by Abigail Sweetman, Marisa Egan and Shelley Donaldson
McNulty Scholars, Class of 2018
It’s the holiday season, and we’ve got one week to go before we’re back home with our friends and family, answering this one question countless times:
“What are you studying?”
This is usually a one-word answer, but as we use our learning to develop into multidisciplinary, curious, and impassioned adults, this answer has many limitations. As women of math and science, we embrace our intellectual curiosity as a method of learning more about ourselves, more about our fields, and, most importantly, more about the world around us.
Mathematics and biology invigorate my intellectual curiosity on a daily basis. Courses such as Differential Equations and Organic Chemistry fuel my academic passions. However, they do not entirely encapsulate my intellectual interests. Prior to this semester, I felt as though I would forever be intellectually satisfied by my math and science courses. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised when I found yet another academic concentration that captivated my curiosity: philosophy.
Every Moral Foundations class this semester filled me with a sense of purpose. Our class discussions always carried a significance that extended beyond the classroom walls. No other class had ever felt so relevant to me before Moral Foundations. As we pondered topics ranging from daily moral choices to the gravity of absolute poverty, I became irrevocably fascinated by the study of philosophy. My Moral Foundations class changed me as a thinker, as a student, and as a human being. My professor taught me that approximately eleven children die a minute in absolute poverty from preventable causes. That is not a statistic that I am willing to live with; so now, I try to orient my life in a direction that prevents some form of absolute poverty. Currently, I am focusing on passionately raising awareness about the gravity of absolute poverty and urging others to contribute to worthy causes, such as the “Giving What We Can” movement. My philosophy class reminded me to always consider the true meaning of success, as summarized by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem entitled “Success.” The last two lines resonate the most with me. They represent the magic of life, that is to change someone else’s world for the better. I intend to take as many Philosophy classes as I can, as a student at Saint Joseph’s University, because my intellectual curiosity does not merely begin and end in the realm of science and mathematics.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.
I’ve never found myself a strict adherent to one intellectual pursuit. In some regards, I’m a bit of an academic infidel. But I’ve never really seen it as infidelity. STEM fields can sometimes be very stigmatized as disciplines that require certain ways of thinking or certain strengths. While development of specific practice is crucial to any STEM field, I reject any notion of exclusivity. Yes, it’s true that certain people are attracted to these jobs. But we’re so much more than people who hold pipettes and calculators. And, while I wholly support the idea that McNulty Scholars can rock lab coats and safety glasses better than just about anyone (maybe I’m biased), STEM field hopefuls benefit from other fields of study. We’re not just mathematicians. We’re not just scientists. We’re historians, writers, artists, political activists, and, most of all, thinkers. The element of multidisciplinary and creative thought is integral to success in math and science. Revolutionary thought doesn’t emerge from people who just learn what other people teach. It comes from taking things learned and synthesizing them in different ways to find something new. Personally, you’ll find me absorbed in South Asian History or wielding a blowtorch or in the perpetual search of a perfect red lipstick. Intellectual curiosity doesn’t make us unfocused- it makes us more whole.
As a math major, I am rarely satisfied when a professor simply presents me with a formula and tells me which values to plug in to get the answer. I am always yearning to know more: how does one derive the given formula? What are the theories that support the use of this method in practice? For me, this constant desire for deeper understanding persists outside of the classroom and beyond my declared academic interests of math and computer science. At any point in time, any given thing might peak my intellectual curiosity, consuming my thoughts and preventing me from focusing on anything else until my curiosity has been satisfied.
A perfect example: just last night I was preparing shrimp scampi with rice, a gourmet meal for any college student. As I chopped up onion after onion for the scampi sauce, I became fascinated with the layers of the onions and began to wonder how exactly the layers formed. I couldn’t wait until after my meal to find out, so while the sauce simmered, I propped up my laptop on the edge of the counter and began Googling. A quick search of “how do onions grow?” yielded such unhelpful answers as “with lots of room and plenty of sunlight,” but I was not discouraged. Twenty minutes and many Google searches later I finally came across a post on Reddit that explained that the layers of an onion grow from the inside out, and described the biological reasons behind this process. Only after having found my answer could I move on with my evening and eat my dinner. Onion layers was yesterday’s spontaneous intellectual pursuit. It’s anyone’s best guess which of the world’s wonders will inspire my intellectual curiosity tomorrow.