Tread carefully, non-science majors

    I recently found myself at a party mostly attended by structural engineering majors.

    I took a deep breath as I pulled open the door and entered the house. The engineers, even outside their natural habitat, looked normal enough. They walked, danced, and otherwise moved in a typical manner. Nothing was alarming about their speech patterns. Thus comforted, I fetched myself a drink (Kool-Aid, of course) and positioned myself on the periphery of the room. Before long I was approached by a male party-goer who, after we shouted greetings, inquired about my major.

    Now, we are all told a lot of things about UCSD before we come here. Most of what we’re told, of course, is untrue. But what prospective freshmen aren’t told is the one crucial piece of wisdom they need: If you are a non-science major, expect to be treated like a leper during the duration of your UCSD career. It doesn’t matter if you’re working six jobs, simply passing time until you inherit your father’s multimillion-dollar snack cake empire, or you’re tired of toiling in the lab after winning your third Nobel Prize: As long as you are at UCSD, no one will take you seriously as long as you persist in studying any subject judged inferior (that is, easier and less lucrative) to math, science or engineering.

    I confess, I am one of these non-science majors in question (my actual major will not be named here, because dirty words shouldn’t be printed in newspapers). So when the friendly engineer asked me my major, I should have bolted from the party — or, better yet, lied. But the Kool-Aid was flowing, and I was caught off guard.

    Instead of keeping my wits about me, I let the engineer in on my deepest, darkest secret. I told him my major, and within half a second, the music abruptly stopped, the lights came on, and everyone froze, their mouths agape.

    “But wait!” I shouted, as two burly men in black T-shirts burst out from nowhere and dragged my struggling form out of the party. “I may pursue a lesser subject at a science-and-engineering school, but I have many fascinating hobbies! I’m witty, and I promise not to drink all your Kool-Aid! And at the very least, I’ll smile and nod as you discuss your interests!”

    But alas, I’d fallen from the graces of my would-be companions. Cast out from the party with nothing but my Kool-Aid, the shredded remains of my dignity, and the clothes on my back, I set out for my woefully nonscientific home.

    OK, so the part about the black-T-shirt-clad men throwing me out of the party was fictional, but the moral of the story remains: Non-scientists, be ashamed. Be very ashamed. But be prepared, also. Use your creativity to your advantage, and gracefully construct acceptable responses to “What’s your major?” A quick sampling of potential answers include the following:

    “My major? Uh … I gotta go to the bathroom, bye!”

    “Gosh, look at the time — gotta jet. I’ve got a bigger, better party to go to. See ya later!”

    “Oh, I’m undeclared … and single. Wanna make out?”

    Obviously, the last approach has the greatest possibility of working. At the very least, it will distract or confuse the target long enough so he or she forgets the offending question was even asked.

    Keeping these strategies in mind, I keep replaying the disastrous scene at the party.

    Smarty-pants engineer: “So, what’s your major?”

    Me (nonchalantly lying through my teeth): “Aero.”

    Smarty-pants engineer: “Whoa, you mean aerospace engineering?”

    Me: “Oui. I speak 14 languages, started my own company, and am an internationally renowned diplomat, artist, model, actress, and celebrity chef, also.”

    Smarty-pants engineer: “Holy shit! Can I kiss your feet, you wondrous creature?”

    ME: “Sure. But be careful, the shoes are Pradas.”

    Now, purveyors of such ambitious lies do run the risk of being exposed as a fake, but this isn’t a particularly dreadful outcome. People will see that not only do you realize the error of your nonscientific ways, but you buy into the superiority of math, science and engineering in crafting your idealized identity. In dire straits, melodramatic sobs accompanied by cries of “I just wanted to be as cool as you!” will work just fine.

    Every university has its “joke” majors and intellectual underclass. The Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, N.Y., offers a major in packaging science — designing boxes and, if you really get excited, working on a pill bottle that is really, truly, impossible to open. Many universities offer degrees in physical education; those who choose this major certainly deserve ridicule, but are spared on account of their bulldozer-like physiques. And then there’s interior design, apparel, textiles, nutrition, forestry, and — the obvious and universal target of derision — communication.

    At UCSD, though, we are generous with our stigmatization, so a “joke major” is any subject that doesn’t involve a brick-sized calculator, complex equations, obscure theorems, problem sets, gulping coffee all night during your six-year college career, exam curves set at 30 percent, and selling one’s soul in exchange for the promise of a lucrative, secure job after college — in other words, anything but math, science and engineering. Management science, political science, social science, and psychology don’t count as “real science,” because they hardly have the earning potential and level of masochism that studying a “hard” (as in, difficult) science does.

    I realize now that UCSD’s belittling of anything nonscientific is not only justified, but valuable. Clearly, non-science majors are leeches who suck the lifeblood out of society. The world doesn’t need any more lawyers, writers, artists, linguists, psychologists or other pseudo-intellectuals: It needs more engineers and scientific researchers. The ideal America is one in which high-speed jets are designed and perfected, but no rock stars to ride in them. One in which the clever phrasing used in an article in the journal Science is all the great literature a person needs. One in which museums don’t house art or archeological artifacts, but rather foam-and-balsa-wood models of smaller museums.

    Consider yourselves warned, non-science majors. Lie to your peers now, to save face; and at the first opportunity, change your major to something real. Otherwise Western civilization — and your social life — are sure to suffer.

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