- Academic Research and Writing Tips / Tutorial

How to Handle Completely Foreign Research SUbjects that Are Outside Your Major?

'Why do I have to take math? I'm an English major!'

'You think that's bad? I'm a bio major, and they're making me take and write poetry!'

Foreign Topic

Yeah, it happens. The curse of the Gen Eds. They want you to be a well-rounded student, so they make you take classes that have absolutely nothing to do with your field of study. These classes account for a rather large percentage of the whining among many underclassman populations, not to mention among forgetful upperclassmen who should have taken them earlier. But no matter how completely foreign these subjects are, they must be mastered in order for the student to graduate. It's annoying, but it's a fact of life.

So how do you handle it, when you have to use parts of your brain that you thought you'd sent on permanent vacation? Well, first of all, call them back. Even if you majored in art so you would never have to factor a quadratic equation again, dust off the left side of your brain. You've gotta pass. Then, decide what kind of grade you want. Do you need an 'A' or a 'B' to keep up your scholarship GPA, or would a 'C' suffice?

It all depends on how you feel about your ability at the subject. If you're decent at English but can't stand it - who cares what Animal Farm symbolizes, anyway? - that's one thing. Then you can decide how much work you feel like putting into the class. Chances are, you can B.S. your way through and still get a solid 'B.' Or slack a bit and deal with the 'C' - it depends on how much it will affect your GPA. Grumble all you want, but do the work and get the grade and you'll be done. Remember, you're an Engineering major. Once you get that requirement out of the way, no one will ever make you read fiction again if you don't want to.

But maybe, on the other hand, you struggled through science classes in high school and chose to major in Peloponnesian Studies just so you could be done with it. You see no reason to put yourself through that kind of agony again. Well, your degree is one reason, and the main one in this case. I'm hardly going to tell you to learn to love it. Let's be realistic here. You have to do it, and that's why you're going to. So how do you pass, when you're way out of practice and you could barely handle it when you were doing it every day? Well, you're definitely going to have to go to class. Sorry, but it's true. And you're going to have to pay attention. (I know, it keeps getting worse. But stay with me here - it's only one class.) If you're convinced that you don't know what you're doing, great. No, really. Because that will help you keep yourself awake long enough to take notes. When you're being tested on a subject that's totally outside your realm of interest, your notes have to be detailed enough to give you the background you need, and for this you need to be conscious.

Either way, the hardest part is usually that you just don't care. And making yourself care is a lot of work for one grade. So try this. Focus on the subject while you're doing it. Try to find something interesting, or something that you couldn't do before the class. Take some cues from the professor. Chances are, he or she is enthusiastic about the subject. You don't have to fall in love with medieval social structure, but perhaps you can find one thing that you can listen to and not fall asleep. Jousts, for example, are very cool. Then, perhaps, you can stay awake enough to become involved in the discussion. And when you are involved, you actually learn something.

No, really.

And before you know it, the semester is over and you have a decent grade, and you can go back to focusing on DNA reproduction.

Lucky you.