College is the time to expect the unexpected

I came in last year with a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to major in and what I wanted to do. I had spent all four years of high school in a specialized biotechnology program, learning essential lab techniques and assays and the building blocks of manipulating biological organisms. Naturally, I drifted towards the biochemistry major at every university I applied to. It just seemed obvious to me – biochemistry and molecular biology were really all I knew, and therefore, I was most interested in this field. I had been set on majoring in biochemistry and going to medical school after undergrad since my junior year of high school, and since I was confident that I could maintain interest in it, the possibility of ever wanting to change my major didn’t even cross my mind.

I picked up an opportunity to shadow a gastroenterologist in my second semester of freshman year. During my first time in the office, I expected to learn a little bit about a medical specialty I knew little about, but instead I got a much greater insight into a different side of the medical field. After talking to the doctors in the office and taking notice of how things worked, I realized that treating patients and applying all of the organic chemistry, cell biology, and anatomy that we learned in classes is only half of what being a doctor is. The other half is about finances, healthcare laws, computers, etc. – things that most pre-med students don’t even give a second thought to when deciding to enter the medical field.

However, the most striking thing that I learned that day was something the doctors all told me: “If you want to make a difference in the medical field, don’t major in biochemistry.” You can probably imagine how panicked that statement made me. I had been set on biochemistry and going into the medical field, only to be told by medical professionals themselves to not major in biochemistry! However, by the end of the day, seeing how much economics and policy factored into the decisions made by physicians, I realized that they were right. If I wanted to be a physician who could implement effective changes for the bettering of the field and patient care, I needed to change my direction and refocus my goals. After a summer of reconsideration, I’ve decided to double major in Biological Sciences and Policy Studies with a focus in health management.

Now here is my biggest disclaimer: biochemistry is an absolutely fantastic field to go into. If you can really delve deep into studying this topic, you could reap infinite amounts of useful and applicable knowledge. And if you want to go into the medical field afterwards, there is absolutely nothing preventing you from doing so. You can do whatever you want! My main burden here, though, is that you can be plenty sure to expect the unexpected, especially at Rice where there are opportunities galore for us to explore deeper and experience afresh. This is what Rice is all about, so don’t be afraid to just go for it.

Creating the Perfect Schedule: Freshman Edition

For all you entering freshmen out there, congratulations on choosing Rice! Now that you are going to be a Class of 2020 Rice Owl, I’d like to give you some advice about choosing classes based on my freshman year experience.


1) Don’t overload yourself! This is crucial to ensuring that you do not get overwhelmed in the first few weeks. You have a lot of learning to do outside of the classroom, in addition to your classes. You will learn how to balance your social life, homework schedule, and any extracurricular activities that you take on, in addition to trying to get enough sleep. Taking six full classes with one lab and an LPAP may be tempting, but you’d probably appreciate having some downtime, too. In my free time, I picked up the Rice Owls Dance Team as an extracurricular activity.

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Before Rice Owl Dance Team’s Spring Show 2015 – I had only joined that semester!

2) Try a class outside of your major. Rice is unique because there are many departments that you probably haven’t been exposed to yet. For instance, my freshman fall semester I took a Sociology and Environmental Studies class called “Environmental Issues: Rice Into the Future” that I really liked. I learned about green living practices and worked on a group research paper, which was a nice break from my more technical classes. Taking classes outside of your major is important because you can try new subjects at the introductory level, and you might even major or minor in something that you tried for fun. If you aren’t sure about which class(es) to take, try talking with a peer academic advisor or any upperclassmen for suggestions.

3) Learn a new language. I took Spanish every semester in high school. When I got to Rice, I wanted a change of pace. I decided to take Russian last fall. The class had a large speaking component so we could practice our conversation in class and I learned how to read Cyrillic. My class was small with about 14 people, so we got to know each other well. Rice has 12 languages to choose from, so take advantage of these numerous options.

