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.

Why I Chose Rice

Today after my economics class, I checked in at the admissions office to grab a lunch host card and round up a few prospective students and their parents. As a volunteer for the Student Admission Council, this has been a semi-regular occurrence since I first came to Rice. (If you come to Rice for a tour, I’d strongly suggest you stay for lunch—you’ll learn a lot and you might even get to talk to me!)

I lunch-host for several reasons. One of them is to push myself out of my comfort zone (I’m introverted by nature); another is that it’s a way to remind myself about the great things that happen at Rice. Most importantly though, I do it because I enjoy talking to prospective students and hearing their questions, stories, interests, aspirations. Over time, I’ve heard a lot of questions, and today I want to talk about one of the most common ones I get asked: “Why did you choose Rice?”

My answer when I first committed and now, a year later, is still the same—because of the people. Rice is an institution of learning, just like other colleges and universities across the nation and around the world. However, each school is truly defined by the people within it—the professors, the staff, the students; without the people, a university is simply a collection of buildings and spaces.

I remember visiting Rice during Owl Days (which is coming up again soon!) and meeting people that I eagerly wanted to become friends with (and later on, did befriend). I met so many students who were down-to-earth and actively interested in reaching out. I met professors who were excited about not only the material they taught, but also the students they were teaching.

A year from now I can say these things are true with more certainty; I see it every day. I continue to meet cool people and make friends as the year progresses. Rice students take an active interest in helping their community, whether it be at their residential college, the entirety of Rice, or outside the hedges in Houston. Professors are excited to be here and teach, and mine have always been happy to answer my questions in order to give me a deeper understanding of the material.

These are just some of the more obvious things I see because of the people. Small things, like making magic through music with the Nocturnal a cappella team, or big things, like getting to attend a talk by Joe Biden (and more recently, an Apollo 13 astronaut) also happen because of the people here.

Incredible things happen every day because of the people. That’s why I chose Rice.

I’m thankful to be at Rice 🙂

The Importance of Organization

The other day, an acquaintance told me that I should use a Google calendar. He had good intentions, but I already have an excellent system. I keep a 2.5 ft x 3.5 ft wall calendar for events outside of class and a planner for coursework and assignments. When I am not in class or participating in something on my calendar, I look to my planner so I can do assignments in between. (Note: the assignments take a fairly long time – Rice is a challenging university)

My calendar is color-coded: black is labs, class cancellations, and office hours; dark blue is dance team; light brown is non-dance team exercise; light blue is interviews/job stuff; light green is vacation days, dark pink is social events; red is exams, and orange is impending deadlines (with the intention of being erased upon completion, preceded by a checkbox).

A benefit to using a non-technological calendar is privacy. I like knowing that I have full control of my time to allocate as I see fit. There are gaps in my schedule, but those are necessary breaks to eat, sleep, and be human. These intentional gaps prevent burnout and keep me motivated to continue pursuing whatever I am doing. Many people over-schedule and over-commit themselves to extracurricular activities, which causes them to become more stressed.

You may use a Google calendar or electronic alternative, and that is great if it works for you. You may think my system is old-fashioned or outdated, but then again, I still talk to people on the phone, instead of DM’ing or tweeting on Twitter, so it’s really personal preference. (Note: many people still prefer phone calls!)

The main reason I haven’t gone electronic? “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My calendar system is a well-oiled machine, and I don’t see things changing any time in the near future.

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

For the last week, campus has been in good spirits, even though many of us are going through a second round of midterms. Why, you might ask? Two words: Willy Week!

Willy Week is the week leading up to Beer Bike, an annual Rice tradition where a day of festivities culminates with a bike race between teams from the residential colleges. There’s a men’s team, a women’s team, and a team for alumni from each college; so if you like biking, you can join your college’s bike team once you get to campus! Throughout Willy Week, the residential colleges host activities for students to enjoy themselves and forget about the stress of classwork and exams. It’s a week full of special events, fun and games, and water balloons (more on the water balloons later).

My residential college, Sid Rich, put on its own share of activities. This year, these included the annual Mr. Sid pageant, where 5 male Sidizens competed for the top prize. We also had a private dinner service one evening where we got to dress up and bond over fancy food. My favorite Sid Willy Week tradition, however, was the annual Orc Raid.

For Orc Raid, me and a bunch of other Sidizens assembled outside. Wearing all black, we covered ourselves in black and red paint, Sid’s college colors. Then, as a mob, we ran all over campus, infiltrating the commons of other colleges. By shouting cheers and jumping on tables, we asserted our dominance as the best residential college (in our eyes at least). Along the way, we got a few weird looks from people doing homework and even joined a group of people in the Will Rice commons singing karaoke (because, let’s be real, Adele never fails to bring everyone together).

Sid infiltrates Duncan commons!

There is a friendly rivalry between all the colleges about which one truly is the best. While there really is no answer to this question, Rice students are pretty partial to the one they call home. This rivalry is especially magnified during Willy Week, and reaches its peak come Beer Bike morning.

Here’s where the water balloons come into play. Throughout Willy Week, students spend time between classes filling up water balloons. Then, as the final activity before the bike races on the morning of Beer Bike, thousands of students take their positions around the perimeter of a big field for (unofficially) the world’s largest water balloon fight. It’s a Hunger-Games-esque battle where everyone gets soaking wet (but it’s so much fun getting to throw balloons at your friends!).

Tens of thousands of balloons are thrown in a matter of minutes!

Throughout the week, I was able to make lasting memories with my friends and fall even more in love with Rice and its unique traditions. Getting to experience Willy Week and Beer Bike for myself made me understand why it’s nicknamed Christmas. There’s definitely a reason why something so special only comes once each year.

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.