The 2014-era Ryan Higa fans among us may recall the dating website parody video “GiveUpAndSettle.com.” I am here to implore you, dear Yalies: return to our roots! Renew your adherence to our core principles! Give up and settle!
If I may sidetrack us for the rest of this piece, I’ll recall that I was once a bright-eyed first year unchastened by the realities of college life, to speak nothing of public health crises. I was going to double major in chemistry and Global Affairs, become a Kerry Scholar and an orgo Undergraduate Learning Assistant, receive a science doctorate and advise Congress on matters great and small, so help me God.
I sat through a total of one Global Affairs class before quitting altogether. The guest speaker was lamenting that people of “your generation” haven’t read Thucydides. Dude — it’s Yale.
Anyways, that was the first time I gave up and settled. One major was enough for me. “I can take political science and economics classes on the side,” I lied to myself.
After that, despite my chemistry professor’s protest, I ended up joining a physics lab and majoring in physics. I do not consider this a “give up and settle” moment. I thought my research was the coolest thing I had ever heard of, and I loved my principal investigator’s teaching style. Plus, learning physics would teach me chemistry by proxy, right?
You should know that we physicists have between ourselves a culture of arrogance. Seeing as mathematics is a bunch of made-up nonsense only useful for describing physical phenomena, physics is, among the STEM disciplines, the pinnacle. We are the purest science. To anyone who understands physics, all other science is trivial — which is why so many physicists deny climate change. They’re just too smart not to undermine the human project of living on Earth.
But in all seriousness, physics was so high up in my mind that it became very difficult to leave. Going from physics to another discipline is giving up the best part of life — observing the secrets of the Universe — and settling for what, a lower-paying job? With a physics doctoral degree, anyone will hire you, even investment banks.
Plus, everyone values the scientific work that physicists do. It’s self-explanatory that discovering stuff about fundamental properties of light and matter is, if not totally practical, super cool and admirable. And heck, you might even come out of it with a quantum computer. And who doesn’t love quantum computers?
Probably almost none of the professors here are in physics for that sweet, sweet external validation. But to an undergraduate at an elite institution, it sure is easy to fall into the prestige trap. Even if you know your standards are all messed up, if you’ve made it into the H*rvard physics graduate program, you’ve got it made.
Well, it turns out that in my sophomore year — read: pandemic — I fell in love. I still had that sparkling feeling from doing physics in my at-home “lab” — read: childhood bedroom. But the thrill of sweet Yiddish nothings flying off the page into my eyeballs was too great. By my senior year, Yiddish was the reason I was getting up in the morning. My friend suggested I apply to a master’s program in Yiddish just for fun.
When I wrote applications to graduate fellowships in Yiddish, I kept clinging to physics, despite my longtime awareness that I didn’t like spending all day in lab trying to get oscilloscopes to work. Not giving myself over wholeheartedly to the humanities was possibly why not a single fellowship accepted me.
But I finally gave in — or gave up, rather — and allowed myself to imagine my life as a Yiddishist, a salty old professor surrounded by dusty old bookshelves with physics as a closed chapter in the book of my life. After all, the Yiddish people were just as cool and passionate as the physics people, despite not knowing physics. And what do you know — someone believed in my vision, and I got into a program! No funding, but hey, I gave that up when I gave up physics.
At the end of this semester, I produced a final project in Yiddish, a radio soap opera complete with choppy accordion and classmate voice acting. Playing it back through my headphones in the Franklin dining hall, I couldn’t wipe the widest grin off my face. I was prouder of this silly project than I had been of anything else I’d ever done. What was the prestige of physics — or chemistry, or global affairs — to this feeling of pure joy? What was the idealized image to the heart-pounding reality?
So give up and settle! You may just be settling for the love of your life.
Giovanna Truong is a graduating senior in Pauli Murray College. She was previously a staff illustrator for the News.
Correction, May 22: This headline has been updated to correctly spell the author’s last name.