4) Take UNIV 110. At some point during your freshman year, take this class. It’s called “First Year Foundations.” UNIV 110 covers so many topics, including Rice’s Resources, Health, Identity, and Academics to name a few. There are also guest speakers and panelists, such as Dean Hutchinson, the Dean of Undergraduates. You see performances on campus, go to sporting events, or even to the Career Center to learn about different companies. You get to meet a small group of other freshmen and have an open space to reflect on life. You also have a peer advisor, an upperclassman who gives advice and co-teaches the class. I looked forward to going every week.

Me at the Vagina Monologues to support my Peer Advisor, Christa!

Me at the Vagina Monologues to support my Peer Advisor, Christa!

You may not be able to follow every piece of advice here. Maybe you want to be a Chemical Engineer, which has a 132-hour degree requirement and you don’t have time to cut back on your hours. That’s okay. Maybe you are double majoring and you don’t have time to take classes outside of your majors. That’s okay too. At the very least, try to follow at least one item listed above, to broaden your horizons.

I have a feeling you might be curious to know what I took my freshman year. Well, I’ve attached my old schedules below. Enjoy, and happy planning!

Freshman Fall Schedule

Fall Semester – 14 hours

Spring Schedule

Spring Semester – 16 hours

Improv meets Rice

Every Monday evening, after dinner, I go to one of my favorite classes this semester: Introduction to Improv, taught by Lovett senior Jake Hassell. For an hour every Monday, I get to forget about biochemistry and physical chemistry and instead focus on love, life and laughter.

I mostly signed up for this class because I think Jake is one of the funniest people that I know. I met Jake my sophomore year when he went to Screw Yer Roommate (“Screw”) with my suitemate. Screw is an event planned by Rice Program Council where you set your roommate up on a blind date with anyone across campus. You and your blind date wear matching costumes, coordinated by your respective roommate pairs. On one Friday in early September, all students participating in Screw gather in an outdoor quad and attempt to find their date via their costume. After finding each other, students go to dinner with their blind date in a group of friends. Sophomore year, Jake went with one of my best friends, Alexandra, to Screw. We got dinner together in a local creperie, and ever since then, I knew that Jake was the funniest person I’ve ever met.

Ever since sophomore year, Jake and I have been good friends. Over the years, Jake has put his skills to use by participating in numerous improv comedy shows. On campus, Jake participates in, and is the current president of Spontaneous Combustion, Rice’s oldest and only improv troupe. Off campus, Jake participates in many improv shows across Houston, and kills it every night. So when I heard he was teaching a student taught course on improv this year, I knew that I had to sign up.

Student taught courses (STC’s) are a unique style of courses that allow undergraduates to teach and take classes in non-traditional areas. These courses count for 1 credit hour and are graded on a satisfactory/unsatisfactory scale. They are a fun way to learn about a skill from your peers and to meet new people across campus.

Jake’s course on improv is my favorite STC that I’ve taken. For an hour every week, I meet with eighteen of my friends across campus and play improv games. Through many awkward jokes and laughter, we’ve learned the basics of improv and applied it in a variety of situations. As a part of this course, we have to see an improv show in Houston and critique it. My friends and I attended one this Thursday at Station Theater where Kevin Hart was in the audience! It was insanely fun and I’m so excited to do it again!

While I don’t know if I’ll continue studying improv in the future, I’ve definitely gained a deeper appreciation for the art and will continue to attend improv shows whenever I can. I’m so happy that I had the opportunity to learn this from one of my friends here at Rice!

A Day in the Life of a Junior Chemical Engineer

Before I get into my actual post, I feel the need to address the elephant in the room: Beer Bike (actually Beer Run due to weather) happened last weekend.

Caption: Part of the Martel family celebrating our victory

Part of the Martel family celebrating our victory

Now, onto my actual post. It occurred to me that some people might be curious to know what a typical day is like at Rice. Thus, I present to you a fairly normal Wednesday in the life of a junior chemical engineer. 

9:40 AM – I leave my apartment and bike to campus for morning classes: transport phenomena and thermodynamics. Today’s topics of discussion include mass transfer in pipes (who would have guessed that there would be so much to learn about stuff flowing through pipes?) and thermodynamic stability of mixtures.

