Category: Advising

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It’s registration time, so you’ve likely already loaded up your schedule with as many classes as possible. However, you’ve still got plenty of chances left to edit that list, and to help you in that task, The Lion staff has compiled a list of our favorite classes we’ve taken thus far.

The American Presidency or something with Peter Awn

“Islam with Peter Awn was by far the best course I’ve had at Columbia. He’s an outstanding lecturer, and you actually will not want to miss any of the classes just because of how good his lectures are. That’s not in the course catalog anymore,  I’ll link you to something else. If you’re into politics, The American Presidency with Richard Pious is an incredible class.

The guy knows a ton, and he has a lot of personal anecdotes to relay based either on his research or his individual encounters with some of the people he lectures about. Plus his book (Why Presidents Fail) is one of the few professor-authored required readings that you will ever actually enjoy. It’s well-written and really, really interesting. I loved this class and I recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in American politics, whether or not you’re a PoliSci person.”

History of the Modern Middle East

“Khalidi is super smart and very entertaining. Even though the class meets early, I liked going to the lectures. The take-home midterm essays were a good method to test knowledge and get you to learn without forcing you to cram random facts in your head. Also, it covers a global core requirement.”

Galaxies, and Cosmology and Cellular and Molecular Immunology

“‘Favorite class” is kind of a weird thing to say. Does it mean “enjoyable?” I’ve taken a lot of classes here that taught me a lot about an interesting subject but beat me senseless in the process (looking at you, Orgo). I will therefore submit two different kinds of favorites:

Stars, Galaxies, and Cosmology with Prof. Putman fits squarely into the enjoyable category. Learning the basics on everything from how stars generate elements, to how we measure distance in the universe to what happened in the time immediately after the Big Bang was fascinating. The class even made me consider a major in Astronomy until I figured out that I am bad at physics. There’s a problem set every once in a while, but it’s fairly trivial. Most of the class consisted of knowing how to use some provided formulas.

In the more difficult but really interesting category, I would put Cellular and Molecular Immunology with Solomon Mowshowitz. Immunology is an extremely complicated, but fascinating subject and Mowshowitz teaches it with aplomb and a decent sense of humor to boot. He also brings in really interesting guest lecturers. The TAs were also a great resource, at least when I took the course. It’s not particularly easy, but if you put in the work, a good grade is well within reach.”

War, Peace, and Strategy

“If you’re a political science major, especially in international relations, it’s easy to lose perspective on what you’re talking about after a certain point. Sure, you know your theories well enough, but when and how should states apply them? Why do certain states favor one approach to another? How do non-state actors factor in? How does “power balancing” actually work when it comes to the part where shots are fired? And once the guns do go off, why does one side win and the other lose?

Professor Betts and his mammoth reading list can actually get close to answering all of these questions and more. He’s a fascinating lecturer with endless Cold War annecdotes that are worth taking the class for in themselves, but most of all, what you read in this class will change how you look at war, politics, and political science itself. This is one of those life-changing classes, so don’t let the workload (or Betts) scare you off. At the very least, download the syllabus and add it to your summer reading.”

Computing in Context

“My favorite class has been Computing in Context with Professor Adam Cannon. The class was a great intro to coding for people new to Computer Science and taught me so much. Even two years later, I still use the concepts I learned in the class. I think it’s only offered in the fall now, but if you want to try Computer Science class, I highly recommend starting with this over 1004”

Art and Music Hum

“My favorite classes were art/music hum because they felt like a no-pressure environment where you could actually learn things or not, as you pleased, without much repercussion. And that freedom, along with the lack of pressure to know every single thing on every single slide, meant that I actually felt interested in learning the subject matter.

It’s like when you get assigned a book in high school that you would’ve enjoyed had it been for pleasure, but now that there’s discussion questions and essays to write, you kind of already hate it. I know classes are heavily professor-dependent, but in general, I feel like classes are run so I can walk in, sit down, and talk about what I see/hear — forget problem sets, equation sheets, or memorizing tons of studies to know what’s going on.”

