Academic Realizations and Reflections, Junior Year Edition

I am a Psychology and English double major, which means I get to read and write – a lot. On a daily basis, my backpack is full of thick reading packets, several novels, and a hefty textbook or two. To some, this may sound like a nightmare. For me, reading is what I’m all about.

Double majors are pretty common at Rice. But before I got here, I thought that I would solely focus on Psychology as an academic major. “College is hard, how could I handle not just one but two sets of requirements and workloads??” This was my mindset in high school. Since then, I have learned some very important lessons about academics. Though this all comes from my own personal experience, I want to share a few valuable realizations I’ve come to during my past two and a half years at Rice:

  1. If you love what you’re doing, you’re learning in more ways than one. You’re not just completing major requirements – each and every class can teach you something about your passions, how you communicate, your work ethic, and your capabilities. When you enjoy reading lengthy articles, conducting research, or finally completing a challenging problem set, you’re not just checking things off of a to-do list, or storing information in your mind for a midterm. You learn a thing or two about yourself when you realize what kind of information jumps out at you in articles, where you have to stop and scratch your head while you’re writing out a proof, or how you contribute to a group project.
  2. No major is better/easier/harder than the other. This becomes pretty obvious when you spend time with friends who are majoring in vastly different things. Your passions as well as your work habits may not line up with theirs – but you’re not the only one working hard. Media articles “ranking” majors according to intelligence, average income, and popularity do not reflect reality; majoring in something is a personal experience. No two Psychology majors are the same. That goes without saying, but it’s important to remind ourselves, and to respect others. Thankfully, Rice has so many incredible, different people doing incredible, different things. And that is by no means defined by how “good/hard/challenging” their majors are – those are value judgments we need to save for the media (if not altogether get rid of).
  3. Taking advantage of the endless opportunities that a university like Rice offers can make the biggest impact on your life. A single email recruiting job applicants, sent on the Social Sciences mailing list during my freshman year, changed my life. I applied to an English immersion summer camp abroad, where I discovered (or perhaps rediscovered, in my case) my passion for teaching and working with young kids. I have worked there for two summers now, and I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for the self-discovery and the friendships it has offered me. Although I am still a junior, I am now hoping to teach English at primary or secondary schools after I graduate. I learned so much about myself from one single opportunity that Rice offered me; all it took was a single click on an email attachment.
My suitemates and I are vastly different people, with very different majors, doing very different things – but we are constantly supporting and encouraging each other’s’ endeavors. We are all enjoying our individual college experiences here at Rice.

My suitemates and I are vastly different people, with very different majors, doing very different things – but we are constantly supporting and encouraging each other’s endeavors here at Rice.

Club Fondy

The place where homework is finished moments before its deadline, where students study until wee hours into the dawn, where the printers never fail us, where bookshelves are filled to the brim containing knowledge still left to acquire, and where the study spaces have the perfect balance of comfort and light is where I spend most of my time: Fondren Library. This unofficial twelfth college, affectionately known as Club Fondy, is open to all Rice students and faculty almost 24/7. Located right in the Academic Quad at the heart of campus, students flock to the library at all hours of the day to complete their work in their favored quiet serene place.

My college journey only began a few weeks ago, but Fondren Library has quickly become one of my favorite places to go during the week when I need a silent place to finish my homework or study for exams that never seem to end. Each floor of Fondren has unique architecture, study spaces, and ambiance, all of which I would recommend exploring before deciding on your favorite floor. As a general trend, the noise level on each floor decreases as you move up the building, with sixth floor being the quietest – perfect for the students who need zero distractions to complete their work. Finding the best fit for you is crucial to help you get the most out of your library experience.

Fondren is not just your typical library with books, computers, and printers. It houses some of the most unique services found on campus, such as the Center for Written, Oral, and Visual Communication, where trained professionals help students improve essays and research papers, as well as ace medical school interviews; the Digital Media Commons (my favorite) where students can check out professional cameras and video cameras, use the video/photography studio, and create high quality posters, audio, video, and more; and the Brown Fine Arts Library with hundreds of thousands of books, periodicals, music scores, and more from around the world. Students can also find centers dedicated to GIS/Data Collection and preserving government information. It is one of the most versatile buildings on campus that everybody visits at least once, and most who do visit find it hard to leave.

Fondren Library, a familiar sight from the very heart of the campus

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.

2015_04_10 Spring RODT Team Photo

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.