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Selecting courses (#1099)

Topics/tags: Teaching, Grinnell

In a recent musing, I presented an introductory letter to my students. As a followup, I provided my answers to the set of fourteen-or-so questions that students are expected to answer for their (not-yet-known) advisors. The last of those questions was to provide a list of courses for the fall.

Once I started writing about the courses, I realized that my ’blogger voice had taken over [1]. It seemed best not to present them directly to the students in an email message. I’m also too lazy to undertake a rewrite [2,3].

I wasn’t sure whether I should pretend to be a first-year student again or whether I should acknowledge the courses I’ve taken. I decided that no particular model worked. I’m going to pretend that the person I am now is going back to college, although perhaps with fewer of my college classes completed. I’m (mostly) sticking to 100-level classes.

Do you have access to a list of classes? Did my advisees? When I drafted this and visited my de facto source for the list of courses, I see that every course was listed as Canceled, so I relied on incomplete information. Now it’s updated, so I’ve updated a bit.

14. List below several courses you are interested in taking during the first two Fall terms. The typical schedule for new students is 3 courses plus the First-Year Tutorial and the First Year Experience, across two terms (Fall 1 or Fall 2), for a total of 16+ credits. We encourage you to list at least 6 possible courses so that you and your adviser have a number of ideas to consider. Consult Academic Planning for New Students for suggestions on planning a well-balanced schedule.

  • ANT-295-01, ST: Jews, Multiculturalism, and Antisemitism (Fall 1). I have not explored enough of my Jewish identity. College seems to be the place to do that. Plus, I hear that Professor Gibel Mevorach is awesome. (Yes, it’s okay to take a course because you’ve heard great things about the professor. You should also know that what is great for one person may not be great for another.) Whoops. This isn’t a 100-level class. Oh well. I’m still including it.
  • ARH-160-01, Introduction to Museum Studies (Fall 2). I like museums. I’d like to find ways to think more broadly about them. (How’s that for a shallow rationale.)
  • ART-134-01 or ART-134-02, Drawing (Fall 1 or Fall 2). Studio Art is a potential major (or so I’m pretending). I didn’t have a chance to take it when I took art classes seven years ago.
  • ART-195-01, Introduction to Film Studies (Fall 2). A starting point for a possible independent major in film studies.

Hmmm … Four courses, and I’m only through the A departments. At least six should not be hard.

  • BIO-150, Introduction to Biological Inquiry (Fall 1 or Fall 2). Student Sam has heard that this course is one of the highlights of Grinnell’s science program. (Faculty member Sam has said so.) Rather than a giant overview of the field, we get to be scientists, reading the literature, designing an experiment, conducting the experiment, presenting the results. Sounds cool. I just want to be able to pick the one that sounds most interesting to me. Plus, I hear that some sections will be offered in person [4].
  • CSC-151, Functional Problem Solving (Fall 1 or Fall 2). Computer Science is a possible major, or so I’m pretending. And I will be taking this course, at least in some interpretation, since I’m teaching it.
  • ECN-111, Introduction to Economics (Fall 1 or Fall 2). I have no desire to major in Economics. But I feel like I should know something about it. Maybe I’ll put this off until another year. Let’s leave it as a fallback.
  • ENG-121, Introduction to Shakespeare (Fall 1 or Fall 2). I enjoyed my study of Shakespeare in high school. I’d like to continue [5].
  • GLS-195, ST: Japanese Science Fiction (Fall 2). I love science fiction. (Yeah, not the best reason, I know.) I’d look forward to the opportunity to study a different cultural approach.
  • LIN-114, Introduction to General Linguistics (Fall 2). I’m interested in how language works and how languages form. I know Grinnell does not have a linguistics major; perhaps this is a chance to consider an independent major. Or perhaps I can combine this with my other potential independent major and do one on The Language of Film [6].
  • MAT-215, Linear Algebra (Fall 1 or Fall 2). I suppose I should channel pre-college Sam and consider the course that I would have started with. Plus, I expect every tutee to list at least one math class.
  • PHI-111, Introduction to Philosophy (Fall 2). A liberal education without philosophy seems woefully incomplete.
  • POL-101, Introduction to Political Science (Fall 1 or Fall 2). I’d love to have some background to understand what is happening in America (and the world) these days.
  • PSY-113, Introduction to Psychology (Fall 1 or Fall 2). I should do a lab science. Mom was a psychologist. I should understand more of what she did.
  • RUS-101, Beginning Russian I (Fall 2). Everyone should start their career with a language (other than their native language). I’d like to learn one a bit different.
  • STA-209, Applied Statistics (Fall 1 or Fall 2). It feels like one needs to know statistics to understand the world today. Also a potential part of my potential math major.
  • THD-113, Movement for the Performer (Fall 2). I’ll be honest. There’s no way that college-age Sam would have listed this course. It’s also not something that adult Sam would be comfortable taking. But I should have one course that’s a bit risky, one that pushes me far outside my zone of comfort.
  • THD-115, Theatrical Design and Technology (Fall 1). My friends (okay, my kids) took a similar course elsewhere and said it’s wonderful.

And I mustn’t forget my two one-credit classes.

