For the first three semesters at USC, I was a biomedical engineering major planning to study diseases that disproportionately affect the developing world. I was really excited to be learning things that could help me make a practical difference in the world once I’m out of school and looking for something to do with my life.
I’ve always thought that when choosing a major, you need to find a balance between the classes that interest you and a major that will set you up to have a really interesting career. With BME, I thought that I’d found a match. I enjoyed biology and chemistry in high school and wasn’t thrilled about the physics class I had taken. Plus, I had this great plan for how I could use a degree in biomedical engineering. Slowly, however, my preferences began to change. My chem classes weren’t exciting me, I found myself frustrated and bored with biology, and – much to my surprise – I was loving physics. Additionally, my work with an engineering group on campus called Engineering World Health taught me a lot about what the biggest issues in the developing world really are. I learned that while medical conditions are pretty dreadful, some of the biggest problems have to do with a lack of infrastructure. Hospitals in developing countries can often have intermittent power and they lack the ability to transport supplies in and medical waste out. Additionally, because roads are so bad and lack an organized traffic system, hospitals are inundated with patients whose injuries are basically entirely preventable. If we could reduce the number of patients suffering from preventable injuries like these, then the doctors could provide a much higher level of care to those patients suffering from unpreventable diseases.
I spent a good month (which now seems like a very short time to have made such a decision) debating about what I should do, but it really wasn’t a hugely traumatic decision. A switch to civil engineering would not only set me up to work on infrastructure in the developing world later in life, but would also give me a curriculum for the next 2.5 years that I really enjoy. So far, I couldn’t be happier. I’m loving my statics and graphics classes, and I don’t regret missing out on organic chemistry, although some of my BME friends seem to be enjoying it. Who knows if my plans will all play out exactly the same, but for now, I’m really glad I took the risk to switch my major. In fact, sometimes I think that I like it more after being a BME than I would have had I started civil engineering freshman year.