Social Science Owl: Claire Noel

Most people think of Rice as a STEM focused school with most students majoring in natural science or engineering. I used to think the same thing and came into this university wanting to pursue a degree in natural science. However, I quickly found out that the people around me were not all studying science and a large amount of my friends were studying social sciences and humanities at Rice. Two of my O-week advisors, multiple people on my floor and in the campus band, and some of my closest friends are all pursuing a major in the social sciences. One of my friends, Claire, is a double major in political science and social policy analysis. Continue reading

The Weather in Houston

Houston is a magical place. Back in my home city, I would have been bathing myself in the coziness of spring for a while by now, yet being a Rice student, I have no choice but to check the weather forecast every twelve hours so that I don’t surprise myself with a 30-degree temperature drop or an accidental thunderstorm when I step out of my room. This habit just paid me off today: had I not checked the weather I would have gone out on tomorrow morning only to discover that the temperature had dropped from 72 to 40. A friend of mine was the one who taught me this lesson: she was wearing shorts and a T-shift on a fine, early November day but had to post on FaceBook to borrow a down jacket at night because the temperature suddenly dropped below 40 over just a few hours. A Texas native who nonetheless is not a Houston native, she apparently didn’t expect the temperature to go this low in the fall semester.

Not only does Houston have such a capricious climate, but it also, for the most part, has only two seasons—summer and winter. If you really think that you are going to experience spring or autumn here, I must sincerely regret your loss. As I struggle through my classes every semester, I would often find myself surrounded by the characteristic Houston heat and humidity on one day and freezing to an ice cube on the other. If you would like to have a taste of spring or fall in Houston, your best bet would be to put on all your winter clothes on a cold day so that what you feel might roughly approximate what you feel during those seasons in a city that has a more benign climate.

Therefore, to get the best out of Houston’s erratic climate, you should probably bring clothes for all four seasons: only so can you use clever combinations to experience whatever you want when there are only two alternating seasons. Also bring with you protective equipment such as raincoats and rainboots: after living here for a year, you would not be surprised when Houston transforms from a desert into a swamp overnight. Lastly, although I’ve said a lot of scary things about the weather in Houston, it does occasionally afford nice days that are good for field trips and hangouts, so definitely take advantage of them when such opportunities arise!

The Thing About Rice’s Courses

Walking out of Herzstein Hall Amphitheater with a cinnamon donut on my hand, I breathed in the cold air and let out a long sigh–the COMP midterm’s finally over.

COMP 182 is the most daunting computer science major requirement course for Rice freshmen as it has been regarded as one of the most time-consuming and difficult CS core course. Over the past years, creative students had made interesting comments about it: “It’s a good thing this course is offered in the Spring only. If it were offered in the Fall, some freshmen students might still be under 18, and then this course would be considered child abuse. (A COMP 182 student, Spring 2015).” With that being said, I had just had my COMP 182 midterm exam yesterday. Sitting in front of my desk last night, I couldn’t help letting my mind flashback to see how far I’d gone through this notoriously difficult class: I had been staying up late debugging my homework for three days without having a single clue what I did wrong, I had gone through multiple TA sessions in a week but still couldn’t think of the correct proof (yes COMP 182 covers not only programming, but also discrete mathematics), and I had to sacrifice all my leisure time studying at Fondren library for the midterm. It seems a little bit discouraging, isn’t it?

However, now that I had gone through the test, I realized how much I’d learned from this class. Not just Python or coding in general, but also how to write a rigorous mathematical proof and reasoning the correctness of the algorithms. Moreover, the coding projects that we did every two weeks are related to solving real problems in the world, like computing an epidemic outbreak in the hospital. They gave a great insight as to what computer scientists do and how they approach problems that seem unrelated to computer science but can be solved using computational thinking skills. It made me realize that computer science is not only about coding. More importantly, it is about the way we approach to problem solving–decomposing a major problem and coming up with solutions to sub-problems.

In fact, this is the beauty of most Rice classes. They are not designed to make you pass them easily. Instead, they are there to challenge you, to question you, to make you learn, and eventually to better you. Of course there can be some discouraging moment when you think you can’t keep up, but there are always people who are willing to help you: besides your friends and classmates, there are TAs (32 TAs in COMP 182) and professors who are there to answer your questions. In other words, the instructors don’t just assign extremely difficult questions and let you struggle alone. On the contrary, they want to help you learn the difficult concepts that will benefit you in the future.

With that being said, although I’m struggling at COMP 182, I’ll still keep on learning. It’s the spirit of Rice academics and the main reason why I love Rice.

