Deciding on your modules is rarely an easy choice. We may know the vague area of our subject that interests us but, as we download that module booklet and scroll down the list of options, they often look nothing less than interchangeable. The course descriptions merge together with the same academic jargon and offer little clue as to the quality of teaching, or, more importantly, how harsh the professor’s marking will be. In first and second year, the limited number of modules make this choice somewhat easier, even if we do end up with a useless third module we never wanted to do. In honours years, however, the choices seem endless, and selecting a handful among them always feels like taking a shot in a very dark and daunting library.
For the last two semesters, my choice of modules has been characterised by this uncertainty. For the last two semesters, my choice of modules has also been characterised by the same pattern: loving one module and hating the other.
Speaking to my fellow students, it has become apparent that I am not the only one to suffer from Bipolaris Academicus (yes, I made up the word and –fun fact- found out that bipolaris is actually a type of fungi in the process). Each case is slightly different. Some students hate the module I love and visa-versa. However, no matter which module is the object of affection or derision, you can almost guarantee that one fits within each category. One professor will be engaging, passionate about their subject, enthusiastic to hear your ideas and to push the boundaries of your academic enquiry. The other professor will not. The essay questions for one might actually excite you, allowing you to pull together concepts and literature to create arguments you are proud to call your own. The essay questions for the other will not. One module will leave you with lasting knowledge on an academic area, perhaps igniting a spark of intellectual curiosity that will burn long after the module is over. The other, well, you get the idea.
Suffice to say that Bipolaris Academicus is as unpleasant as it is common. It invariably ends up in drawing comparisons between the two experiences, emphasising the enjoyment of one while simultaneously underlining the stress, boredom and downright misery of the other. So what can be done to treat this condition? Unfortunately, like running into someone you don’t want to see in Tesco, or like STD’s, there is no 100% effective way of preventing it. However, some simple precautions can significantly reduce its likelihood.
First, if you identify a module that interests you, ask around to find anyone who may have taken the module before. Although different people will naturally have different opinions on various courses, if a number of people either praise or lambaste it, there is probably some truth in their assessments. Second, rack your brain to see if the professor at hand has taught you in the past. If you recall their enthusiasm, wit, or general agreeableness from prior academic experiences, then choosing their module is probably a sound choice. If you cannot recall their lectures because you were sleeping through them, then maybe reconsider your options.
Bipolaris Academicus is the hallmark of many a university experience. It causes us to swing from seriously considering academic careers to looking up properties to rent in Cupar for when we inevitably drop out of university. But with a little preparation and research, the dark and daunting library of courses we so blindly shoot into may light up just enough to avoid the most distressing modules and maybe even find two as interesting and engaging as each other. Failing that, it might be best to keep an eye on those flats in Cupar, just in case.