Good lord, is there anything more depressing than applying to seminars? I was turned down from four today, and shopping period has literally just begun. My ego is currently lying in little shards on the floor. The saddest part is that I hadn’t even applied to one of them in the first place, but the professor rejected me from it anyway, just in case I’d been considering it.
There are a lot of things at Yale I enjoy complaining about. Durfee’s raising its prices from extortionate to straight-up hilarious is a big one at the moment. But seminar applications really do have to be one of the most aggravating things about this institution. Freshmen, in case you haven’t worked this out yet, here’s the deal with Yale classes. There are a lot of really, really amazing seminars here. There is also a solid smattering of moderately good ones. But you can’t just take them. Instead, you and 50 other students will first have to crouch on the floor in various agonizing positions and compete to write, in 15 minutes and on the back of an index card, the best explanation of why you want to take “The Comma in Western Media.” And then, regardless of what department it is, all the slots will just go to EP&E majors who preregistered in July.
I for one do not appreciate this. I’m an English major, so I really rely on class participation to charm my way out having a very shaky understanding of the world. It also means that for the rest of my life, I will be turning, cap in hand, to those same EP&E majors for my meager paychecks. Surely Yale could level the playing field a little and let me take an SC credit with actual professor contact? I feel this is not too much to ask.
I admit, I was initially concerned that my views might be skewed by this recent swath of rejection. So, in the interests of journalistic integrity, I polled a representative sample of students (namely the two people in line at Bass Café with me) to see what they thought of all this. Neither of them dared contradict me, and we swiftly started dissecting the vicious cycle that is seminar applications.
What this rigorous investigation revealed was that everyone — yes, overachieving freshmen, even you — will at some point apply to and get rejected from a class. First, we feel miffed and inadequate. Then we panic that — god forbid! — we won’t get into any seminars this semester. We frantically apply to nine more that we don’t really want to take. Unfortunately, so does everyone else, and suddenly even the most obscure classes are oversubscribed. Which is how, two days later, we end up somewhere in the upper reaches of WLH, desperately trying to convince a professor that we’ve always been interested in “The Modern Swiss Sewer System.” What am I doing here, we start wondering; what am I even doing with my life? Suddenly we are wracked with the same sort of existential angst I felt after watching Miley Cyrus twerk at the VMAs.
I find this whole trend particularly bleak because it reminds me how trigger-happy Yalies are with competition. We have this tendency, I’ve noticed, to create our own little boxing rings and push each other into them. Even the smallest club “needs” four leadership positions, and we scuffle over who gets them. We act like it’s feeding time at the zoo when “50 Most” is released. And we give seminars a cachet, hype some classes to celebrity status, so that even what we study becomes a prize hung on display.
I think we do it because it’s easy. Getting here means that competition is, by definition, something we’ve already excelled at. It’s a mode we understand. We know its rules and how to navigate it. And when, at Yale, we engage in it, we think that we don’t have a choice. But, at least in this case, we do. The competition around getting into classes is a prisoner’s dilemma on a campus-wide scale. And we can opt out at any time. Think about it: if everyone stuck to their guns and only pitched up at the classes they really wanted, then I wouldn’t have four emails in my inbox containing the words “very tough selection process.”
The thing is, we all know that that will never happen. It’s that old chestnut about wanting what you can’t have. Some courses are appealing precisely because they’re impossible to get into. So instead, here’s some advice as you sally forth into the next few days of trying not to write ‘passionate’ twice in the same sentence. Wear something bright if your strategy is to be sycophantic. Your professor will not remember your veiled pleas; they will, however, remember the violent green of your bowtie. Alternatively, bring them a present. (Try books for professors on Hillhouse, wine for the folks in LC.) Finally, if you see any EP&E majors grinning smugly as you fill out your index card, give them a swift elbow to the groin. And feel free to blame it on me.
By now, we’re a little more than halfway through shopping period. Over here at WEEKEND, we know what we’re taking — “From Picture Book to Graphic Novel,” “Studies in Grand Strategy,” “Stochastic Processes” and “Personal Identity.” Do you? In case you’re thinking about that cool Global Affairs or psychology class, think again. We want you to know all about how bad and how weird your academic situations can get. Before you know it, your ridiculous professor or endless problem sets will have you asking if this is even real. So before you get there, WEEKEND has prepared real and fake class evaluations — see if you can tell the difference.
