Academic tips for Rice undergrad (no bs)

I’m graduating from Rice in less than a week!  In the hopes of reaching a few current or prospective students who may find this post useful, I want to make a few recommendations to help maximize your Rice undergrad academic experience, based on what went well and what went poorly for me.  Read everything with a grain of salt.  I hope I don’t trigger anyone.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  It’s also not cliche or vague.  I tried to write in chronological order.  Finally, please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want more information, clarification, etc.  I’m always happy to help!

  1. If you have the slightest notion of being “pre-something” before matriculating, please make a tentative four-year plan and factor in the core prerequisite classes for the majors you are considering as well as those for graduate school.  I especially recommend this if you want to major in an engineering or a natural sciences discipline.  It is easy to become side-tracked early on with fun new interests and change your academic trajectory, but some temporary decisions may be poorly thought out and leave you scrambling at the end of your four years at Rice.  Another thing to keep in mind: department websites are not updated regularly with courses that are offered consistently every semester.
  2. If you decide you want to apply to medical school, pick your major wisely.  Your GPA (science and cumulative) is the top priority that schools consider, and I would recommend picking a range of classes each semester that will help you keep it high, i.e. organic chemistry should be taken with one or two additional easier science classes and a non-science class to give your brain a break.  Bioengineering, Biochemistry & Cell Biology, and Chemistry are going to be the traditionally hardest majors, although the requirements for these majors coincide with many pre-med requirements.  Kinesiology, Biological Sciences, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cognitive Sciences, and Psychology are typically easier but require additional schedule planning.  Pick a major you will be happy studying, whether it is one of these or one that is traditionally unrelated to medicine (Sociology is fairly common), but please do not be naive and neglect to factor in the difficulty and time required of classes like organic chemistry and physics!
  3. Declare your major early!  You will have better luck getting into the classes you will need to graduate.  You likely will also have a more focused mindset in attacking your major-specific workload and honing your extracurricular activities.  The process of switching majors is a bit cumbersome but nowhere near too much to handle if necessary.
  4. Dabble in a lot of extracurricular activities, but decide on 2-3 long-term commitments by your sophomore year.  Opportunities for leadership will present themselves more readily if you stick with these pursuits for longer periods of time.
  5. I recommend that you pursue research as one of these activities.  Every post-graduate career platform is enhanced with research experience.  Moreover, try to get involved in research with potential for publication or presentation.  As a pre-med, look beyond the hedges and consider labs in the Texas Medical Center.  The research questions may be of greater interest to you, and the professional connections may be more relevant to your career aspirations.
  6. Work at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy in some capacity (for pay, unpaid internship, or course credit).  I guarantee you will find a niche at this place regardless of your major or extracurricular interests.  You will also have unparalleled opportunities to meet prominent leaders in public service.  And you will become more aware of what’s going on in the world, whether you are interested or not.
  7. Do something professionally and personally meaningful every summer!  Here are some opportunities I’ve been a part of and highly recommend: Rice’s summer courses, Global Medical Brigades, Jesse Jones Leadership Center’s Summer in D.C. Research Internship, and Baylor College of Medicine’s DeBakey Summer Surgery Program.
  8. These courses were some of my favorite and the most useful for me at Rice.  The professors were excellent.  None that I have recommended are excruciatingly difficult.  They are as follows: medical Spanish courses including the clinical apprenticeship (Abad: SPAN 321/322/323), Leading People in Organizations (Obodaru: BUSI 310), Medical Terminology (Jones: HEAL 132), Immunology (Novotny: BIOC 372), Biology of Infectious Diseases (Rudolf: BIOC/EBIO 331), Nutrition (Anding: HEAL 103), Anatomy (Schell: KINE 300), Introduction to Public Policy (Baker Institute Fellows: POST 201), and Bioengineering & Cardiac Surgery (Grande-Allen: BIOE 615, requires special registration).
  9. Utilize Rice’s academic and career advising offices, but your best resources are your peers.  Don’t be afraid to ask them about specific classes, professors, application tips, etc.
  10. Beer Bike, Willy Week, public parties, Baker 13, and more may be fun but are not worth poor academic performance and mediocre extracurricular experience.  While I agree that you will more often remember the ragers and intoxicating memories (pun semi-intended) than a bad course grade in a year from now, a bad grade could carry unintended consequences related to your work ethic or competitive potential when applying for something in the future.  I am not an advocate for having no social life, but I really do advise that you try to seek greater fulfillment in your academic experiences and to have faith that there will be rewards to exercising delayed gratification.
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