During Winter break after my first quarter at UCLA, I made a decision that would later change the course of my entire academic, personal, and professional career.
When I got accepted to UCLA as an undeclared student, my brother helped me browse the list of majors to find one that would most fit my interests. At the time, I was intrigued by the major descriptions for English, Anthropology, Comparative Literature, and Sociology. However, I was open to learning about other majors as well.
In my first quarter of UCLA – Fall 2011 – (I’m beginning to feel ancient), I took an introductory Sociology and Introductory Statistics course, in hopes of declaring the Sociology major. During Winter break, however, I continued to search for majors and found myself pondering around on the UCLA Psychology Department website. I began to compare Sociology with Psychology. Although the two disciplines overlap and go hand in hand, there are some distinctions between the two, which ultimately led to my decision to declare the Psychology major. The primary difference is that Psychology encompasses the study of the mind of an individual or a small group, whereas Sociology revolves around the study of societies and cultures. Both, however, can be equated to the study of people.
I had an idea of what the field of Psychology was about, as I had taken AP Psychology in 10th grade, but something kept me from officially deciding to declare the pre-major. To be completely honest, I was afraid of taking the science, research, and statistics pre-requisite courses. That night, though, I was feeling ambitious, excited, and confident. I felt capable, and at that moment, nothing could have stopped me from my decision. I spoke to my parents and my brother, and they supported me in any direction I wanted to go.
So, for the following quarter, I enrolled in Life Science and Physics. What was I thinking, right?
I must admit though — these courses were, in fact, challenging. But I had no choice but to go through with them in order to get to the final destination of studying something I was truly interested in – Psychology.
Let’s go back a few steps now. You might be thinking, well, her experience with choosing a major is pretty lame. Why is she even writing this blog?
Here’s why: Regardless of how I chose my major, it was only after I began to take my Psychology courses that I truly met my major. Psychology is one of the most versatile majors. That is, psychological theories and concepts can be applied to every and any situation. In order to make that statement more concrete, I’ve listed some examples of how my courses have helped me in my own life. It’s a good thing I treated each lecture as a therapy session.
I recently took Cognitive Psychology, which turned out to be my favorite course at UCLA. The professor dedicated two whole lectures to discuss the ways in which memory works in the human brain (he is a memory researcher, so that did not surprise me). Without going into the nitty-gritty details of the mechanisms of memory, one of the big picture take-home messages was that sleep affects memory drastically. Knowing this, I decided to make sleep a priority and made sure that I got approximately 8 hours every night. Within weeks, maybe even days, I noticed changes. I would say, without a doubt, that this change was one of the major reasons why my grades improved. Suddenly, I remembered everything for my exams…
Let’s move on to Health Psychology now. From this area of Psychology, I was exposed to research that explained some of the effective strategies that individuals can use to accomplish their health goals. For instance, rather than saying that my New Year’s Resolution is to “lose weight and exercise,” I began to say something like, “I will only eat desserts on Fridays and Sundays.” In that way, I made my goal concrete, specific, and thus, more achievable. Trust me, this minor change helped me drastically.
What about Mind-Body Interactions? This was yet another interesting and helpful course. One of the major lessons I learned from this class was the power of the mind. There was a lecture in which the professor discussed methods of meditation, as well as its benefits. To understand how this helped me, here is a Facebook status update I had while taking the course:
“After a very long night of constant pain from having the flu, I was unable to get much sleep. At around 6 am, after various methods of reducing the pain, I remembered that I had learned about pain meditation from one of my psych classes. I searched on YouTube for pain meditation videos, listened to them, and voila, I was able to finally fall asleep through the pain. Oh, the power of the mind over the body…” (March 12, 2014)
There was also that Social Cognitive Neuroscience class that taught me how our brains are wired to be social and to connect with others. With this knowledge, I have been able to establish and maintain healthy relationships with my family and friends.
And finally, here is an optical illusion that I learned about in Sensation & Perception. This still amazes me until today – 2 years after taking the class.
These are some of the MANY ways in which my major has helped me and allowed me to help those around me.
All of these courses ultimately led to my career interests in helping individuals, whether it be students, children, or more generally, individuals who are having any difficulties in their lives. The same way Psychology helped me, I believe it can help everyone and anyone. There is always room for improvement. There is always room to grow.
And that kids, is how I met my major.
Cynthia Kossan | UCLA Career Center Peer Advisor
B.A. Psychology | Minor: Anthropology (2015)