June 22, 2013 Edit: Did an overhaul on this blog post. (Originally posted on June 6, 2012).
When you’re an engineer, you need to choose electives wisely. Every discipline has their various requirements. As a SoftEng, I’m only able to take 6 non-technical electives in my whole undergrad. – 2 Humanities (List C), 2 Science, 1 Societal/impact (List A), and 1 English/communications. This is based off of my class of 2015′s degree requirements which can be viewed here: https://uwaterloo.ca/software-engineering/class-2015-3b. Degree requirements may change for future entering classes.
According to Urban Dictionary, bird course is a Canadian term for easy course, or a course that requires little effort to attain a high grade. I guess I don’t really know enough Americans to know if this term is actually Canadian.. Anyways.
So I had a real tough decision to make during Spring ’12 because I wanted to take a meaningful elective. I actually surveyed a bunch of possible classes that would fit into my schedule during the first week of classes – based on birdiness, distance from 1 class to the next, and how meaningful it’d be to me (would I get a lot out of it). AFM 101, SCI 238, CLAS 104, MUSIC 140, BIOL 139, JAPAN 101. I didn’t actually sit in on all of these, but they were my options. I was actually really close to taking Sci 238 – Astronomy, but my decision against it was literally because it was a Tue/Thur night class, and I really did not want to stay at school late twice a week. Unfortunately as engineers, awesome electives will probably never fit into your schedule, so you will likely need to take a night class.
In the end I chose STV 100 – Society Technology and Values to cover my Impact course. I didn’t even think about taking this course, but I sat in on it because a friend of mine was enrolled in the course. I left the 3 hour lecture being very interested in the topics covered. It’s basically a very philosophical way of thinking about society and technology. For example, what exactly defines technology? It’s such a broad term that various cultures use to mean many different things. Why do people want to be unique, or fit in; and how does technology play a role in all this? Are inventors really that revolutionary? Based on the media, Neil Armstrong seems like a hero, who’s accomplished a big thing – first man on the moon. But we have to consider – he had a team of scientists and engineers that helped him get to the moon. It’s a very interesting course.
Unfortunately, for these types of courses, opinions are opinions, and everything is quite open-ended. The course became a bit repetitive in terms of themes and objectives. The assignments were a bit tedious. The tests are pretty straight forward since they are open book; you really just need to pay attention in class and reiterate the prof’s opinions. There is no final exam for the course, which is amazing.
I took ECON 101 during Fall 2011 to cover my List C elective. I didn’t exactly attend lectures and I almost wished I took something more useful, but I got a 90s out of it so no regrets. No assignments, just tests. Not much to say here. The course content is fairly straight forward, and not all that interesting IMO. Depends on the prof I guess.
I also took ENGL210F, an online-only course during my 2nd work term – Winter 2012. It’s one of the communication elective choices, but it isn’t exactly useful. Genres of Business Communication. It’s like PD, except not as bad. It’s useless because an engineering environment is extremely different from a business environment, so many of the assignments that you do are not applicable to engineering workplaces. There’s also a group project at the end that involves writing a report. It isn’t too bad, but you are randomly assigned your group, and because the course is purely online, it is possible that you need to do pure online group meetings. It can be pretty painful trying to get in contact with group members sometimes. It is certainly a birdy course though, as the work needed to be put in is low. Many people take SPCOM223 as their communications elective instead – probably a much more useful course but if it’s not your thing, you’re probably better off with ENGL210F.
Then I took MUSIC 246 in Winter 2013. This actually is NOT a List C elective. It’s currently being listed under List D, which doesn’t count for anything if you are in Software Engineering. It will just take over your “extra” elective, which many people use as a technical elective. Make sure you choose MUSIC 140 if you want a List C elective. Anyways, this course involved studying Film Music. We learned about how the film industry made its way through the 20th century. It was a really fun course with a very engaging prof. The tests are a little tricky but overall it’s a bird course (no assignments). I was a little disappointed to find out (too late) that this didn’t count as one of my List C electives, although luckily, I did take my communications course during co-op so I can still make up for it.
I plan to take SCI 238 (Astro) in Fall 2013 (online offering) and CS 458 (Security) as my first technical elective. Very stoked. I’m planning to take either BIO 239 or PHYS 246 in the future as my other Science elective.
Tips for Choosing Electives
-Always look at last year’s offerings and class times instead of blindly choosing electives. The class times (and rooms) are almost ALWAYS the same as the year before. Do not rely on Quest’s laggy interface, check out this link instead: http://www.adm.uwaterloo.ca/infocour/CIR/SA/under.html
-You might want to take a course that your non-engineering friends are taking. Being stuck with engineers 8 hours a day can really fry your brain. It can be fun to try something new and actually do assignments with different types of people. It can be very easy to tell whether someone’s an engineer when you walk into an elective because engineering has the cohort system. We know each other way too well.
-But you might not want to take a course where you know no one else taking it (I guess this is obvious?) It can be risky if you want a bird course. I mean, if it’s really birdy, then I guess you wouldn’t need it. But any class is more interesting if a friend you know is also taking it.
-Specifically for Software Engineering, do not leave your Impact course til the end. They’re the most unpleasant requirements to fulfill since most of the choices are not birdy at all.
-Also try to get your Science electives out of the way. There are quite a few choices, but most of them are MWF or TTh morning/afternoon, so they are much harder to match an engineering schedule. SCI 238 is a popular choice.
That’s all I can think of right now, will update if I think of more to talk about.
Thanks for reading!