Being an Economics Major at Rice

Rice has one of the most prestigious undergraduate economics programs in the country, and when I was admitted to Rice as a Mathematical Economic Analysis major last year I was elated to start specializing my studies and begin a new chapter in my life. At the same time, though, the thought of living and breathing economics for the next four years seemed daunting, so I wanted to share my experience as a freshman studying economics for all the Future Owls reading this blog!

While Rice does allow you to place out of Principles of Economics (ECON 100) if you scored well enough on both the AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics exams,  I highly recommend that all new students considering to major in economics take ECON 100! ECON 100 is taught by the one and only Dr. Jimmy DeNicco, who works full time at Rice teaching 4 ECON 100 lectures every semester! His lectures are filled with crazy sound effects and even crazier stories and analogies, but nonetheless Dr. DeNicco takes teaching his students very seriously, having quite possibly some of the most accessible office hours on campus, asking his students every week for advice to improve the lectures in exchange for a small bit of extra credit, and empathizing with his student’s struggles and doing whatever he can to help you understand the material. I came to Rice with a decent understanding of basic economics, and Dr. DeNicco’s class was the perfect refresher; there wasn’t a boring day with him!

However, should you choose to take advantage of your AP credits and place out of ECON 100, you would be taking ECON 200, Microeconomics, your first semester at Rice. I am currently taking ECON 200, and it is the polar opposite of 100! Whereas Dr. DeNicco is a rambunctious, spirited, fire-in-his-eyes kind of guy, Dr. Brown, my ECON 200 professor, is mellow, quick-witted, and serene (plus his voice is very soothing and patient!) And though Dr. DeNicco tries his best to steer away from using calculus in ECON 100, Dr. Brown embraces derivatives and multi-variable functions with open arms. That’s not to say that the lectures are confusing, though: Dr. Brown explains each concept he presents very thoroughly and stops frequently to make sure as few people as possible are confused. Like Dr. DeNicco, Dr. Brown makes it very clear at the start of the semester that he wants you to succeed, and is willing to even hold review sessions on Sunday afternoons and help you brush up on your calculus skills one-on-one if you need it! ECON 200 may be very technical and complex at times, but Dr. Brown is with you every step of the way.

The Economics and Mathematical Economic Analysis degree programs at Rice also include many other specialized economics courses for upperclassmen, like Behavioral Economics (ECON 210) and International Finance (ECON 421), but at the end of the day, if you decide economics is not right for you, Rice makes it very easy to switch majors! Rice requires you to declare your major by the second semester of sophomore year, but before then, most major paths are fair game! At Rice, you can take the time to figure out what you’re passionate about, even if it isn’t economics, and although you’ll only be able to find Dr. DeNicco and Dr. Brown in the ECON department, Rice’s professors are all caring, dedicated, and willing to help in their respective fields of study.

Hope for Humanities Students!

As a humanities student, it can be daunting to attend a school such as Rice—a university known for its STEM research and programs. Though I love my two fields of study, English and Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations, I sometimes wonder what opportunities I will be able to find after I graduate from Rice. Thankfully, the School of Humanities provides many opportunities for undergraduate students to enhance our studies and help us translate our education to a variety of professional environments.

One of these opportunities is the Accounting Workshop for Humanities Students, a one-day, non-credit workshop hosted by the School of Humanities and led by Professor Ben Lansford, Director of the Master in Accounting (MAcc) program at Rice’s Jones Business School. I recently attended this workshop after the Associate Dean of Humanities, Professor Lora Wildenthal, brought it to my attention. A basic understanding of accounting is essential in jobs for both nonprofit organizations and for-profit companies, so I decided that it would be beneficial to attend this workshop and dip my toe into the world of accounting for a day.

This workshop taught me what accountants do and how their job is relevant in the professional world. I left this experience with a better understanding of accounting and knowledge that I can use in careers I may not have considered if I had not attended this workshop. I am glad that I took advantage of this opportunity, and I look forward to attending more events geared towards humanities students such as myself in my remaining three years at Rice.

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.

Taking a Language at Rice

Rice’s foreign language program is an excellent resource for both fluent speakers and first time language learners. However, like most incoming freshmen, I struggled with the idea of continuing my French studies in college: I loved foreign language classes in high school and wanted to continue, but at the same time I didn’t know if I was ready to allocate time from my busy schedule for French. Wonder what taking a language at Rice is like? Here is some information based on my experience with the foreign language program.

  1. The faculty are very supportive. My French professor, Dr. Couti, has helpful and easily accessible office hours. I often bring my rough drafts to her office hours and receive valuable criticism for grammar, spelling, and clarity; I can attribute most of my improvement in French to these helpful office hours! If you choose to take a language class and find yourself struggling, do not be afraid to ask for help from your prof: they love talking about language to their students!
  2. Language classes tend to be smaller discussion based classes. In fact, my French class has three other students in it! While small class sizes may seem more daunting due to there being more pressure on you to speak and contribute, I can assure you that your classmates will be supportive and understanding, even through the errors: after all, speaking is the number one way to improve fluency in a foreign language, and you’ll be surrounded by other students who empathize with your language journey! At Rice, we’re here for you, even when you miss conjugate a verb or forget an idiomatic expression.
  3. First year language classes are perhaps some of the greatest elective classes you could take! A few of my friends are taking first year Japanese and love to talk about what they’re learning at lunch. What sets Rice’s first year language classes apart is how the department designs them to be as encouraging as possible. Usually, there are around 20 people a class (yay to not learning language in a big lecture hall!) and there is a cultural club for almost all of the languages, where you can interact with fluent speakers who will be more than happy to help you with any troubles.

Rayzor Hall, home of the language program at Rice, as seen from the inner loop.

I would definitely recommend taking a language at Rice! Our amazing language department makes learning language in college accessible and so much less daunting. Continue learning the language you’ve been practicing for years, or start fresh with a new one – the choice is yours!

A recipe for your life at Rice

Function Name: August

Input: Nervousness, homesickness, uncertainty

Output: Surprise, warmth, and culture of care

Algorithm:

  1. Participate in I-PREP (International-Preparation and Regulatory Education Program) and O-Week to experience the craziest and funniest week of your life, receive postcards and personal letters written wholeheartedly by o-week advisors on move-in day and a group of o-week brothers and sisters whom you dine with every week.
  2. Meet with tons of interesting people during lunch and dinner without feeling awkward (since everyone is extremely nice and welcoming).

 

Function Name: September

Input: Mid-Autumn Festival and Mid-Terms

Output: Fulfillment and Loss

Algorithm:

  1. Participate in the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival celebration that is open to the Rice community, enjoy Roast Duck and a rich Chinese cuisine, watch special performances in the RMC grand hall, make lanterns and moon cakes.
  2. Have three mid-terms in three consecutive weeks and being completely crushed by your COMP140 (an introductory computer science course) mid-term.

 

Function Name: October

Input: Adventure in Houston

Output: Surprise, satisfaction, better knowledge on Houston

Algorithm:

  1. Explore Chinese and South Asian restaurants in Rice Village and China Town (which is 15-20min away from Rice).
  2. Enjoy delicious Velvet tacos with your o-week advisor in Montrose and sing musicals loudly together in his car.
  3. Eat rich California bowl and ramen in Japanese restaurant Jinya Ramen with friends (you can easily get there by free metro).
  4. Go on a trip to NASA’s Space Center with OISS (Office of International Students and Scholars) to learn about space and rockets.
  5. Ice-skating, shopping, and eating fantastic cheesecake and California Omelet in Galleria (a huge shopping center in Houston).
  6. Walk along the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Natural Science, and have a FWIS (First-Year Writing Intensive Seminar) class at the Sicardi Gallery where you get to see artworks from the artists you study in class.
  7. Wander inside Hermann Park and watch the swans on the lake or enjoy a performance celebrating Argentinean culture in the Miller Outdoor Theater in Hermann Park.

 

Function Name: November

Input: Celebration and “Cold” Weather

Output: Contentment, international cuisine, beautiful dorm decorations, increase resistance to cold weather

Algorithm:

  1. Learn to make Mexican paper flowers and paper-cutting hosted by the CLIC (center for language and intercultural communication) and watch a music performance in the Discovery Green Park in Downtown on Day of the Dead (and it happens to be your birthday, whoohoo!).
  2. Watch your all-time favorite Phantom of the Opera show in the Hobby Theater.
  3. Cook authentic Chinese food in your college kitchen!
  4. Have a delicious Thanksgiving lunch with OISS and being interviewed by the cameraman.
  5. Feeling frustrated for the extremely cold weather (yes for someone from southern part of China 2℃ is SUPER cold!).
  6. Enjoy all your classes and become good friends with your COMP140 group mates.

 

Remark: These are the four meaningful months I spent at Rice, and as you can see, I really enjoy my time here. Of course there were losses and frustrations, but Rice’s culture of care helped me get through the tough time and push myself further: I came in as a novice who has absolutely zero knowledge in computer programming, and now I can even write a blog in programming recipe format! I really appreciate what Rice had helped me accomplish and am excited to continue the rest of my journey at Rice!

Being a Non-STEM Student at Rice

When I was first deciding on a college to attend, I was initially discouraged about coming to Rice because I am a Humanities major. I thought that I would feel inadequate and less worthy surrounded by brilliant pre-med minds and the future engineers of the world. I was also fearful of the idea that as a Humanities major I would be unable to have the same opportunities as the rest of my classmates. As my first semester at Rice nearly comes to an end (thankfully), I”ve reflected on the fact that I love studying Humanities at Rice.
While some of my classmates are stressed out about Chem midterms and others are struggling with computer science classes,  I am fighting battles of my own. Readings of more than 300 pages per week and constantly writing essays is just as difficult as all the other academic challenges that my classmates are facing. Rather than fulfilling the scary perception that I had established in my mind of STEM majors, I’ve found the Rice community to be very encouraging and collaborative. After making the mistake of taking a calculus class for pure joy purposes (when it wasn’t necessary at all for my major), I’ve had the opportunity to bond with individuals from a variety of different majors, ranging from biochemistry to civil engineering to physics. Despite the fact that I am not the smartest person when it comes to optimization and integrals, they have never discredited my intelligence and have instead tried to find ways to help me understand hard concepts. I love the Rice community of caring and unconventional wisdom because people always receive my inquiries and doubts with open arms.
I am the first person to admit that academic life at Rice is challenging, stressful and never-ending at times. However, I’ve come to cherish the TA sessions and long hours spent at the library because of the amazing,helpful people I’ve met along the way.