Shopping period is an unnecessarily frantic period. Everyone gets caught up in minutiae that rarely have a large impact on their final classes. Oh no, my schedule has room for an introductory archeology class, but I'd rather not take it because it's too far from the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, and I'll end up stuck in the line for Chicken Finger Friday.
The worst shopping period offense is one inspired by practicality. Since most students figure that they plan on taking four classes, they must end up with four classes at the end of shopping period. Often, in pursuit of this artificial requirement, students drop incredibly interesting classes that would otherwise allow them to expand their intellectual horizons.
Understandably, Brown's course catalogue is so diverse that the choices are difficult. Many factors have to be considered: your concentration, your interest level and the difficulty level of the course. That's why you are taking NEUR0650: "Biology of Hearing" over PHYS0500: "Advanced Classical Mechanics" — the subject matter. Who isn't? We only have two ears after all, and have you seen President Obama's ears? They're huge, and he's the president. Also, it's a neuroscience class, and your parents would never tell you not to take a neuroscience class.
Regardless of motivations, often the hardest part of these shopping period deliberations is the final cut, chopping your fifth and final class. But for those who are unsure about which class to drop or are just terrible at making decisions, I offer you another way: the parachute strategy.
The parachute strategy works as follows. You find five classes that you enjoy and stick with them through shopping period to their first respective midterms. Then, after taking the first midterm, you drop the class in which you got the worst grade — in essence, parachuting out of that fifth class into your four other, more successful classes.
Parachuting out of a fifth class on its face seems cynical. After all, doesn't that make a student appear to be driven by grades only? Aren't we Brown University, a school that values the liberal arts education so much that we probably have the term "Open Curriculum" trademarked? What happens if you just had a fluky first test? Isn't the parachute plan biased in favor of easier classes?
These are all fair points — unless you think about the parachute strategy as an impersonal means to understand what classes you truly care about. A score on an exam is a direct by-product of the effort you put into a class. Effort, though not directly tied to your interest, is indicative of how much you care about a certain class. So, in fact, you do better in all the classes that you care about. The parachute strategy actually helps identify which classes you truly care about most and, therefore, which classes you desire to take.
Any argument about limiting your ideological boundaries based on a set of grades is unfounded. If you really cared about having a diverse course load, you would have loaded up five different departments' courses into your parachute plan.
The bias toward easy classes might be in effect if you loaded up your schedule with four incredibly difficult classes and one easier course. Then, it is likely that you won't be parachuting out of the latter class, but that makes sense. Unless you have a healthy sense of self-loathing, you don't want to load up a schedule with four incredibly difficult classes. One easier class makes sense in your schedule, and the parachute strategy will in turn tell you which of the difficult classes you really want to take.
Of course, you have to account for classes in your concentration, but it would be counter to the whole point of the parachute plan if you didn't actually care about your concentration. Also, this approach forces you to take five or six classes for a few weeks, which may cause others to grouse about your lack of time. Stop it — you have time, and you know it. If you don't, I hear the Sciences Library is open all night in case you need to study more.
So the parachute plan takes nearly all of the difficult personal decision making out of your shopping period. It allows you to identify what classes you care about with the added bonus of being able to experience at least part of a class you would have otherwise never experienced. So parachute this semester, think less and find out what classes you really want to take.
Chip Lebovitz '14 often finds holes in his parachute and can be reached at Charles_Lebovitz@brown.edu.