12:00 PM – I head to Martel, my residential college, for lunch. I catch up with fellow Martelians and also try to be somewhat productive during this two-hour break from scheduled activities by checking on my protein simulation runs for research.

2:00 PM – Time for lab lecture! This is when we learn about the more practical things we need to know in the world of chemical engineering, such as technical writing and plant economics.

3:00 PM – I go with the other co-captains of the Rice ChemE Car Team to meet with our faculty advisor and show him what we have built so far. The team is working on building a model car powered and stopped by chemical reactions for a competition in which it has to stop some specified distance.

Our chemical powered car. It is powered by an electrochemical reaction between zinc and oxygen, and stopped by a color changing reaction between sodium thiosulfate and hydrochloric acid.

Our chemical powered car. It is powered by an electrochemical reaction between zinc and oxygen, and stopped by a color changing reaction between sodium thiosulfate and hydrochloric acid.

3:30 PM – I head to Fondren Library to work on a lab report with my two awesome lab partners. This week’s lab report is on different types of fluid flow meters and their accuracy at various fluid flow rates.

Circa 11:00 PM – Several hours and a lengthy dinner break later, we read through the report one last time before deciding that it is good to submit. We applaud ourselves for writing the entire report in less than two days, and I head home to finish up a short problem set before going to bed.

Appreciation Post: Study Spots at Rice

In celebration of finishing the final midterms before spring break, I wanted to use this post to pay a small tribute to some of the most wonderful and essential resources Rice has to offer: the study spots. Rice is decked out from one end to another in benches and tables, in little study booths tucked out of the way, and wide, open arrangements of tables. So, as a tribute to the long week of studying we here at Rice have just gotten through, here are some of my favorite study spots:

Fondren Library (aka Fondy)

Rice’s big, loveable library, Fondren, is my place to go when I have an hour here or there and want to get some quick work done, or if I need a spot for quiet and focused work.

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Pictured: Erika with her favorite two fixtures of indoor study spaces, windows and corners.

First, there are study booths on most of the floors that are tucked in alongside the stacks. I like studying here when I really need to be separated and focused. There are individual study booths lining the walkways as well as the types of booths you see pictured here, which are near windows overlooking the back of the library and the quad beyond. There are also amazing study rooms on the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th floors that can be reserved. Amazing if you want to be in a secluded area, but still be able to collaborate with one or two other people.

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What an ideal study booth looks like.

Another cool spot is the first floor, which has a much more open layout and plenty of options for your quick studying option. I like to study on the first floor if I’m trying to just find a desk to do some little tasks on. And the last of the places I’ll mention is the library’s sixth floor, aka Fondy 6th, the silent floor. As an English/Political Science double major who writes often and has a bad habit of typing loudly, I’ve never been up there. But some people love it for really focused, quiet work.

Residential Colleges (aka your home)

Every one of the residential colleges is set up with different places anyone can go and study. Because I’m a resident of Duncan College, I’m specifically talking about Duncan spots, but every residential college has similar spaces.

First, your college’s commons. This is the place to be if you want to collaborate with your friends on a math or physics problem set, or if you’re looking to do some casual paper-editing while talking to people or waiting for the servery to open. Except for maybe around 6am, you’ll always be able to find people in a college’s commons.

Second, college quads. Since Houston weather is great most days, you’ll want to go outside at least at some point. Duncan quad, pictured below, has a great array of picnic tables in sun and shade. Water Bonus: Duncan has the DuncTank, where you can do your readings for your history or chemistry class while listening to the soothing sound of running water.


Duncan Quad. Outdoor residential college spaces are fantastic!

Every residential college also has its own spots. Some have awesome open spaces on each floor, white boards and couches that are great for hanging out, convenient, and open for multiple groups to study in. Others have individual study rooms. Other residential colleges (like Duncan), have a Sundeck or other rooftop spaces. There are days when it feels really great to study while overlooking the Downtown or Med Center skyline, and I can do that here!

