The first day of classes always brings a contradictory mix of emotions. Everyone feels a little nervous regarding the uncertainty of new courses and professors: Will I be able to handle the problem sets? Do I know anyone in my classes? Can I really make it from the Neuroscience Institute to the Friend Center in ten minutes? There's also, however, the excitement and promise of a fresh semester. You look forward to learning from some of the best minds in their fields, pushing yourself to improve your critical thinking and problem solving skills, and working with your friends to tackle challenging yet rewarding assignments. To capture some of this excitement and help calm any first-day nerves, our Undergraduate Student Government (USG) traditionally hosts a bagel and coffee stand on the first day. Princetonians will gather on McCosh Walk to eat breakfast, catch up on how they spent their break, and have first-day photos taken. Due to Covid restrictions this year regarding gatherings with food, Student Council decided to host a scarf distribution instead. In my opinion, this was far better than bagels! Not only does a scarf last, it proved very useful on the chilly January morning that marked the first day of the spring semester. Students lined up for their scarves and took photos together (with the Tiger mascot appearing at some point during the morning), and then they wore their new gear to their first classes of the new year.
After bundling up in my scarf, I continued to the Neuroscience Institute for the first lecture of Probability and Stochastic Systems. Professor Ramon started by giving us an intuitive definition of probability, and then he computed the probability of an event in two different ways. He asked us which computation was correct. The catch, though, is that with the intuitive definition of probability he gave, both are correct! This first lecture established why we need a rigorous mathematical definition of probability, and it made me excited and motivated for the course.
Next I went to my lecture for Environmental Engineering Laboratory. This is my first lab course in person, and I'm really looking forward to the hands-on data collection we'll be doing. Professor Jaffé introduced the topic of our first lab and explained how we'll write our reports. I didn't know anyone in that class, but at the end I introduced myself to the people around me and formed my lab group.
While the first class doesn't usually cover the complicated derivations or deep discussions that take place in the heart of the course, it can nonetheless be a little overwhelming. Navigating campus to find unknown buildings and classrooms, introducing yourself to your new professors and classmates, and hearing about the upcoming expectations and assignments of your course load can be a lot to take in. Getting back into the flow of courses felt nice, though, as I'd begun to get a little bored towards the end of winter recess. By the second week, I was beginning to feel more confident in managing the workflow of each class, and I'd arranged study groups for most of my courses. The first day marked the beginning of a promising new semester, and I'm looking forward to what's to come.