Recap and Wisdom of Finals Panel

Posted on: April 25, 2016

Last night in the OAR five Haverford Upperclassmen shared advice on approaching finals. There insights ranged from strategies to scheduling finals, enjoying Haverfest to effectively balancing studying with chill time.

Know Thy Self
A common theme that emerged in the discussion was that there isn’t one strategy or approach to finals week. The panel was a testament to what works for one student might not work for others. An example was that some of the panelists use a scheduler, such as Google Calendar, and schedule everything down to the hour. They have found that having a strict schedule helps them stay on target and focused. A couple of the panelists offered a different approach: They have a list of what they have to do and when they would like to do it, but the details are unscheduled. Regardless of how detailed your schedule the panelists insisted that you create a plan that helps you see everything you have to do and when you have to do it, so nothing falls through the cracks.

“Stay in Your Lane”
Every panelist agreed that knowing themselves (strengths, weaknesses) is imperative to how they decide which approach or strategy will work for them. This sense of self and ability to reflect and think about one’s thinking (metacognition) can be achieved by simply asking oneself at the end of the day: what worked or what was not helpful? In the case of finals, think about what worked (or didn’t the last three semesters) and build a strategy based on that reflection. Thus, the more you self-reflect, the more you will not be concerned about others. While it’s also important to learn from others and possibly borrow strategies that you think will be effective for you, the panelists warned about worrying what others are doing and causing yourself unnecessary anxiety. They stressed staying focused on yourself and realizing that everyone is different and studies at different paces.

Study and Chill
The panelists stressed the importance of finding balance between your studies and finding time to chill. They shared that HaverFest provides two days to relax and create some cognitive dissonance between the last week of classes and finals. The trick of the two days is to find activities that align with what you need in order to find the space to recover. You can participate in HaverFest, or you can spend two days in bed with NetFlix, either way, do what YOU need to do to recharge and be ready for what lies ahead.

It’s Just Another Two Weeks in the Semester
One parting piece of advise from a graduating senior was about student’s mindset at Finals. Remember that Finals is not that drastically different from any other point of the year. Don’t psyche yourself out in a detrimental manner. Yes, finals is important and should not be taken lightly, but it’s not a life or death scenario. You have been taking exams and writing papers all semester and finals is no different—just condensed.


Finishing Strong!

Posted on: April 11, 2016

It’s April – famously the most chaotic, demanding, and cram-it-all-in-before-Haverfest month at Haverford. Midterms may have just concluded, but finals are around the corner, and the stress of predicting the impending Pinwheel Day (at least once the snow is a distant memory) may understandably be weighing heavily on you.

With just five weeks to go, it’s time to streamline your schedule, focus on your top priorities and tune out the rest. But even the best intentions hit roadblocks, and as the days tick down and the work only increases, please remember that there are an immense number of people at Haverford who are here to help you. That might include a faculty mentor, your Dean, a research librarian, CAPS counselor, or another member of the staff or faculty with whom you feel comfortable. You may want to talk over a challenging assignment, review your planned finals schedule, or prepare for your summer adventure. You should! So often, Haverford students say, “I didn’t want to bother you since I know you’re really really busy, and my stuff isn’t that important, so I didn’t email you/set up an appointment.” It’s not a bother at all – in fact, it’s their job and passion to help!

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Get Off Campus!

Posted on: April 6, 2016

There are times when all the priorities compete at once. Friends. Work. Family. Major declaration. Crushes. Landing an internship. Lunch.

Clear your head and jump off campus for an afternoon or weekend. The only rule? Break the rules. (especially your own)

Schedules are made to be flexible. Make time for self-care away from a screen in early April and I’ll bet the rest of the semester will be a bit more fulfilling.
While I can’t legally condone crashing a Main Line wedding or sneaking into a private garden, I think your spring will be more interesting and story-worthy if you attempt to step outside your own rules a little!

Ideas for an off-the-beaten-track weekend:

Um, this awesome place exists in Philadelphia.
And this one does in Wayne if you like coffee.
This community out in Coatesville is warm, welcoming and beautiful. How often have you visited a Sufi saint’s farm?
I may or may not have tried a Bi-Co staycation as a student: taking a tour of Bryn Mawr College through a different lens, eating all my meals at their dining hall, going swimming, reading in their beautiful library. As a bonus, it’s cheap as free!
Photoshoots at spots featured in 90s Philadelphia music videos: some Will Smith, a little Motown Philly

There’s a tendency to view trips into the city as a privilege or reward for finishing your work. Instead, try a week where these weird little side trips are part of the plans, no matter what. That’s self-care, too!

