Monday, August 08, 2005

Need Advice

I'm in a bit of a dilemma right now about how many courses to take this fall at school. I just decided to swap a class I was enrolled in on Modern French History (circa French Revolution) to a class called Deviance and Crime in the Sociology Department. I did this because my current internship has provoked my interest in crime and its sociology. I feel bad about dropping the French History class, which I wanted to take sophomore year, but at the same time I feel like I know more about French History than crime sociology because of my background in history and because I've already taken a European History class (granted that was high school, but it was a good class).

My other option is to take four classes, but I am only wary of that because I am starting my thesis next quarter which is accompanied by a mandatory Senior Thesis Seminar. I am also continuing French language class. So, I am only taking three classes, and my schedule is embarassingly light (one class each day except Thursday, when I have two classes, and NO CLASS on Friday). Maybe someone who's written a thesis or done independent study work or something can help me figure out whether that takes up so much time that balancing a fourth class would be difficult. I know a lot of people take 3, 2, or even 1 class while they're writing their thesis; at the same time, I'll be working on my thesis ALL SCHOOL YEAR (we don't start writing until the second quarter, I believe). That means I would take three quarters of three or fewer classes. This seems too easy now, but I don't know. In my favor, I've always taken four classes per quarter. So should I take four classes or three? Any suggestions? Your help will be received with tremendous gratitude.


Chris said...

I'm probably not exactly the right person to comment on this, but here goes...

Fall Semester last year I took 5 classes (which included a thesis seminar); I also took 5 classes during Spring Semester (no thesis seminar, but three graduate courses). I also wrote two theses and was a research assistant both semesters. And yes, I still had a life.

I could have taken 4 or fewer classes starting freshman year, but I filled out my schedule with classes that I thought I might have some interest in (so I took French, Acting, English History, and Latin, for example); those classes always provided an out of sorts when I got tired of the classes I had to take. So I say, go ahead and take the sociology class or whatever fourth class you want to take.

The only glitch might be the required length of your thesis. If it's around 50 pages, you should be fine. If it's around 100, then don't pay attention to me. My English thesis was 80 pages and my German thesis was 26, but then again, I'm crazy like that.

Elaine said...

Wow, it sounds like you took good advantage of what your school had to offer, Chris. My question for you now is: did you sleep??

Chris said...

Yeah. Six hours a night, at least, and I even had a 8:50 AM class three times a week.

In terms of thesis, I found that the people who had a fairly concrete idea about what they were going to write about and had a very good idea of where they wanted to take it (while still being flexible enough to allow the research to take them perhaps to a different conclusion) were the most successful and were the least perplexed by the whole process.

I don't know what kind of proposal you had to write (if any), but I would recommend at least thinking about your topic before the school year starts and, if you have a broad topic, start narrowing it down as soon as you can.

Elaine said...

Thanks for the tip. My thesis proposal was fairly concrete and I think adequately narrow (comparing how French and American audiences received Lost Generation authors), but I went to the library one day and realized I had little idea where to begin. What's more, I've developed this new obsession with crime and the law this summer. I'm even kind of thinking that I wish I was a sociology major. So, I'm having a mid-college (or end of college) crisis. Hopefully it will resolve itself by the time school starts though. It's not as if I'm uninterested in Franco-American culture and relations (which is what my thesis is investigating), but I'm just not dying to get into it.

Elaine said...

Also, I usually try to get at least seven to eight hours of sleep. In high school I could survive on a lot less, and I'm still confounded as to how I did it.

Chris said...

I absolutely perplexes me how I got 4 to 5 hours of sleep in high school and how I was able to function at 7:20 for early bird gym (sorry...Kinetic Wellness) class.

william t nelson said...

I had a similar schedule back in Spring 2005, with about eight hours of class/week, and no Friday class.

Despite good intentions and a strong start, I didn't get that much done until the shit started accelerating towards the fan. I did however manage to combine a whole lot of recreation along with the process of field research. Hard to say whether this was wise, because I might have spent my time somewhat more "productively," but I think my personal interest and personal background in the subject made me learn more in the end than my classmates learned.

Three couses plus preliminary thesis research sounds about right. You could always take a fourth class and see if the workload is right, or else drop the class you like least.

william t nelson said...

Majoring in sociology at NU isn't highly recommended. The department does well at pushing its students to research, but it does not teach the substance of theory well. It does reasonably well at teaching historical examples. There are exceptions, especially Derluguian, who excells at historical cases AND theory, but discourages research until we know something. He's pretty much caught on to the fallacy behind the department's approach. I have seen extremely hard working and talented students fall short of producing great work because the department failed them. Of course, this is only my observation.

Randal Collins is probably the best all around sociologist today. I have spent the summer browsing one of his huge books, it is sickeningly well-written and powerful, without resorting to jargon. In Sociological Insight: An Introduction to Non-Obvious Sociology Collins gives a succinct overview of the sociology of crime/deviance in about twenty pages. The book is only about 130 pages. You should look at that chapter before you take the course, or maybe in place of the course.

Collins gives an overview of sociology theory and their evolution in Four Sociological Traditions. I read this book after I took the Sociological Theory course with the tough cookie prof. I wish I had simply read this book. The class involves learning to read serious texts, but only left us with a thin and deceiving understanding of the three big theorists' main ideas. I am pretty bitter.

It is like asking someone to build a shed with only a couple of tools and no experience. The end product is an embarassing hack, built upon your perceptions of what a shed should look like. Is the extent of my dissatisfaction apparent yet?! I should take complaints to the faculty.

At this point in sociology, I know what's important to read, and I can direct my own learning. If I get the motivation to push myself in sociology, I will read and think until I reach my limits, then go get a higher degree, which should be a breeze at that point.

Elaine said...

Oh Kinetic sister's KW leaders class had a funny breach proposing t-shirt designs that betrayed the purpose of the program, but I forget what exactly the t-shirts said.

It is too bad that the sociology department doesn't have better instruction. One reason I majored in history was that I heard the department was one of the best in terms of teaching, and by and large, I would say it is. I do, however, still find it lacking in teaching specific research skills. I think a lot of the humanities departments (and perhaps other areas) may be like this at NU, even though the school is very encouraging about undergraduate research.