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Department: Classics

Coldiron Classics

Matthew Coldiron ’99

Resident in Internal Medicine, New York University

From the classics to medicine

I took a variety of courses during my freshman year, and for some reason I don’t remember, I started to take Greek during my second semester—I had taken Latin in high school, and I guess I was just looking for something different. I found that I really enjoyed studying the language. Later, I took a couple of courses in ancient art and architecture, and found a niche. Given that I had already started the language series, I decided to major in classics instead of art and archaeology, but continued taking electives in both departments. And the summer after my sophomore year, I went with Professor Childs (my future thesis adviser) to Princeton’s excavation on Cyprus. That settled it—I wanted to be an archaeologist!

Travels in Africa

Before my final year at Princeton, I was faced with two options: one was starting to learn German, a prerequisite for most archaeology graduate programs. The other was to travel to Africa, somewhere I’d always wanted to go—and do something completely different one last time. Wanderlust won out, and I spent the summer working with a district tuberculosis control program at an NGO in rural KwaZulu-Natal. It sounds trite, but that experience did change my life, as it made me want to become a doctor.

Of course, there were a few logistical problems with my plan—I had avoided the “hard” science classes at Princeton like the plague, and I didn’t exactly feel like starting freshman physics as a senior. After graduation, I attended a post-bac pre-med program and fulfilled all the prerequisites, and then worked with Project 55 for a year (again in the field of tuberculosis).

My path through medical school at Emory University has been slightly unconventional as well—I also completed a master’s degree in epidemiology and spent a year working at an HIV research project in Rwanda, in addition to lots of other work abroad—but as I prepare to start my residency at the age of 30, I’m excited about my career choices. I know that I’ll continue working in the developing world, as there’s no place I feel more comfortable, and I hope to stay involved in academic medicine.

After asking my age, sometimes my superiors in the medical hierarchy (often younger than me) ask me if I regret my unconventional choices. I don’t at all—it has been the perfect path for me. I studied something at Princeton that continues to fascinate me (with world-class faculty, no less!), had unique experiences, and learned a lot about how to learn independently. While it’s true that the Greek lyric poets and the great sculptors of ancient Athens don’t have much in common with malaria control efforts or HIV vaccine trials in sub-Saharan Africa, I think I’m better off for having experiences with all of the above.

“While it’s true that the Greek lyric poets and the great sculptors of ancient Athens don’t have much in common with malaria control efforts or HIV vaccine trials in sub-Saharan Africa, I think I’m better off for having experiences with all of the above.”