Another school year is upon us. College students are deciding on classes, majors, extracurricular activities, and eventually, what to do after college. STEM majors are popular among Asian students, but have you considered a non-STEM major? History, Philosophy, or Art?
Last week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christina Tang. She is a graduate in Art History from the University of Hong Kong and an incoming graduate student at the University of Chicago. In 2018, Christina co-founded the Artrip (wechat ID: theartrip), a startup dedicated to promoting art for the masses. While most art organizations are elitist, the Artrip aims to make art more accessible. They build communities and offer art-related content online, tours, and gatherings offline.
Her journey from a non-STEM major to entrepreneurship shows that non-STEM majors don’t limit your opportunities and social impact. In this interview, Christina shared with me her college experience, startup work, and advice to non-STEM students.
Q: Why did you decide to major in a non-STEM field? Why art history?
A: Actually, I started out in college as a biochemistry major! But I have always loved art and preferred being in a creative environment rather than a meticulous lab. To me, art history has a great balance between emotion and logic. You need to use your senses to engage with the artwork. At the same time, you also need critical thinking to substantiate your hypothesis. Moreover, the small classroom setting allowed me to voice my opinions without being judged as right or wrong.
But to be honest, no matter what you choose, you will always encounter obstacles and hardship. In those inevitable sleepless nights, what keeps me going forward? The thought that at least I’m not suffocating in a lab staring at Petri dishes!
Q: How did your family react to your decision to major in art history? Were they supportive, and if not, how did you deal with the situation?
A: You simply can’t change parents overnight. They probably are not able to change you either, right? But it’s always better to follow your heart than to listen to someone else and end up blaming them for the rest of your life.
Q: Looking back to your college years, would you change anything?
A: I probably wouldn't have taken any biochemistry classes at all! However, if you are undecided, I do think it is wise to double major in a ‘practical’ major and an ‘idealistic’ one in the humanities. If I could do it all over again, I would probably pick economics and art history, just as a Plan B.
Q: What college extracurricular activities did you participate in?
A: My most important extracurricular actually had very little to do with art history. During my sophomore year, I founded an outdoor sports club called XGravity. We organized local and overseas outdoor sports trips for students. The trips ranged from biking to Mount Kilimanjaro expeditions! I really enjoy the experience of starting something from zero. Watching how my student club became more influential on campus each year was indelible.
Moreover, to some extent, I also wanted to break the stereotypes of women not being as self-sufficient in nature, and Asians being less athletic. Besides XGravity, I also joined the school rugby team for fun and interned at the Asia Art Archive.
Q: Was there an established career path for art history majors similar to STEM and finance majors, who typically do a few internships in college and then get a full-time job in their industries?
A: Not really. Some art history graduates work for museums, auction houses or galleries, or get a Ph.D. But for those out there who want to work in finance and consulting, you can still do that as an art history major! You don’t necessarily need to major in finance to get into those fields. Even if you end up in an industry that seems to be irrelevant to your interests, there are many cross-disciplinary opportunities to explore.
The abundance of choices can really be a double-edged sword, though. It really takes a lot of courage to major in non-STEM fields, because you need to figure out the right path for yourself, if not create completely new paths.
Q: Speaking of business and art, let’s talk about your startup Artrip.
A: In short, the Artrip is a platform that provides art experiences both online and offline. Our online platform focuses on art-related content, mostly articles on art exhibits, books and travel destinations. We also invite people in the art world to talk about their experiences in our online sharing sessions.
Our offline platform aims to build tight-knit communities interested in exploring art through experiences. We organize museum tours, gatherings and trips to see art around the world. The Artrip believes that art should not be only available to the few. We hope to make art more approachable and attainable.
Q: What does your job entail and how does your previous training prepare you for it?
A: I am in charge of the online content department and our social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Wechat. Obviously, the intensive writing training in my art history major has benefited me greatly. But really, writing is the easiest part. The more complex side of the job is to come up with strategies and new directions for our company. What prepared me, I guess, is my experience founding and running student clubs in high school and college. The process is quite similar, only expanded in scale. It’s all about bringing ideas into reality, solving problems one at a time.
Q: Do you have any other advice for college students?
A: Nike is absolutely right -- “Just Do It.” The most important thing is to not only plan but also carry out your plan. Put yourself out there, create, build, experiment. College is about finding out who you really are and what really matters to you. Don’t be afraid to “waste your time” doing stuff that “doesn't really matter.” Everything will be part of your story one day. Even if it doesn’t, at least you had fun!
Last but not least, don’t let anyone make you think you are less than them! Despite what people may say, I do not believe that there is a hierarchy of majors. Yes, we may get paid less, it’s much harder for us to get a visa, sometimes it may even seem like nobody appreciates our brains or expertise. But don’t let your value be bound or defined by existing positions or salary levels! If you can’t find a place in this world, then go create one.
This interview was edited for brevity.