From Perfection to Passion: An Update

Last February I wrote a post about reconciling my love for STEM with my humanities major. The summer before my junior year, I made a compromise with myself: take at least one quantitative course a semester. I thought this to be the most realistic plan to stay on track with my French major while keeping a promise to cultivate my inner Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I’m kicking off this plan with taking Intro to Data Science this fall.

RStudio and French literature get along better than I thought!

This compromise is useful on an academic level, given my new interest in Digital Humanities, a field that combines both humanities and technology. I am hoping to prime my quantitative side to explore this field, potentially for my senior thesis.

However, this compromise is more importantly is a step in pushing my intellectual boundaries.   Princeton’s intense academic environment makes it difficult to believe that taking such risks is possible. By taking one STEM course a semester, I am choosing to constantly confront the part of myself that believes I’m not good at math. I’m finding that by doing this, the voice in my head discouraging me from pursuing challenges is becoming quieter and quieter.

For example, when I came across a stumbling block in my first problem set for Data Science, instead of telling myself I wasn’t smart enough to work through it, I walked myself through all of the prerequisite information from lecture and told myself I had everything I needed to do this problem. Believing myself capable of the work made the problem set a lot less frustrating and a lot more motivating.

From February until now, my decision to include quantitative courses to my French major has been one big exercise in confidence. On a superficial level, I would like to develop quantitative thinking skills to better inform my work. On a deeper level, I want to believe myself capable of doing this in the first place, of opening that door, of showing myself that the limits imposed on my intelligence are invented and that I really can do things I didn’t think I could. I am realizing, albeit slowly, that as long as I am willing to challenge myself, no knowledge is inaccessible to me. I want my studies at Princeton to reflect this.

One of the biggest challenges at Princeton is having faith in yourself. Whether you’re taking a course outside of your comfort zone, or pushing yourself in upper level classes, believe yourself to be intelligent enough to tackle anything that Princeton throws at you. I am internalizing the fact that expertise is learned and not innate, and my confidence has grown as a result. I am a French major with an appreciation for STEM, and while I may not be an expert in either, it’s comforting to know that, with patience and confidence, I can learn to be.

— Elise Freeman, Humanities Correspondent