Sunday, March 12, 2017

Science in Fiction (#26): Undeclared by Julianna Keyes

Welcome to this month's Science in Fiction feature! Science in Fiction is a meme I created to showcase the wonderful aspects of science in Young Adult fiction novels. For more information and previous feature, check out the "Science in Fiction" tag!

This month, I'm featuring Undeclared by Julianna Keyes!

Undeclared is a New Adult contemporary romance novel, and definitely not the type of book you might expect to see featured on my Science in Fiction posts. But, as its title states, it's a book about a guy who is undeclared, in terms of his program of study in college. In the end, he chooses sociology as his major (if I remember correctly). But he spends the duration of the novel with an undeclared major, which is a good metaphor for many aspects of his life - undeclared.

Today, I'm taking things in a little bit of a different direction. I'm not going to talk about current events or a really important environmental issue. I'm going to talk about something more personal - my major in college.

As many of you know, I'm a senior undergraduate, set to graduate from The Johns Hopkins University in May. I have two majors - environmental engineering and Spanish. While my Spanish major isn't super sciencey-, my environmental engineering major obviously.

The book blogging community is inundated with people who have studied or are studying the liberal areas - English, creative writing, communications, economics, business, etc. And there is nothing wrong with that! But it's gets kind of lonely when you're the only engineering student or engineer, of the people you know or that know you. 

Let me tell you a little about how I chose environmental engineering. I didn't know I wanted to be an engineer until junior year of high school. My sister is eleven months older than me, and when I was a junior in high school, she was a senior in high school, and applying to colleges. She wanted to do biomedical engineering. That was when I first really understood what engineering was - when she broke it down for me. I'd always been interested in geosciences, chemistry, and the natural environment, and so environmental engineering really fit. On paper.

Johns Hopkins has an excellent environmental engineering program. I applied to schools specifically for their environmental engineering undergraduate program, and Johns Hopkins had the best one (so I was really, really happy when I was accepted). I've learned so much about environmental engineering, and after nearly four years of taking classes in the program, I know I made the right choice to pursue environmental engineering.

You might ask, what is environmental engineering? What sorts of things would someone majoring in environmental engineering do? Good questions. Environmental engineering is the branch of engineering that seeks to maintain the environment while also promoting human health. We must consider the environment while trying to maximize human benefit, which involves a lot of creative thinking and design.

Areas of environmental engineering include:

- Wastewater treatment
- Solid and hazardous waste management
- Air pollution treatment and management
- Water quality, supply, treatment
- Stormwater management
- Environmental impact assessment
- Ecology and microbial ecology
- Ecotoxicology
- Geomorphology and stream restoration
- Energy systems 

... and I could go on and on.

My focus area is environmental engineering science, so I've taken a lot of chemistry classes (environmental inorganic chemistry, aquatic chemistry, etc.). I thought I had it all figured out, because I knew what I was interested in (environmental chemistry), and I knew what I was good at (environmental chemistry). 

But... I'm going into a field of engineering that isn't quite environmental engineering! I'm going into water resources engineering, which is a type of hydraulic engineering, which (in this case) is a type of civil engineering. Neat, right? Engineering is so interdisciplinary, and I'm more than qualified to go into certain areas of civil engineering.

I suppose I don't really have a point to all of this, or a real takeaway or message. But you'll notice that I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to major in, in high school. Even applying to colleges, I was pretty set on environmental engineering, but I was actually more interested in chemical engineering, initially. And then I had no idea what kind of job I wanted, up until the summer before senior year. And when I did figure it out, it ended up being in an area that is completely different from what I thought I would go into (hydraulic engineering, vs. environmental chemistry). So... it's okay not to know yet. It's okay to want to change your mind, but it's also okay to want to stick it out. 

I'm so glad that I'm majoring in environmental engineering (and not chemical engineering, or something else). I'm very happy with my choice of major (majors!), and I'm really proud of the work I'll be doing. People often think that doctors and nurses are heroes - and they are. But so are engineers, because without engineers, none of us and nothing would be here. 

To those with STEM degrees - how did you get into STEM? Did you know all along, or did you change your mind often? To those not in STEM, is there is a STEM career you've always thought was really cool?


  1. I am just trying to see straight after you dazzled me with all that science talk. My undergraduate degree is in Chemical Engineering. I loved science and math, I was good at science and math, and I always read that there was a demand for people in engineering, so, I thought there would be a job at the end of the four years. I was practical. Engineering school was hard. I watched all my sorority sisters going out all the time, while I was studying, and I was jealous. If I had known I would never work as an engineer, I would have picked a much easier major.
    Sam @ WLABB

  2. Ooh, I love this post! Thanks so much for sharing about your passions!! I'm also in a STEM field as a math major and I discovered my love of it in college. :)

  3. I think its so awesome about your major and what you want to build a career on. I agree that its rare to see Engineering majors for book bloggers. In fact, I think you are the first one that I know of. And its one of the most challenging career too so you go girl.

  4. I think it's awesome that you have such a great list of what you can do, your possibilities seem endless. It's always good when you are actually enjoying what you are doing also :D makes it interesting to study

  5. Thanks for sharing some more about yourself Alyssa - and I personally think that the takeaway message is a good one! We are allowed to change our minds and go for what we want! I first started my university career with the intentions of graduating with a Bach. of Education (Primary) and ended up changing completely to BSc - IT Management. I just wasn't enjoying what I was doing and IT Management was always an interest of mine as well and I'm so glad that I DID change at the end of the day. Life takes us on many different paths sometimes!

    I'll be excited to see more about your engineering life!

  6. Great post! I love how your spun the topic from Undeclared since going into college so many people do go Undeclared. It is great that you found such a passion for engineering and awesome that you found a great job doing something you love! Good luck!

  7. When I was really little I wanted to be a neurosurgeon, and I was really into concussions and their impact on the brain (I played a lot of contact sports, haha). But I realized pretty quickly that I wasn't *actually* that into science, and I was more into the arts. That said...I do sometimes wonder what it'd be like if I'd decided to become Dr. Danya! ;)

    It's always awesome to hear about your engineering degree Alyssa, because your passion for it totally shines through. I hope civil engineering works out well for you! :)

  8. Such an interesting post :D Thank you so much for sharing Alyssa. <3 You are amazing for being interested in all of this :) I wouldn't be able to focus on it all, haha. But so so interesting :)


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