Double Major, Double Trouble
By Carly Lanning
If Joseph Van Dorn had a business card it would read: Biology major, English major, research assistant to HIV studies, CHAMPS peer educator with the CARE Office, Writer’s Circle president and marathon runner. Embodying the college experience of three students fused into one, Joe is a man of many talents and passions. A double major in two completely opposite fields of Biology and English, Joe is a modern renaissance man, adept in both the sciences and the humanities, participating in groups all around campus. Ask him to choose between the two majors, impossible. Ask him if he would change anything about his intense workload, not a thing.
Coming into UC Irvine as a biology major, Joe spent freshman year balancing biology classes, chemistry classes and Humcore (Humanities Core). It was during the final days of Humcore that Joe realized he didn’t want to stop taking English classes.
He then decided to declare English.
Declaring a double major is one thing, but making it through the commitment is another. Joe’s quarterly class load ranges from 18 to 23 units and four to six classes taken during the summer.
“I am motivated through this because I can’t choose between either [major],” he said. “I am so close now to graduation and I just really want to finish in four years like I said I would two years ago. I planned it all out at one point and it was terrifying to see the requirements all laid out. I feel like the finish line is really close and I want to get into something that accommodates both majors. The hard thing has been finding something that can accommodate my intertwining passions and I haven’t found many majors like me. I am having to lay my own ground work for where I am going. It is interesting but scary to do.”
Juggling full quarters of classes, Joe finds that his two majors complement one another and allow him the unique insight from both worlds of study.
“I feel like these two majors have allowed me to see things from both perspectives,” he said. “I can use skills that I get from each major. For example, a lot of people have trouble with lab reports and getting the grammatical stuff down and how to present their information. I learned all that from English. Being a bio major has taught me to be disciplined, practical and straightforward. [Inversely], having that science knowledge background is interesting to add to my creative writing. I do creative writing, and [bio] gives me material for that.”
Graduating in the spring, Joe is beginning to look past the finish line of graduation toward the future. Determined not to sacrifice either of his two passions, Joe is creating his own niche.
“My dream job would be in Germany working with a group that edits science papers,” he said. “Ultimately I want to start a company that would act as a job agency for humanities-minded people. I feel like humanities is losing a lot of respect lately and [I want to create] an organization whose sole purpose is to get humanities people into a job where they can improve and learn.”
When not in the classroom, Joe splits his time between research and working as president of the Writer’s Circle, the creative writing club on campus. Since freshman year of high school, Joe has been interested in working with HIV and found a perfect niche on the UCI campus.
“I really feel like research is a great place for me to explore my biological interest with hands on experiments and working with professionals,” he said. “At first I was just doing research and nothing that was calling to my humanities side so I helped my friend found the Writer’s Circle last year. I feel like I have joined a lot of organizations but few have so much appealed to the soul like these two.”
A balance of science and English, practicality and passion, the left and right sides of the brain, Joe reminds us never to compromise, never to stop trying new things and never accept anything to be impossible.