Mentality Shift: A Junior’s Final Days

A college junior’s last few weeks is a period of reckoning. It is a timeframe wracked with concerns (for the future), nostalgia (for the past), and angst (in the present). It is the first time your scope is really broadened into the post-graduation context, when you are forced to look beyond the receipt of a diploma, and must instead not only imagine but plan life beyond Rice.

Of late, I’ve been attending graduate school information sessions. I have met with professors regarding recommendation letters and general advice for what lies ahead. At the same time, it is probably the first sustained period of time that I’ve had some substantial hope and anticipation for all that is yet to come: acceptances, rejections, the lot. Especially as an underclassman, one is still not used to rejections. They happen a lot, by the way. When they’re few and far between, one doesn’t really know how to cope with them. Now a tenured recipient of rejections, I’ve learned it is not so much the “yes/no” decision that defines you, but rather how you deal with the decision and learn from it.

The feeling of “looking forward” transcends academics and professional life–I have begun to envision which friends I’ll stay in contact with and which, just as in life immediately following high school, will fade into the white noise of the contextual past. I have also begun to keep better track of all the little things that happen every day at Rice–if I wait any longer, I worry that I’ll miss some!

Rice is small. It seems like everyone knows everyone. As a result, I think we sometimes wind up complaining about the bubble. But in doing so, we forget how nice it is to be in a place of such familiarity. Studying abroad, not knowing anyone, taught me as much.

All this to say that I’ve treasured my time at Rice thus far, and continue to cherish every moment, but before this semester was not really comfortable with the whole graduating thing. However, the only way to take control of your future is to greet it with optimism, not anxiety. It’s a lesson that I couldn’t have learned earlier, and probably the most important lesson I’ve learned.

Pens are Still Relevant

Though we have all the wonderful technologies of laptops and tablets allowing for less physical writing, the latter is not yet completely avoidable.

When it comes to essays, typing only gets you to the first draft. The Center for Writing, Oral, and Visual Communication will ask you to bring that first draft printed out to your meeting. At this meeting they will tweak, sharpen, rearrange, and improve your essay – but you will need to take notes. The scribbles in different colors of pen will help you better remember what to do for your next essay.

You will have enormous amounts of free pens from various events thrown by the university. And these you will see for moments at a time throughout your four years here, as you trade them amongst your peers and keep them in your backpack at all times for emergencies. These will be great for when you forget your laptop, or when you need to write down a note on your arm from a passing conversation.

For your division 3 classes (hard and natural sciences), typing equations as fast as they are being written is impossible, so you will need a physical notebook to go along with the pens you brought. This strategy transfers to homework that is more quantitative as well. Pens are also required for many exams written in blue books.

You’ll definitely need to to keep a pen on your person during any professional events. If you are at an information session, you will need to jot down the name of every name and email address that comes up in the presentation. And you will take notes during career fairs to remember which companies were the best fits for you. And the type of pen in this case can matter (hint: get a pen that is heavy).

Not to mention there will be many stressful times at Rice where clicking, tapping, and unscrewing will keep your mind at peace.

Narrowing Your Interests in College

I came into Rice with a certain mindset and I know for sure I am leaving with a different mindset, both academically and personally. I came in wanting to major in Biochemistry, make a career out of science and medicine, and conduct biological research. Now as a junior in college, my intended pathway in life is different. I am majoring in Cognitive Sciences with a minor in Neuroscience and Medical Humanities, conducting qualitative bioethics research, and starting a 4+1 MPH program during my senior year into the next year after I graduate from Rice.

How did I change pathways over these past couple of years? I think the key is to be open-minded. I’ve talked about this before in one of my blog posts, but I cannot emphasize how important it is to explore your options. There is no better time than college to do that, and I guarantee you that it will be worthwhile.

I ended up choosing to major in Cognitive Sciences because it better reflected my love for Neuroscience. My transition began when I started taking more social science classes for my major. I became super interested in all of the interdisciplinary subjects. I remember thinking how intriguing the experiments my professors mentioned in class were and how worthwhile it would be if I conducted that kind of research (Rice certainly offered me those kinds of opportunities). Studying the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences all at once led me to apply for a qualitative research program at Rice during my sophomore year.

At the same time, I became super interested in public health and policy studies after participating in an education policy Alternative Spring Break and looking at the new medical humanities classes being offered at Rice. By then I had realized that studying STEM in college was not for me. I didn’t want to take classes with so many numbers and facts, but rather those where I could discuss ideas with my peers and do more direct work with advocacy.

The summer before my junior year I spent 2 months in Cape Town conducting a public health project. That experience led me to apply for and get into the 4+1 Rice-UT Houston Public Health Scholars Program, where you get your Masters in Public Health from Rice by taking graduate classes during your senior year and the year after you graduate.

I should also note that throughout college I had been grappling with whether or not I wanted to pursue medicine. Junior year, I started taking those medical humanities classes, including Medical Professionalism and Intro to Medical Humanities. Those classes covered some of the most interesting and thought-provoking topics in my college career. Now, I can safely say that I want to become a physician after I get my MPH.

I know that my transition isn’t necessarily the most life-changing. But my pathway wasn’t straightforward, and yours shouldn’t be either. I came in thinking that college is just a linear trail you take, pushing requirements out of the way and planning what you have to get done every year. Deciding what you want to do with the rest of your life takes time and effort, and you have to be willing to put in that time and effort to get the most out of college. During my time at Rice and the wonderful opportunities I’ve been offered along the way, I narrowed my interests into what I truly want to do. And who knows— maybe by my senior year of college I’ll discover more passions in my life.

How to Conquer Applications

In every application there is an opportunity to present yourself, and this should not be taken lightly. You will get to choose what activities are on your resume and which experiences have meant the most to you in an interview. This means that interviewers will judge you on what you present to them, so you should be thoughtful about which side you show them. It is by no means an easy process, because application season runs year-round, but it is not insurmountable. You will go into application season with a plan, and you will be relentless and you will get the job you want, deserve, and only ever dreamed of.

LinkedIn headshot ready to go!

When applying to the position you really want, do not hold back. Answer every optional question and contact 3 people aside from the interviewer and physically show up at the job site, because they need to see you. They need to see as much of your greatness as possible, so this is where you stand out. An application is not a one-minute process, an application is part of a picture, and you need to paint with a micro-paint brush to make sure they get the details of what you can bring to the position. Because you are going to apply for the top positions in the world, and you are good enough, and you need to be sure they see that by preparing with resume and interview help from the career center and cover letter reviews by your peer career advisors, and hype sessions with your roommate. It can take weeks to create a perfect application, but you will earn that job.

When applying to a position you don’t really want: Question why you are applying. If that time could be spent on applications for positions you want, you could be spending your time more wisely. “But there aren’t any more jobs I want;” you can get companies to make positions you want. “But I’m tired of applying;” are you more tired of not having a job? “But it would look good on my resume;” if you put an experience that you didn’t enjoy on your resume, you are more likely to get hired into positions you do not enjoy, and that is not a happy trajectory.

An accurate depiction of the number of drafts of your cover letter and resume.

When applying to the position you don’t think you can get: think again. You are an extremely qualified candidate, and even more so, you are humble. You have done incredible things just to attend this university much less what you have done once you arrived. You just need a night in or out with your friends to gain that self-confidence, because there is nothing you can’t achieve if you put your mind to it. Under no circumstances should you NOT apply. The only way to ensure you won’t get the job is by not applying, but your community of support here at Rice is ready to see what you can do.

Why I Became an Economics Major

Back in high school, I toyed with the idea of being an Economics major, but I wasn’t 100% certain. I took AP Micro- and Macroeconomics in my senior year, but I did not ‘fall in love’ with the subject immediately. While I enjoyed my Economics classes, I liked others more. I seriously considered my choice of major while I was working at my first summer internship at American Business TV. I was producing news segments that provided insight about different companies’ financial news. I was surprised to learn that I liked reading about stock prices and company mergers. With this newfound appreciation for business and my affinity toward economics, I decided to major in it.

In AP Microeconomics, my group made a video about Credit Score Mingle, a dating website that pairs people together with similar, high credit scores.

I realized I wanted to major in Economics in the third week of my sophomore year. Why is this important? It was one week after the add deadline, a university imposed deadline to make sure people don’t add classes too late and get behind. I was unable to add my introductory economics class, the class I needed in order to take any other economics class at Rice. I spent the semester taking almost all electives, ranging from Naval Engineering to Introductory Russian. This was actually a good thing, as I had some time to think about my future, in addition to adjusting to my first semester living in an apartment off-campus.

 

In the spring of my sophomore year, I was able to enroll in my first economics class, Principles of Economics. I was also very motivated, as I had been trying for months to enter my chosen field. The introductory class was engaging and entertaining – I never wanted to miss it. At this point, I was excited to finally take classes in my major.

 

Aside from the academic aspect of the major, there’s something more important: the people! People play a huge factor in one’s education. For instance, in my World Economic History class, I am writing a group paper. In Energy Economics and Macroeconomics, I formed study groups with undergraduate and graduate students to do the homework. I gained so much from learning from my peers, and they have learned from me as well. The people who tend to major in economics are outgoing and friendly – sometimes they even introduce themselves to me. I’ve made some great friends in my major that I plan on keeping in touch with even after I graduate.

Seohee Kim, a friend in my major, and I at the 2016 Dance Team Christmas Party

Going forward, I do not know what the future holds. I could be creating regression analyses using econometrics knowledge or creating long-run market price trends for energy sources. I could be tabulating finances or predicting the next market crash. The best part about being an Economics major is that it opens doors; I could enter nearly any industry in some capacity. There is a lot of flexibility in choosing classes, you could go heavy on the quantitative, law, or finance classes, or you can take a more generalized approach and take a smattering of each. I did not expect to like my major as much as I do. I am glad I took a chance to pursue what I love, and I hope to incorporate my economics knowledge in my work in the future.

Branching Out with Classes

As fall semester is coming towards an end and spring class registration is underway, classes are on everyone’s mind right now, including mine. We all go to college to take classes, and they really make up a large part of your overall Rice experience. Choosing the right classes can be a stressful but important component of the Rice experience.

Luckily, Rice has plenty of resources if students need guidance. Fifty percent of Rice’s orientation week consists of academics and class planning, so you will definitely not be lost coming into college. Throughout the rest of the year, each residential college has Peer Academic Advisors (PAAs) who are there to help you plan your schedule based on your major, fulfill graduation requirements, and ask about any important deadlines or academic opportunities. As a PAA for Wiess College, I’ve found my role quite fulfilling because I have my own group of new students with similar interests to mine to help with academic planning in addition to my general role as an advisor for everyone else.

When I came into Rice, I had a general idea of what I wanted to major in but I wasn’t completely sure. Thankfully, the resources I had from the Office of Academic Advising (oaa.rice.edu) and my PAAs were instrumental in my decision to change my major from Biochemistry to Cognitive Sciences. Through the major and the suggestion from PAAs to take classes that interest me, I’ve discovered and re-aligned my academic interests from a natural sciences background to more social science subjects (psychology, linguistics, neuroscience, philosophy). With Rice’s requirement to take 12 hours from each distribution (Humanities, Social Sciences, Natural Sciences & Engineering), students have the opportunity to explore beyond their majors. I know many people who switch majors or change their career plans because they unexpectedly became interested in a distribution class and wanted to further pursue the major associated with the class. Additionally, there are so many interesting classes for students to take, like an English and Biology combined class titled “Monsters,” a class about managing large cities taught by former Houston mayor Annise Parker, or a class formatted like the reality TV show “Survivor.” It’s also great because you get so much feedback from other upperclassmen who give useful advice about which classes to take in addition to the OAA and PAAs.

One of the main purposes of college is to explore your options and really find your passions, whether that be academic or non-academic. I’m thankful that I found what I’m truly interested in, and there’s no doubt you will too when you come to Rice.