Two art majors and a biology major walk into the Jonathan Edwards dining hall. They’re talking about sculpture and video design. And no, this is not the opening to a joke. To be more accurate, the art students are talking about their studio classes, and I, the biologist in the room, am just listening and asking what I hope aren’t stupid questions, but quickly realize that I can’t keep up with the conversation at all. It doesn’t matter that I love drawing or that I spend all my extracurricular time on graphic design. Now, I feel illiterate, or at least highly unqualified to engage in a discussion about art at a college level.
Declaring my Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology major in the second semester of my freshman year felt like a defeat. In this drop-down menu choice, I implicitly condemned ten years of arguing with my parents about the importance of art in my life and finally forfeited the debate over the economic realities of pursuing art over the sciences.
When I took on my first graphic design role with the Yale Politic two months prior, I didn’t know the difference between serif and sans serif fonts, let alone how to use keyboard shortcuts in InDesign. For several production cycles, despite my long hobbyist’s background in the arts, I wondered how I could possibly fit in amongst typography whizzes and studio art students. This experience was reflected in my other extracurriculars, and I began to realize that I was far from a professional artist. It became clear that my more dedicated classmates had long since begun to pull away into higher levels of study and practice. I felt like a coward for being unable to commit as they had.
In addition, there are times when I wonder whether engaging in solely non-STEM extracurriculars has caused me to waste time that I should be using to advance my professional capabilities. After all, for every ten hours that I spend doing illustrations, I could have spent ten hours in a lab working toward a research paper that would better prepare me for medical school. And regardless, are my designs even any good? Most days, after interacting with my artist friends, I don’t trust that I have the trained eye to make that judgment call. Imposter syndrome and a sense of inferiority run rampant in my extracurricular life, compounding the struggle to keep up with my fellow STEM majors in the classroom.
Even worse, at this point in my college education, it doesn’t matter how much I enjoy the arts. I am a fourth-semester molecular biology major, and if I want to graduate on schedule with an offer from a medical school, I must stay firmly on that track. I have to accept that once I step outside this campus, I will forfeit my dual identity and accept my lack of qualifications in the arts. There are no free-for-all opportunities in the professional world of graphic design, where my far more educated peers will be vying for jobs requiring a higher skill level than I can conceivably achieve as a medical student. No matter how often I reflect upon my diverse pursuits at Yale with nostalgia, I will have to come to terms with my vocational decision to pick the sciences over the arts.
Amongst my classmates, my experience is neither remarkable nor unique. So many of us begin college with aspirations to pursue hobbies and passions — writing, drawing, singing, composing, sports — that are often buried. Is there something deeper at play here? It is in the culture of Yale to be overbooked, to always encounter obstacles that divert the energy needed to pursue external interests. Where does that leave us all, teetering in the balance with haphazardly stacked passions and ambitions? I can’t help but wonder what subtle pressures in Yale’s culture have shaped my decisions and fears, as well as drawn me simultaneously closer to and farther from my love of the arts. One thing is clear; I will have to live with the results of my choices and find alternatives to the paths that I have reluctantly abandoned.
Catherine Yang is a sophomore in Trumbull College. Her column usually runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .