Undergraduate Student Blog, Speaking of Princeton

Undergraduate Student Blog

Author: Rachel Newman ’16

Paramus, New Jersey • Psychology View Profile

Getting out of My Comfort Zone

While staying in my major

I never realized sticking so staunchly to my major would compel me so strongly to go outside of the box. I can sometimes be a one-track kind of person, and as such every semester I’ve taken a psychology course or two in an effort to keep up a sense of consistency and common thread. This has been a rewarding experience, but I am aware that this attitude could have been enormously limiting. Luckily for me, the diversity within the psychology department doesn't let me hide behind my major. The options that I have been given in the context of my field of interest have exposed me to opportunities that I may have otherwise been too shy to consider.

For example, last night, at first to my horror, the graduate student leading the lab for my "Neural Networks" class (computer models of brain activity, pretty cool stuff) announced that we would be writing our own code within the neural network software that we use. The software's main point is to build a bunch of layers that process information and attempt to simulate brain behavior within that framework. All of the basic commands in the program are already displayed as a series of buttons. That doesn’t mean it’s easy or intuitive for me, but I've become pretty comfortable with the way the software is laid out by this point. 

BUT…if you want to get fancy, which apparently they think I want, you can abandon the pre-made settings and go behind the scenes. This allows you to get more creative in designing a project, which I am going to be doing later this semester, rather than just running prepackaged simulations as we have been doing so far in lab. And so, last night I did some magic and turned a bunch of I-don’t-know-computer-jargon-but-it-looked-like-letters-and-numbers-to-me into something concrete. And it felt pretty good.

The decision to expose myself to computer science has been the ultimate struggle for me. As you may have gathered, it’s certainly not an area in which I feel at home. This terrain feels foreign to me, I won't lie.  I am just not a quantitative person.  

But I want to model brain behavior, because that’s awesome. And I think it’s even more awesome that I’m picking up some computer science along the way, because that is not something I thought I was cut out for.

To my pleasant surprise, so far, so good.