So that’s it: step away from the homework: if you prioritize yourself, you might feel more like this guy as the semester shifts into high gear:

neon will smith

Film Opportunities at Haverford

Posted on: March 28, 2016

Hey Sophomores!

We’ve compiled a list of film opportunities available to students at Haverford. For the most part, these are extra-curricular events open to all students, however, these opportunities are also linked to production courses here at Haverford. If you’re interested, check out the Independent College Programs page as well as the Bi-Co Film Studies page in the Tri-Co Course Guide for updates about production classes available to students. Take a look at our list, see what strikes you, and contact us if you would like to learn more about the opportunities listed below!

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Christine Dickerson –

The Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities


The annual Tri-Co Film Festival features the work of students from Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges, covering a variety of genres and aesthetics. All Tri-Co students are eligible to submit short films completed after June 1, 2015. Films may be no longer than 10 minutes in length and must not be works-in-progress. Shorter works in the 1-5 minute range are STRONGLY encouraged. Films done outside of coursework are eligible. This year we will also consider submissions consisting of interactive digital media content, such as websites, online maps, video games, etc. Applicants interested in submitting this kind of work should send an email to with a project description and a link, if applicable.  More information here.

Projects DUE: Friday, April 22, 11:59 pm

Festival date: Thursday, May 5th, 2016, 7pm at Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

Strange Truth Film Series

STRANGE TRUTH 2016 offers up bodies: bodies in labor and in ecstasy, bodies inscribed by history and time, bodies conducting the sacred, bodies memorialized or erased, bodies retrieved through ritual and performance. Featuring films by Natalia Almada, Alan Berliner, Stan Brakhage, Bruce Conner, Kevin Jerome Everson, Chan-kyong Park, Carolee Schneemann, Chick Strand, and Hope Tucker, this year’s series tells strange truths about the bodies we inhabit and the concepts that animate them. All screenings to be held at Bryn Mawr Film Institute or Haverford College. Each will be followed by conversations with filmmakers and critics.

Remaining Screenings in the Series:

Obituary TV


Wednesday, March 30

7:00 p.m.

Chase Auditorium, Haverford College

Hope Tucker will screen several videos from The Obituary Project and clips from other completed and in-progress obituaries. She will discuss the Project and her research based practice as a whole, highlighting her use of the photograph as a site of study and research; as a material object integrated into moving image work; and as a mode of production that incorporates, performs, and remakes the still image as fact and fiction.

For more information:

Manshin TV

MANSHIN: TEN THOUSAND SPIRITS, Chan-kyong Park, 2013, 104 min, Wednesday, April 6, 7:00 p.m. Bryn Mawr Film Institute

Manshin: Ten Thousand Spirits is a filmic portrait of Korea’s greatest living shaman Kim Keum-hwa. Artist and filmmaker Park Chan-kyong masterfully narrates a lifetime of hardship endured in a country that has undergone various traumas of colonialism, war, and division of the state through re-enactments and original footage of shamanic rituals performed by Kim. The screening is followed by a conversation between filmmaker Chan-kyong Park, Hank Glassman, Professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Haverford College, and Liz Park, curator of the exhibition Among the Unburied (March 18 – April 29, 2016) at Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery at Haverford College.

For more information:


WORK ETHIC: THE FILMS OF KEVIN JEROME EVERSON: Thursday, April 14, 7:00 p.m., Sharpless Auditorium, Haverford College

The films of Kevin Jerome Everson explore the lives and gestures of working class African Americans using a dizzying array of techniques: direct observation, found footage, reenactments, archival materials, scripted scenes, interviews, and more. This program samples a small number of Everson’s over 125 films.

“In Everson’s cinema, Black people are neither victors nor defeated. Neither defeated, undone, nor recomposed. They are and remain undefeated.” —Emmanuel Burdeau

A conversation with Kevin Jerome Everson will follow the screening.

