A heavy wind slams pellets of rain into my kitchen windows. It is dark outside, and I can picture the winter storm ravaging the rural landscape surrounding my house. It’s my favorite time of year; I have the freedom to do just what I love, to explore the depths of my thoughts while the rhythmic sounds of the howling gale provide a beat for my late night workings. It is then just my two dogs, a crackling fire, a dimly lit kitchen, and myself.Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your new intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History...
I love cooking because it is the ultimate form of artistry and expression. I can turn simple ingredients into wonderful creations. I showcase my creativity, my thirst for exploration and innovation; my love for technique and precision. I have total control and freedom to mold my own experience. My unique style comes from a tradition founded in thousands of years of collaboration. The culinary arts are where ingenuity and creativity meet community and tradition. I express my various interests with the workings of my hands.
The first course tonight is a reinvention of my signature dish, The Core of which is an herb-crusted rack of lamb. Tonight, my experiment is to mix The Core with an ethnically diverse set of non-traditional flavors characteristic of dishes from other areas. I explore my interest in the Indian flavor profile by creating a sweet curry sauce that I drizzle on the lamb. The dish melds two opposing flavors into a dynamic and unique, yet well-rounded dish.
As the lamb roasts in the oven, I start to clean up my station, but stop when I notice the price listed on the discarded plastic wrapping for the lamb. Forty-eight dollars! I pause momentarily to conjure up an economic justification for the obscene price. But after a moment, my mind hops from an economic tangent to one on the details of my potential life in academia, considering the finer points of my prospective studies. I start to prepare the next dish, a spaghetti alla carbonara, while I imagine my ideal college and its economics program. I heat a pot of salted water, while the foundations of the program materialize with an emphasis on mathematics. I add a hint of saffron to the water, and the mathematics programs emphasizes an Inquiry Based Learning program in which students engage in a collaborative discourse on mathematical proofs. I combine a mound of flour, three egg yolks, and some water, while I integrate classes with quantitative approaches to social sciences into the program, placing an emphasis on computer science and econometrics. These components are a natural progression of the Python coding and statistical modeling I have engaged in independently.
I go beyond the unoriginal paradigm of plain pasta dough by adding oregano, parsley, and tarragon to the mix. The program goes beyond standard offerings by enabling research opportunities through a student-run economics organization, “Oeconomica.” We’d hold an annual economic research competition, just for fun. The spice in the spaghetti itself is not enough on its own, so I augment it by throwing in a dash of garlic and parsley, just as the program enables high-achieving students to craft a thesis under faculty advisement. Maybe it needs some more kick, so I mince a small red pepper, as the program’s emphasis on highly individualized, interdisciplinary study and research adds to the zest of the base economics department. Research opportunities include those of the Becker Friedman Institute, which integrate public policy and law into a study of specific policies and the price of political uncertainty. Perhaps cayenne would be better, and another research option in the program are the Urban Labs, the only undergraduate research opportunities which allow me to gain hands-on experience in economic research in diverse socioeconomic environments by directly implementing and testing new government policies. Just as these spices will collectively elevate the final dish, these research opportunities collectively allow me to immediately apply the economic models I learn in the classroom to the real-world to drive immediate change.
No carbonara is complete without pancetta, and as the meat sizzles in the stainless-steel pan, I think of how the program would not only satisfy my intellectual curiosity but would create a strong foundation for my future by including a joint Master's degree. The dish is not complete without the finest Parmigiano-Reggiano, just as the program is not complete without workshops in highly specialized research areas that bring academics from all over the world in an exchange of knowledge.
After perfecting the carbonara, I realize that I have made a grave mistake. I scurry to the oven, where I discover the lamb, overcooked as a result of my focus on the carbonara. I think to myself, “How do I salvage this?” I think back to the many times that I have questioned my academic focuses in specific areas; what about my other interests? Economics is one of my passions, but I’ve also fallen in love with astrophysics after taking a three-year track in my high school on it. My college offers an accessible, yet specialized track in astrophysics, perhaps with direct access to world-renowned telescopes that could further my research into the effect of the Shapiro Delay on our measurements of far-away binary star systems and neutron stars.
Then it hits me! I can create a fusion dish by integrating the sweet curry sauce and slices of the lamb with the carbonara to create a succulent umami flavor. That would be weird, combining astrophysics and economics. But in the age of advanced space exploration, where our access to new resources could significantly alter the distribution of capital in our global (or interstellar) economy, is it really that weird?
After meticulously plating, I gaze into the dish. I see my reflection, the labors of my creativity and focus from the past two hours. It pleases me that I have demonstrated my ability to translate my intellectual passions and curiosities into material creations. I have always seen the world in terms of black and white, struggling to understand the nuances, in-between, or the gray. I have always felt confined to either the black or the white in school, never being able to explore my quirky interests or fully indulge my love of learning. But the dish ahead of me, just like my intellectual interests, is different from, yet all oddly complementary, to each other. My last thought before tasting the dish is that I want my college to enable me to explore and embrace the nuances of my intellect and of the world around me. I want to finally see the gray.
There’s some kick. The intense flavor of lamb, followed by the tang of garlic. Not bad. Now onto the next dish.