Romantic Poetry

“Erik Gray is the current director of the English Undergrad department and a veritable god of reading. If you’re considering an English major, take this class and you’ll be convinced (Literary Texts and Critical Methods is pretty scary, but required.) Gray has a soothing and melodious voice, and he knows everything about everything, basically. Also, poetry classes don’t pose a serious amount of reading, and the assessments aren’t that daunting either. You’ll have fun. Who doesn’t love reading about daffodils?”

Principles of Economics

“Gulati is a superstar in the econ department who is known for his global political economy work. At Columbia, he’s famous for being on the American FIFA board and his amazing (but intimidating) lecture quality. Be there early—his classes often start at 8:30, and he’s known to sign add/drop forms for all except the latecomers.”

Science of Psychology

“The quintessential psychology class. Science of Psychology is known for being a good alternative to Astro for the science requirement and is one of the lighter pre-med classes. Multiple-choice tests remind you of high school. For those new to the subject, it can be fascinating to learn about why people think the way they do. For the more neuroscience-y types, Mind, Brain, and Behavior is an excellent follow-up.”

The Social World

“A great introduction to the field of sociology. It’s heavy on the readings and has weekly quizzes and response papers, but it will make you rethink the extent of the inequalities present in society. To quote CULPA, ‘As you choose which classes you should take at an institution that charges us upwards of $50,000 for a supposed world class education, ask yourself if you want to be challenged.'”

Intro to Java (CS 1004)

“Although required for most SEAS majors, many CC students also take this class to learn more about the hard coding behind the technology they use every day. Projects can get pretty challenging, but people often work in groups. Adam Cannon is a great lecturer and often convinces otherwise science-shy students to give computer science a chance.”

Colloquium on East Asian Texts

“The go-to Global Core option. Its nickname is Asia Hum, and the similarities to Lit Hum are striking. Professor de Bary makes the “Analects of Confucius” come alive. The final is an oral presentation, which can be intimidating, but as long as you’ve been following the readings, it’s not too bad. It’s a good counterpart to the Western-dominated canon of the Core.”

