Unlike most courses, Sociology confers much freedom to its students. In NUS, only 4 modules are compulsory, with a 3-way choice for another (slight variations by cohort). That leaves about 18 major modules to the discretion of the Honours student. This suits me great!
Picking modules is one of the simple pleasures of my academic life (no life). Even before my matriculation, I’d drafted my module plan for all 8 semesters (really no life). In my defence, it is necessary planning! You won’t want to leave your rendezvous to happenstance, or discover belatedly you attended the wrong dates and missed the right ones for good!
Yet despite my deafening desire for control within, I could never enforce an iron fist. With each new semester, I change my mind. It got insane in my 4th semester, when I turned back on ALL 3 of my prior picks and opted for 2 different ones. That semester just ended, and both modules now rank among my favourites.
Why is that the case? Here are 4 factors in play, from the practical to the idealistic:
a) Across semesters: I predicate my plans on the assumption that modules will most likely follow past schedules (i.e. a Sem 1-only module will remain a Sem 1-only module). We can’t always take it next semester; somehow, the even-semester modules appeal to me way more than odd-semester modules.
b) Within semesters: Often there are clashes between modules, even though formal classes take only 3h/week on average each module. Given the diverse options, Sociology majors are spread out more thinly, meaning certain modules have few tutorial timeslots. Exam dates may clash too. My conjecture: many options -> random timings -> greater likelihood of clashes than highly-structured programmes.
c) “Free day”: Finally, like all Arts students, anything that threatens our 4-day (or even 3-day!) workweek is considered unacceptable and chucked off our plans. :p
In Sociology, there are almost always exams and they most likely account for 50% of the module grading. Apart from this, there can be midterm tests, individual essays or response papers, group work, and of course, active tutorial participation.
a) Speaking up: The last criteria is most detrimental to my results, though it has not stopped me from taking 2 modules with 20% given for active participation (norm: 10%). It did come to mind in Sem 4, as I decided against SC3208 Sociology of Religion having fared badly for the SC3207 Kinship module by the same Prof in Sem 3. I don’t mind presentations given the stage, though there’s never time for individual ones.
b) Individual vs Group: By sheer luck I have avoided midterms since the Intro module in Sem 1. By sheer bad luck I have had more group work than I bargained for. Group essays with strangers?! Okay lah, it’s not always bad. You might want to take up a module for the chance to interact and make friends!
Sometimes lecturers don’t reveal it till after bidding, so fingers crossed then!
This is a critical factor which might be overlooked by the more casual pickers. Our decisions usually begin with the module titles, then the brief synopses, then the assessment criteria. The course outline, however, is usually rapidly scanned. Even when they often provide good indications to our learning experiences.
For some modules, lecturers are frequently rotated. Each will have the autonomy to design their own curriculums and assign their preferred readings. In conversations, peers have remarked on how certain modules or lecturers are good or bad. Yet these are not clear-cut at all, as I found with the 2 modules I did in Sem 4.
Case 1: SC2216 Sociology of Emotions sounds interesting to anyone who is not heartless, and is thus among the most popular modules. Yet the course outline felt messy and my interest cooled. Not my cup of tea. But during bidding, I gave it a second look and found that the lecturer has changed, the outline is superbly-structured, and for someone who plans things far in advance, I dropped Religion at lightning rate and haven’t looked back.
Case 2: SC3213 Ethnographic Analysis of Visual Media has been an eye-opener, because it greatly differed from the usual sociological approach. I have heard qualms on multiple occasions about the lecturer’s style for another module, but took a leap of faith anyway. I was rewarded with, imo, THE most practical Sociology module I’ve taken. Not practical in the career sense, but in the learning sense.
One caveat though: Like assessment criteria, some lecturers don’t make available course information till after bidding. Fingers crossed again!
We are not static individuals, and Sociology students will know this better than most. Don’t say 4 years; 6 months is adequate for significant change. I’ve been open-minded about my module choices and ventured beyond my initial plans and subsequent adjustments.
a) Interest: What seemed interesting may become less so after experiences with other Sociology modules. My drastic Sem 4 changes owed to a certain fatigue with the discipline. Hence I (subconsciously) picked modules that challenged the dominant approaches; looking into emotions within theory, and looking into cultures without the conditioning of theoretical lenses.
b) Difficulty: This can go both ways. I could decide, with CAP in mind, that certain modules are hard to score for (from a personal POV). I could also decide to explore less (personally) interesting modules to stretch my knowledge. That’s why I’m in Sociology anyway, to understand much more about my social worlds! Yet I shied away from this in Sem 4, having planned to take SC3226 Markets and Society.
For me, I add a final consideration: Synthetic Totality (Sartre). I treat each semester as a phase in learning, which makes me look out for overarching themes across my 5 modules (incl. non-Sociology ones). Sem 4 felt like an academic apprenticeship, when I gained plenty of new tools for thinking and analysis. Having narratives can help us to avoid getting lost amidst the details and studying for study’s sake.
We could of course bother less and just pick on whim. But why take Sociology if you don’t exercise your agency? If Sociology were a specialized discipline, its specialty would be insight. This does not mean it has a monopoly on insight, but that it can generate insight across the broad spectrum of social life. In being conscious about our everyday choices, we can gain empowerment for us and for others.
Failing to plan and failing to adapt, that’s what gives you no life!