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Why Study Political Science?

December 3, 2015

Hey Guys!

I am currently in my third year of studying Political Science at the University of Waterloo. One of the most common questions I get asked is why I chose my program. What got me into ever studying Political Science? You could say it's a rather long and interesting story, so let's start from way back. Ever since I was a child, I've always been interested in the field of politics and law. Perhaps it was just my tendency to argue with my parents all the time as a kid, but I felt that it was ingrained within me to have an opinion and speak out about everything (which is quite an uncommon trait in traditional Chinese families). However, I've always felt that this interest wouldn't actually result in me having a future career in the field of politics or law. Never in my life would I have believed that my interest would eventually lead me to an university education in this field.

Going through High School, most of my courses were engineering based (physics, chemistry, math). However, deep inside, I felt that my true passion lied within politics and law. After applying to mostly Computer Science and Engineering programs and being accepted to them, I felt there was something missing. Waterloo was known quite well for their STEM majors and I believed that I would have an excellent future career in those programs, but I always had one question: would I want to do something in STEM for the rest of my life? In my 1A term at Waterloo, the question would come back to haunt me. At that time, I was actually in Computer Science, which I felt was a terrible choice on my part. Why did I choose Computer Science? I'd say it was a from a mixture of reasons: wanting to get into a program for the sake of its reputation, thinking it had good job prospects (had my first co-op already lined up due to family connections), peer pressure, and a large amount of parental pressure. Of course, it ended up being a complete nightmare. I did not have the motivation to do any assignments or even go to class because I absolutely hated everything in my program. As a result, my grades ended up suffering. As a student who regularly got 90s with little to no effort in High School, it destroyed my confidence to see 60s for the first time. 

Then one day, while I was working on some Racket assignment for CS, I realized that I really did waste my High School experience by taking courses for the sake of belonging with my peer group or to appease my parents, and I wanted to make up for it. For me, that was a defining moment in my life and I guess that was my wake-up call. I realized on that day that CS for me was a dead path. Sure, I could potentially scrape by with low to mid 60s, but I'll end up working some undesirable programming job for the rest of my life with no hope of ever attending Law School. Or I could take a risk. And so I did. On a rainy mid-October day, I trekked to the Arts Undergraduate Office to ask for some advice. Luckily for me, the head of internal transfers happened to be there at the time of my visit (Eric Breugst - Amazing guy!). He was a great advisor, and pretty much selected my winter courses for me based on my interests. I knew at that point that there was no going back. It was either I stay in CS and continue on in mediocrity, or I switch to Political Science (at that time, I've never even heard of the program before, let alone taken a PSCI course) and one of two things could happen: I flop hard and drop out or I bounce back and redeem myself.

Of course, for the first few weeks I felt I made a terrible mistake. I felt as though after entering such a renowned program as Computer Science, I was stupid enough to purposely leave it. I felt like a failure in life. During my Christmas break, I was uncertain about my future. Having only done almost exclusively STEM based courses in High School, I thought that I would do terribly without any background knowledge in my new program. My parents didn't really understand why I decided to switch programs, as I never told them any of my insecurities and how much I disliked the STEM field. I used to walk around for hours in the middle of the night just thinking about how everything would play out in the future. I had no destination to go nor did I have a route to follow. It was just my way of ignoring reality temporarily. Those bitterly cold and dark nights were probably the most stressful days of my life.  

That was about a year ago, at my lowest point. I almost failed CS135, and got only bare 60s in my Math courses (135, 137). I was kicked out of Co-op because of my program switch. My family was disappointed with my decision and kept on trying to guilt me over the holidays. I avoided my friends, residence floormates, and fellow classmates due to fear of being judged. Back then, only my closest friends knew that I had dropped out of CS. Instead of working some developer job at a high-profile company, I spent the summer working at an amusement park 10-12 hours a day in 30 degree Celsius weather to pay for my tuition. During my shifts, I sometimes even served food to my fellow classmates, who were now working in firms like BlackBerry, Apple, IBM, or RBC.

Was it worth it? I'd say it was the best choice I've ever made. Sure, that path was quite hard and painful, but it was exponentially rewarding. Fast forward to now: I'm back on track and determined to stay on track. I'm currently spending my Co-op term doing some legal research for the University (managed to get readmitted into Co-op) and studying for the LSAT. Been on the Dean's Honours list for 2 terms in a row now, with a high 80s-low 90s term average ever since. Trying to land a policy analyst job in Ottawa for my next Co-op, and looking towards doing a masters in PSCI and a law degree after finishing my undergrad.

One of the most common questions that I've been asked by others and even by myself periodically is whether I regret it now. Do I regret ever stepping into the Undergraduate Office on that day? Do I regret forfeiting such great potential? If I had more time to think and had been less stressed at that time, would I have thought differently? It depends. Some days, I think about what could have happened had I stayed in Computer Science. Whenever I pass by my old Mathematics and Computer Science lecture halls, it feels as though a memory from my past continues to haunt me. Maybe I could have learned to enjoy a certain part of Computer Science and I just didn't give it much of a chance. Regardless, I try to not look back and set my eyes forward. Sure, the past may have affected who and what I am now, but if I don't look back, then I wouldn't have to think about what could have happened. For me, I believe that looking towards my future goals is what drives me forward; turning your head around to look at past mistakes and failures can only slow you down. It's surprising how much distance you can cover when you're only looking forward and in a world full of opportunity, every single inch counts for a lot. 
As an avid Harry Potter fan, I've always been of the opinion that Dumbledore should have instead said "It does not do to dwell on memories and forget to live," instead of dreams, because dreams are the catalysts that set you in motion for action and allow you to truly live.
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