Photo Courtesy of Trevor Rukwava
Meet Trevor. Trevor, originally CC’19, has been suspended from Columbia College for the upcoming 2016-2017 academic year. We sat down with him to learn more about his situation and to understand how Columbia works to help students facing adversity and where it needs improvements.
What is your intended major?
I have always wanted to be pre-med. I was planning on doing neuroscience and behavior. I kind of wanted to do engineering but my parents talked me out of it, saying there are no engineering jobs in Africa. I had this dream of making electric cars, and an airplane with an emergency parachute system which deploys out of the top of the plane—the engines will be detached from the plane for weight management. However, my poor performance in the past semester pretty much kills my chances of doing medicine. I was considering switching to political science, or something. Not that I would be able to make a viable career out of it in my home country. I really don’t know at this point, but I’m trying to figure that out. It would be great if I could become a neurosurgeon.
When did Columbia notify you of its intention to suspend you for the upcoming academic year?
On June 8, 2016, Dr. Lavinia Lorch—my academic advisor—emailed me telling me that my case was going to be reviewed the following day. She told me that I was at risk of suspension because of my grades. She asked me if there was any information I wanted the Board to know. I received the notification of my suspension from CSA [Center for Student Advising] on the 9th of June. I read both emails on the 9th, so I did not have time to provide Lavinia with the information she requested. I was also under the impression that she knew my whole story.
Why do you believe Columbia choose to suspend you for the upcoming year?
According to Lavinia, “A suspension is not a punitive measure but actually an opportunity for you to make up credits back home (at an accredited 4 year institution) so as to ensure that you will graduate in a timely manner.” I think Columbia (or Dr. Lorch, I do not really know who made the decision) wanted to “help” me by giving me a forced gap year of sorts, to handle my stuff. After much persuasion, Dr. Lorch convinced me to take a medical leave of absence—which I could return from at any time. I agreed to this because, I was having a rather tough time and wanted a break. I also thought it would be more convenient if I did the paperwork while I was in America, so I would not have to fly to and fro again. The fact that I was expecting a medical leave, made the suspension more confusing, since I could not really differentiate the two.
As for the actual intentions behind the suspension, I can only make assumptions. Perhaps they didn’t want me to fail again and have to be considered for academic suspension, ironically, or expulsion. I had an almost nonexistent work ethic and motivation because of my mental condition, because they probably assumed that allowing me to return would lead to another bad semester. I may not be allowed to progress to the following semester if I don’t complete enough credits. I only completed 3, from one class. I failed 2, and dropped another 2—in order to avoid failing them. It was bad. I guess Columbia doesn’t have room for subpar performance, so I had to go.
How transparent has Columbia been throughout this process?
Well, they gave a day’s heads up. They also told me explicitly that I was suspended, and that I needed to take a year of classes and reapply. They also cancelled my I-20, which made it very clear that I wasn’t coming back.
How will this potential suspension impact your academic and personal goals?
I do not think that I can do medicine anymore. Perhaps I wasn’t cut out for it? My parents won’t hear it however, and have pushed me to apply to other universities in southern Africa. I must become a doctor, they say. Since I cannot do it at Columbia, I should do it back home. They never really liked America, and would call frequently to ensure that I had not been shot by police. The recent news has only made my parents’ resolve stronger. I made my own way to Columbia, and America at large. If I give up on Columbia, then I’m essentially giving up on the United States. However, I told Lavinia this information, which is why she said, “credits back home.” I am pretty sure that if I get into one of the two universities in my country, I will not be permitted to go back to America. Time is of the essence! My parents rejected the notion of a medical leave when I got home, claiming that my mind would rot if I stayed at home. I understand where they are coming from. They don’t want me to become like my older brother who was expelled from university because of drug addiction. He has turned to a lot of antisocial behaviours to feed his habit, including gradually taking everything I own. I doubt that I will still be in possession of the laptop on which I am typing by the end of next month. My parents suspect him every time the house is robbed, and he has been caught red-handed a few times. There is a lot of drama, which I would really rather not be in the middle of.
I do not think I will be allowed to switch to the engineering school, because of the suspension. Perhaps I’m mistaken.
Politics is not really something one can talk about where I’m from, for a number of reasons that I can not talk about because of the reasons themselves. It’s rather cyclic.
Do you think Columbia’s current academic suspension processes are fair? If not, how do you think they should be improved?
I do not think that the suspension policies are fair. I was given a single strike-out opportunity, and I did not even know that that was the case. If getting kicked out of Columbia is that easy, they should at least warn you beforehand. I tried very hard to ask for help, but my depression and history made it difficult. I did not know how to ask for help. I didn’t think that I was worth helping—depression talk. Perhaps, I was suspended because I said that Columbia sucked, I really didn’t want to be there, I was having the worst time of my life, and I felt like nobody cared about me. I said these things because that was how I truly felt, and they were multiple cries for help. I strongly suspect that this depression talk made my advisor think that suspending me was a favor, and I don’t blame her. However, these “issues” started at home and being home triggers a lot of them. I don’t have a therapist here for whatever reason, and I just kind of absorb the things that come my way. My cousin’s sickness and death, for example.
I wish Columbia had given me more support during the semester. I only got disability services help at the end of the second semester. At which point, my grades were so bad that my professors practically told me not to bother writing finals.
Do you have any advice for other students who may be in your position? For those who are also fighting depression?
To other students fighting depression, it is hard. People don’t understand how hard it is. They may tell you to ‘man up’ or fix your issues. They may assume that the illness is just an attitude problem. It doesn’t make sense to them, why someone would want to kill themselves when everything is ‘fine’. They don’t know how much harder it is to get out of bed and get things done when you are questioning the value of your existence. For most of second semester, I told myself not to think. I drowned all of it out with music; some people use other coping mechanisms. But being at an institution like Columbia requires you to think, and learn, and perform; to jump through hoops. I thought people didn’t care even though I didn’t really give them a chance to care. It took too much energy, when all I wanted to accomplish each day was survival. People do care. They may not always show it, but people care. Appreciate every person in your life, and know that you matter. Your life matters.
As for suspension, don’t let it get you down. I don’t really know what to say, because this is a problem that I am yet to overcome.
Have you faced issues at Columbia in regards to mental health and/or threats of suspension? If you would be willing to talk about your story (anonymously or publicly), email us at

Welcome to another installment of Ask an Adult, where Rebecca Hsu, CC ’89, tells you what to do about life’s biggest problems. Have a question? Send it to – God knows we aren’t qualified to answer, but we’ll pass it along! 

