from catching frogs, I like playing with stuff. Physical stuff. Woodshop, wire sculpture, confetti-shooting mechanical pencils, etc. I'm pretty artistic, but I like my lego castles structurally sound as well. And physics class is fun. My engineer parents say I should be an engineer too, but I don't see any engineering job that involves the fun stuff. I've seen them spend weeks staring at Excel sheets full of decimals, apparently fascinated. That looks like torture to a teen who still likes climbing trees. They swear most engineering isn't lists of numbers, but I can't find any.

I've also considered designing robots based on animals, but that seems to be mostly programming. I'm not against programming (just starting to learn) but it's numbers on a screen, and I'd rather get to build the exoskeleton. If computer programmers are the only ones who get to make dragonflybots, I won't go into that career for the chance of designing one.

So, wise people of XKCDfora, I ask you:
What do you think? Can you show me a better example of engineering I might enjoy? Do I have a chance at getting my dream job, and actually enjoying it? Is there a compromise between these fields? How does one start making a robot, anyway?
Thanks!

User avatar
Bakemaster
pretty nice future dick
Posts: 8915
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2007 2:33 pm UTC
Location: One of those hot places

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Bakemaster » Mon Oct 22, 2012 2:03 pm UTC

My sister has worked on three or four (depending on how you count) birding projects, almost entirely field-based. She worked first in New Mexico, then Hawaii, then Big Sur, and then Hawaii again. The birds she has focused on range from the Puaiohi to the California Condor. She has done all of this without a degree—but with some college credits under her belt. She's now finishing her degree. It's a longer road than just going straight through college at once, and these projects do not pay well, but they helped her to see more clearly what she wants to do and have confidence that it will be fulfilling.

There are plenty of field biologists. If that's what you love, odds are you would put more effort into it than most things. Any field needs people who excel, and if you throw yourself into a field with gusto, you are very likely to excel (though maybe not right away; inexperience is a handicap even when you're smart and motivated). You might work for the government (e.g. fish and game, forest service) or you might work for a university or you might find a more traditional private sector role, though I think the former two options are more likely for field work.

So, where do you live? Where do you want to go to school—nearby, or far away? Do you have a certain type or tier of school in mind, even specific schools you know you'll apply to? There are lots of programs and undergraduates tend to re-evaluate what stimulates and challenges them as they become exposed to new things.

Also, staring at sheets of numbers is not engineering; it just happens to be something that many engineers tend to have to do a lot of in between doing actual engineering.
Image
c0 = 2.13085531 × 1014 smoots per fortnight
"Apparently you can't summon an alternate timeline clone of your inner demon, guys! Remember that." —Noc

Greentigerr
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:27 am UTC

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Greentigerr » Mon Oct 22, 2012 11:42 pm UTC

Bakemaster wrote:So, where do you live? Where do you want to go to school—nearby, or far away? Do you have a certain type or tier of school in mind, even specific schools you know you'll apply to? There are lots of programs and undergraduates tend to re-evaluate what stimulates and challenges them as they become exposed to new things.


Thanks for that. I like your signature!
I live in southern California and if at all possible I want to escape to somewhere with real weather, probably in the northeast.
Parents will be displeased if I go to an "easy" school or significantly change my major or interests because that could result in more years and more ridiculous college tuition. That's why I'm trying to learn stuff and see what I like as much as possible now. I wish there was an easy way to follow someone around and try out their job for a week or two.
I want to apply to Cornell, but I'm not sure if I'm crazy to think I have a chance. I actually tried to list out all the possible colleges and cross them off one by one to decide... I'm only into the W's working backwards. (Yes, I know there are sites to search based on various criteria)

User avatar
Bakemaster
pretty nice future dick
Posts: 8915
Joined: Fri Jul 06, 2007 2:33 pm UTC
Location: One of those hot places

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Bakemaster » Wed Oct 24, 2012 5:11 am UTC

I would really appreciate your feedback on my stickied post in this subforum (here's a quick link) if you have the time. Maybe once you've gotten farther along in the process and can comment on what worked or didn't work for you in narrowing down your list.

You say that your parents would be displeased if you attend an "easy" school. What I would say instead is that it's very important you attend a school that offers you exceptional support in your field (broad or narrow). There are a lot of schools that are not well ranked or prestigious but which do certain things very, very well. The example I like to trot out is Humboldt State, because I happen to be familiar with it, and in this case it's extra-relevant given your interests. UC Berkeley has an excellent forestry program and UC Davis has an excellent wildlife program; despite Humboldt's general reputation, its forestry and wildlife programs are arguably better than either. Now, there's a good deal of nuance here related to the contrasting missions of the UC and CSU systems, but the thing to remember is that there's a lot more to a school than a name or a reputation.

Cornell sounds like an excellent "reach" school for you, given your interests. Not only does it have exceptionally strong programs in the general area of biology and ecology, it's a school that would be able to support you in just about any field, should you end up moving in another direction. I would recommend HSU as a "safety" school in terms of chances of admission; I would also recommend a visit and guided tour of the campus, assuming you'd consider the exact opposite of southern california (constantly sunny vs. constantly rainy) to meet the definition of real weather. You could combine several notable state schools on your way up there, if you're able to make the trip.

