Tracing Patterns
Issue   |   Tue, 09/19/2017 - 23:15

With an open curriculum, it can sometimes be jarring to look back on your transcript and attempt to trace a line of continuity through your coursework. Though some majors may have stringent trajectories, many are quite open-ended, and it is possible to end up with all kinds of patterns in levels and sub-topics even within one discipline.

It is worth sitting down and thinking about our academic paths. Even the act of looking at an ordered list of courses can stir up links between subjects you might not have thought of before. You might recall different things about a certain course when viewing it in the context of other classes. You might not notice the growing narrative of your college experience until you piece together where the hours and days went. This exercise is worthwhile because it can help you identify your academic interests with more specificity. The reflection can help give you language to both explain your degree to yourself and to others — you can name the patterns, the motions of your interests, as opposed to just one topic or the next. It also helps you identify the gaps. What do you feel like you are missing? And if you take on this mindset before senior year, you might find yourself with fewer what-ifs when commencement rolls along.

Perhaps we can also use this model of broad-view reflection to consider other aspects of our Amherst experience. When you think about your Amherst friendships or even just important conversations you’ve had over your time here, can you also see a continuity emerge? Sometimes we can get defensive or minimize the importance of this kind of self-reflection when the administration or a program gives us a form to fill out. It can feel overly structured or too emotional. It can also be awkward to look back and think about the embarrassing moments or moments that we perceive as failures. But arguably, there is a lot of worth in this kind of exercise. Of course, it does feels better when it comes about organically.

Could you contain your Amherst experience in a sentence? Or rather, could one sentence gesture at your Amherst experience? What would that sentence be? It would be narrow-minded to assume you could define your experience in a few words, but it can be worth thinking about how words can at least approximate our experience. How you remember Amherst should not be only thought about when Amherst is a memory. Try sitting down and free-writing. Allow yourself to say more than you want to say, and go from there.

Practicing this mode of broad thinking can help make life seem less opaque. And when we move away from Amherst in the near future, this is certainly a skill that may be helpful to us in mapping out our futures.