Water Bonus: Brockman Water Tank

Lastly, I want to shed some light on one of my favorite outdoor study spots: next to the water tank in front of Hamman Hall and behind Brockman Hall. Out of the way, this is also an amazing place I like to spend time when I want to be outside. It’s hidden between buildings, so not a lot of people are walking back and forth, and even better – it’s in the shade at all times. You can be outside while not worrying about the glare on your computer screen! What more could you want? Recommended in particular for all my social sciences and (non-theatre) humanities friends who are less likely to have class over here and ever find such an awesome spot.

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Brockman water tank also makes for a great spot for your casual study selfies.

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A view of Erika’s favorite nook on campus: the tables between Brockman and Hamman









Most universities are going to have their share of fun spaces you can visit when you need a place to get some work done, but at Rice I really feel like these spaces are here for me. On Rice’s big and beautiful campus, there are so many nooks, that I probably won’t ever find them all. But that’s also part of the fun of it: you can really make the most of the spaces here and make some of them your own. I recommend finding your escape, finding your focus zone, and finding the place that makes your time at Rice feel a little bit more like home. Happy studying, or more importantly – happy exploring!

Rice Packs in the Opportunities

Out of all of the tools that college has given me, my backpack has proved the most useful.

My backpack and I started our journey together right before college. I had never considered it more than an item, something that was useful but unnecessary. It sat in the corner of my room for 3 months during the summer. At least, I thought it was sitting, but really it was preparing.

Our first true adventure was move-in day. I began to see it as a partner, as I didn’t intend on getting a new backpack for the next few years. It politely waited on my desk through O-week as we prepared for the first day of school. All it held was 3 notebooks, 2 pens, a pencil, and a USB drive — all that my naïve new student brain thought I would need.

The backpack and I at a baseball game in Japan!

It was only two weeks in when I started to appreciate the third pocket. Office hours require text books, textbooks that couldn’t be forced into the laptop and folder pocket. They nestled nicely in the third pocket. And the back pack nestled nicely on my shoulders. I vaguely remembered the “EXTRA PADDING” tag, and although the back pack is heavier with text books, there was no digging in of the straps to my shoulders, as if my pack was taking at least part of the stress off of my shoulders. My back pack became my friend.

About halfway through my first semester, the Back Pack and I got a new member. As I joined two club sports teams, and realized I didn’t want to have the smell of outdoors in the same pocket as my essays, my sports bag became essential. It was essentially a large hole, carrying two pairs of shoes, 3 outfit changes, and a smaller pouch for snacks. This back pack has been across the country, won a national championship, and survived communal washers to help me live out the wannabe-varsity-athlete that lives in side of me.

These two back packs carried me through the first semester of my second year. Laptop, journals, Chap Stick, class. Resume, folder, heels, career fair. Band-Aids, cleats, knee brace, tournament. Nail polish, cookies, speaker, girls’ night in. My experiences at Rice University became more and more diversified. So diverse, that I needed yet another backpack. Because my first two packs had allowed my two travel to track meets and performances across campus, the city, and the country, I had met a lot of people. Most importantly, I met one person, who would go on to gift me my next pack.

The Back Pack Pack

This new back pack was pink with polka dots, a little smaller than the usual back pack, with only one compartment. Perfect for letting me run to Target to pick up lemons for my business project, or for carrying my journal to the engineering quad so I could relax on a sunny day. This backpack was like my best girlfriend, making sure I looked cute no matter what was going on. This addition to my pack family made me all the more efficient. I was able to pre-pack my packs, so I could get up and rush to whatever activity was necessary. They had my back, and I am grateful.

Rice University has allowed me the opportunity to participate in international research, civil rights demonstrations, and inner tube water polo. Whatever I have wanted to try, I have had the opportunity here. There are actually so many opportunities, that prioritizing has become my biggest struggle. I want to do everything, to be everything, but the overwhelming amount of activities has actually made me become more of myself. When you have to choose, you want to make sure that you choose wisely, because free time is a luxury. You will find out what you truly enjoy when you come to Rice, and you will have the backpacks to help you through it.