Who? Suzanne Stevenhagen (1999)
Studied: Bachelor's in Natural and Social Sciences.
First job: babysitting for neighbours.
Favourite place at the UvA: The Spectrum study association office at Science Park, because of the good vibes and because it almost feels like you are sitting outside.
Essential: my laptop.
'I enjoyed so many different subjects in secondary school. Although I chose the Nature and Technology subject cluster, with Mathematics B and D, I also took almost every language. With a profile like mine, I could go in pretty much any direction, so I had difficulty choosing a degree programme. I coincidentally landed on the Bachelor's in Natural and Social Sciences, a broadly oriented Bachelor's programme that to me seemed the perfect starting point. During your first year, you take interdisclipinary courses. Quantum mechanics, for example, but also sociology, political science, law and economics. It was good that I had taken so many different subjects in secondary school. After all, quantum mechanics is a lot easier to understand if you have had physics. Biology was the only thing I had not taken in secondary school; fortunately, there is a course you can take during the programme to catch up.'
Because you have such a broad background as a Natural and Social Sciences student, you have many options for majors.
'I am the oldest of three children. My father is Dutch and my mother is French, so I was raised bilingually. Trilingually, actually; I lived in the United States for a while. My father is a mathematician in Leiden and the university has consequently been a familiar place to me ever since I was a child. My mother studied languages in France; she subsequently moved to the Netherlands after she met my father. You could say that I had a kind of Natural and Social Sciences upbringing, too. Languages on the one side, mathematics on the other. Although I spent a long time debating what I wanted to study, I knew I wanted to enrol in a degree programme as soon as I graduated secondary school. To me, it was a logical choice. Even though I was not sure exactly what I wanted, I did not think that a gap year was the way to find out. I was not clear on exactly how you were supposed to go about doing a gap year. If you do not have a plan, then you just end up as a couch potato for twelve months. That would make me unhappy.'
'And so I chose Natural and Social Sciences. After the interdisciplinary first year, you have to choose a major in the second year, which will be your field of study during the rest of your Bachelor's programme. Because you have such a broad background as a Natural and Social Sciences student, you have many options for majors. There are 22 possible fields of study. Natural and Social Sciences students are well known for being unable to make choices; consequently, we are given a lot of guidance. The taster sessions are the most important component. You spend a day in the major in which you are interested to determine whether it is truly a good fit for you. For those who do not know how to make a choice, there are guidance workshops that you can sign up for. We have three study advisers, as well as a mentor for each group of 20 to 30 students. You can also get in touch with senior students through the study association. Basically, you have a huge network at your disposal if you get overwhelmed. People like me who find themselves unable to see the forest for the trees make extensive use of it. It gives me a good feeling that I am not instantly left to fend for myself now that I am an adult and at university.'
The UvA is really part of the fabric of Amsterdam, because the various campuses are spread out around the city.
'I participated in taster sessions for many different fields of study, including Political Science, Sociology and Neurobiology. Ultimately, I chose Human Geography as my major. I opted for the social side, in other words. I do like science courses, but they tend to view things in black and white. Moreover, it was reassuring to me that Human Geography is a fairly broad-based major. You can still choose between different tracks within the programme, so there is some wiggle room and you are not bound by rigid rules. The possibilities for advancing from my major to various Master's programmes appeal to me. I am interested in internationally-oriented Master's programmes because I want to do something that allows me to travel. I am already doing a little bit of preparation for choosing a Master's by taking extra electives. At the moment, I am leaning towards a Master's in development aid – International Development Studies – but there are fun tracks you can do within the Master's in Human Geography, too. After my major, I would like to spend another six months studying in Berlin, and then it will be time to start a Master's.'
'I often hear people call Natural and Social Sciences a kind of extension of secondary school, but you are not taking secondary school subjects. The programme may be broad, but it also has depth; you take courses that you would also take as a first-year Political Science or Physics student. Very different from secondary school. That is why the major does not start until the second year, to ensure that you have a broad basis on which you can build. It is not a slacker programme; it is not a case of: "I have no clue what to do, so just sign me up for Natural and Social Sciences." You must make a very deliberate choice to take many different courses at the same time. If you actually already know that you prefer social science courses, you will be stuck with a year of physics, chemistry and biology. That is quite challenging, as those are not easy subjects for people who are not interested in them. You do not choose this programme because you do not like anything, but because there is so much that you do like.'
'Natural and Social Sciences is only offered at the UvA, so the choice to attend this university was pretty obvious. I get the impression that the UvA is a liberal university. It is also really part of the fabric of Amsterdam, because the various campuses are spread out around the city. In Natural and Social Sciences, you often go back and forth between Science Park, Roeterseiland and Oudemanhuispoort. I enjoy all of this biking around; you get to see a lot of the city and the various facets of the university. Natural and Social Sciences has a nice mix of students. These are people who are very focused on their studies, but at the same time are involved in lots of other stuff. Not hyper nerdy, just ordinary people with a social life. Most of them are really here to study. Personally, I work out a lot at the USC, the UvA's sports centre.'
'The lecturers in the Natural and Social Sciences programme are very approachable. In the first year, we have a team of lecturers that works for the IIS, the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. This is the same team every year, and they know exactly how the interdisciplinary aspect of Natural and Social Sciences works. These lecturers are your working group lecturers, and one of them is likely to be your mentor during the first year. You get to know them really well and you can always go to them. We share Spectrum, the study association, with the students in Future Planet Studies. The association is very active, which is great, because it introduces a lot of contact between senior and first and second-year students. As a first-year student, this interaction helps you quickly learn that everything really will work out fine. You meet a lot of people whom you will later encounter in your major. In addition to pursuing my degree, I am also a student spokesperson at the UvA. I represent the Natural and Social Sciences programme during the Open Day and visit schools to give presentations. This is something I really love to do. During the Open Day, you see people who are in the exact same place as you were two years ago: people who really like loads of different things and therefore are temporarily stumped. I totally get it; I have been there myself. We do not paint an overly rosy picture of Natural and Social Sciences; after all, the programme is not for everyone.