Why you should do an unusual module
I just received my feedback today for my economics module – Introduction to Environmental Economics – that I did and have learnt that I passed my module (with an average of a 2:1). I know chemistry students this term are submitting their optional modules form and have a choice of doing an unusual module therefore I want to quickly put together this post to share why you should consider an unusual module because I personally think it is a great opportunity to explore something different that we may not get once we’re out of university.
1. I got to practice my communication skills: this was clear in seminars and it is something not always easy especially when you’re presenting an argument rather than only conversing.
2. Presentation skills: I did a group presentation and where some of my mates helped me with the content, I found that actually standing in front of people and presenting was a wonderful experience. As a chemist, talking about economics to economists felt very odd and I wasn’t confident but it was a great experience and we as a group did pretty well.
3. Writing skills: I do love writing but once you start writing in a particular way, it almost becomes a niche for you. Writing for economics was very challenging and every argument was sounding lame. And the feedback was to “keep going”. The marking and feedback was anonymous otherwise they would have realised I really cannot because I do a different degree haha.
4. Research skills: I am becoming increasingly fluent with the use of databases to search for chemistry papers as I progress in my degree but finding papers for economics was a different challenge and of course difficult as well. I started off thinking I would never be able to find enough literature but slowly it got better. Also, referencing is another skill. I stick to the Royal Society of Chemistry referencing format in my chemistry assignments but did Harvard referencing for economics and that was a different experience. I do enjoy referencing though and didn’t find it any harder.
5. Reading skills: as I downloaded my first set of papers to read, I was infuriated to see how many of them were a minimum of 30 pages long. I was honestly beginning to question if that was the most condensed form the authors could have written but slowly the reading changed a little. I developed an understanding of how to read them so that I could quicken my pace and get through more papers in a day and also extract useful information. However, I did find the feedback saying that my references were good but not used to their full advantage but I think the issue was to do with how I used the information more than reading it.
6. Managing information: I don’t know if there is a fancy word for this skill but I know I had to deal with this. As I was finding more information, I was thinking about how to structure it all together and this was tough. There was so much to write and it was all over the place and I was quite frankly overwhelmed by those 15 papers or so that I read for my assignment. This extends to the skill of laying information out. My feedback did say that I didn’t stick to the format that was required for the assignment (honestly, still can’t believe I passed) and this was not only tough but also a bit confusing. I should have clarified but I think it was explained very well but I wasn’t so certain of what piece of information fell under which category.
7. Analytical thinking: I don’t think I want to take ownership of this skill in the context of economics. I think I get a good dose of this in chemistry but my feedback does suggest that I wasn’t critical enough in my analysis and was very vague. Nevertheless, thinking was required and I think the mistake I made was of thinking of the solution before analysing the problem and then trying to justify it forcefully lol. But, I passed.
8. Problem-solving: a skill not usually associated with any degree but STEM-based but I don’t understand why. My assessment was to propose a policy response to an environmental problem in order to abate or at least reduce pollution. This required a problem to be solved, an analysis of the problem, an analysis of why the problem was there in the first place and then the big part – propose a solution.
All these skills I do develop as part of my degree. But, applying the skills I am developing in chemistry to the field of social sciences has been a challenge that I picked and enjoyed. Not every module in a different department will enable you to develop these same skills but it’ll certainly help you to become more adaptable and flexible with your approach.
This was me exploring social sciences and I thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re thinking of trying out their field (or a different field to yours), then go for it! Most importantly, don’t doubt your ability. It felt more odd and out of place than I had thought to be sitting in those lectures and reading their papers during my first couple of weeks. But try your best and speak to someone if you’re really struggling because I did and I can tell you it helps.