I wish I’d…

[cross-posted from a mailing list, with some editing]

Having finished honours, I’m reflecting again on the extent to which I did or did not waste the last five years of my life.

I spent those five years doing a B Science (Hons) and B Arts. Here’s what I got out of it: a maths major; a comp sci major; a philosophy major; a linguistics major; a semiotics major; 1 year of chemistry; 1 year of modern history and computing (not “computer science” because I switched universities) honours.

The semiotics major was a complete farce, it’s a so called “cross-listed major”, and I had to take one English subject and three linguistics subjects to get it. I did it purely so I could graduate with five majors.

My subject choices were OK considering what I knew about my interests when I left high school. I knew that I was a relatively talented maths student, a good essay writer, and that most courses were relatively interesting and easy to do well in. The first and last pieces of knowledge took a beating at university, but I’m still a good writer, at least compared to computing students in general.

However, with the benefit of hindsight, there’s a bunch of (completely incompatible) changes to my program I wish I’d considered.

Doing normal level subjects rather than advanced level for third year maths. I wasn’t prepared to work hard enough to do well in the advanced subjects (and even if I did work hard I may not have had the ability — those courses are really there to groom the honours candidates). I probably would have both done better in the normal level subjects and enjoyed them more. That one I should have realised after second year.

Exchange the philosophy major for a history major. This one requires hindsight, because I didn’t really get into history until fourth year when I took two semesters of history. But with the benefit of hindsight, I would have really really loved doing three years of history, whereas I ended up being a bit blah about philosophy. History is more concrete and also more human.

Fortunately, history is something that is fairly easy to continue learning about without academia’s help (I preferred academia only because USyd‘s modern European history people were so passionate and informed about their research — if you have a chance take their courses).

Dropping the Science degree (possibly exchanging it for Liberal Studies which is the 4 year version of BSc/BA). This one requires hindsight. From what I knew about myself after high school, I was a science kiddie. As it turns out, my interest in science is mainly a layperson’s interest, with the exception of computing.

I’d have to drop the maths major to do this, but that would be OK. I didn’t get much out of university maths (in fact, I feel rather fraudulent about getting the major). I’d probably also drop the semiotics major, but that would be OK it would mean that I’d never have had to take courses in systemic functional grammar (here’s a tip: don’t go there).

Completely change specialities and become a historian. This would have meant doing a BLibStud or BA with a history major.

Even in hindsight this isn’t such a great idea: I would either have to give it up after the BA or after a PhD — there’s very very few jobs for historians. It might still be worth it even given that, but I don’t think I’m going to find out.

To do this, I should have done a European language too.

Completely change specialities and become a human biologist/psychologist (probably a neuropsychologist). This one I actually did consider after first year, very very briefly. The thought of needing to redo first year put me off it. I wish I’d thought about it a bit harder.

When I consider all this, it means that the only subjects I’m totally happy about choosing are computing and linguistics (sucked at chemistry and maths, semiotics was a wank, philosophy was a bit dull, got into history too late). That’s not to say I’m really happy about the computing either, I found almost all the subjects either hard work or dull, and all basically passionless. The reason I’m still glad I did it is that it let me do the honours year I’ve just finished. That honours year was also hard work and at times dull, but I think it’s the best decision I’ve made during my entire degree.