McGill Recommendations, Student Life

Un-bird-ening your winter semester

With nearly half of the academic year over, students are busy rethinking their schedules and re-adjusting their degree plans for the semester ahead. Whether you’ve failed a class, overestimated the demands of your program requirements, or realized that your GPA might not be high enough for the exchange semester of your dreams, you might be looking for a “bird course” to alleviate your workload and boost your GPA.

“Bird courses” are the exception to McGill’s reputation of rigorous grading standards and highly demanding coursework. But what exactly constitutes a “bird course”? Lenient grading? Fewer evaluations? Engaging lectures that make those early mornings a tad easier? Most students agree that the ideal bird course is a mix of the three: Interesting, easy, and low-maintenance. I’ve scoured every possible blog post and Reddit thread and, while some courses’ “birdiness” remains heavily debated, here are the ones that were most frequently mentioned:  

1. MUAR211: The Art of Listening (Winter 2023) 

From past musical eras to present ones, The Art of Listening covers a wide range of Western music forms and styles. Even if you feel like your first-grade piano lessons are far behind you, fret not—the ability to read music isn’t a requirement. This course shouldn’t be too demanding because much of the homework consists of listening to music—something students already spend several hours a day doing—and reiterating facts pertaining to it on the test. The trick? Being able to identify the song and composer from a seconds-long excerpt.

2. CHEM181: World of Chemistry: Food (Winter 2023) 

This online, asynchronous chemistry course touches on highly relevant food-related topics through a historical and practical lens. The course covers a lot of ground, and at a fast pace—if you’re a professional procrastinator, consider this a warning. However, its evaluation style is simple and practical: As long as you have taken detailed notes of the lectures, ones you can use in your exam, it should be a breeze.

3. CLAS203: Greek Mythology (Winter 2023) 

Let’s debunk the myth that all literature courses are dense and challenging—this one, in fact, is quite the opposite. If you tend to worry about the fate of your grade lying in the hands of two to three heavily weighted evaluations, don’t worry: You’ll be given multiple opportunities to score that 4.0 with simple quizzes and weekly one-page discussions. The lectures are known to be quite interesting but can quickly turn into the opposite if you have little to no interest in Classics.

4. PHYS 183: The Milky Way Inside and Out (Winter 2023) 

If you consider yourself a science fanatic who is fascinated by all things astronomy, this may be a good pick. This course covers elementary-level material through weekly quizzes and class projects. Although it isn’t heavily math-oriented, many say you are better off taking this course if you have a science background. Otherwise, the “birdiness” of this course might be in question…

5. ATOC185: Natural Disasters (Fall 2022) 

This is, without a doubt, the ultimate bird course. Assessments include two take-home exams, online quizzes, and a term paper whose subject is open-ended: You can research and write about any natural disaster that interests you. It’s so fascinating that it has even prompted students to change their majors to environment-related disciplines. The professors, John Richard Gyakum and John Stix, are kind and go out of their way to connect with their students—always a bonus.

All this to say: Program requirements should be at the forefront of everyone’s priorities, not electives. Don’t burden yourself further by taking courses that unnecessarily contribute to already-high levels of stress. Instead, take a bird course so you can allocate that extra time to arguing with the prof who should’ve given you an A or that 100-page-long reading you’ve been putting off for a week. 

Beware, however, of these courses’ high demand. As such, they might currently be full or have long waitlists. So, if you want that dream schedule, ‘tis the season to enroll. Start queuing up on those wait lists now, or deal with an add-drop period met by stress, uncertainty, -15-degree temperatures, and the frantic refreshings of Minerva.

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