When I first started college at UC Davis, my plan was actually not to study Philosophy or English or any of the liberal arts at all. I’d done so well in my science classes in high school (particularly AP Biology) that I originally planned on going into medicine, with a focus on Biomechanical Engineering, whatever that meant at the time.
But, as usually happens with freshmen in college, I ended up changing majors. First, I went in as a Biological Sciences major. Then I decided that Marine Biology was really neat, so I switched to that. Then I was going to double major in English and Zoology, theorizing that I could do science in the days and write science fiction at night (“I could make up realistic sounding aliens, and then write about them!” is what I told people). Then I really wanted to be a veterinarian, so I switched over to animal physiology.
Then came my sophomore year, and I was a bit more realistic about what I could achieve in college. Mathematics had always been my downfall in high school, and I was no better off in college, where Calculus just about killed me. And so did Chemistry. Ugh. I ended up taking Statistics twice, and did worse the second time around than the first. But I did fantastic in the biology courses and physics courses that I took. I got a B+ in Physiology 110, which many students agreed was one of the hardest undergraduate courses at UC Davis. Emboldened, I took another swing at Chemistry, only to fail again. Double ugh.
Then I took a course in the philosophy of the biological sciences, and it was like I’d found my true calling. I was one of the only students in that class who understood the material and what was going on. The professor (actually a professor of population genetics who happened to dabble in philosophy) was impressed by me as well. Just at the end of that quarter I officially changed my major to philosophy.
My memory’s a bit sketchy here, but, as I recall, to graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree from UC Davis, you needed a total of 180 quarter units (each class, of course being 4 or 5 units). To get a degree in Philosophy you needed to have a minimum of 52 undergraduate units in philosophy courses. When I graduated, I had 80 units in Philosophy, and 225 units overall, the point at which the University pretty much booted you out. That meant I had over 100 units in a wide variety of other courses like Botany, the aforementioned Statistics courses, Religious Studies, Political Science, Anthropology, Sociology, Folklore and Mythology, History, and so on. Not enough in any one field to get a minor in any of them, let alone a double major. I just enjoyed learning about whatever tickled my fancy whenever I opened that course catalog. My major adviser called me an intellectual vagabond and a dilettante. I wasn’t sure at the time, and I’m still not sure, whether he was complimenting me or expressing his frustration.
And, ironically, I never took a course in zoology.
And when it came time to graduate, I froze in terms of what to do next. I could have gone on to graduate school in Philosophy (I had a particular propensity for the philosophy of science as well as symbolic logic and the philosophy of religion), but the notion of having to focus on one area of study for the rest of my life was grating to me. I ended up doing… nothing. Floating. Drifting. Taking on job as a barista, a clerk at a video store, a newspaper delivery driver, a pizza delivery guy, and so on. Really, it was by chance that I ended up working at the same University where I had studied, and sheer luck landed me into my current job (okay, I spent years teaching myself web programming, but you get the idea).
To this day, I still enjoy reading books on philosophy and science, and I pride myself on being able to talk intelligently on a wide number of topics, as well as being smart enough to ask questions on the topics I know nothing about. I went to library school for a little bit, on the assumption that I would be able to find in there a career that would let me be paid to be an intellectual vagabond and dilettante, but I wasn’t able to fully integrate my love of open source technology with what I was learning, so I dropped out. A silly decision which I still regret, but what the hell.
So now I get my dose of vagabonditry and dilettantism here and there, reading books, watching documentaries, visiting zoos and natural history museums, and so on, though I really don’t do any of those as much as I used to.
In a way, I still feel adrift. I like the job I’ve landed in, and I enjoy writing the stories I do, but I still wish I could have found a way to make my curiosity pay my way through life.