For more information:


FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED, Alan Berliner, 2013, 79 min, Wednesday, May 4, 7:00 p.m., Bryn Mawr Film Institute

FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED, Alan Berliner’s deeply personal portrait of Edwin Honig, his cousin and mentor, is a first-hand look at Honig’s journey through the ravages of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease. Edwin Honig—poet, translator, critic, and teacher—wrote dozens of critically acclaimed books. FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED artfully documents Honig’s condition with compassion, portraying his life with the same raw honesty that resonates in his poetry, written amidst a lifetime steeped in tragedy, love, loss, irony and literary daring. It is an unflinching essay on the fragility of being human and a stark reminder of the profound role that memory plays in all of our lives. Berliner will introduce the film and lead a post-screening discussion.

For more information about this screening:

For more information about the series:

Photo: William Colgin

Photo: William Colgin

HCAH Film Festival Fund

The Hurford Center offers $1000 annually to offset fees for student mediamakers submitting original work to festivals. Rolling deadline. With the help of the HCAH Film Festival Fund students have shown their works in prestigious film festivals including The Black Maria, Crossroads, and The San Diego Asian Film Festival.  Apply online here.


HCAH Flaherty Film Seminar Fellowship

Each year, the Hurford Center offers two fellowships for students to attend the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, the longest continuously running documentary film event in North America. The week-long seminar brings together over 160 filmmakers, artists, curators, scholars, students, and film enthusiasts to celebrate the power of the moving image. The deadline for this opportunity has passed, but students with a strong interest in Film Studies are encouraged to apply next year. As part of the fellowship, students will work with the Hurford Center to program and present an evening of selected films from the Seminar sometime during the fall 2016 semester, on the Haverford campus. More information concerning this screening will be announced soon.

For more information on the Flaherty Seminar:

For more information on the HCAH Film Seminar Fellowship:

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Tuttle Summer Arts Lab

The Tuttle Summer Arts Lab allows faculty to pair with students on a project that undertakes artistic and makerly practices while keeping with the cross-disciplinary spirit of the Hurford Center. Funding is granted across a range of projects that include but are in no way limited to collaborative research and practice, curatorial apprenticeship, exhibition design, creative writing and poetry workshops and exercises, community building and outreach through the arts, as well as the production of multimedia works, broadly defined. 

Summer 2016 Call For Applications

DEADLINE:  Friday, April 8, 2016, 5:00pm

The John B. Hurford ‘60 Center for the Arts and Humanities is pleased to announce a new Tuttle Summer Arts Lab to take place during Summer 2016.  The Summer Arts Lab Student Fellowship will offer students the opportunity to participate in a multiplatform documentary project with Haverford College’s Artist in Residence Vicky Funari.


Funari is currently producing the Pool Movie Project, a multiplatform documentary about older women, water, exercise, and community.  The 2016 Summer Arts Lab will convene a team of artists, students, community members, scholars, and public health experts to collaborate in envisioning and creating elements of the project website and the community engagement campaign.  The film, now in post-production, tells the story of an aqua-cise class held at a small suburban YMCA, attended primarily by 60-90 year old women.  It traces the class’s final year in the old Main Line Y, as the branch prepares to close its doors forever.  The film is a study of older bodies and souls in water, in motion, in transition, and in community with each other.


•  Summer Arts Lab Student Fellows will work collaboratively with lead artists, women in the film, and advisors to help envision and design a project website and to produce audiovisual elements for that site, including video portraits and oral histories of community members.

•  Student Fellows will also help lay the groundwork for a community engagement campaign to promote healthy aging.

•  Student work will take place over 7 weeks, June 13 – August 1, 2016.

•  The work will be carried out on the Haverford campus and in the surrounding region.

•  Students will be provided with a stipend to cover housing and other living expenses.

•  Haverford College will provide all necessary production and post-production equipment.

•  Haverford’s Artist in Residence Vicky Funari will direct the Lab, and Emerging Artist in Residence Hilary Brashear will supervise Lab activities.


The Summer Arts Lab is open to Haverford students (including graduating seniors) from all majors, as well as Tri-Co students who are majoring at Haverford or who have completed substantial film-focused coursework at Haverford. Applicants must have taken at least two courses involving the production of digital media (photography, video, data visualization, web design, social media).


To apply, please email with:

1. Name, Class Year, Major/Minor (or interests if undelcared), Advisor

2.  a one-paragraph proposal explaining why you are interested in this opportunity and what you’d hope to bring to it;

3.  a list of relevant courses you have taken; and

4.  a resume with any previous film, video, web design, data visualization, and/or social media organizing work you have done, or any work around aging or public health.