Q: It’s finals week — save us! What do we do about stress?

A: What is stress? I’m a doctor, so let’s start with the medical definition: stress is defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures.

As you approach finals week, I’m sure you understand. There have been studies to show that the stress felt by students taking finals is like that of soldiers entering a battle. Well, I definitely took a few exams where I would have preferred bullets flying by my head than writing the answer to the question.

First and most importantly, you need to realize what you are stressed about. You think you are freaking out because you need to pull an all-nighter to finish your Lit Hum paper, but what you may be more worried about is what to wear on your next hot date, since you can’t decide between the red pumps and the black sandals.

Let’s make it simple by starting with the obvious and easy. Find a way to RELAX both your body and your mind. This usually means taking a study break.

Here are a few suggestions for one:


Engage in some intimate time with another person. For those of you with your mind in the gutter, yes, sex is on the list. However, aside from the postcoital high that may follow by a good nap, it shouldn’t be the only option that comes to mind. A long walk, an interesting conversation, a nice meal, a massage, or any time spent in the company of someone you like can be very good for you. Even if all you do is vent about how much you hate whatever, at least you get it out of your system.

Do some intense physical activity. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. Go for a run (not in Central Park, alone, after midnight. This is a stress relief thing, not a suicide mission). Get some friends together and play a game that involves a lot of running around. No, shopping doesn’t count in this category, but do read on.

Do some shopping. When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping! At least that’s how they handled stress in Great Neck, Long Island where I grew up. This can be great, but expensive. Window shopping, without buying, counts. Then you have a great excuse to buy it AFTER you pass your exams…

Do something quiet that lets your mind wander. Read a novel (one that isn’t required reading, of course). If you enjoy meditating, painting, writing, or any type of craft or hobby, now is a great time to break it out and dust it off. You liked it before school, so why not indulge a little now?

Make some noise. Sing, dance, blast that stereo for just a little while. Blow something up-that’s what chemistry lab is for, isn’t it? As an archer, I’d feel better when I just plain shot something. It could work for you too!
Just make certain you do SOMETHING. Cook, clean, create, or destroy something. Do whatever it takes to take your mind off the current problem. Remember that taking too long can be a problem, so whatever you choose to do, make it a quickie!

What SHOULDN’T you do?

Don’t beat yourself up for feeling stressed. You will only become more stressed. Pain is a relative thing. Just because you think it can’t get worse doesn’t mean it won’t!

Drowning yourself in ANYTHING is not good. This includes, but is not limited to ethanol, drugs, sex, work, and swimming pools. Follow Aristotle-there is a balance to be struck that works.

The key to stress relief is to find something to keep you happy while your mind works out the details of how to handle whatever is making you stressed. You will be surprised how quickly that works or fails to work if you are too intoxicated to think about anything. Get yourself calm and you will start to ask: “What stress? I feel great!”

Ok, maybe not great, but as long as you do SOMETHING other than what you were stressing out about, you’ll find that you didn’t need to stress after all. To assist you in this, let me make a suggestion:

Wear the pumps. They work with everything.

Starting on Monday, first-year students in Columbia College and Columbia Engineering will have the ability to “shadow” declare majors. While this will not officially place students in a major, it will allow students to be automatically enrolled into department listservs to gain access to department updates.

In a Facebook post from CCSC 2019 President, Josh Schenk:

This Monday, Dean Plaa from advising will be sending us all an email with the tool to shadow declare, or “fake” declare, your major! It will take you no more than 20 seconds. Doing this will give you access to all of the same opportunities current declared majors have. You are not held to any major you select; you will just be added to the major list serves to learn about faculty, events, recommended classes, and opportunities in your given interest categories. The tool will close on February 29th, the last day of the month.

We have reached out to Dean Plaa and the Center for Student Advising for more information.