The Wide World of Rice Research

The word “research” is a confusing term. When I was applying to colleges, a full four years ago (woah), it was one of those buzzwords I thought to include in my application without having a really good sense about what it would mean for me, someone interested in English, History, German Studies, and Political Science. I was fortunate enough to have done research projects in high school, but at that point, I imagined “real” college-level research as some combination of looking up information in books for class (i.e., a research paper), or something taking place in a grey-walled lab where everyone is wearing plastic gloves and safety glasses – in other words, not something I was eager to continue. Both of these things can be true to the experience of Rice research. But “research” can encompass much more than that, as I would find out in my four years here.

I’ve done some of the projects I imagined: many of my classes have involved research papers – long hours tracking down JSTOR articles or books in the library. Some of my papers turned into presentable material at conferences, research expositions, and workshops around campus. I’ve also worked to assist professors on their projects, both for research and later, for a summer job. Some of these projects are pretty small, where you’re just one research assistant among many, all working to make an impossibly large database understandable. Others, however, have given me a lot of creative leeway. For instance, my freshman and sophomore years, I got ended up working with my professors and helped write the literature review and results sections of what became a book chapter on the effect of gender in voter perceptions of corrupt politicians. Lastly, as a senior, I’ve chosen to take on a thesis project for my Political Science major and am doing a type of research that involves turning newspapers – in German, no less – into data points in an Excel spreadsheet, which I can eventually use to summarize the portrayal of immigrants in the German press last year. These projects are all related to the work I’m doing in my classes and my own academic goals.

Just thinking through the types of research projects I undertook at Rice, it turns out that “research” actually does encompass almost anything you would like to do. If your vision of research means following the instructions of a professor you respect and helping achieve their wide-reaching projects, you can do that. If you would rather see your own exploration of a topic from start to finish, you can do that. Rice offers both financial and personal support for projects you might accomplish over the summer and during the school year. No matter these project types, I’ve been given the support of grad students and professors working around me. Many people are involved in research at Rice in some capacity, and sometimes getting involved is as easy as asking a professor to learn about their projects or striking up a conversation with your teaching assistant after class. You never know what you can get involved with, and research skills never go away. If you want to get involved early, you can — but if you would rather wait, don’t worry. There are always going to be opportunities for pursuing projects to your own tastes.

The Suite Life at Rice

One of the biggest questions incoming students (and their parents) have about Rice is: what are the rooms like? Am I going to have to live with a roommate? Is my bathroom down the hall? How much stuff should I bring?

The answer is: it depends. Each residential college is different in how they do rooming. There are usually standard living options for freshman, though, which give you the opportunity to live with others. At my time at Rice, I’ve lived two years in a double and one year in a suite of five people. Because there are different arrangements at every college, take my experience with a grain of salt. Here are just a few observations about my time at Rice (and specifically, living inside Duncan College).

Doubles

My first two years at Rice, I lived in doubles with two very different people. My roommate freshman year was, like me, quiet and introverted, and we had similar sleep schedules, so we didn’t have many conflicts arise. My roommate sophomore year was a little bit more active in the community, but my very good friend, and we compromised with ease. These experiences were super valuable to me: living with another person can teach you to be conscientious of other people and their space and needs.

The downside in both cases is that it can be hard to really make your space your own. If you need to stay up late one night working on a paper, and your roommate wants to go to bed, you have to respect their wishes and go work on it somewhere else. If you have to wake up for a really early meeting, you kind of have to tiptoe around to not wake up your roommate. If you want to have your sibling visit at Rice, you have to make those arrangements ahead of time. Overall, it’s best to go into a year living in a double positively and thoughtfully. If you and your roommate agree to have a respectful, conscientious relationship, you will learn so much from living with someone else, and you’ll be able to share your life and things and day with someone in a really cool way.

Suites:

The suites at Duncan are different from the suites at other colleges, but the concept is the same: we live in separate rooms connected to common spaces. My suite is composed of five singles and two bathrooms around our common living space. This is a more common arrangement for upperclassmen; most suites for underclassmen are suites of doubles. Personally, I prefer living in a suite. I like this for a few reasons. First, if I want privacy, I can just go into my room. But, if I want to see people and not have to go very far, I can go to our common space. Living suite-style is great for this compromise, but it also has its challenges. If someone in my suite wants to host an event or have a guest, the other four people have to approve, and if any one person disagrees, the event can’t happen. Usually, this won’t cause too much of a conflict, but it is something to keep in mind.  Suite-style living teaches you a different way of getting along with people, too. It teaches compromise and sharing of items, being responsible for cleaning and maintaining a space you share with others, and planning ahead.