DEADLINE:  Friday, April 8, 2016, 5:00pm.

The Student Arts Fund

The Student Arts Fund helps students pursue creative interests that build upon and go beyond the offerings of our formal curriculum. Funding is granted across a range of projects, including film projects with requests not typically met by the materials available to students enrolled in film courses. Deadline: 2/28

Student Film Club

The Student Film Club looks after and rents various materials for film production. Contact Sarah Moses ( with questions or requests.

The Instructional Technology Center (ITC)

The ITC is available to advise students on all phases of film production. Contact Charles Woodard ( with questions.


VCAM – Fall 2017

Set to open in the fall of 2017, the VCAM (Visual Culture, Arts, and Media) space will build on a decade of HCAH work, imagining Haverford’s Old Gym as a campus hub for film and digital media-making; curatorial experimentation and arts exhibition design; 3D printing, prototyping, and fabrication; and the critical study of visual and material culture throughout courses in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Anchoring this activity will be a new screening room, a central campus lounge and presentation space, and flexible studio/exhibition labs for students, faculty, and visiting artists.


Dr. Freeman Hrabowski

Posted on: March 21, 2016

This week, Dr. Freeman Hrabowski (pronounced ra-BAO-ski), President of University Maryland Baltimore County, is visiting Haverford. Freeman is a force of nature, and has been an outstanding leader and advocate for diversifying higher education. He started the Meyerhoff Program at UMBC, and Haverford borrowed components of this program to create our version, the Chesick Scholars Program. 
Freeman’s talk, “Pursuing the Dream: Broadening Participation in American Higher Education — A 50-Year Perspective” will be at 4:30 pm on Thursday, March 24th in Stokes Auditorium. His name may sound familiar to you, as he visited campus last year and spoke at the CHAS (Consortium on High Achievement and Success) conference and at a follow-up Q&A.

He is an empowering, motivating, and insightful speaker who has a fascinating story to tell and has the ability to inspire all who hear him, across background, race, ethnicity, or gender identity. You can find a link to his 2013 TED talk here. I hope to see you on Thursday! You won’t want to miss out!

Exhibition Opportunities at Haverford

Posted on: March 14, 2016


Photo by Noelia Hobeika

Photo by Noelia Hobeika

Exhibitions and exhibition-making continue to be an important part of Haverford, and there are many for students to get involved.

There are a few ways exhibitions happen at Haverford. The Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery (the Hurford Center’s exhibition space) hosts four shows developed in collaboration with faculty each year, followed by a fifth show featuring student work—the Fine Arts Department’s annual student senior thesis show. Students in the assistantship program are involved in each of these exhibitions in many ways, from helping with installation, assisting with catalogue editing, weighing in on exhibition layout, and organizing related programming and events.

For the Center’s most recent exhibit, The Wall in Our Heads: American Artists and the Berlin Wall,” about sixty students from classes in Fine Arts, Sculpture, Filmmaking, and German mounted a pop-up exhibition in the Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery and throughout the Whitehead Campus Center, riffing on and responding to the show. Check out some images from the student exhibition here, as well as a student catalogue project. And, one of our student gallery co-managers talks a bit about the show in this video:

At the end of each semester, students taking Fine Arts classes often exhibit work in the Fine Arts building, the Locker Building, and Magill Library; the Library also hosts fantastic exhibitions curated by students, often focusing on library collections and student and faculty scholarship. The Fine Arts Department has its own slate of great exhibitions as well. Over the past few years, students have curated and exhibited their own work in James House, a student-run arts space open to all students, as well as other spaces around campus (a student art collective called Drop Shot staged some interesting projects in a repurposed squash court for many years). To support these projects, students often receive arts grants from the Hurford Center.


In the fall of 2017, the College will open its new Visual Culture, Arts, and Media (VCAM) facility, which will feature flexible spaces in which students will be able to stage projects, as well as expanded facilities for filmmaking, design, and other modes of making.