As a foreword, I promise that I will keep the amount of ratoric in my essay to a minimum. Please do bear with me, though, as this piece might seem a bit ratical at first. Hopefully, the tail I tell isn't too long.EDIT: I will add one note, I wanted to write my Why UChicago essay in a very subtle way. There is a cliche of “if you drop your essay on the floor of your school, your classmates should be able to figure out that you wrote the essay.” I not only wanted to achieve that, but I also wanted to achieve that same effect for the college, as in, “if I drop my essay on the floor of my school, my classmates should be able to tell it’s about UChicago.” I wanted to do that while never saying the words “University of Chicago” once in the essay.
For decades, squirrels had found a luxurious lifestyle amongst the trees of Hyde Park. Over time, word of the squirrels’ life of grandeur at the University began to spread. Envious of the over four thousand trees on-campus and the “exotic and expensive pecans and walnuts” made available by evolutionary biology Professor Jerry Coyne in his lab, rats from across the city scurried to U-Chicago to join in on the fun. As more rats began to flood the campus, conflict between them and the squirrels broke out over the scarcity of food, shelter, and attention. As a result, the University created a new department: interrational relations. As the first program of its kind anywhere, the major takes an unprecedented interdisciplinary approach to answer a whole host of questions relating to rats and their influence on society.
Psychology lies at the core of any interrational relations curriculum. The class that immediately stands out to me is “PSYC 28850: The Ratological Nature of Psychological Problems.” During this course, students explore the fundamental, yet complicated question, “Why do rats voluntarily run on wheels?” To help answer this question, American psychologist Julia Basso conjectures that rats engage in wheel running because doing so provides a strong motivation towards reaching some desired goal. Perhaps the cliché image of a rodent running perpetually on a spinning wheel is an allusion to human life in general: a student waking up at six in the morning everyday for school, a high school senior writing their fourteenth college application on the eve of its deadline, a middle-aged person driving in suburban traffic to their nine-to-five job. Just like a mischief of rats racing away on a wheel, humans live in a perpetual cycle fueled by an intrinsic motivation of reaching some far-off goal that is never actually realized, but yet continues to incentivize us to “keep running” until our death. “PHIL 22500: Ratological and Cultural Evolution” studies the philosophical implications of this rat psychology.
By integrating sociology into the curriculum, the two bookends of social behavior theory of rats are explored by students in immense depth. In “SOCI 20175: The Sociology of Deviant Rat Behavior,” students study how rats shape a “culture of fear” in humans through the perception of deviance. For example, sociologist Colin Jerolmack argues that modern civilizations have created boundaries between culture and nature. Society problematizes rodents (or similar pests, such as pigeons) who transgress these barriers; they are not portrayed as a cohabitator in the world, but rather as the obverse to the “ideal metropolis.” This relabeling leads to the implicit association of rats with evilness or disdain. It has also spurred the creation of new markets meant to exterminate the pests.
Investigations of the influence of rats in history utilize an interdisciplinary approach to integrate this pillar of rat sociology. For example, “HIST 17503: Science, Culture, and Society in Rat Civilization III: History of Medicine” considers the role of rodents in the spread of epidemic and disease throughout history. “HIST 18303: Rat Colonizations III” explores the bizarre phenomenon of how armies of bamboo rats destroy the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur in waves of destruction that come every fifty years. (As an aside, students will have the choice of taking “LLSO 26804” Insurgency, Raterrorism, and Civil War,” an elective from the Law, Letters, and Society program that emphasizes the ratification of post-conflict nest building and peace treaties, taught by political science Professor and terrorism expert Robert Pape.)
Conversely, “SOCI 20103: Social Stratification” explores a more positive approach towards rats’ influence on society. In this class, students investigate research on prosocial behavior exhibited by rats. Students will have the opportunity to work alongside U-Chicago’s very own psychology researcher, Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal. Her groundbreaking 2011 research discovered patterns of altruism in rats: most rats in a controlled experiment would help free their cohorts from cages to ensure equal access to a store of chocolate chips. Interrational relations takes this positive outlook of prosocial rodent behavior and applies it to a framework for investigations into the distribution of scarce resources amongst humans, or economics. “ECON 23620: Inequality: A Perspective from Rats” critiques the economic inequality rampant in the status quo, and pushes students to derive potential solutions to our unequal distribution of resources from the behavior of rats. Moreover, “ECON 20710: Game Theory: A Formal Approach Derived from Rats” stresses the importance of not “ratting out” others in a situation mirroring the prisoner’s dilemma. It also builds upon economics Professor Mas-Colell’s theory of general equilibrium to reconcile fundamental macro and microeconomic theory with the irrationality of actors in markets.
On a personal level, the interrational relations major offers an interdisciplinary approach to explore my wide range of admittedly quirky interests. Instead of solely focusing on the pre-professional implications of rats through the obligatory Extermination Studies major found elsewhere, the University’s program allows me to examine the deeper meaning and role of rats in society. The challenging, multifaceted curriculum strikes the perfect balance between establishing relevancy to the real world and satisfying my intellectual curiosity.
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