Many new students at Rice will be placed in doubles, or suites of some type, so these perspectives might be helpful when coming into Rice. If you have further questions, you can always check out the websites of the residential colleges, many of which show room layouts. But also, don’t worry about living too much. It’s an important part of living here, but it doesn’t have to make or break your college experience.

‘Tis The Season (of Spring-Semester Schedules)

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.

A Very Rice Spring Break

The ins-and-outs of Rice life are kind of what you’d expect: on weekdays, we go to class, on weekends, we don’t go to class, and at times when we’re not in class, you can find us hanging out and studying – or hanging-out-and-studying, which is also very popular. But what do us Rice students do outside of school days? In other words, what do we do over spring break? The answer is: a ton of things. Surprise, surprise.

I personally had a grand time on a trip planned entirely on my own. I spent about half the break in Houston getting some work done on my long-term projects, and about half in Austin, not-really attending SXSW and reading a whopper of a book a fellow English major challenged me to read over break: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace (if you don’t know, the book is about 1100 pages long and includes almost 400 endnotes scattered throughout the text that require a bunch of flipping back and forth). While visiting independent bookstores, jamming along to custom-made mixtapes, and completely failing to make crepes was all riveting, the past week of my life was totally different from my friends’ breaks.

My friend Jessica went on an Alternative Spring Break (ASB), which is Rice lingo for a spring break trip that accomplishes something beyond just vacation, but builds leadership skills and provides further educational opportunities. She traveled with a group to San Francisco to learn more about stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and poverty. “We bonded over meaningful discussions and home made food,” says Jessica – tired from the week, but filled with stories to tell about visits from different speakers, experiences in San Francisco, and a better understanding of prejudice in health and poverty crises in American cities.

Photos from Jessica’s trip in San Francisco, taken at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Maitri Hospital for those affected with AIDS.

On a completely different note, my friend Matthew traveled with Rice Outdoor Programs and Education (ROPE) on a backpacking trip in Arizona. I remember being somewhat surprised but intrigued hearing about the trip, which sounds to me both a little hellish and a little bit captivating. He describes it as “40 miles of hiking through canyons and over mountains carrying everything we needed on our backs and sleeping under the stars.” That’s time for thought, getting to know the few people on the trip, and challenging yourself.

A photo of Matthew’s trip in Arizona, with his group.

A photo taken on Matthew’s trip in Arizona, backpacking their way across the mountains.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A favorite question among prospective students and their parents tends to be, “Well, what does your average Rice student look like?” This little post answers that question pretty well: it completely and totally varies, but you can guarantee that people are doing something. Whether it’s exploring a new city, taking some time for inner reflection, a personal challenge, or looking hard at a problem in the world, I think we can all agree that spring break was definitely an experience that wasn’t school. Meaning, we’re all a bit bummed that today is Monday, and that we’re not still taking part in the world outside (or inside, in a new way) Rice’s hedges.

O-Week 2017: Get Hype?

Here’s a timely topic for you: Orientation Week (aka O-Week) 2017!!! This is the first week new students have on campus: a week of fun social events and academic planning and sessions meant to orient you to important aspects of campus life. Each new student is placed in a group of 8-10, with 2-4 upperclassmen advisors who are there to be the first point of contact and the first advocate for a new student.

“But wait,” you say, “O-Week doesn’t happen until next August.” That’s true. Many of the students who will be joining us next year haven’t even been admitted yet and won’t find out about their acceptance to Rice until the end of the semester. It’s the middle of February, sure – but in fact, planning for O-Week has already begun. This is just the point at which things pick up speed.

At Duncan, my residential college, the O-Week theme was revealed last week to be RadiO-Week, which has prompted two things: a wave of radio-related puns to circulate the college and a wave of excitement and mild panic as people rush to fill out their advisor applications. Interviews, decisions, a second wave of applications and interviews and decisions as colleges seek to fill the co-advisor (advisors who are from a different residential college) positions, and so on. It can be a stressful time, especially if it’s your first time applying to advise, especially because it’s a job that attracts so many people. Yesterday, at lunch with the group I advised last year, I asked who, if anyone, was applying to advise. Almost all of my new students said they were, and, further, that “basically the whole freshman class is applying.” So what’s the big deal? Why is it that my whole group – ten wonderful freshmen with diverse interests and backgrounds and personalities – wants to turn around and play the role of the knowledgeable older student?