Interested in learning more? Stop by this Friday’s opening and gallery talk for the new Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery exhibition Among the Unburied, 4:30pm – 7:30pm in Whitehead Campus Center:

Mauricio Arango, The Night of the Moon Has Many Hours, 2010. HD video, sound, 12-00. [production still]

Mauricio Arango, The Night of the Moon Has Many Hours, 2010. HD video, sound, 12-00. [production still]

A burial signals a closure, a proper rite that marks an end to life. The unburied among us, lacking such closure, remain ungrieved, or ungrievable. Among the Unburied honors those who are unattended to, even in death. Three artists-cum-storytellers — Mauricio Arango (Colombia/USA), Marianne Nicolson (Kwakwaka’wakw/Canada), and Park Chan-kyong (South Korea) — invite us to consider a world of ghosts as firmly planted in the complex geopolitics and cultural schisms of Colombia, the Pacific Northwest, and Korea. A harvester of corpses in the hour of the moon, spirits evoked by light, and a shamanic ritual — the subjects of these artists’ work, while seemingly fantastic, stem from the very real conditions of trauma and violence that underlie their national histories.

Choosing & Using Your Major

Posted on: March 9, 2016

By Kelly Cleary from the CCPA

As spring registration quickly approaches, the task of choosing a major, or at least narrowing your choices, is on the minds of most sophomores.  But how does one choose? Since your arrival at Haverford, undoubtedly you’ve heard at least one advisor say, “Study what you love!”  It’s just as likely you’ve heard someone else say something to the effect of, “choose a practical major, one that will help you get a job.” I’ve talked with many students, and parents, who fear those two considerations are mutually exclusive. The good news is there are countless stories of Haverford alumni who dove deeply into their favorite subject matter and went on to pursue meaningful, interesting, and rewarding careers — sometimes with close connections between their major and career, but quite often not. Check out the CCPA’s blog posts written from an Alumni Perspective. Here are a few to get you started:

The point is not that your major doesn’t matter, but rather that throughout your time at Haverford you will develop a variety of valuable transferable skills and competencies that will help you in your professional lives. Some of you will pursue careers that require specific knowledge and content skills you will develop through your majors or concentrations. Many of you, however, will find yourself on a path in which you apply the broad range of both specific and general skills (i.e. writing, public speaking, analysis, etc.) that you will refine during your time as an undergraduate student.

The major as a means to an end– digging deep to develop cognitive and scholarly skills 

When I asked my fellow deans to share a few nuggets of wisdom on the topic of choosing a major, Dean Watter reiterated the importance of transferable skills. “The major is a means to an end (or ends), with those ends being development of cognitive and scholarly skills (analysis, synthesis, critical thinking, etc.), that one will use for the rest of one’s life.  Any major will get you them, so, unless you are planning to go to graduate school in a particular discipline, major in what you love to think about and study.  That way, you will dig deeply into the major and further develop those skills/talents noted above.”

When choosing a major, be challenged, be interested, and be empowered

First Year Dean Michael Martinez shared “what you choose to major in is supposed to be interesting, challenging, and empowering. Students often lose sight of both the interest and empowerment factor and focus too heavily on the challenge or practicality of the choice. They choose majors regardless of how they do and whether it suits their strengths and leaves them feeling good about themselves.” Similarly, in his article Choosing a Practical Major, Dean Bean encourages students to study a subject that sharpens their mind, and explains why such an approach is critical.

Choosing your academic “home”

Of course, there is a great deal more to consider in choosing a major than career prospects. Dean Denney reminds students “they are choosing a major and not a life course. But they are also choosing a group of faculty and student colleagues with whom they will spend two years, and a set of questions and conversations that will occupy a lot of their time and energy.” When exploring majors it’s important to think about which department feels like the best fit for your personality and preferred approach to learning.

Where to begin?

  • Visit the websites of the academic departments that interest you. Review the major requirements, the senior thesis or project expectations, course descriptions, and faculty research interests.
  • Make an appointment with the department chair or other faculty members to discuss your interest and ask questions about the program.
  • Speak with upperclassmen in the major(s) about their experiences in the department to help you decide if the major is a good fit for you.
  • Speak with your dean and others whose opinions you value about how your interests and abilities fit with prospective majors.
  • Visit the What Can I Do With My Major? resource on the CCPA’s Majors & Career page, and make an appointment at the CCPA (in Stokes 300) if you have further questions about majors and career.

2016 Spring Room Draw

Posted on: March 7, 2016

April is right around the corner, and with it comes 2016 Spring Room Draw! I would like to take this opportunity to provide you with some resources and tips to help you navigate the process.

1. Spring Room Draw will be held on Monday, April 4th – Friday, April 8th in Sharpless Auditorium. Room Draw consists of 5 rounds, with different housing offered during those rounds.

