Mid-semester Reflections: Knowing When to PDF a Class

Last spring, I began the semester specifically planning to PDF my English class. I knew my schedule would be time-consuming, since in addition to English, I was also taking immunology, organic chemistry, intro to material science, and Portuguese. Because I intended to count all of my other courses as either CBE departmental electives or towards a Portuguese certificate, so I thought it would be wisest to PDF English. 

However, half-way through the semester, I realized that I was doing relatively well with the English coursework, so I probably did not need to PDF the course. The course that was actually more time-consuming and difficult than I had expected was immunology. This caused me to rethink my process for choosing how to select a course to PDF. I started to look at the course load itself instead of just at the requirements I was satisfying, and in the end, I chose to PDF immunology. In this post, I will discuss in more detail some things I considered before making my decision and offer tips for selecting to PDF a class. 

Opting to PDF a class can be really helpful during a stressful semester. Before making the decision, be sure to consider the different factors outlined on this post.

  1. Be honest with yourself about where you stand with the course. The PDF deadline is in November for fall semester and in April for spring semester, so by then, you should have grades for your first major assignments in each course. Based on the grades left for the rest of the semester and the workload for the class, determine whether you can realistically reach the grade you are striving for. When I was thinking about using a PDF for immunology, I considered the fact that I still had one exam, a quiz, and the final left to complete, which together accounted for 55% of my final grade. Although mathematically, I could still obtain a grade I would have been satisfied with, in reality— considering the rest of my courses— I probably would not have been able to put in the additional study time to obtain the scores I needed. With English, however, I could realistically obtain those grades. 

2. Speak with your Adviser. I was hesitant to PDF immunology instead of English because I knew English would be a distributional requirement, which I could definitely PDF. On the other hand, I intended to count immunology as an elective towards my CBE breadth requirement, so I was not entirely sure about my options for the course. After speaking with my adviser, he explained that I was allowed to PDF immunology, but it would not be counted for my requirement; it would simply be a free elective. He then gave me different alternatives that I could take to satisfy the rest of my breadth requirements, including courses such as CBE419: Enzymes, which I am now currently enrolled in. If you are unsure about whether or not you should PDF a course, reach out to your academic adviser to discuss your choices. 

3. Think about how you will learn best. Given that immunology could be a departamental and it is related to the work I hope to do in the future,  I was very interested by the content of the class. But during the first half of the course, I was so focused on doing well on the exams that I was not retaining as much information as I would have liked. Before this, I was under the impression that electing to PDF a class meant simply having a broad interest in the subject, which is why I intended to PDF English in the first place: I was interested in the intersection of food and literature (the focus on my English class), but not on the same level as my other departmentals. However, after I chose to PDF immunology, I did not put any less effort into the class. Instead, I studied to learn the material rather than only to strive for a grade, which was a better strategy for me. PDFing a class does not necessarily translate to being less interested in a class; it just means you can continue to focus on the course without being as concerned about your actual letter grade.   

Choosing to PDF or even drop a class can be really helpful during a stressful semester. In making that decision, it is helpful to consider not just what requirements each course can fulfill, but also how demanding the workload for each course is.

This semester, the PDF selection period is from November 4th to November 22nd, so if you are thinking about choosing to PDF a class, do an honest assessment about where you stand with the coursework and speak with your academic adviser about your options. 

–Saira Reyes, Engineering Correspondent