Interdisciplinary Musings

Category Student Voices

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Nikhil Dharmaraj Class of '23
Authored on March 03, 2021

Article

The case for studying many things in your time at Harvard...

When I applied to Harvard, I had a vague idea of my concentration interests, but more than that, I knew I wanted to study more than just one thing. The prospect of spending all my working hours writing proof after proof sounded exhausting, as did purely reading and writing every day. The ideal vision would be to dip my toes in a whole smattering of intellectual interests, drinking it all in. I distinctly remember imagining myself in college and thinking to myself with disdain: disciplinary boundaries don’t make sense anyways...

Now, as a sophomore at Harvard, I proudly do just that, as a joint concentrator in History & Literature (Modern World Track) and Computer Science with a secondary degree in South Asian Studies. I spend as much time coding in Python as I do reading about decolonial movements in the Global South, and I would not have it any other way. The flexibility of my academic program has been an intellectual challenge and blessing at the same time. In the last year, I have simultaneously taken MIT 6.840 (Theory of Computation), HISTSCI 280 (Science and New Technologies in South Asia, Latin America, and Africa), and COMPLIT 171 (Counter-Imperialism and Asian-African Literatures), and I’ve received graduation credit for it all. Although I’ve only recently declared my path of study, I have been fortunate enough to have mentorship that encourages and fosters my interdisciplinary passions: I’m currently working on a CS 91R (Independent Research) project, jointly advised by a researcher from the Computer Science department as well as a lecturer from History & Literature, and I would not have it any other way.

Harvard Yard in the autumn.

Harvard Yard, straddling many of the main academic buildings on campus, in the fall. Nikhil Dharmaraj

Joint concentrations, special concentrations, secondaries, citations — it’s a lot of lingo. However, with a little bit of planning work, you can mold the perfect combination of these various academic programs to your interests. As I head into the latter half of my college career, my most salient piece of intellectual advice: my senior-year-of-high-school self was actually right. Disciplinary boundaries don’t make sense! Knowledge exists everywhere, and nothing is in a vacuum. I have found that a common mindset among undergraduates is that exploring many fields will decrease one’s ability to gain expertise in one, almost as if forays into other disciplines contaminate the purity and decrease the value of one degree. But it’s actually the other way around: there is so much fruit to be gained in the synthesis of different fields — in reading, in writing, in painting, in coding, in filmmaking, in problem-setting. Do each, any, all of these things on their own side-by-side, and then combine them together to discover something even greater. 

Luckily, Harvard provides the apparatus to explore in these authentic and exciting ways: so use them! However, even if you choose not to pursue a joint concentration or a secondary, absolutely take classes outside of your discipline. The course catalog on my.harvard is quite literally never-ending, so really delve into exciting searches at the start of each semester. Go to advising sessions for departments you would never get a degree from, and show up to random workshops at one of Harvard’s many diverse research centers. Even if you are sure what you want to study, I promise that you will graduate Harvard as a better engineer, writer, lawyer, advocate, whatever it is really, for it. And, who knows? Maybe somewhere along the way, you’ll find that you actually want to be the first astrophilosopher, or chemist-anthropologist, or history-and-literature/south-asian-studies-technologist :)

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  • Academics
  • First-Year
  • Research

Nikhil Dharmaraj Class of '23

Hi! My name is Nikhil Dharmaraj (he/him/his), and I'm a junior jointly concentrating in History & Literature (Modern World Track) and Computer Science, with a secondary degree in South Asian Studies.

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