Wednesday, 8 January 2014

What will I be studying at Penn?

Since I'm a bit of a nerd and actually love learning, one of the things I am genuinely most excited about is the courses (translation: Oz = "subject", NZ = "paper") I'll be taking at Penn. These are the (five!!) courses that I'm planning to take:

1. SOCI-277: Sociology of Mental Illness
"This course is designed to give a general overview of how sociologists study mental illness. We will be concerned with describing the contributions of sociological research and exploring how these contributions differ from those of psychology, psychiatry, and social work. This overview will be done in three parts: we will discuss (i) what "mental illness" is, (ii) precisely how many Americans are mentally ill, (iii) how social factors (e.g. race, gender, class) and social arrangements (e.g. social networks) lead to mental illness, and (iv) how we as a society respond to and treat the mentally ill. Throughout the course, we will be concerned with uncovering the assumptions behind difffent definitions of mental health and exploring their political, social, and legal implications."
As a psychology major and sociology minor, I'm quite aware of psychology's tendency to get quite individualistic and focused on personal agency and personal responsibility, so what I appreciate about sociology is the chance to step back and look more broadly at the societal and structural factors that may influence people's responses to circumstances and their wellbeing and life chances. I'm sure this course will challenge me to think differently about mental illness.

2. EDUC-559: Sociology of Education*
"This course provides an overview of key theoretical perspectives and topics in the sociology of education, including expansion of formal educational systems; the extent to which educational systems contribute to or inhibit social mobility; inequality of educational inputs and outcomes by race, social class, and gender; and the social organization of educational institutions, including sources of authority, community, and alienation. The course includes both K-12 and higher education topics."

I care deeply about education, and really interested in learning more about how the educational system works, who it works for, and what it actually teaches.

3. CRIM-340: Neurolaw
"This course will expose students to the field of neurolaw, drawing on concepts from neuroscience, psychology, psychiatry, ethics, philosophy, social policy, criminology, and law. The course will discuss how neuroscience is related to criminal culpability and civil liability and how the legal system has responded to discoveries regarding brain development and cognitive disabilities. We will debate how the law should consider brain based abnormalities that result from degenerative brain disease, addiction, concussion due to sports injury and war trauma. (All scientific and legal concepts will be presented in an accessible manner. No prior science, medical or legal background is required for this course.)"
This course looks really multi-disciplinary and also really thought-provoking.

4. RELS-173: An Introduction to Buddhist Belief and Practice in Asia
"This course seeks to introduce students to the diversity of doctrines held and practices performed by Buddhists in Asia. By focusing on how specific beliefs and practices are tied to particular locations and particular times, we will be able to explore in detail the religious institutions, artistic, architectural, and musical traditions, textual production and legal and doctrinal developments of Buddhism over time and within its socio-historical context. Religion is never divorced from its place and its time. Furthermore, by geographically and historically grounding the study of these religions we will be able to examine how their individual ethic, cosmological and soteriological systems effect local history, economics, politics, and material culture. We will concentrate first on the person of the Buddha, his many biographies and how he has been followed and worshipped in a variety of ways from Lhasa, Tibet to Phrae, Thailand. From there we touch on the foundational teachings of the Buddha with an eye to how they have evolved and transformed over time. Finally, we focus on the practice of Buddhist ritual, magic and ethics in monasteries and among aly communities in Asia and even in the West. This section will confront the way Buddhists have thought of issues such as "Just-War," Women's Rights and Abortion. While no one quarter course could provide a detailed presentation of the beliefs and practices of Buddhism, my hope is that we will be able to look closely at certain aspects of these religions by focusing on how they are practiced in places like Nara, Japan or Vietnam, Laos."
I've recently become quite interested in Buddhist philosophy, since completing a 10-day meditation course, so am really looking forward to learning more about this ancient tradition, particularly the ethics. One thing that's really cool about this subject is that you can choose what assessment option you want to count for 50% of your grade - quizzes on facts and details, nine short response papers, or a major research paper. I'll probably go with the research paper, although the short paper option looks quite ok too, and would probably be good for developing a better overall understanding of the concepts in the course as a whole.

And finally, the course that I am most excited about:

5. EDUC-575-002: Contemplative Sciences & Human Development*
"This course is designed to present quantitative and qualitative approaches to studying and evaluating developmental interventions for children and youth. Basic assumptions underlying the two overarching methodological orientations will be presented throughout the course as a means of determining which sets of,methods to use for different types of research and evaluation questions. In addition to presenting quantitative and qualitative methods separately, the course also will present integrative or mixed-methods approaches." 
Ok, so that description doesn't actually do the course much justice. Having had a look at a draft of the syllabus, it's actually an entire course on my favourite topic in the whole world, mindfulness (which I blog about here) - current research and clinical findings in medicine, psychology, neuroscience, and cognition, mindfulness with children, mindfulness in schools, universities, and with teachers...yeah, it's pretty much my dream subject, and I am super grateful to have the opportunity to take it so that I can really get up to scratch with the literature on mindfulness and learn more about how it's being applied, especially in educational settings, because I would love to help bring it to more schools.

*These are Masters-level courses offered by the Penn Graduate School of Education, but undergraduate students are allowed to take graduate courses too! I think that's pretty awesome. Fingers crossed I am actually allowed to take them...!

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