My Previous Life as a Dual Degree Student by Jarita Ng

College was a blast. I started off college at the University of Michigan majoring in music performance. I declared my second degree in biology in my junior year. For the remainder of undergraduate I took 20–22 credits worth of classes each semester in order to graduate in five years. Pursuing a dual degree was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

There is so much in so many disciplines that is worth knowing! Luckily University of Michigan is a great school, and there are a huge variety of classes to choose from. For my biology degree I took evolution, ecology, microbiology, genetics, animal physiology, biology of mammals, biochemistry, organic and inorganic chemistry, and physics as well as all their lab classes where we did experiments. My favorite experiment was when we brewed beer in microbiology lab and “tested” the product in class (I “tested” the beer for my groupmates, because they were underage). It was done as a daily life example of the usage of microbes, i.e., yeast in beer for fermentation. My classes were all really informative and fun. I see biology as an explanation to the mechanism of life and studying biology as taking a step toward understanding living things. As much as I loved the classes and the labs, I still wanted to do well as a music student. That is where the fun comes in.

My schedule was a little busy, as you can imagine. I had an average of five and a half hours of sleep throughout the semesters. Classes, orchestras, and labs took the time period of 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or sometimes to 7:00 p.m. Then I would have rehearsals—quartet, for my friends’ recitals, or regional orchestras. Homework and studying were a constant. There would be days that I didn’t get to practice. I would consider myself to be lucky if I could get a total of an hour or two of practicing in a day. This leads to . . .

How to do things efficiently to get through dual degree (or in other desperate situations where you constantly run out of time):

1. Prioritize

a. At the beginning of the day, I numbered the tasks that needed to be done that day, with the most important things first, to those that could possibly be done another day. It worked really well for me and was actually fun, as I loved crossing things off the list!

b. In the practice room: I worked on the pieces that needed to be worked on the most. And I practiced only the sections that absolutely needed to be physically practiced first. Nothing tired me out more (and wasted more time) than mindlessly running through sections that I could already play. Note: of course, when time allowed I worked on the whole piece. I used this method for the chunks of thirty minutes of practicing that I could squeeze in between classes/rehearsals to make sure that every minute of my practicing counted.

2. Stay focused

Be in the moment! I only focused on the one thing that I was working on, at that time. It is not a smart use of time and energy to think about what there is to do next. The priority list of the day helped me stay focused—it helped ensure that I didn’t need to worry about having forgotten to do anything.

3. Overlap tasks

This may sound ridiculous: My showers are seven and a half minutes long. I put a kettle of water for tea on the stove, turn on the burner, and hop into the shower. By the time I get out of the shower, the water starts to boil.

Okay, that might be an extreme example. But overlapping can be done in a lot of ways to help save time (I developed this so that I could have more time to practice and/or sleep): studying or mental-practicing while riding on the bus, doing homework in class while waiting for others to finish with in-class examples or quizzes, doing homework during practice or orchestra breaks, studying while food cooks on the stove . . . you name it. When I was taking auditions for graduate schools and was flying frequently I did practice exams for biology and chemistry midterms while waiting to board and when I was on the plane. Kill two birds with one stone.

4. Have fun

Things become a chore only if you make them one! With a packed schedule and a little too many things on the plate, anybody can easily become overwhelmed. As scientific as my undergraduate was, I can provide no citation for this statement: I believe that being frustrated takes up energy. Whenever we get upset about being busy, not being able to play something, or feel exhausted and not spirited, just remember to take a step back and realize that we are doing what we love! (And for me, that included doing homework. I love doing homework. Especially organic chemistry, they are just like puzzles.) Life would be boring without some challenges!! (and microbiology and organic chemistry).

I would live the exact same college life again if I could! It was busy because I decided that I wanted to learn. It was a blast!

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