As for my lovely O-Week family, there isn’t a single one of them that wouldn’t make a great advisor next year!

People have different reasons for wanting to become advisors, but here are some of the ones I’ve heard. Of course, everyone who applies wants to get to know the matriculating class of 2017 and wants to be involved in the college (and it’s fantastic to be part of an environment where those motivations are just givens). But here are other reasons for your future advisors giving up two weeks of their summer vacation and a whole lot of their sleep to make sure the matriculating class of 2017 feels safe and accepted at Rice:

  1. My O-Week was amazing!!! I want to repay the favor for the next group of new students!
  2. I know something could have been improved, so I wanted to see that change.
  3. I want new students like me to feel that they have someone supporting them.

The middle reason may be surprising, but it just goes to show the drive and compassion of Rice students. Other advisors I worked with last year admitted at some point, “You know, my O-Week experience was only okay, but I know that was only because of XYZ thing, so I wanted to sort of make sure that didn’t happen.” And those advisors who are advising for the third reason can be some of the most passionate – they’re people who have felt marginalized at some point in their lives, who struggle with mental wellbeing, and who want to use their experiences to make things easier and more comfortable for new students.

And the best O-Week team (like Duncan’s team last year) has a mixture of all three. So I encourage any prospective students who do decide to come to Rice to look out for the differences in the advisors at their residential college. There is no one Rice experience, and your advisors are going to represent that.

The only slightly nutty advising team at Duncan last year: more awesome than you could imagine

Exploring Houston, One Espresso at a Time

A new habit I got into this semester was something I decided on within the first week of school or so. I made the goal of stepping off campus for a few hours every Sunday morning and finding a nice coffee shop where I could drink a latte and write. This has been possibly the greatest decision I’ve made so far at Rice for a few reasons.

Reason #1: So Houston exists.

Houston doesn’t just exist as a place for Rice to be, but it really exists, and it’s vibrant and unique and has its own cool places and frustrations (looking at you, 59 exit ramps). Now that I have a car in Houston, I’ve been able to explore the local area and get a sense of what the different parts of town are like. And while my search has by no means been extensive, I’m much more knowledgeable on the place I live, which is a pretty cool place.

Coffee Recommendation: Siphosiphonn. They will let you have your own siphon of coffee where you’re sitting, which is just a really neat. Plus, the place manages to be cozy and industrial and prepared for you to work there all at the same time. 

 

Reason #2: Hobbies are important.

One of the biggest problems if you’re trying to pursue writing as a serious hobby when you’re in college – no matter where you go – is that when you get busy, you suddenly find that you haven’t done it in forever – and maybe that’s why you’re more stressed out and feel more emotional and are finding it hard to focus. Having a dedicated time on Sunday has really help me get into the mindset of focusing on the same single project for multiple hours at a time in a routine. Whatever hobby you have, whether it’s poetry or photography or whatever it may be, make yourself time to pursue it. I find myself happier, more focused, and in all honesty more able to prioritize writing in my day.

black-hole-coffee-insideRecommendation: Black Hole. I had been looking for a café that felt very much like where the writing community went for a while, and as soon as I walked in, I realized I’d found it. There are books and newspapers everywhere, and I was not the only person going through a manuscript with a red pen. Plus, they make their own syrups; their Hazelnut Latte is the best I’ve ever had.

Reason #3: Everyone needs their own wellness space.

The dialogue about mental health on college campuses has been only growing since I arrived on campus last fall. While Rice has incredible support networks and communities and resources for students to take advantage of, taking a break from it all has really given me a chance to take that mental break space. It’s nice to allow myself to take a break every Sunday morning, and to hold myself to maintaining that option. Plus, whenever I return to Rice at about 1pm on Sunday afternoon, I am all the readier to jump into my commitments and school work, just for having allowed myself to spend some time recommitting myself to what’s important that we sometimes forget.

agora1bRecommendation: Agora. It’s a bit of a strange sort of vibe at first, but I go back to Agora because it really does feel like a refuge. When you walk in, you step through an archway of trees and into a calm, old-timey building that feels just like a hideaway.

 

Because of these things, I encourage all students – high school or Rice students or wherever you’re at – to do something as simple as exploring coffee shops! It’s an easy habit to build, and it’s absolutely rewarding.