07 Jan Studying across the borders of the Faculty

Laburnum trees in springtime at OudemanhuispoortThe Oudemanhuispoort complex is a maze, but a marvellous maze indeed. Image: Tom Hendriks

Some people have always seen their whole future in front of them. They had a favourite subject in high school, they wanted to study that subject, they do so now, and after that, they want to obtain a PhD in that field. I think that’s great – exactly knowing what you want often comes with a high level of dedication and saves you a lot of stress of having to choose.
But not everyone’s quite like that. Maybe you’ve chosen to apply for an unconventional minor within your Bachelor’s curriculum, or applied for a Master’s programme that does not perfectly fit your Bachelor’s degree. You might even think of following a course or two outside the faculty of science. In this post, I’ll share my experiences about trying to blend in with the Humanities students of the Master’s in Musicology. If you’re also curious about what you’ll find when studying beyond the borders of Science Park 904, this post is for you! You will discover that there are places in this world that are even more remote than the G-building.

Amazed in the maze

Before leaving Science Park 904 for other UvA locations, you’ll need to know where you’re going. If you don’t, you might end up alone in the beautiful bathrooms at Herengracht 286, which have this year been left behind by the Department of Art History. My interest in music cognition made me curious to see what musicology could offer and I ended up at the Oudemanhuispoort complex.

The gate of the Oudemanhuispoort complex at Kloveniersburgwal.

Enter the gate of your upcoming humanities knowledge! Image: Tom Hendriks

Being in a study programme that ensures a lot of interdisciplinary activities (the Master’s in logic), I might have cheated a little on the game by already having set foot on the Oudemanhuispoort complex before. That is, I already knew what it’s like to completely lose my way in that friggin’ maze. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful building at a great location, but finding a way out is harder than solving the P versus NP problem.

But everything else was different from what I had experienced before, and attending my first lecture of Music, Travel and Identity really amazed me (I also followed the excellent course History of Musicology: Music and Science in Early Modernity that makes your Science Park skills come in very handy, but hopefully that one will be taught again next year).

What it’s like

So what was so different about this course? First off, the weekly meetings were more like discussions than lectures: everyone gets to contribute and learn from each other. It’s weirdly beautiful how literally nothing is accepted as a fact, and every concept or notion is open for discussion.

Does that mean that you can just bluff your way through it by some smooth talk and then it’s easy-peasy? Hell no. Studying humanities requires a whole different way of thinking, and to be honest with you, I found myself outsmarted by all those students around me. They were way more sensible to the fact that there are always individual factors that awfully complicate all discussions that involve real human beings. That was frustrating, but also refreshing; even though some discussions got stuck without arriving at conclusions, I did gain a lot of insight by the discussions themselves.

Fortunately, this difficulty doesn’t mean that all your knowledge and insight from natural sciences is in vain when you face the friendly teacher who asks for your opinion. Being a Science Park kid, you’re probably great at formal thinking and have no problems with abstraction. You’re even better at tackling problems you’ve never seen before, just by combining all the knowledge you have. You’re smart. Furthermore, just like those sensible students around you there, you have learned to be conscientious when designing an experiment, to reflect critical on whether what you observe is really what you think it is. You just have to use those skills in different ways. For me, that wasn’t always easy, but it was certainly worth my effort.

What studying is about

Do you wonder if it’s also worth your effort? That depends on you, of course. I really loved to learn more about music in a cultural way and research things I never could have researched at the Faculty of Science, such as New York, or pop music history. If you also have these kind of interests, I’d greatly encourage you to consider looking across those borders. For me, it has been enriching beyond my imagination. It made me see what studying really is about for me: exploring the world and learning things you otherwise would not have got in touch with.

Studying at the Oudemanhuispoort is walking out of your lecture room and seeing this: Kloveniersburgwal in late winter light.

Studying at the Oudemanhuispoort is walking out of your lecture room and seeing this! Image: Tom Hendriks.

This doesn’t mean that everyone should immediately leave the Faculty of Science for a course somewhere else. If those courses don’t appeal to you, it’s certainly better to keep growing at our faculty. In the end, it’s about your interests, the things you like to do, and there’s nothing wrong with being a hardcore science junkie. I just want to point out that there’s more out there, and that it is more accessible than you might think.

Or is it? Isn’t it organisationally-wise hard to just follow a random course somewhere? Well, I can’t predict the troubles others might run into, but my experience has been positive. Admittedly, it took a little effort to get in touch with the right people and I was sent from pillar to post a few times, but I found out that people are more than willing to help, as long as you make clear what you want. Of course, I’ve been lucky that my study programme is not strict at all and that might be different for you. But if you do find some room in your programme, just try. And don’t forget there’s a mentor or study advisor right there for you (find yours)!

Do you also have experience studying across the borders of the faculty or do you have any questions? Don’t hesitate me know in the comments!


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highly illogical logician in progress / passionate singer with reverb addiction / fanatic dancer to commercial crap / quasi-hipster in fashion expression / involuntary master of meta-dreams / amazingly all-round exact scientist / self-crowned prince of creativity
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