Don’t Be Fooled by a False First Glance of Rice

A few weekends ago, our campus was visited by enthusiastic students from across the country in search of experiencing life at Rice. These prospective students were part of Rice’s fly-in program Vision, which draws a diverse range of people from this year’s pool of applicants. As I saw the excited, nervous, and awed faces of these prospies, I was forced to reminisce on my own experience at Vision last year.
I still cannot believe that it has been an entire year since I was in the same position as those high school students. My first year at Rice is passing by at a thousand miles per second, and soon I will be forced to leave my beloved residential college for the summer. Thinking back on my own experience at Vision, I came to the realization that it provided me with an incomplete perspective of student life at Rice. In all honesty, I disliked my first visit to Rice because it portrayed an academically-competitive, boring and challenging environment. I left with a bad impression , erroneously believing that this college was full of “awkward nerds”. Had it not been for the wonderful advice that I received from enrolled Rice students, I would have never committed to this school.
If you find yourself feeling out of place at Rice during your first visit, don’t fear. There is no way to capture a realistic image of student life at Rice in just a few days. You need to live through the sense of excitement during Matriculation, the bonding times during Orientation Week, and the college-pride of being in your residential college to truly experience a snippet of what being a Rice Owl is really like. From taking a selfie with President Leebron to attending the numerous cultural shows held by student organizations, life at Rice is unexpected, thrilling and worthy. There will be Friday nights when you will be stuck studying at the library or Sunday mornings where you will be overwhelmed by all the work that you procrastinated over the weekend, but that’s just part of the sacrifices that a college education requires. College life is difficult and challenging and never ending at times, but there’s a big Rice family waiting to help you out.

Selfie with President Leebron


Being BioE at Rice

Rice has a popular Bioengineering program. Whether you are pre-med, pre-grad or pre-industry, Rice’s top-10 ranked program, its proximity to the Texas Medical Center, and various research opportunities make being a Bioengineer at Rice an incredibly rewarding experience. I came into Rice wanting to be a Bioengineer (or BioE, as they are called), but not really knowing what it entailed. Now, two years later, I have grown to love the major, and am convinced that it is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Freshman bioengineering majors usually do not take any core bioengineering classes but must take the ‘big three’ – General Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus, along with Introduction to Engineering Computing. The first core bioengineering class that BioEs take is BIOE 252, Bioengineering Fundamentals, during sophomore fall. This class consists of a lecture portion and a project-based portion. While the lecture portion teaches you the basic conservation principles that govern engineering, the project-based portion makes this class by far the most interesting class I’ve taken at Rice. Students are assigned a team, and each team is given two open-ended projects to complete over the semester. These projects are mainly student-run, with the professor offering only basic guidance. Not only were these projects fun to work on, they also introduced me to engineering design, helped me polish my teamwork skills, and taught me how to approach real-life engineering problems.

As bioengineering is one of the most credit-hour-intensive majors at Rice, it is necessary to often check to ensure that you’re on track- most classes require multiple prerequisites. However, Bioengineering at Rice has an excellent advising system, with plenty of resources and helpful major advisors. Some students opt to do a minor along with their Bioengineering major. With a strong support system, it is easy to plan your time at Rice such that you get the most out of the opportunities.

Lastly, the heavy workload of being a Bioengineering major can at times be stressful and quite overwhelming. It is at times like these that the BioE community is helpful. As all the BioEs in your year take the same classes at the same time, there are always peers happy to with difficult assignments, to inspire and motivate you, and who understand your struggles. From my two years being a Rice Bioengineering Student, I am grateful for the interesting and challenging classes I have had a chance to take, but I am more grateful for the friendships I have made with my BioE peers!

Your Village At Rice

“It takes a village to get you here. And it takes a village to get you along your journey here.”

Reflecting on her undergraduate years now as a medical student, a Rice Alumni said those words during a discussion about her journey as a pre-med student at Rice. From the beginning of O-Week, Rice students hear a lot about the culture of care at Rice and how everyone is here if you need support and it’s incredible how evident that statement is in every part of life.

Last Sunday night around 11:30pm, I was finishing up some last minute work when there was an outbreak of noise outside my door. Unbothered by it, I continued working when there was pounding on my door. Opening my door, I saw my friend, who was holding his laptop and had a disappointed look on his face.  Hearing that he spilled half of his water bottle on his laptop, I took his laptop and attempted to wipe it off while also using a blow dryer to attempt to get some of the water off. I also called a friend who was at Fondren Library as she had uncooked rice in her room from when this exact incident happened to her last fall. She ran all the way from Fondren to McMurtry College to grab the rice and bring it to my room. Just as we were going to place the computer in rice and hope for the best after blow drying it, the laptop started making noise and turned back on, right to the document that my friend had been working on (but forgot to save). We all started cheering and he took his laptop to finish his assignment. While a simple example of what Rice students are capable of, this culture only increases as the time to choose Orientation Week Advisors arrives.

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