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Winter 2016 (2B): Term Summary

Hey Guys!
April 29, 2016 

Another term has passed, and so I'm here again to give you guys an idea of what's been happening to me! As usual, I'll be mainly focusing on talking about the courses I've taken, as well as my general opinion of these courses. I'll also be giving updates on what's been happening in my life, and also talk about what my future goals and plans are. 

This term, I really began to ramp my game up, especially near the end when the final exam period started. Although it's considered second year, most Law Schools treat this term as third year, as they often do not look at 4B grades. Thus, my academic performance this term was certainly important. In my first year, I had really poor study habits and skipped classes often. Although I improved my study habits slightly in my 2A term, I still skipped about a third of my classes. This term, I was determined to buckle down and get to work. Maybe it was because I turned 20 midway through this term, and being 20 years old brought to me a whole new mindset. No more messing around; gotta be a responsible adult ya know? 

I also started hunting for a Co-op job for my upcoming work term in Spring 2016. Although it was quite the struggle (read all about it here), I did manage to secure a legal research position at the University, so I'll be sticking around in Waterloo this summer. Anyways, time to move on to the courses I took. As usual, I'll be describing the course content, evaluating the professor, and also giving my general opinion of the course. I also like to include the grade I received in the course, to give you guys a picture of the difficulty. 

Classes 

Again, I took 3 PSCI classes this term, as well as 2 electives. I also had to take a mandatory online professional development course called PD1, in order to prepare me for the Co-op application process and the workplace. In total, I took 6 courses this term, although the professional development course did not require much work so I wouldn't necessarily count that as a whole course. 

PSCI 264 - American Government and Politics 

After taking PSCI courses on mostly international politics and development last term, I promised myself that I'd take a course that deals with more domestic matters. This course was the perfect choice, as the American presidential elections were coming up soon. Furthermore, this course was taught by a familiar face: Dr. Gerard Boychuk (remember this guy from PSCI 100? Apparently he's the most attractive male professor in the PSCI department according to my female friends). The course was probably the most fun in terms of content. Rather than covering the boring aspects of American politics, such as all the procedural and structural stuff, Boychuk chose to base the course on examining and analyzing the primary elections, which happened to be going on at the time. Topics included the role of delegates, media bias, campaign finance, aspects of primaries, aspects of American government, conventions, and factors determining political support. There was a textbook provided, but the book was mainly there to provide students with a general background knowledge of American politics. Material on the book was not tested on. Evaluations consisted of 4 debates, of which we also had to write a short position or overview paper. There was also a midterm and examination. Debates were marked mainly on attendance (If you showed up, you pretty much got at least 90, everyone got 100% as far as I can recall). The papers were marked rather easy (class average low 80s, I got mostly high 80s), but the midterm was quite hard in that I was not prepared for the style of questions being asked. The test questions were essentially asking us to reiterate and analyze the arguments that Dr. Boychuk made in lecture and in assigned readings, rather than being more knowledge-based. They were highly specific, so you would not be able to answer it properly without having paid good attention during lecture. I learnt from my mistakes made during the midterm and optimized my study strategy to accommodate for the style of questions asked. It paid off really well, as I happened to actually get 100% on the exam (which had a similar structure to that of the midterm). Thus, I managed to end off the course with a 91% as my final grade. 

PSCI 244 - Rational and Irrational Choices in Politics 

One of the biggest concerns that students have is choosing the right professor. After asking a lot of upper-year PSCI students about which professors they liked, they always said that they had a great experience with Dr. Jing Jing Huo. This man is apparently a god amongst the students in the PSCI department; there's even a Facebook page dedicated to worshiping this guy. Naturally, I wanted to see what the hype was all about so I took this course with Dr. Huo. The course consisted of analyzing the rational decisions and logic behind 5 main themes: Violence, Bribery, Ethnic Identities, Authoritarianism, and Democratization. The content was rather straightforward and certainly interesting. I would suggest that any student interested in analyzing the thought process that goes behind political decisions take this course. With regards to Dr. Huo, I can honestly say that this man is probably the best PSCI professor I've ever had. He's very straightforward and has a surprisingly good sense of humour. He's very down-to-earth in a good way: He goes to class, lectures the content efficiently, and then answers questions if there are any. This man kind of reminds me of my Grade 11 Law teacher: He doesn't bullshit around when it comes to presenting the material. He is clear and straight to the point. He will tell you exactly what will be on the test instead of giving vague answers like "all readings, lectures, and tutorials will be testable material." The tests will not have any surprise questions or curve-balls. The review sessions that he holds helps a lot for the tests, as the material in the sessions are almost identical to that on the test. The course evaluations only consisted of a midterm and exam, so I was initially scared as a poor performance on either of those would devastate my mark. However, I managed to score high 90s on both of the tests, mainly by taking advantage of his review sessions. received a 97 as my final mark in this course, and I encourage you all to take it with Dr. Jing Jing Huo. 

