As I reflect on my time at Harvard as a second-semester senior, I would like to share some of my favorite courses that I have taken throughout the past four years.
One of the few regrets that I have is that I limited myself to mainly taking biology-related or pre-med classes until last semester, and I wish I took the time to explore more since there are so many interesting classes that you could take here! I hope that this list can inspire you to explore topics out of your comfort zone and really pursue your interests and passions, regardless of whether you are a current or aspiring student. So here is my list of my top 7 favorite classes:
Science of Living Systems 20: Psychological Systems (SLS 20)
I took this introductory Psychology course during my first semester at Harvard (Fall 2017). Professor Dan Gilbert delivers such engaging and fun lectures, and every class was like attending a TED talk! Having never taken a Psychology class before, it was fascinating to learn about the basic psychological concepts that are applicable to our daily lives. For example, did you know that most people think shark attacks are more likely to cause fatalities than bicycles, even though statistics show otherwise? (This is caused by the availability heuristic --- the tendency for people to use the ease of recall as an estimate of frequency).
Unfortunately, this class is no longer offered and has been replaced by Psychology 1: Introduction to Psychological Science. It still seems to be taught by Professor Gilbert during some semesters and Professor Steven Pinker during others!
Psychology 15: Social Psychology (PSY 15)
After taking SLS 20, I realized that I loved learning about human behavior, so naturally, I took another psychology class that focused on human interaction! Professor Fiery Cushman also gives amazing lectures, and I found the course textbook to be such a fun read. The final project for the course was to design and conduct your own "experiment" related to any topic in social psychology, so I looked at the use of pronouns in people's Instagram posts and how this correlates to whether they posted their self-portraits. I didn't find a statistically significant result, but it was still an interesting and fun project!
Chemistry 110: The Chemistry and Biology of Therapeutics (CHEM 110)
I took this class during my junior fall (Fall 2019) because I really liked the organic chemistry courses (Chemistry 17, 27) that I took during my sophomore year. We explored the various mechanisms by which small molecule drugs bind to their targets by learning about how specific small molecules were developed. The class was definitely out of my comfort zone, as I'm not a chemistry concentrator (the equivalent of "major" at Harvard) and it was challenging, but I think I got a lot out of it! The final project for this class was also pretty cool -- we used a software called MOE (Molecular Operating Environment) to optimize the binding of a small molecule that we were assigned.
Economics 1057: Game Theory with Applications to Social Behavior (ECON 1057)
I took this class my senior fall (Fall 2020) because the topic sounded really interesting! We applied game theory models to explain various puzzles in our social lives, such as "Why do people curate their social media posts, even though it is very obvious that they are curated?" or "Why do we see third-party punishment (when people punish an individual that harmed another person, even if they were not directly harmed)?" This class gave me a fresh perspective on human behavior: specifically, using a quantitative approach to explaining everyday phenomena. I took the class Pass/Fail instead of for a letter grade, partly because I had not taken any of the prerequisites for the course (which included introductory economics classes). This helped me genuinely enjoy the discussions and class, as well as the problem sets (homework assignments) designed to make us think critically about how to apply these models to novel but related situations!
Management, Leadership, & Decision Sciences 301/ Psychology 1548: Leadership Decision Making (MLD 301/PSY 1548)
This is a Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) course that is cross-listed as a course in the Psychology department. The majority of the students are HKS students, but I would say that about 10-20% of students are undergraduate students interested in decision science! (This is a rough estimate, since I can't really tell undergraduate and graduate students apart in this class.) The course focuses on the mental processes that influence our decision-making and helps leaders think about how to create environments where people can make rational decisions. Another important aspect of this course is working on a real case with clients and developing a recommendation based on concepts related to decision science. It's a great way to work on your teamwork, relationship building, and communication skills!
Economics 1644: Market Power in the New Economy (ECON 1644)
This year is the first time this course is offered, and I totally love it! So far, we have talked about the characteristics of markets in which it is difficult for buyers and sellers to find complete information. The real estate market is an example of such a market because it is impossible for a buyer or renter to find information about all of the available houses that are on sale or for rent. On the seller's or owner's side, it is also impossible for them to find information regarding all of the interested buyers or tenants. Related to this concept, we have also discussed the effect of platforms that help with this search process, such as AirBnB and Uber, sometimes using Harvard Business School Case Studies! I would recommend this course to anyone who is interested in this topic regardless of prior experience with economics --- taking the course without its prerequisites can be okay.
Overall, I think I enjoyed my classes outside of my concentration the most, especially when I chose them purely based on my interest in the topics. I also realized that prerequisites are not always essential: they are helpful to have, but you can definitely take a course without them if you are willing to put in the extra effort!