At Bwog, we know that not all Columbia students are the same. And we know that most people’s classroom experiences are not the same. What we wanted to find out was just how different they can be. So, in a form of cruel experimentation, we sent an English major to an engineering lecture, and an engineer to an English class. This is what happened.

An engineering student attends a lecture on James Joyce’s Ulysses

Full disclosure: I have an unfair advantage because I read the first four pages of Ulysses two summers ago. Someone was shaving or something…

Why bother when time’s not real anyway?

Anyway, when I walked into the classroom, I was pleasantly surprised that it was brightly lit. And didn’t smell like armpit. There was a shockingly large number of people over the age of 60. I’m not entirely sure why they feel that returning to school in pursuit of an English degree is the best use of their waning time or money, but hey. Oddly, most of the students are female. So this is where they’ve been hiding.

I was midway through counting the number of people wearing scarves (~18) when the class began. As the professor began discussing the assigned chapter, which she referred to as Circe even though it’s 15 (apparently English majors really don’t like numbers), things got real. The prof quite persistently made references to The Odyssey. The word “unknowability” was used. A potato was discussed. Potatoes are Irish, so I guess that makes sense. There was talk of mirrors and the theme of “sight,” which past experience tells me is a theme in every written work ever.

The Circe/15 chapter is notable because it is in the form of a play (a play within a novel—madness!) and because it is more than slightly sexual. The professor began putting slides of naked women up on the projector, presumably because English majors are sexy. This discussion of sexual deviance and fetishes went on for some time, and the word “sex” was likely uttered more times than it has been in Mudd throughout the building’s existence.

Because sex is not abstract enough for a humanities lecture, the professor then posed two questions: “What does it mean to finish something?” and “Do details matter?” After elaborating on the questions, she launched into a discussion of time (but not before uttering the phrase “individualized psychic phenomena,” which I won’t even try to unpack). During the discussion of Time, it was questioned whether we can apply actual chronological sense to things that have occurred in the past (or is it all just the same, taking space inside our heads?) and if anything exists other than the present. This didn’t seem to jive with my limited knowledge of general relativity, but I wasn’t about to ask questions.

These mini discussions were bending my empirical mind in strange ways, and what was weirder was the fact that the class seemed to be enjoyable, both to me (I’ll admit) and to the regular attendees. After it ended, I reflected that I couldn’t remember the last time I found a lecture genuinely enjoyable. I chuckled, and then walked out the door. I had a problem set to do.

We weren’t talking about these kind of pages.

An English major walks into an operating systems class…..

The rooms of Mudd don’t have adequate lighting. This upsets me. As we take our awkward side seats (most suitable for surreptitiously texting), I am reliably informed by the SEAS contingent of Bwog that this class has something to do with memory. I know memory! Memory is important in Ulysses! It’s a theme!

It smells a little funky in here. Might be the lack of proper air circulation and lighting. I am one of maybe 3 girls in here. The professor’s wearing a microphone?! This doesn’t happen in English lectures; the professor’s voice just naturally rises in enthusiasm for parallax! WOW: not one but TWO projector screens. Oh god what if he sees my look of bewilderment and knows I’m not supposed to be here?

First incomprehensible phrase uttered. What’s a multilevel paging scheme? At least they’re talking about pages. This is so familiar. I read pages too.

Hold on.
Oh. Not the same kind of page.

After a few moments of careful deliberation, I am reasonably confident that we’re talking about web pages. I’m starting to see that engineering works by taking normal, everyday words like flag and bit and doing terrible things to their original meaning.  Hehe, “dirty bit.”  The pgd seems really important, as does the pte. BUT WHAT DO THEY STAND FOR?

25 minutes in and still don’t really know what a page is. Also: what da fuq is segmentation.

Programs! Codes! Now we get into the nitty gritty. Here goes…… What? I didn’t even understand that enough to write it down phonetically. And now the professor’s so excited he’s actually showing facial expressions!  With enough scary words floating around, I turn my attention to people watching. Everyone’s more polite about their lack of attention than in humanities lectures. The funky smell is kind of gross now. Oh, SEAS contingent is taking notes, this must be important. Virtual AND physical addresses? RAM?? Wait I know what RAM is from that time my computer was threatening to shut down on me. So we’re talking about computers! Aha.

The sum total of my knowledge so far: we are talking about computers, which maybe (?) have pages that I don’t think are like pages in a book. Their size is important. RAM. Memory is also important. You use charts to learn things about pages. Linux. There’s a victim now! So much personification. Is the victim dirty? I’m confused. Lots of sudden diligent note-taking. Apparently you want different kinds of storage. This seems to relate to money. Ahhhh, money. Jobs. A sense of contentment.


I can feel the restlessness climbing as it gets closer to 11:25. The sun is starting to shine into the room. Even the sleepers have woken; all classes are really the same during the last three minutes. This has sufficiently gone all over my head. I couldn’t even be terrified because I didn’t understand enough to be terrified. So all in all, a positive learning experience. Except for the fucking pages. I still don’t know what they are.

Arbitrary depictions of fields of study via Wikimedia Commons and Shutterstock