I could throw out more names, but so can many people. If you go on collegeconfidential (or if you just turn them up on some searches, which is hard to avoid) you will find more school recommendations than you can shake a stick at.

I wrote a bunch more philosophical and maybe inspirational or crushing or just confusing stuff. I decided it was too long and rambling and deleted it. tl;dr: You get out of school what you put into it; the choice of which school to attend has an ultimately illusory quality, in that it conceals and distracts from that reality. The magic was in you the whole time, the answer is friendship and love, anger leads to suffering, yadda yadda.
Image
c0 = 2.13085531 × 1014 smoots per fortnight
"Apparently you can't summon an alternate timeline clone of your inner demon, guys! Remember that." —Noc

User avatar
Angua
Don't call her Delphine.
Posts: 5825
Joined: Tue Sep 16, 2008 12:42 pm UTC
Location: UK/[St. Kitts and] Nevis Occasionally, I migrate to the US for a bit

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Angua » Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:59 am UTC

My dad trained in biology/pathology, went to work for a chicken vaccine company, and then decided he didn't like it and so became a tourguide in the Caribbean, which mainly had a heavy focus on showing people different plants and their uses. He also helped visiting experts with trying to capture different animals (bats, rats, frogs), so I know that there are field biologists out there. Also, he was pretty smart, never seemed intellectually unstimulated to me, and a lot of people respected the fact that he followed the path that gave him the most enjoyment out of life rather than going where the money was and working in a lab.
Crabtree's bludgeon: “no set of mutually inconsistent observations can exist for which some human intellect cannot conceive a coherent explanation, however complicated”
GNU Terry Pratchett

engr
Posts: 322
Joined: Sat Sep 25, 2010 3:08 am UTC

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby engr » Wed Oct 24, 2012 4:12 pm UTC

Greentigerr wrote:I've always thought I'd be a biologist of some sort, maybe a wildlife zoologist sort of person. My dream was always to be one of the people in National Geographic who travels to rainforests and other amazing outdoorsy places and discovers frogs and tracks llamas and chases lemurs. Camping and hiking and watching squirrels sounds amazing.

Not to completely discourage you, but...
Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions. Gilbert K. Chesterton

MisterCheif
Posts: 253
Joined: Tue Apr 14, 2009 1:24 am UTC

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby MisterCheif » Wed Oct 31, 2012 1:06 am UTC

On the topic of robotics, I'm currently in my freshman year as a robotics engineering major at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. While there is a lot of programming, RBE merges in the mechanical and electrical engineering components as well. Though it is currently the only accredited robotics engineering program, I'm petty sure many other universities are adding RBE majors, and many already have very good robotics minors, like Carnegie Mellon.

I can't say much on biology, as I've always been more of an engineering and physics person than a bio person...
I can haz people?
lulzfish wrote:Exactly. Playing God is a good, old-fashioned American tradition. And you wouldn't want to ruin tradition. Unless you hate America. And that would make you a Communist.

Andromeda321
Posts: 123
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2009 11:31 pm UTC

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Andromeda321 » Wed Oct 31, 2012 10:30 am UTC

You can still become a biologist who goes out into the field to study birds or whatever- in fact my sister was one of these people! She did her undergrad in chemistry but really fell in love with studying animals while studying abroad in Australia, plus that country in general, so she looked into animal behavior programs for grad school. They can be super competitive- lots of people want to study tigers for example- but she ended up in evolutionary biology studying birds in the field in Australia. Grad school was hence one semester of "field season" in the bush and then the rest of the year at the university.

Now for the record, being in the bush is hard and not for everyone- she had plenty of stories of flash floods, people almost killed by deadly snakes, etc etc (oh and no electricity at their campsite of course). Your mileage may vary based on where you go though and things like that- my sister didn't last more than two seasons, partly because of an unsupportive adviser, but that's another story.

It should be noted by the way right now that most of these field research programs can't work unless they have volunteers on site to assist them- you usually need to commit a month or two minimum to the project, but get free room/board/ your trip to the site is usually paid. So if you're really keen on doing this and your parents are on the fence maybe a summer doing such volunteering before college or a "gap year" to spend a few months doing it is up your alley- I'm sure by the end of it you'd really figure out what you want to do, and no cost to your parents. Here is an older list that I just found via a quick google search, but it definitely gives you an idea of what sort of opportunities there are out there for volunteers (I'm pretty sure most sites won't take you until you're 18 tho).

Greentigerr
Posts: 5
Joined: Tue Oct 16, 2012 8:27 am UTC

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Greentigerr » Mon Nov 05, 2012 6:30 am UTC

Is there much I can do before I'm 18? Everything's so strict for young people these days. Even volunteering at the local animal shelter is limited now.

And I can't imagine minding being in the field if it's like slightly dangerous camping. After all, crossing the street is really really dangerous too.

Tounx
Posts: 27
Joined: Wed Nov 14, 2012 1:59 pm UTC

Re: Another highschooler wondering about majors

Postby Tounx » Mon Nov 19, 2012 4:52 pm UTC

If it really is your dream job, you need to put everything you have into it. But again, if its your dream job, it will be worth it.


Return to “School”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests