The Honours experience

The honours programme at the Vrije Universiteit is a combined effort between the VU and the UvA to offer students who perform well in their studies an avenue to explore other fields and other niches within their own field of study. This can range from revising education, to combining psychology and economics, to classical english literature. However, the wide range of choices and fields can make it seem daunting and abstract to those outside the Honours programme what these courses are actually about. To give a better picture of what the Honours programme is about, we asked three students what their experiences are with the Honours programme. Each of them followed a different course, or set of courses, with the only thing they have in common being their shared econometrics background. Without further ado, here are their stories. 

The rhetoric besides the equations

Author: Martijn de Bast

Sexual Desire, Rhetoric, Bubbles and Crashes. These are some of the courses that you can – and should – follow when you follow the Honours Programme (HP). Clearly, we chose Econometrics and Operational Research (EOR) because we like mathematics or were at least somewhat decent in it. Then it does not come as a surprise when most of our study hours are spent solving and pondering about equations. During EOR, we spend the bare minimum on important (professional) soft skills, e.g., speaking, presenting, and writing – in my opinion an incredible loss. That is exactly the reason why I followed the course Rhetoric during the HP.

Rhetoric is the art of persuasion.

Historically the rhetoric consists of logos, ethos, and pathos. You can forget the first one because the course focuses on ethos (the appeal to the authority or credibility of the presenter), pathos (the appeal to the audience’s emotions), and physical presenting skills. You can find the three subjects in every PowerPoint, advertisement, or memo that you encounter during your lifetime. During the course you will learn among other things what makes a great speech great and how to keep the attention of the crowd. 

Before I start praising this course, there are a few caveats. This course demands time and effort. With six hours of lectures a week and simultaneously different projects, it can be demanding. You have to engage during the lectures, thus there is no snoozing during the lecture – I tried. Furthermore, it will give you at some point sweaty hands when you need to present your own writings to the class – and they can be very bad, believe me.  

But now to the praises. This course is unconsciously going to be the most helpful course you will ever take. Besides getting more comfortable in presenting and writing, you continuously implement the little tips and tricks learned in Rhetoric: from sending social media messages to writing a formal report. The course organizers are incredibly kind and outgoing. But the best part of the course is that you actively engaged with each other. Instead of listening for hours to a single professor, you now work together to present a talk show or try to win in a trial. 

Chalky equations are replaced for discussions.

Most of the HP courses are more flexible and easier to pass than traditional courses. Besides the genuine interesting courses of the HP, it provides you during the week with an opportunity to escape the world of equations and programming. And let’s be honest, it looks great on your resume.

The depth of literature

Author: Janna Kroezen

So far, I have completed one honours course, The Three Ages in English Literature, at the UvA. As an econometrics student, English literature is not something I usually encounter in my regular courses, which made this course interesting but also quite challenging. 

Each week I had to write small essays regarding literature I had to read for that week. The type of literature ranged from larger texts to small poems, written by writers such as Shakespeare, Fitzgerald or Wordsworth. During class, we discussed the literature. The classes were mostly online, but one time I got to visit the UvA science park, which was quite nice. The grade for this course consisted of the grades for the small essays and two larger essays of about 1500 words. For the first of the large essays we had to answer some questions about literary criticism. For the final essay we could choose any literary piece we liked on which we had to perform an analysis. 

During the econometrics program I do not have to write a lot of essays. This honours course taught me how to write essays and use MLA, short for modern language association, formatting. Moreover, the course made me realize that there is much more to a text then you immediately see and how to really read a literary text in detail. Another nice thing was that during the honours course I got a chance to chat a bit with students from other disciplines. My next honours course is called ‘Robust Timetabling for Railway Systems’, so something a bit more familiar for an econometrics student like me. It is given by mr. Heidergott, whom the second years know from our Probability course. I hope it will be as informative as my first honours course!

A dive into psychology

Author: Marcello de Wit

I joined the honours programme to broaden my knowledge in other fields of study. I was mainly interested in learning more about psychology and the behavioral side of economics. I have always been interested in the way people think and love reading about this in my free time. Examples being Thinking Fast and Slow, Predictably Irrational, and Nudge. 

Furthermore, it is interesting to meet people from other studies. 

So far, I have finished one honours course, behavioural game theory. In game theory, we assume that agents are rational and always maximize their utilities. Here, we saw different situations and mechanisms that led persons to make choices contrasting with rational ones.  Currently, I am taking the interdisciplinary course Towards digital freedom. This course is about how digital technologies influence our lives and what we can do to improve our relationship with technology. Up until now, we have discussed the history and architecture of the internet. Besides finding this topic interesting, it is also great to hear the knowledge that people from other studies have accumulated. 

At the start, I was afraid that joining the honours programme might lower my grades. However, this has not been the case. If you join, you will be busier than before, but it should be manageable if you put enough effort into it.

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