PHIL 145 - Critical Thinking 

I was actually planning to take this course in Fall 2015, but I had a few scheduling conflicts. This philosophy course is certainly drastically different than most other philosophy courses. When you think of philosophy, you always picture dry lectures with material on random historical philosophers and theories. However, this course seemed modern and fresh. It mainly focused on the aspects of arguments, types of fallacies, types of rational discourse, biases, stereotypes, the media, and also had a bit of probability and statistics. Out of all my courses, I felt that this course was one of the most useful, as the material taught in this course can be applied in everyday situations. Concepts from this course come up in my head even when I'm having a conversation with friends. For this course, I had Dr. Ted Richards as my professor. This guy is probably the most comical professor I've had this term. He has random funny outbursts in class, and makes up memorable and extravagant examples to explain the material. Although he did not use PowerPoint slides, his lectures were still very organized and certainly detailed. His lectures were mainly based off the textbook material, so you could get away with only skimming the textbook. Evaluations consisted of very easy weekly multiple choice quizzes, which were done online and mostly knowledge-based. Class averages for these quizzes were in the low 90s, as there were no rules against cracking open your notes during the quiz or even doing it with a friend. There was also a midterm and final exam, with the weighting varying to favor your performance. To be honest, I initially thought that this course would prepare me more for the LSAT, but rather it was the opposite: me preparing for the LSAT helped me prepare for this course. Much of the material in this course I already vaguely knew beforehand from LSAT studying, and thus this course served to freshen my memories and give me a more formal foundation. I managed to score another 100% on my final exam in this course, and ended off with a 96%. To be honest, I could have gotten 99% as my final mark (would have been a pretty sight on my transcript!), but I actually happened to accidentally miss a quiz which was worth 3% of my final grade. 

PSCI 259 - Politics of Asia 

Being from an Asian background myself, I thought it would be interesting to take this course to examine the politics of this region. Now I know I promised that I would take mainly domestic politics courses this term, but I really couldn't resist, especially after seeing the this course was to be taught by Dr. Mariam Mufti. I had a great experience with her in PSCI 252, so I certainly wanted to take another course with her. In this course, we examined the political history of Asia, the types of government regimes, as well as a lot of the economic development of Asia post-colonialism. The course itself was well organized, divided into these 3 sections. As usual, Dr. Mufti was highly enthusiastic and loved to *strongly encourage* class discussion. It's quite comical when she asks a random person sleeping in the back for their opinion on something and the whole class ends up just staring at them. Luckily, I'm usually quite good at making sensible stuff up on the spot, so I actually enjoy taking classes with Dr. Mufti. Course evaluations itself consisted of a few easy assignments (mostly marked for completion), class participation, 1 in-class test, and 2 take-home tests. The in-class test was quite hard as we only had about an hour and half to complete 10 pages worth of questions, many of which required analysis. The take-home tests were much easier; they were pretty much short essays in which we had a 48 hour deadline to submit. I ended up with an 89 as my final grade, which is pretty lame because I was 1% away from getting a 90%. Can't complain much though, as 89% is still a great mark! 

SOC 101 - Introduction to Sociology 

I took this course as it is a prerequisite for many upper level legal studies and sociology courses, which all seemed quite interesting. Originally, I had planned to take the large section, which had around 300 students and had mostly knowledge based tests and assignments. However, because of scheduling conflicts, I ended up taking a different section. This section was more focused on analysis, which required a lot more work. However, the learning experience was probably much better. For this course, I had Dr. Stephen Svenson as my professor. I really like how this guy is in-touch with his fellow students. He seems more like a cool buddy you chill with than an academic research professor. I guess it's cause he has kids of his own, so he tries to be the "cool dad," which to be honest he does a good job of doing. The course itself was well presented, and consisted of theories of society (functionalism, interpretive sociology, feminist theory, marxist theory), analysis of the millennials, social control, the concept of divergence and freedom, and also a bit on Socrates. Evaluations consisted of an essay, a midterm and exam, some small assignments marked for completion, and also participation marks. I would say that this section was much harder than it should have been for a first year introductory course. I've taken 2nd year honours major courses that were much easier. The midterm and exam were quite specific, and required both analysis and knowledge. It was hard to figure out what was going to be on the exam, and I probably messed up on the multiple choice section of the exam as every answer seemed to make sense. Ended off with an 88%, which is still quite a decent mark. However, I think I could have gotten in the 90s had I taken this course in a different section. 

PD 1 - Co-op Fundamentals 

This course is mandatory for all students going into their first Co-op term. To be honest, I found this course to be quite useless. The topics themselves were useful, but the way the course taught you was certainly not the best. It teaches you how to apply for jobs, interview strategies, and also a bit on conduct in the workplace. The biggest problem I have with this course is that it teaches you how to be like everyone else - same resumes, same interview strategy, same everything. That's not what employers look for. They want you to stand out and show them why you should be hired. The resume outline they give you is okay, but I wouldn't suggest using it for your Co-op applications because it just looks too bland and unoriginal. The interview advice is similar - it makes you sound like a robot just reciting lines. I kind of just spent around 15 minutes or so every week doing the assignments right before the due date. This course is graded in a Credit/No Credit system; if you get 75% or above, you'll get a credit for it. Your mark won't count in your average. Most people just get 75% and stop doing everything, but I felt that it would look poorly on me if I did that so I just halfheartedly submitted stuff  that I wrote in 5 minutes near the end. 

The Future & Concluding Remarks

Wow! I'm finally done my first 2 years at the University of Waterloo. I can honestly say that I've gone a pretty long way in these 2 years! I went from almost failing out first term, to rebuilding myself second term, to finally being able to get up and start really rolling this year. I met a great amount of new people and started looking to joining clubs and getting involved with extracurricular activities 

I'm heading off towards my first Co-op job in a few days, and hopefully I'll be able to gain some good experience from it! Next term, I'm going to try to get a policy analyst position for the federal or provincial government, which has always been my dream Co-op job. 

This term I really managed to step my game up in terms of academics too! It's funny, because I thought my grades were going to drop due to having the stress of to do Co-op applications and interviews at the same time. I guess I just worked harder under the stress! I managed to end off with a GPA of 3.96 (92.2%, A+) this term, which was higher than any other term ever! This summer, I'll be looking towards learning some practical skills in my Co-op job, and also probably start studying the logic games section in preparation for the LSAT. I'll probably be posting a new blog in a few weeks about my Co-op experience, so stay tuned for that one!









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