Major Spotlight: Individual Program of Studies

March 20, 2017, by Ramita Kondepudi

Welcome to all the RD admits!!! As you begin to explore what Mudd can do for you, here’s a look at one of our more non-traditional majors: the Individual Program of Studies (IPS).

Harvey Mudd has 8 “standard” majors: Math, Computer Science (CS), Joint CS-Math, Biology, Chemistry, Joint Chem-Bio, Mathematical Computational Biology, Physics, and Engineering. We also have the option of majoring off-campus at any of the other Claremont Colleges as well as pursuing an Individual Program of Studies (IPS). An IPS is a great chance for students to explore specialized, interdisciplinary fields that they’re more interested in.
Hana Schiff’18 is thrilled about her decision to IPS in physical biochemistry.

How did you decide on doing an IPS? What was the process of deciding what you were going to IPS in like?

“I decided on doing an IPS because I realized that merging my interests was actually possible. I was always fascinated by quantum physics, but I also always wanted to answer biological questions from a molecular standpoint.”
Hana thought she’d first try the CS route, especially since so many people at Mudd take CS as the basis for interdisciplinary work: “I assumed that I would need to know how to model in order to get deeper understandings of both of these subjects. However, Mudd doesn’t really offer these kinds of CS courses. I took intro to computational biology and realized it’s not my cup of tea, so I reconsidered.”

With the help of her advisor, physics Prof. Gerbode, Hana realized she had a “passion for quantum, molecular biology, and chemistry.” While Hana originally thought it might be too much to add on chemistry to the IPS, she’s doing great. Below are some of the pictures she’s shared from Carbons Lab.

She also does research with chemistry Prof. Van Hecke, measuring dye aggregation using light refraction:

Are you happy with your decision to IPS?

“I’m overjoyed with my decision to IPS! Understanding quantum makes me feel like I’m answering the question “where am I?”, whereas the molecular biology aspect makes me feel like I’m answering the “who am I?” question. Ultimately, I hope one day to be able to study quantum behavior in biological systems, but this is a great start for now!”
What are some of the classes an IPS in physical biochemistry entails?

“So far I’ve only had theory and electives. This semester (junior spring) is lab intensive though, as I will be taking two labs (Modern lab and Carbons lab) and I will be participating in research in the chemistry department with professor van Hecke. I will have one more lab, and the rest of my classes are theory. I prefer that though!”

Big Quantum lab!

Where will your IPS take you next?

“I’m interested in studying quantum behavior in biological systems, as I have a hunch that some of the phenomenal wonders of nature may be explainable by some quantum phenomena. I think it’s very powerful to look at the small building blocks of a large system.”
Advice for the pre-frosh considering an IPS?
Hana says
“If you are even considering IPS:
– don’t drop this option ever, if you ever have more than one field of interest, or if your interests are interdisciplinary.
– think about how what you want to do doesn’t fit into pre-existing Mudd majors/projects etc.
– talk to people (professors and upperclassmen!); people have good ideas.
– remember that an IPS is not a double or triple major
– an IPS could really help you feel more in control of what you are doing.”
And if you think you’re set on an IPS:
“Plan out the courses you wish to take, and check (and write down) the prerequisites for each course, as you will be disappointed sometimes. 😞 Have other options in case something doesn’t work out. Ask heads of departments what classes will actually be offered in the next few semesters/years, and ask them if classes you are interested in are known for conflicting with another major’s course(s). Don’t forget you can take a certain number of classes at Keck or another school! 😊 And don’t forget you can pass a fail class that isn’t in your major!”

Lots of Mudders find that an IPS is a great solution to the non-problem of having too many interests! The interdisciplinary nature of most IPS majors provides scope to look at certain fields in ways we may not cover in the other majors. And of course, as a Mudder, you know you’ll be taking the core curriculum along with everyone else, regardless of your major. With the breadth and variety of core, you have the foundation required to delve deep into the complex problems you seek to solve with your IPS.

A big thanks to Hana for all the IPS insight 🙂

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