Student Life

Bored on campus? Try going to a random lecture

Have you ever felt like you wanted to try out every class McGill has to offer?

If you’re a keener like me, you just spent the first two weeks of school trying out random classes, switching up your schedule so much that you have burnt the Visual Schedule Builder (VSB) page into your screen. You’re desperately scoping out courses that vaguely relate to your program with the hopes that you can get them to count toward your major. The broad nature of Urban Studies is both a blessing and a curse. 

Even outside of add/drop, I love learning, so it only seemed natural for me to accompany my friend to her philosophy class, both out of a curiosity for a topic I haven’t studied since high school and for a lack of anything better to do. This is something I’ve been doing since I was a kid. I sat in on my first random class when I was five years old, accompanying my mother to her dietetics lectures on days I didn’t have school. I still remember learning about the chemical composition of food colouring, curiously watching a blue M&M dissolve into water in a Mac campus auditorium. 

Try stepping out of your comfort zone. 

I decided to sit in on PHIL 375: Existentialism. As I make my way toward the elongated Strathcona lecture room where it’s taught, I find myself discovering a part of campus that is unfamiliar to me. A small anatomy museum neighbours the lecture room, displaying cross-sections of diseased livers and ectopic kidneys. Why doesn’t Burnside, the building I spend the better parts of my day in, have something this interesting?

Class begins, and I am but a lone geographer in a crowd of philosophers. The TA, in lieu of the professor, starts speaking into a microphone that muffles and buzzes with every word she pronounces. She reaches toward the class for interpretations of the assigned text, and with every hand that shoots up, the overachiever in me sheds a silent tear, desperately wanting to participate; unfortunately, I had not done the readings, nor do I know enough about The Death of Ivan Ilyich to say something out loud. 

I resolve to sit quietly and listen. On the screen, the assigned reading was projected big enough to allow me to read excerpts of Tolstoy out of context, like little windows into existentialist literature. I grasped at what I did not understand, wishing I had more knowledge on the topic, trying to make connections with the absurdist literature I loved so much as a teenager. 

If you don’t understand what’s going on, try to see if others do. 

If anything, going to a random lecture can be an opportunity to people-watch. On the last day of add-drop, some students scroll through Minerva, double- and triple-checking their schedules. One person moves classes around on the VSB; another browses the syllabus of a different course. I couldn’t help but wonder if they, like me, would not be back for another lecture. 

Amidst the insightful comments, it felt nice to sit back and reflect, without having to take any notes, simply listening to the content and enjoying the opportunity to learn. Would I say it’s good background noise for doing work or catching up on readings? No, not really. If you can separate yourself from the discussions going on around you, maybe. But I always like to listen. I’ll probably keep going to random classes this semester, even if I don’t have to write a piece on them. What can I say? I’m a keener. 

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