Next semester, I’m taking two government classes. Specifically, I’m taking Decision Theory and the United States Congress (GOV 341M and 370L, if you’re interested). The first one is plausibly related to my major—especially the math side of what I do—but at least at first glance, the second one has no relation whatsoever to what I do.
Actually, at second glance, and third glance, it still has nothing to do with computer science or math.
Which is, despite popular opinion, not actually a bad thing.
One of the best parts about UT is that the common curriculum forces you to take courses in a wide swath of liberal arts fields. To satisfy my visual and performing arts (VAPA) credit, I’m taking Art History. For my English credit, I learned about American authors throughout the history of our country. And now, for my breadth requirement for Dean’s Scholars, I’m taking these two government courses.
I probably complain about having to memorize whether Botticelli or Bellini painted The Birth of Venus (it’s Botticelli, by the way) more often than anyone else in the department, but I’m honestly extremely happy that I’m going to leave with not just an education on the ins and outs of pointer arithmetic, but on the nature of the Florentine art scene in the early 1400s. Yes, it’s not going to help me figure out which data structure to use when implementing a cache in a programming interview, but it’s always useful to have this kind of general knowledge available when you need it.
And more than that, the coolest parts of studies in the natural sciences are when they intersect not just with each other, but with the liberal arts. Computational Linguistics, for example, is a fascinating field of study that uses computational techniques to further the field of linguistics. In fact, one of the most amazing discoveries in finance—the Black and Scholes equation, which is what’s used to price option premiums—was only made because its creators were made aware of the heat transfer equation in physics, and realized that it could be applied to the problem of pricing options.
UT also makes it remarkably easy to take classes in different disciplines. In fact, it’s often harder to take classes in the natural sciences if you’re not in the college, since most classes require declaring a major in that department (for example, most upper-division CS courses are restricted to CS majors); on the other hand, most liberal arts courses are open to anyone with more than six hours in that area, which for the most part you get by taking the common core classes. (For example, the two government classes I’m taking both require six hours of government classes, which is satisfied by GOV 310L and 312L, both of which are required by the common core.)
So, as registration swings around, start looking outside the college for interesting classes. Some courses—especially in the College of Fine Arts—might be trickier to register for, but especially in the College of Liberal Arts, six hours of credit and a friendly email to the professor of the class will get you in fairly easily. And the thing is, this is probably the best time in your life to take these liberal arts classes. With CS, you can do pretty well by taking online classes or reading a textbook by yourself, but with the liberal arts, it’s often far more useful and productive to learn material in the company of other people, especially people who share your interests. So take advantage of what the university has to offer you—you never know what you might find.