When I first picked my major, I considered the cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan. I’d need a degree in a field that was hiring and paid well. At the time, I thought STEM majors alone met those qualifications. A degree in microbiology could cover rent of approximately $3,000 a month, and a for-funsies second major in English could satisfy my creative side.
But instead of satisfied, my first semester of college left me miserable.
My main motivation to go to class took the form of HITT clicker points and Top Hat questions; the material itself left me debating the merits of just sleeping in class (the struggle of a 7:25 a.m. lecture). I choose not to nap, though, and stayed awake only to continually checked the clock; every class period felt like when a TV episode buffers, and you just curse the WiFi and wait. I spent hours slogging my way through practice problem after practice problem, rarely getting the right answers and even more rarely understanding why.
At the end of my first semester, I barely passed calculus and only scraped by in chemistry by six points.
Chemistry II the next semester took my misery to a whole new level. I spent hours in the tutoring center with saint-like TAs. I pestered my scientifically minded dorm floormates for help understanding whatever sorcery was involved in acids and bases. I went to my professor’s office hours to ask a long list of questions; the professor finally asked me if I even went to class. Sadly, I had a perfectly dated notebook filled with class notes and practice problems to prove I did, indeed, sit through his 9:35 a.m. lecture every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
When I walked into my second exam for the class, I thought I might even swing a B. I walked out knowing that it’d be more likely for the professor to hand everyone in class an A for the entire semester than for me to have passed the exam.
Heading home that night, I tried to imagine working in a white lab coat, writing out scientific equations that I would someday understand. I thought envisioning my future would motivate me, inspiring me to work harder.
Then, I realized I didn’t care.
I suddenly thought of not dreading class, of being interested in my coursework, of even remotely caring about my future job and hurried home. When I got there, I pulled up my school’s list of majors. I wrote down any that even remotely caught my eye, and then I started narrowing the list. My list slowly shrank until I had two options: journalism and public relations.
I stared at my scrawled list, confused and frightened. The threat of public speaking left me wishing for some minor illness to hospitalize me so I’d have an undisputed out. I once had a high school teacher tell me he didn’t know I had teeth until Christmas because I never opened my mouth to speak in class. So working with public speaking and consistently talking to strangers? I started to doubt my plan. But I found myself wanting to tell stories, and PR and journalism seemed like good options to do so.
A week later, my failing chemistry exam grade went into the gradebook, and I made my decision. I walked into the advising office, withdrew from the class and changed my primary major to English. Then, I registered for a public relations class to see what it was like.
Quickly, I found myself loving my new major almost as much as I love Jane Austen novels (and that’s high praise coming from me, I swear). Analyzing campaigns fascinated me way more than comprehending chemical compounds. With some practice, public speaking became bearable (or, at the very least, better than hospitalization). I found that reaching out to total strangers for reporting interviews was one of my favorite things to do.
I know after two years of public relations courses that PR has its bad days, too. I still pull all-nighters working on projects I don’t want to do. I have classes that leave me stressed and concerned for my GPA. I learned, while working a summer internship, that I would still sit down at my desk sometimes and wish I could go crawl back in bed. But most days, I enjoy my work.
Now, thinking about my future motivates me to go beyond my schoolwork and seek new experiences in my field. When I look at a homework assignment that I hate, I make a pot of coffee and get ready to work until the first hours of the next morning, because I know where I want to be.