Shopping Week

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Sometimes optimization correlates with maximization. This was the principle I used when booking my flight back to Cambridge at the beginning of this Spring semester. After spending the majority of my J-term (January term/Winter Break) in Vietnam, I still wanted to be able to come back to campus and rub it in EVERYONE’S face that my break consisted of soaking up glorious California sunshine. That’s why I arrived the Sunday night before the first day of class. How did I have time to catch up with my ultimate bestie, unpack, and determine the future of my semester all while maintaining a low stress level??

Every semester begins with an angelic (or hectic!) week of Shopping, creatively termed Shopping Week, where students have the ultimate freedom to sit in – or walk out – of classes in order to evaluate courses as they see fit. Professors can’t assign homework and there aren’t any (discussion) sections or five hour labs to consume your evenings. It’s literally the perfect way to ease back into academics due to the lack of pressure to commit. In fact, the majority of kids on campus don’t know what classes they’ll be enrolling in for the semester. I’ve extrapolated this fact from the nifty course shopping tool that connects with students’ Facebook.

It definitely felt like everyone was shopping into the wee hours of the night – organizing, scheduling, and mapping the most efficient routes in order to snatch that golden seat! The hype is well deserved because there’s a plethora of engaging and wonderfully taught classes (don’t get me wrong – you’ll also run into a handful of classes you’ll dread with professors you don’t want at your birthday party) and only a handful of semesters to finesse them into.

I only had some light shopping to do since sophomores are required to declare their concentration (major) during their fall semester as well as organize a list of intended classes that will fulfill your requirements. I also anticipated my laziness and tried to counter it before I left for Vietnam 🙂

These are the classes I’ll be (most likely) taking this semester:

Spanish 50 – Writing and Performance: An advanced language course designed to strengthen and develop competence in written expression. Close reading of texts in literary and non-literary genres will help students refine personal style. The performance of short excerpts of plays, combined with advanced work on oral expression and phonetics, will help students increase their fluency and ease of expression.

Hopefully this will prepare me even more for my summer abroad…knock on wood…keep your fingers crossed!

Ethical Reasoning 24 – Bioethics: Bioethics is the study of ethical issues arising in efforts to maintain and restore health, and, more broadly, with charting humankind’s future in an era of both technological advances and unmet need. We will try to reason our way through moral dilemmas that pit health against freedom, prevention against rescue, and the claims of those with competing needs when life itself hangs in the balance. The course will emphasize ethical issues involving health that arise at the global and population levels, particularly those involving peoples and regions with the greatest burden of disease.

Although Gen-Eds are typically not respected by most students, I’m really glad Harvard’s liberal arts educational system gives me a little push out of my comfort zone and encourages me to take classes that I wouldn’t normally enroll in. Most of the fun facts I drop in conversation stem from these Gen-Ed gems!

Chemistry 27 – Organic Chemistry of Life: Chemical principles that govern the processes driving living systems are illustrated with examples drawn from biochemistry, cell biology, and medicine. The course deals with organic chemical reactivity (reaction mechanisms, structure-reactivity relationships), with matters specifically relevant to the life sciences (chemistry of proteins, nucleic acids, drugs, natural products, cofactors, signal transduction), and with applications of chemical biology to medicine and biotechnology.

Pushing through my second semester of orgo…wish me luck because I’ll need TONS of it!

Physical Science 3 – Electromagnetism, Circuits, Waves, Optics: This course is an introduction to electromagnetism, digital information, waves, optics and sound. Topics covered include: electric and magnetic fields, electrical potential, circuits, simple digital circuits, wave propagation in various media, microscopy, sound and hearing. The course will draw upon a variety of applications to the biological sciences and will use real-world examples to illustrate many of the physical principles described. This course is part of an integrated introduction to the physical sciences intended for students who plan to pursue a concentration in the life sciences and/or satisfy pre-medical requirements in Physics.

I absolutely avoided all physics in high school, but I found myself really enjoying Physical Science 2 so I’m really looking forward to this class! It’s VERY well organized and I’m obsessed with the professor (Logan McCarty). Here’s a student review on the Q guide of Physical Science 2: There’s a lot of infrastructure to help out if you’re having trouble, Logan is great, Melissa is hilarious, and the problem sets and midterms are manageable. The final was tougher than the midterms though so watch out.

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If Family Feud were to poll 100 Harvard students and asked whether or not the students felt they were productive, I would bet my right leg (or maybe just my left pinky…) that all one hundred would answer “no,” regardless of concentration, gender, and hair color. These poll results aren’t because we spend all day bashing Yale; instead, we hardly feel productive because we’re too passionate.



Widener Library during Harvard's 375th!


One of the greatest advantages of Harvard College is “Shopping Week,” the first week of every semester where students have the ultimate freedom to sit in – or walk out – of classes in order to evaluate courses as they see fit. It’s literally the perfect way to ease back into academics due to the lack of pressure to commit. Professors can’t assign homework and there aren’t any (discussion) sections or five hour labs to consume your evenings. The week is typically dedicated to socializing and organizing your extra-curricular calendar which comes with a hefty load of informational sessions, adviser meetings, and applications. These extra-curricular activities have a snowball effect; after spending hours applying, interviewing, and auditioning, you’ll only dedicate more and more time as your commitment level rises. Your time commitment is directly proportional to your impact. Yet, as you stroll into your dorm every evening, you’ll vent to your roommate about how unproductive you were because you spent the whole day organizing a leadership conference in Japan, or implementing plans to tutor and mentor children in underserved Boston communities, or couldn’t put down your book of leisure.

These feelings of unproductivity never stem from sleeping all day or watching re-runs of Jersey Shore. I’ve noticed how Harvard students have a tendency to categorize their extra-curriculars as unproductive matters; this is because we’re so passionate about applying what we learn in the classroom to the real world, that we don’t even consider this work! It comes second nature to us because the Harvard community fosters this meaningful kind of application and involvement – so much so that it’s as easy as your ABCs.

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