1. You guys, I am PISSED. Imagine my frustration last week when I tried to curl up in front of the fire with a mug of EasyMac and write my course evaluations, only to receive an error message when I submitted them: “Your evaluation could not be accepted because it is too mean.” Okay, then, I suppose you DON’T want my honest opinion. I don’t see what’s so bad about saying, “This professor’s stupid ties and stupider face made me want to punch kittens” when it’s the TRUTH. So what if I said that my TA was “a mouth-breathing Popeye’s troll who squeaked the chalk too much when he wrote on the board”? It’s a free country! I have every right to say, “This course was about as much fun as a Lifehouse concert on NyQuil, and I would only recommend it to students who enjoy Lifehouse and taking NyQuil (so nobody).” But no, I had to censor my thoughts because Yale just can’t handle that many truth bombs. Whatever. At least it’s second semester now. Can’t wait to take orgo again, aka best class ever!!
2. People will tell you it is horrible, and you should listen to them. I decided to take this class because I wanted to “learn new things” since I’d already learned what was in “Molecular Biology,” but I sincerely wish I hadn’t. Just preparing for the final, and taking it, I realized there was absolutely no point to studying the lectures. I would have been better off skimming the relevant portions of the book and doing practice problems, since his part of the final was definitely not based on his lectures. If you have to take this class for the major (I heard “Molecular Biology” is slightly better, please consider that!) be prepared to hate lecture, be frustrated at the professors and the organization which seems to have no point to it, and struggle through the semester. At least the quizzes were multiple choice.
3. Wonderful course. Totally recommended. Just one caveat: After Paul Bloom opens your eyes to the light of psychology, you can’t close them again. As I learned many times over the semester, this can be hazardous. It started when my roommate told me about this crazy dream he’d had. “What do you think it means?” I told him the obvious: Deep down, he wanted to behead his father with a ceremonial scimitar and hold his mother’s hand as they relaxed in separate bathtubs on top of a large hill or small mountain, like in the Cialis commercial. “Also, your teeth are going to start falling out.” We haven’t spoken since.
Bloom also discusses babies’ innate skill at recognizing evil in the slightest human gesture. Since that lecture, I feel their eyes on me wherever I go. The memory champion’s guest appearance compounded my insecurity; with only a few dozen hours of practice, I, too, could memorize decks of cards at will. What’s stopping me? By the midterm, I was a quivering ball of nerves, leaving my room only for lecture, office hours and simple, vegetarian lunches (Animals have brains of their own! Who knew?).
But it was all worthwhile in the end. The last review session was just 75 minutes of arguing whether to push a fat man off a bridge (I forget why). Now, if I ever need to relax, I close my eyes and picture the scene: me, the fat man, the bridge, a beautiful sunset. My hands on his back. The scream as he plummets. The massive splash at the bottom. Om…
4. “Film and Fiction” was an exercise either in generosity or in self-indulgence — your call — on the part of two formidable scholars who happen to share a keen intellectual and occasionally flirtatious fondness for each other. “Our insights and enthusiasms,” said Bromwich to Andrew, back in the tender, hopeful early days of the Obama presidency, “are too utterly goddamn wonderful to perish unheard but by your ears and mine, each the instant after its birth, tossed into the waning flicker of your living-room fireplace. We must share them with the underclass! I mean, the undergraduates! What is the course about? Hah. As Edmund Burke once said, who the f cares?” To which Andrew replied, “Yes,” and he laughed a breathy little laugh as if it were all both very obvious and almost poignantly amusing, like the early Truffaut at its best, a laugh that said, “That’s what I’ve been meaning to say but you are more … well yes, more obnoxious,” and he looked straight ahead for a moment and then looked up at Bromwich and smiled a tentative smile, and it glimmered with all the wanderlust and all the homey Midwestern deference of Iowa City and in that moment he was an ivory-tower Gatsby holding Daisy in his arms and, in that moment, a seminar of ineffable gaudiness unfolded itself in his brain.
5. One week, we were told to solve African poverty. Unsurprisingly, we were not able to accomplish that feat. The last third would involve professor Thania Sanchez criticizing our suggestions. While she may have derived some sort of feeling of superiority out of it, I’m not sure how this helped me. In short, she was a professor who had nothing original to say, no command of a classroom and no personality. Going to class was physically painful, and I struggled to stay awake and engaged. Part of it was the 9 a.m. meeting time. Most of it was the mind-numbingly dull material, the insulting practice of having us solve problems like “African poverty” for 45 minutes of class and the complete lack of understanding of what other students in the class wanted. Call me shallow, but I can deal with a horrible required class if I can do well in it. But the most frustrating part about the class was that in addition to not learning anything, I was also not likely getting an A.
1. Fake 2. Real 3. Fake 4. Real 5.Real