  • MUS-120-16, Perf: Banjo. I tell my students to take music lessons. I should take them, too. Taking up a new instrument seems fun. I would also consider others, perhaps trying a different one each semester. I should consider Voice, but that might torture the poor instructor.
  • PHE-100-25, Beginning Tennis. Such a great sport. Let’s hope my knees can keep up.

How did I do? I have at least six courses. I have a language course and a math course, as required. I have listed courses in multiple potential majors: Studio Art, CS, Mathematics, Film Studies, and Linguistics. I have the required music and wellness courses.

Yeah, I’m one of those students for whom the primary advising task is narrowing choices. But that’s also good; if a course gets closed, it’s easy to find fallbacks. So what would I suggest for myself? (That is, what would Sam as an advisor suggest for the Sam who lists too many courses?) I might start by noting that some courses are unlikely to be available; if I recall correctly, both sections of Shakespeare were full after post-pre-registration. There are likely other full courses. After we talked about that? Ideally, we’d have more of a conversation. This simulated conversation is probably a bit more directive than I might do.

A. Take a language in your first semester. Plan to continue it in your second semester.

Done. I’m taking Russian.

_B. I recommend that you continue mathematics. Since you said that Mathematics is a prospective major, take either MAT-215, Linear Algebra, or STA-209, Applied Statistics.

Statistics is valuable, but it’s not Math [7]. I’ll take it at some point. For now, I’d rather focus on making progress in the major. Let’s go with MAT-215.

C. Try something different than those two. You could consider divisional diversity and add a social studies course. It doesn’t sound like economics or political science are prospective majors. But you’ll never know until you try. Or would you rather explore something different in other ways, such as Drawing or Philosophy? While both are in the same division as Russian, they are no closer to Russian than they are to, say, Applied Statistics.

Can I do ART-195-01, ST: Intro to Film Studies? Didn’t you say that we should try special topic courses because they might not be offered again?

D. Take music lessons. They are included in your tuition. They give you a chance to explore your creative side.


E. Take a wellness course, which most typically means a physical education course. I know it’s trite, but a healthy body supports a healthy mind.

Beginning Tennis.

Great. We’ll cross our fingers that this all works out. But I should warn you that courses do fill at Grinnell. That’s a side effect of having small classes. There have been semesters in which Linear Algebra is not open to first-years. I expect the film studies course will be popular. Can we have fallbacks?

Sure. How do I indicate those?

We’ve now reached a difficult point in the simulated advising session. If we had a traditional first semester, we’d discuss how to optimize the first-year selection sheet. That would include looking at current enrollments. But we’re not doing a traditional first semester. And the faculty have not yet been told what first-year enrollment will look like [8]. Maybe I’ll learn in the Tutorial sessions next week.

Should I have told myself to take CSC 151? It’s an awesome course. I’m not sure my Tutorial students should have to put up with two courses with me, one in each term. We’ll have sections available in spring [9]. If it were a high priority, I’d support the decision. I’d also warn them that it fills (and tell them that, in my experience, any student who wants 151 in their first year will get it in their first year). So let’s leave things as they are.

Speaking of spring, we might lay some groundwork for spring in this discussion [10].

F. Plan to continue Russian.


G. You said CS was a prospective major. If that’s the case, you should take CSC 151 in the spring.


H. It would be good to explore another prospective major.

Linguistics! [11]

I. Let’s plan to fill in the fourth course later. I’d suggest including one of the social studies courses during your first year. Maybe political science, so that you can figure out what happened in the election. And who knows, you might discover a new passion.

Ok. [12]

J. You’ll need a music course and a wellness course in the spring. We’ll also discuss those later—after you’ve had more time to acclimate to Grinnell.


Course selections! Explanations! A mock advising session! Mockery! What else could you want?

Oh, I know. Real people. Real discussion. I look forward to hearing what my tutees are considering and to help them in their planning. But I won’t tell you about those conversations. Sorry.

[1] Perhaps it had earlier, but it did not seem quite so pronounced.

[2] To be honest, I could not come up with a good way to rewrite my list with an appropriate tone.

[3] To be honest, writing them this way feels more honest to who I am or would be as a student.

[4] Should one trust hearsay?

[5] I failed to reflect sufficiently on that issue when I was an undergraduate at Chicago. Shakespeare with Bevington was one of the most desired courses, one that students slept out to register for. I hung out with my friends who were sleeping out to get early registration slots but never used my own for that course. I did, however, use my early registrations for film courses with Mast.

[6] While a Language of Film independent major would be fun, I don’t think one could successfully treat linguistics and film studies as a combined major, at least not in that way. I’m also not sure how a film studies major and a language of film major differ. On the other hand, I know my awesome colleagues in linguistics and dance have looked at the language of choreography together, so perhaps something like this would be possible. Now I’m even more excited to be an undergraduate again.

[7] I was arrogantly snarky as a college student. I should reproduce at least a little of that attitude here.

[8] Does anyone know what first-year enrollment will look like, or is that process still being designed? I don’t know.

[9] I’m not sure whether or not I’ll be teaching one of those.

[10] I have that discussion planned for later in the term, but sometimes it happens naturally as part of the discussion.

[11] Not an official major. We’d need to have that conversation.

[12] It appears that I’m an agreeable student.

Version 1.0 of 2020-07-18.