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Double trouble: students major in varying disciplines

By Polina Potochevska, Sara McCrea, Sabrina Chow, Emily Botto and Candace Ng

Section: Features

March 16, 2018

Neeti Kulkarni ’21

Neeti Kulkarni ’21 didn’t plan on becoming a music major until she was surrounded by them. She attended a chamber music camp in Minnesota with instructors from conservatories at nearby universities, a camp where musicians of all ages practiced outside and filled the air with music. The experience inspired her to major in music as a way to continue playing the violin and the viola, instruments she has played since she was five years old.

Majoring in music at Brandeis is a way for Kulkarni to maintain her skills and see her hard work pay off. “I don’t know how much I’ll be able to play music after college because I don’t know what ensembles will be around me and what opportunities I’ll have, so this seems like the best way for me to send it off in the right direction,” Kulkarni said.

While her other major was originally undecided, Kulkarni was always interested in economics, and decided to pursue that path alongside her music major after taking Microeconomics her first semester. “It made sense to me, and I like learning about the way things work,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni added that the large number of double-majors at Brandeis make majoring in multiple subjects less daunting. “It definitely helps to know that so many people around you are double majors,” Kulkari said. “I know double majors with music [at other schools] and it’s really hard because they always feel like they have to sacrifice one thing over the other. It’s definitely hard here because there’s not any cross-listed classes, but everyone motivates you to work hard here too.”

While she had friends when she was younger who knew from an early age they wanted to do music professionally, Kulkarni does not have plans to pursue a career in the field.

“It’s a really unstable life, and I think it’s really wonderful if you can succeed at it, but it’s a game of chance when you get down to it,” Kulkarni said.

Although she is currently taking introductory courses in both subject areas, Kulkarni has not noticed much of an overlap between the two disciplines.

“Take for example what I’ve doing in Macro right now. We’re doing leaning about cost of living and GDP, and in music I’m learning performance techniques and Gregorian chants. So right now there’s not a lot of overlap. In the future I’ll see if there is, but honestly I’m fine with them being completely separate.”

– Sara McCrea and Polina Potochevska

Riely Allen ’18

Lights, camera … code? As a research university based on liberal arts values, Brandeis allows students to pursue myriad combinations of degrees, specialized to the individual. Riely Allen ’18, a computer science and theater double major, with a minor in history, is no doubt one of the core definitions of a Brandeisian.

While looking for colleges, Allen knew that he wanted to continue his theatrical career. “I always knew I loved theater since high school when I started getting into it. I knew I had to keep doing it when I came to college. Brandeis has a good theater program compared to other school I was looking at. But I knew that I didn’t want to only do theater. I didn’t want to be so focused on one thing,” Allen said.

Although Allen was initially interested in pursuing engineering, Brandeis’ lack of an engineering program left him in search of a new area of study. Allen knew that computer science was the perfect medium between engineering and applicable science after his friend convinced him to take COSI 11a: “Programming in Java and C” with Professor Antonella DiLillo. Being a part of the theater and computer science departments allows him to work with both the creative and logical side of his brain, Allen said.

Allen found that having two majors without overlap could be challenging, but he also discovered many benefits. “Personally, it was really hard. It wasn’t impossible, but it was a challenge to make it fit.”

“I wonder how my life would have been different if I had just picked theater or comp sci,” Allen said. “I have friends who just focus on one and they’re a better actor or programmer than me. There has been some senior year reconciling that I’ve picked a road in between those two…I’m happy that I have both.”

When trying to figure out what majors and minors to pursue, Allen looked toward the university’s general education requirements. During his freshman year, Allen took AMST 185b, “The Culture of the Cold War” with Professor Stephen Whitfield, and recounts it as one of the best classes he has taken at Brandeis. This class propelled his love for history, and as he took more history classes to complete university requirements, Allen quickly realized that he had enough credits for a minor.

Within the theater department, Allen found Professor Dmitry Troyanovsky to be one of his biggest inspirations and mentors. “He’s amazing and a really talented individual and I’ve learned a lot from him even though I’ve only taken two classes with him,” Allen said. In the computer science department, Allen spoke highly of Professor R. Pito Salas and his class COSI 105b, “Software Engineering for Scalability,” in which Allen is currently enrolled.

During his last semester at Brandeis, Allen feels happy and fulfilled with the path he has chosen to take. “If you don’t come in with a path like I did, it can be very daunting and scary to figure out how to do it all. It works out though, I promise. If you stick to it, everything will figure itself out for the most part,” Allen said. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”

– Sabrina Chow and Sara McCrea

Benedikt Reynolds ’19

Benedikt Reynolds ’19 has already decided on his future career and has found a path for himself at Brandeis to accomplish his goals. Reynolds is majoring in anthropology and computer science, and is utilizing the intersection, or lack thereof, to shape a career in industrial design.

