Hiredesai: A Tale of Two Tracks

Annika Hiredesai, Columnist

When meeting people freshman fall, we all get pretty good at the quick introduction of names and major. I kept getting the same follow-up question: “Oh, you’re a neuro major. Are you pre-med?” I could have just said yes and left it at that, I suppose. 

Still, I couldn’t shake the need to explain myself. The inherent assumption that neuroscience equaled pre-med felt like a cheapening of my chosen major. It also meant identifying myself as associated with a label that can carry negative connotations. As someone who places value in pursuing interests without ulterior motives, the idea of others assuming I was “in it for the A” was a painful thought.

I was struck by the parallels in other pre-professional tracks, particularly finance. What was it about the economy that so many people were interested in? I decided to take an intro course that winter to see for myself. To my surprise, I found myself genuinely excited by the material. Economics gave me a brand-new perspective when considering issues like the climate crisis and pharmaceutical research.

For a while, I was reluctant to do anything more than express my intellectual appreciation. Adding a second major felt like a daunting commitment, and, once again, the pre-professional culture at Northwestern felt disenchanting. Finance was especially intimidating since I had no previous exposure to the industry. Despite these concerns, I thought about what kinds of classes I was excited to take, and I kept coming back to topics within economics. I declared a minor that same quarter, and switched to the major a few weeks later.

So, here I am with a double major in economics and neuroscience, each with its own set of assumptions with which to contend. In the midst of a pandemic, with an unprecedented amount of time to sit with my thoughts, I began to question the decision to steer clear of pre-professional pursuits. With the help of everything from podcasts to books to online coursework, I discovered aspects of healthcare and finance I couldn’t get enough of. This uninhibited exploration felt liberating, something that I’d sorely needed during the school year. My friends and family couldn’t help but remark on the newfound passion I spoke with, especially in the intersection of the two industries. 

Despite this excitement about all that I was learning, I began to realize that what I was doing wasn’t sustainable. Even with COVID-19, it felt like everyone I knew had still managed to find a remote internship or virtual research project, a tangible experience that I was missing out on. As much as the ideal of learning for learning’s sake appealed to me, that simply wasn’t practical. I grew increasingly disenchanted with my efforts, which I was beginning to see as an idle pursuit.

I began to devote more and more of my time into the whirlwind of applications, student groups and networking despite the fact that I had only just begun to explore what these tracks meant for me. All of a sudden, the thought of anything finance or pre-med related felt like little more than a means to an end. 

As Northwestern students, we place this pressure on ourselves to be exceptional the moment we set our sights on something. Oftentimes, taking things at your own pace feels like losing ground when everyone around you is moving at light speed. After getting over my initial reservations about pre-professional tracks, I felt like I had to compensate for my prior indecisiveness by working double time to catch up with my peers. When we are enveloped by a culture that values accomplishments over authenticity, taking a pause is the only way to check in with our sense of fulfillment.

Even as I write this, I’m still struggling to strike a balance between my goals and staying true to myself. None of this has been simple. However, the first step is recognition, and I’m choosing to reclaim what I found this summer. I’m beyond fortunate to have friends and mentors that I go to for support. Speaking with them always leaves me with a sense of renewed purpose and clarity. And, while it may sound simple, reading a newsletter with my morning coffee or sneaking in a podcast episode between classes has allowed me to continue learning on my own terms. I’m committed to finding meaning, whether that’s choosing the right track or forging a new path all together. All in good time.

Annika Hiredesai is a Weinberg sophomore. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.