2. Read the guidelines! 2016 Spring Room Draw Guidelines are currently posted. The document is long but helpful. It has everything you need to know so read it!

3. Connect with the Residential Life Committee. They are available via email to answer any questions you might have. Email them at

4. Be mindful of deadlines. All deadlines are firm. No Havertime! Be sure to check out the 2016 Spring Room Draw Calendar on page 2 of the guidelines for important dates and upcoming deadlines.

5. Be eligible! Clear up any library or financial obligations before Friday, March 18th, in order to be eligible for Room Draw.

6. At the end of the day, do not panic! All eligible students who want campus housing and follow all the necessary steps/deadlines, will get housing. If you do not select housing during Spring Room Draw, you should submit a Deferred Housing Assignment form and you will be housed over the summer.

I encourage you all to be proactive during this process. If you are unsure or have questions, please reach out. The Office of Residential Life is available via email (, or you are welcome to stop by our office on the 2nd floor of Chase Hall. Please use our office as a resource.

Be proactive. Read. Ask questions.

Good luck!

Major Dilemma?

Posted on: February 29, 2016

By Steve Watter

Many of you will be spending time with family, friends and relatives over Spring Break.  I suspect that some may be dreading being asked, “So, what are you going to major in?”  To be followed in many cases by, “And what are you going to do with that?”  What follows is a bit of thinking and writing I have been doing on the subject of the major that hopefully can provide you with some ammunition with which to answer with confidence!

What follows is much longer than the typical blogpost.  Blogs came into existence long after I became a dean.  Think of this as an ancient form of blogging, and feel free to spend as much or as little time with it as you wish.

Good luck with those inevitable questions, and have a Break!

**The following are the insights of a dean who has advised college students for the past 35 years about the question of advising for the major.

Declaring a major is an important undergraduate rite of passage.  It is at this point that a student makes a public declaration of scholarly interest and commits to a focused program of study for the final two years of college.

Important, to be sure, as it will have a significant impact over how one directs one’s intellectual energies for the balance of the college career. But not life or death.  And not irreversible.

Lest we impute too much importance to the concept of the major, let us not lose sight of the larger picture.  College is a time to train the mind for life. Studying a field of knowledge in an in-depth, focused manner is one of the ways devised by the academy to accomplish this.

“What are you going to major in?” is a question dreaded by those who are unsure or who are considering a major that does not appear to connect or relate directly to a particular job or career In reality, though, it may be a question that tells us more about the questioner than the individual to whom the question has been posed.  For strangers, the question is variously a conversation starter, a way to break that ice with a college student, rather than the usual chatter about the weather with others.  It helps the questioner categorize or place the individual.

For relatives, the question is a way of figuring out what the young woman or man before them about whom they care very deeply plans to do with her or his life.  For parents or grandparents, their hopes and dreams for us may be bound up in that question.  They want their offspring or grandchild to be successful, be able to make a good living and support a family in comfortable fashion.  An economics major leads to the business world.  The sciences make possible a career in medicine.  Some undefined (and nonexistent) pre-law curriculum will lead to a career in the law.  A “profession” is the ticket to a prosperous and happy life, so one should major in a field that permits entry into one of the professions. The major is seen as having an instrumental purpose and a direct connection to what one will do upon graduation.

The second, even scarier question often posed to those who declare their intent to major in a field where the unenlightened might not see a direct correlation between that and a career, is the follow-up:  “And what are you going to do with that?”

In reality, the relationship between the major and a career path may be tenuous at best.  The question can also be problematic if one is unsure of what one is going to major in, as it may convey an indecisiveness or lack of direction that does not reflect well or is something to be embarrassed about.

When advising students about the major, I try to debunk myths about its purpose and importance, and get the student to relax and think expansively about the issue.  The decision about the major need not be the cause of great anxiety or stress, as the major field of study may very well have little to do or little relation to what one ultimately does with one’s life.

Of course, if one is planning to do advanced work in a particular academic discipline, then one would be well-advised to major in that field—although there are exceptions to this, as well.  Or if one is thinking of pursuing a career in a health-related profession such as medicine, dentistry or veterinary medicine, one needs to be sure to take the core science courses required for admission.  It is often wise to point out that there is, in fact, no prescribed pre-law curriculum.  Law schools are looking for individuals with well-trained, incisive minds, who are possessed of the capacity to think critically and logically.

