Choosing Classes that Align with Your Research Interests

With spring course selection coming up very soon, it can be intimidating to try and pick your classes from the massive selection advertised on the Course Offerings website. Maybe you have a few ideas about the type of classes you’d like to take, but creating a balanced schedule while also making sure you’re on track to fulfill your requirements can be a big undertaking. I also want to encourage you to keep one more element in mind when it comes to picking classes: potential research opportunities. The final paper you write in your favorite class next semester is not only your next great writing sample, but could be the beginning of your next big research project. Better yet, forming a relationship with your favorite professors is a great way to open doors to research opportunities. But if you’re looking to try something slightly out of your comfort zone, where should you start when looking at new courses? Here are a few of my tips.

a screenshot of the search tools on the course offerings website
When browsing for courses, be sure to look at the Advanced Search options!
  1. Ask yourself: What did you wish you could have learned more about this semester?

It seems self explanatory, but especially if you are taking survey courses, thinking back to your favorite lecture from the past few months and trying to find a higher level class that aligns with the topic is a great place to start when designing your next course load. When I took the Western Humanities Sequence my freshman year, some of my favorite lectures were the ones on art history. As a result, I decided to take more Art and Archeology classes. A year later and I’m planning on concentrating in the department! If you’re nervous about trying something new, also remember to use your PDFs. Rather than trying to save them for later years (when you likely will be taking courses for your concentration that you won’t be able to PDF anyway), use your PDF options early on to give yourself more leeway when exploring different subject areas. 

  1. Look at course evaluations

When it comes to requirements, most of the time, you don’t have much choice when it comes to taking a class with a low rating. Picking classes for fun is a whole different story. An engaging professor can make anything interesting. Trust the wisdom of crowds, and find the middle ground between classes that pique your personal interest and those that get a high course evaluation rating. If a course that you’re interested in doesn’t have any ratings yet, you can also search the course offerings website by instructor to get a sense of what a professor is like from other courses they have taught in the past. It’s important to note that course evaluations won’t always give the full picture, but they can be a good place to start. PCUR also has other articles on course selection with lots of student recommendations to check out!

  1. Ask your current professors (or academic advisor, or Dean of Studies) for recommendations

Looking at the courses your favorite professors are teaching next semester can be a great place to start if you have no idea what classes you want to take. But professors don’t teach many classes in a semester, and a lot of the time the specific 400-level seminar they are running won’t fit into your course planning for one reason or another. It goes without saying that it is also great to take classes with new professors! If you are really lost in terms of what to take, consider going to office hours to discuss your research interests with one of your professors. They may not specialize in your specific area of interest themselves, but they can push you in the direction of someone else who does. I am a big fan of going to office hours for any reason, but if this sounds intimidating, don’t stress. You can always start by just sending an email.

— Kate Weseley-Jones, Humanities Correspondent