When you ask an instructor for advice on passing a class, you don’t expect to hear them say, albeit with the utmost sincerity, “My best advice is to change your major. Is there anything you’re good at?”
Like most students at Texas A&M University, I was not a quitter. Just a few months before receiving this advice, I chose to take anatomy and physiology in high school instead of having a free period. Though I would come to regret that decision once I was staring down a formaldehyde-drenched cat with a rusty public-school scalpel in hand, I just wanted to learn.
So, when I started failing CHEM 101 as a freshman biology major, I panicked. I wasn’t ready to admit to myself that I loved biology like a middle-aged man loves World War II history: I liked learning about it on television sometimes, but I couldn’t see myself dedicating 40 hours per week to furthering knowledge on the subject. One night after my lab, I hung back to ask my instructor what I could do differently to succeed, and she encouraged me to find something I loved instead.
“Is there anything you’re good at?” rang in my head. Because yes, I was good at a lot. Why was I so obsessed with what I wasn’t? Why would I dedicate my career to something I hated?
I changed my major to political science, which deeply interested me. Though it may conjure images of warring donkeys and elephants, it’s more about the study of group decision making and the power dynamics that shape our society; it doesn’t exist exclusively in a voting booth. Changing my major to political science endowed me with the Sisyphean task of convincing people that my degree was more than debate class, but it also empowered me to take more control over my life and what I wanted from it. I graduated cum laude in May 2020 with a B.S. in Political Science and minors in business and art and architectural history.
Today, I’m halfway done with a Master of Architecture degree. (Plot twist! You probably thought law school was in my future.) But “giving up” on biology liberated me from a fear of failure and taught me about a crazy concept called transferable skills. When I changed my major, I fell back in love with learning and realized that I have always been just as capable whether I was measured against the yardstick of biology major, political scientist or future architect.
About the Author
Anna Cairns ’20 ’23 is a Master of Architecture student at Texas A&M University. She is currently interested in art museums, so-bad-they’re-good movies, tofu and porches. She hopes you will one day see her on the set of “Jeopardy!” telling an awkward story post-commercial break.