As one of my college’s head Peer Academic Advisors, there is little that I think about more at this time of year than academic planning. For this is the point in the semester when Rice students register for classes. It’s the first time that “Spring 2018” doesn’t seem like a far-distant future anymore, but a tangible time of possibility that is just around the corner. Opinions on campus vary as to whether these early days of November are exciting or just nerve-wracking. My job as a Peer Academic Advisor is to help with the process of registering for class by meeting with my peers at my residential college in any way I can. As such, I’m pretty easily someone who falls into the “excited” camp of people.
First of all, there’s the excitement of the course offerings when they are revealed. I love looking through the incredible variety of courses Rice has on offer. In some departments, classes are offered so often that there’s a lot of available information on what to expect. Others are taught only once every few years, and some are thought up by professors for the first time. Either way, it’s exciting to decode the mystery and start thinking about scheduling. Plus, the courses offered at Rice are wide-reaching and varied. Here are just some examples, pulled from four departments around campus:
- The Biochemistry department is offering courses like Evolution, Cell and Molecular Animal Physiology, and my personal favorite, Monster, an interdisciplinary course on the science and art of monsters in history and pop culture.
- The Computer Science department has its normal distribution of electives that range from machine learning to cyber security
- My home department, English, is offering courses on Hollywood films, Chicana feminist literature, renaissance dramas, and podcast-writing.
- The Sociology department is offering courses on immigration, the family, gender, Muslims in American society, and disaster
As you can probably guess, with so many options, some people find it daunting to even try to pick out classes. Every semester, I personally start with a long list of the fifteen-or-twenty classes that at first glance sound neat to me. Whittling it down to the four-or-five classes I end up taking can be a challenge. And that’s just one paradigm. Due to my majors (English/Political Science), I have relatively few courses required, and even those requirements offer me choices. Some degree programs fit this paradigm, where schedule planning is both free as flying in an open sky and directionless as swimming in the open ocean. Other degree programs will have more stringent requirements and less flexibility – for better or worse, depending on the type of person you are. This is part of the reason people are so divided in how they feel about schedule planning.
Either way, students at Rice have a lot of chances to ask for help and get advice, which is my second-favorite part of the academic planning time of year. I love being a Peer Academic Advisor (PAA) because I get to help people make those large decisions in a casual, but ultimately personal way. While Rice’s Office of Academic Advising is an amazing group of people, it’s unrealistic to expect them to field the sheer number of student inquiries. That’s where we, the merry band of PAAs come in. With training, we are equipped to answer the basic questions our peers have and give advice on important basics of balancing classes and choosing between majors and programs. I think this is a revolutionary and integral part of Rice’s support network. When an answer to a large, pivotal question (how do I drop a class, when am I supposed to drop a class, which of these majors should I pursue?) is just a text message or a conversation with a friend away, academic planning becomes a lot less stressful at all ends. Doing my part for my college is one of the best, most rewarding parts of schedule planning season: not only do I get the excitement of completing my own upcoming semester plan, but I also get the satisfaction of helping others find what they’re happy with.