What to do when Courses Require Instructor Permission

It’s that time of year again: everyone is spending endless amounts of time browsing and discussing the available spring courses with their friends, advisers, and mentors. The buildup is for good reason: it’s important to put together a balanced, enjoyable course schedule (for tips on how to go about doing that, check out this post).

I’ve personally had my eye on NEU 350, the neuroscience major requirement known for teaching data analysis techniques and lab procedures. Thus far in my Princeton career, I’ve learned a lot about theoretical methods within the discipline, but I’ve yet to actually apply those methods myself and work with real data. I wanted to take the class to learn these skills and broaden my understanding of what actual work within the neurosciences looks like.

However, I noticed under the “Prerequisites and Restrictions” header of the course on the registrar website that sophomores need permission from the Instructor to take the course. I found this odd considering that many sophomores are enrolled in NEU 314, a class that is typically taken by neuro majors the semester before NEU 350. The need for instructor permission felt intimidating to say the least, and in this post, I’ll share a few steps I took to learn more about NEU 350 and whether or not I should take it this spring.

An example of the brain-wave data that gets analyzed in NEU 350

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How to Select Courses

The registrar for spring courses came out not too long ago. It’s time to start thinking about course selection!

Each semester, Princeton offers over 1,000 courses, taught in over 100 departments and programs, over a range of 8 distributions by professors who have served as Presidents, been awarded Nobel Prizes, made groundbreaking discoveries in their fields, and received Pulitzer Prizes. At Princeton, each course is not just a series of lessons; courses are opportunities–opportunities to travel, to get to know professors, to learn methods for independent work, to explore your interests.

With so much available each semester, how does one pick just 4 or 5 courses to take?

Here is a guide to Princeton’s (many) resources for selecting courses. Included are reviews of different online applications for course searching and scheduling and a few general tips of advice.

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Structuring Senior Year: Choosing Courses

The registrar will soon be releasing fall course offerings. Even as spring semester continues full speed ahead, many juniors are beginning to think about the coming year. Especially for A.B. seniors, who take only six classes, the questions of which to take, how many to take, and how to balance them with a thesis and post-graduation plans, all loom. Remembering how I, as a second semester junior, relied on advice from outgoing seniors, I decided to compile some of my own reflections on approaching coursework in senior year.

Three-three or four-two? For most A.B. students, senior year is the only time we take six courses, rather than eight or nine, to make more time for independent research. We may divide these courses in two ways: three each semester; or four in the first, two in the second. This decision may come down to a number of factors, including: your ability to plan ahead and pace your work, your spring extracurricular conflicts, and your research requirements (for some, scheduling lab work is an important consideration). Personally, I am so grateful for my decision to take four and then two. Especially since I have two theses — one for the Spanish and Portuguese concentration, and a thesis play for the theater certificate — I appreciate the lighter course load.

Final requirements? As you select final courses, narrowing down the choices can seem impossible. Before you make any decisions, first consult your departmental, certificate, and distribution requirements. Many departments have advising tools and calendars to help keep you on track. If you have any prerequisites left, check if these courses are only offered one semester. Senior fall, for instance, was my last opportunity to take ANT 300, a requirement for the Ethnography certificate. Having this in my schedule helped me limit my other choices.

One tool that might help with course selection is recal.io, which allows you to develop a potential class schedule. Here is the schedule I developed last year at this time for my senior fall.

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Hackademics and Principedia: Upgraded Course Evaluations

This past Saturday, I ventured to Whitman Dining hall for a delicious Saturday Brunch (featuring my favorite breakfast burritos)…but, more importantly, I went to the McGraw Center’s Spring 2016 Hackademics workshop. Hacakademics is a relatively recent initiative that helps Princeton students crowdsource in-depth analyses of the courses offered here. Each participant in the “hackathon” contributes by choosing a course that hasn’t already been documented during previous Hackademics, and analyzing it in-depth to help students who plan to take the course in the future.

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On Saturday, I joined 20 other students at Whitman Private Dining Room to participate in the McGraw Center’s Spring Hackademics Workshop!

The workshop started with Nic Voge, the associate director of McGraw’s Learning Program, giving us an overview of how the hackathon would work. He talked about the need for great course analyses and introduced us to Principedia, the online database of all the course analyses done at past Hackademics. Previously, I thought that the only organized resources we had for choosing classes were the mandatory course evaluations on TigerHub. While those course evaluations are helpful, they frequently present readers with conflicting pieces of undetailed information; I could really see the motivation behind Principedia. Plus, all Hackademics participants got to take lots of cool swag — and they raffled off two coffee machines!

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