Reflections: My Favorite Classes
Four weeks before graduation! While I’m looking forward to the summer and all the fun it promises, I’m also reflecting on my undergraduate experience over the past few years. This is a blog about my favorite classes during my time here, some expected and others less so. As a Computer Science major, no CS classes actually make my final cut, but my top three favorite classes all fall into the realm of Neuroscience, my other primary academic interest.
Introduction to Neuroscience (Bi150)
I took this class in spring of 2020, when all of America entered the COVID-19 pandemic stage. It’s a 10-unit course instead of the normal 9-units for classes here, and with good reason. This is maybe one of the most comprehensive neuroscience courses you’ll ever have anywhere and it covers an incredible amount of material in a Caltech 10-week quarter. I would say that this class also ranks amongst the most rigorous courses I’ve taken here, especially since we had quizzes at the beginning of every class and long exams. However, you work on the problem sets in a designated group, which fosters collaboration and discussion of the different concepts taught in the class. This course really encouraged me to continue to study neuroscience in college during a time where I was at a crossroads between pursuing industry-level CS and taking a leap of faith into studying clinical neuroscience. I would highly recommend this class even to people who aren’t thinking of going into the neuroscience field, just because the human brain is fascinating and this class teaches you a great deal about how we think it works.
The class I say is my favorite during Techer Talks and other Admissions Ambassador panels is this one, just because I find it unique and interesting to discuss. This class is a cross between philosophy and neuroscience, where the discussion alternates between abstract philosophical topics on what consciousness is and how we can define it, and the underlying biological mechanisms of neural circuits and structures in the brain. I would also qualify this class as quite rigorous, especially since you are required to write papers with airtight arguments and considerations. Coming to Caltech, I didn’t have high expectations for the humanities course offerings, since most of the ones I saw on the catalog before matriculating incorporated science/math heavily instead of focusing on the humanistic elements. While this class definitely has science (specifically neuroscience) embedded in its curriculum, it blends the humanity of what we understand about consciousness as an equal contender for serious discussion.
The Biological Basis of Neural Disorders (NB163)
The final class I’ll talk about I just finished taking this past winter term (2022). The course load is uniquely structured , with a class presentation on a neural disorder and a final paper proposal constituting the majority of the grade for the class. Even though this is not your typical class with regularly spaced problem sets, there’s still a lot of work that goes into preparing for the two large deliverables of the course. Every week, a student from the class presents a neural disorder that they do not currently do research in (so you have to learn something new!) and also discuss a paper related to that disorder. A few experts came into class to give their own presentations or supplement a student’s presentation on a certain disorder. I learned a lot about clinical neuroscience in this class and focused my presentation on strokes. In the final paper submission, we are also required to present the proposal before we submit the paper copy for grading. I found that developing my ideas, having to present them to my classmates, and then meeting afterwards with the professors for revisions really honed my skills in scientific problem solving, research design and logical thinking. So, I would recommend this class not just for how interesting it is, but also how it helps you grow as a scientist through its structure.
Those are my top three courses through my four years at Caltech. I noticed this trend - I took Bi150 in my sophomore year, Psy161 in junior year and NB163 in senior year. Freshman year is full of core requirements, so don’t worry if you’re not loving every single minute of your academic career at the start. You get a lot more freedom to explore the subjects you like later on and can take classes you actually enjoy. If you have issues deciding what to take, I recommend talking to upperclassmen with similar interests for insight into electives or reading the TQFRs (Teaching Quality Feedback Reports) on the access.Caltech.edu website that can tell you more about the workload for each class, the teaching style of the professor, and comments from previous students about the course. And if you like CS and neuroscience, maybe you’ll try some of the classes I mentioned in this post!