My belief is that the major is, in fact, a means to an end—a vehicle, if you will, for developing those habits of mind and intellectual and cognitive skills that will allow one to pursue one’s chosen path, once and whenever that may become evident—and to succeed.

The undergraduate curriculum is ideally devoted to developing the following intellectual and cognitive skills. Among others, the primary are the ability to:

  •   learn, to understand and to make sound judgments;
  •   craft a powerful argument;
  •   write and speak clearly and persuasively;
  •   create and synthesize knowledge;
  •   think critically and analytically; and,
  •   conduct  independent research

Any major will allow a student to develop these skills and more.  The emphases and approaches may differ from department to department, but the end result will be the same.  The major, which is the in-depth exploration of one of the discrete fields of human knowledge represented in the curriculum is designed to allow a student to master a body of knowledge, develop a command of the field and the modes of inquiry particular to that discipline.  It also typically offers students an opportunity to apply the intellectual and cognitive skills developed throughout the course of the undergraduate years to the salient questions currently being explored in that field.

As such, I counsel/advise students to choose a major whose subject matter fascinates, intrigues and inspires them.  Studying the subject matter of the field should be fun and exciting and be something that one looks forward to reading, thinking, discussing and arguing about.  For, the more the student enjoys and is motivated by the subject matter, the more time they will spend with it, the deeper they will dig into it, and, in turn, the more they will be able to develop those life skills noted above.

As I mentioned above, there is rarely a direct connection between a major and a career.  Math majors become poets, history majors become film directors and philosophy majors become business tycoons or entrepreneurs.  I often tell my students the true story of the Haverford religion major who became the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world.  It is simply not the case that only business or economics majors go into business.  In fact, there are many reports over the past forty years that show that Human Resources professionals in the business world prefer broadly-educated liberal arts graduates over those who are narrowly-trained in a particular area.  Such individuals may be perfect for that technical, entry-level job, but they do not possess the creativity or intellectual agility necessary for innovation.   Those who possess the habits of mind noted above are sought after and tend to move up the corporate ladder because of their ability to adapt to changing times and circumstances.

Those majors that do not appear to have a clear connection to or provide a clear path to a career have, as a self-protection mechanism, taken to listing what their graduates are now doing (careers).  Every department would be well-advised to do this.  Not only does it reinforce the message and provide concrete evidence to support the notion that any major can lead to most any career or pursuit, it also provides ammunition to the student, who, rather than asking the parents or grandparents to take her/his word for it, can simply send them to the departmental web page to illustrate that all is not lost, or all those tuition dollars are not wasted.

Still, it is important to remind the student that the decision about the major does not need to be set in stone.  If proper planning has been employed, the student should in most cases be able to change majors and still complete it and graduate on time.

If a student is fascinated by more than one academic discipline and cannot decide between or among them at the point in the sophomore year when majors typically must be declared, I suggest that the student to choose one and continue taking courses in the second as a “shadow” major in subsequent semesters.  That way, if at a point down the road the student decides that she or he is, in fact, more interested in the other field, a switch can be effected and the student will still be on track to complete the major within the normal time frame for that institution.

Sometimes the decision about which of two (or even three) fields to major in can be made easier if one of the fields has a course required of all juniors, and only declared majors are eligible to enroll.  In such cases, students should be instructed to declare in the department with the required course.  If both departments have a required course for Juniors, then one needs to discuss with the department chair/major departmental advisor or consider the possibility of a double major.

Well, now I have done it.  I have raised the subject of the double major. So now a word about them.   Academic transcripts burdened down by ever-lengthening lists of majors, concentrations, minors and certificates of all stripes abound.  The major/concentration/ minor/certificate/concentration “arms race” has been joined, and even encouraged by many institutions.  This is an unfortunate trend, in my view.  One does not need a long list of majors, etc. on the transcript to impress the reader or seize that plum position.  Rather, I would advise letting the transcript do the talking for the student.  A well-written cover letter that directs the reader to the highlights of the transcript and those areas in which the student focused attention beyond the major will almost always do the trick.    A conscientiously, fully pursued major into which the student has given her or his all, and that requires a capstone experience that allows the student to use and give evidence of the full development of the mind and its cognitive abilities that the major allows and encourages and to which one can look back on with pride and accomplishment, more than compensates and even far surpasses the value suggested by a lengthy list of majors, and the rest.

Steve Watter

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