Peer Adviser Post: Declaring a Major (part 4)
Aniekeme Umoh SEAS '15 & Sophie Qian SEAS '15
By Aniekeme Umoh SEAS '15
Declaring a major can be a nerve-racking experience especially when you’re not sure of what you want to commit your college career to learning. I came into Columbia as an undecided engineer and knowing that I had to declare by the fall of my sophomore year, I took steps to rule out majors and settle on one.
1) Stop and think. Think about the future, think about your interests and think about the things you are good at. Very often, we get carried away with attending to day-to-day demands that we don’t take time to reflect on what we actually want to do with our lives. I found that spending some quiet minutes writing down my academic strengths and interests as well as my weaknesses helped me rule out programming-intensive majors, so it was bye to computer science, electrical engineering, operations research and the lot.
2) Try different things. I remember taking a class in the biomedical engineering department and then doing research in the earth and environmental department. In addition, my freshman Art of Engineering class was in mechanical engineering. By being exposed to these different departments, I got a sense of what the majors were like and even more so whether or not I wanted to major in any of them. And if taking a class is really not feasible, I suggest reading up on the departments you’re interested in. Finding out about the classes offered there and the different opportunities that are available to graduates of that course. If these line up with your interests and future plans, you may have found a winner.
3) Talk to people. Talk to your advisors, talk to professors, talk to your peers and talk to upperclassmen who have already started taking classes in the majors you’re looking at. After I had kind of decided that I was interested in chemical engineering, I found it very helpful to talk to upperclassmen in the major. Their enthusiasm for the major as well as their advice on how to excel at it was invaluable to me. I also found that a lot of them were honest about the parts of the major they did not particularly enjoy. Knowing both negatives and positives aspects is particularly helpful when you’re trying to choose between two closely related majors.
Know though that this is not the end-all be-all. You can (within a period of time) change your major. You could also choose to not major in anything but have concentrations in different subjects. You could double major, you could major and minor. The possibilities are many! Have fun with it and good luck!
By Sophie Qian SEAS '15
People are always asking me what my major is. "Is it medical? Do you operate on people?" If you're reading this, today is your lucky day because I'm about to explain just what exactly "Operations Research" is! Although the SEAS students aren't declaring their majors right now, I hope my blog post will help both CC and SEAS students during this Major Declaration stage and in the future.
If you're in the engineering school right now, chances are you already know you are more interested in the applied sciences then pure. What I mean is, you learn the scientific knowledge, skills, and tools and then use them to solve real world-based problems or create real products, whether it be on electrical or civil engineering or applied math. I knew before coming to Columbia that I was interested in solving math problems more than proving mathematical theorems. So I knew from the beginning that I wanted to study Operations Research, which is a major in the Industrial Engineering and Operations Research department. At first, I was confused about the difference between Operations Research and Applied Mathematics, but it was explained it to me this way: the major Applied Math has alot more to do with applied physics and can be applied much more broadly to the natural and social sciences. Operations Research is applied mathematics "for systems", is closer to industrial engineering, and deals with topics such as optimization, improving efficiency, and simulation.
Of course, it's difficult to experience and choose a major with so many prerequisites in the way. Now that I've completed all my engineering requirements, I can say with more confidence what my major is actually about. I now know that it is extremely interdisciplinary, broad, and diverse. My fellow OR majors learn across a large range of subjects: probability, statistics, applied math, computer science, finance, and industrial engineering. As a third year, the classes I'm taking build upon the knowledge of probability and statistics that I learned sophomore year, which are the fundamental tools of any OR major. I'm still using the random variables and regressions over and over, but in different ways. An example of a classic problem in Operations Research is the Traveling Salesman problem: "Given a list of cities and the distances between each pair of cities, what is the shortest possible route that visits each city exactly once and returns to the origin city?". It has never been solved but that's just an example of the systems and situations that we deal with in our classes. As an OR major, I'm never bored in any of my classes because of their broad range of interesting math problems and the considerable thinking that goes into solving each of them.
Another advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of Operations Research is that the major is extremely applicable to any job field. An OR major has the analytical tools to be able to tackle a problem and make an important decision in almost any industry. In any larger company supply chain management or production planning is needed, and an OR major can help increase efficiency, optimize cash flows, and maximize profits. Many of my fellow juniors are planning to go into finance, but I know people choose to go into different fields without any difficulty: technology, statistical analysis, actuarial science, and healthcare management. The possibilities are endless!
If you're wondering whether you would like to study any of the majors offered by the IEOR department, I encourage you to contact me, talk to upperclassmen, check out the department's website, and speak with professors. A love for solving math problems and an analytical mindset are all that's required in such an awesome major!
**CC Major Declaration is: Mon-Thurs, March 10-13