Reynolds said in an email to The Hoot that he was able to combine these two majors because Brandeis allows “students to be fluid with their curriculum.” He didn’t come to Brandeis with this in mind, however. Instead, his choice came from his past experience with school culture, having moved 11 times as a child and been a part of many different schools. Reynolds felt that Brandeis’ culture and students were similar to the schools he had attended which were “filled with collaborative, and cross-functional students, who believed an inclusive and friendly environment is how an individual and group prospers.” He searched for this type of school culture during his college visits, and found it in Brandeis.

After deciding to attend Brandeis, Reynolds “picked the two majors that allowed me to get as close to design as possible,” he said. Reynolds uses both anthropology and computer science to build on his foundation of design knowledge. “Loosely, anthropology is about understanding how culture affects what we value. Computer science provides tools to take these observations and build them into a product or service. In combination, these two majors are at the foundation of design,” Reynolds said.

Anthropology plays a major role in helping shape the person that Reynolds has become during his time at Brandeis, including his role as senator in charge of the Senate Sustainability Committee (SenSus), a Student Union led environmental group. “Anthropology for me is to challenge the status quo, particular to understanding and influencing culture. With the committee, we work to understand what is unique about Brandeisian culture and how we can influence it with creative environmental solutions,” said Reynolds.

In regards to academics, the approach to classes is often met with the struggle to fit all the necessary classes within the max 22 credits allowed at Brandeis. With two such different majors, one would think that maintaining a manageable class load with extracurriculars is often difficult if not impossible. But it’s a struggle worth enduring, according to Reynolds. “With each new class, I can bring a lens from the opposite major and see things differently,” said Reynolds.

Reynolds found his love and passion for anthropology and computer science through two classes. For anthropology, Reynolds found ANTH 128b “Anthropology of Stuff” with Professor Derek Sheridan to be extremely intriguing. “We looked at how material culture affects the way we think and behave,” said Reynolds. In computer science, Reynolds’ favorite course was COSI 21a “Data Structures” with Professor Antonella DiLillo. “This pushed my logical reasoning and creativity through the roof,” said Reynolds.

The main difficulty with pursuing majors in departments that are polar opposites, according to Reynolds, is the lack of external resources. There are very few people who have taken Reynolds’ chosen path, so he has very few resources to learn from. But he remains invested in his choice, saying that combining two majors is “something beautiful.”

“The most common innovations aren’t by inventing a new idea, but combining two, seemingly different ones, and doing opposite majors accelerates your thinking to do so. So my advice is to find majors that perceptively have nothing to do with each other, and push yourself to discover that that’s not the case,” Reynolds said.

– Sabrina Chow and Emily Botto

Ben Rozonoyer ’20

Ben Rozonoyer ’20, thought he did not want to do anything related to math when he came to Brandeis. Now, he is a linguistics and computer science double major, and he is thinking about minoring or majoring in math.

Having multiple connections to Brandeis, including his sister and brother-in-law, Rozonoyer learned about the computer science department and its professors from his brother-in-law, and about linguistics from his father, who was always interested in the topic. While he enjoyed literature classes in high school, combining literature with computer science in college would be difficult, but linguistics and the particular subsection of computational linguistics was very interesting for him.

“[Computational linguistics involves] applying all sorts of algorithms to language, and to different problems in language,” said Rozonoyer. An example he gave of the applicability of computational linguistics is with machine learning classifications. For example, a million movie reviews exist online but these algorithms prevent people from having to hand classify them. Rozonoyer also said that search engines make use of these strategies to extract information from sentences.

Computational linguistics is a part of the computer science department, which hints at how closely related the two subjects are. Rozonoyer explained that he is currently in a computer science course that uses the same strategies that semantics does, a linguistics topic he studies. “Computer science is also like computer language, so you need to know about human languages,” Rozonoyer said. For example, how things are expressed are a concern both for computer scientists and linguists.

Outside of the classroom, Rozonoyer is involved in the research project “Creating a Corpus of Child Speech by Monolingual and Heritage Russian Speakers” with Prof. Sophia Alexandra Malamud (ANTH, COSI, LING, PHIL). Malamud’s team is collecting audio files and transcripts for a one-million word corpus. Rozonoyer assists by listening to children’s data speech and helping with the segmentation process.

As a sophomore, Rozonoyer is still unclear as to what he wants to do in the future, but hopes to either attend graduate school in the Boston area or work for a company that does natural language processing after graduation. He recommends students to take a linguistics course if they have a passion for languages.

– Candace Ng and Polina Potochevska

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