You’re at UCLA.  You know your major, you’ve got all of your prerequisites planned out, you know all of the courses you’ll be taking this quarter – except one.  Your GE.

In some ways, general education courses really can be the hardest courses to pick, because you’ll want to choose something that isn’t too hard, but isn’t too boring (nobody wants to have a GE they absolutely hate, and nobody wants their GE, of all things, to ruin their perfect 4.0 GPA).

If you’re at UCLA and you still need to fulfill your Life Sciences GE, Astrobiology (EPS SCI 3) is an absolutely great one to take.  Here’s just a few reasons why:

1. Astrobiology is Really Cool

Astrobiology is a really, really cool subject.  Don’t believe it?  Astrobiology is basically – in so many words – the study of whether or not there are aliens in space.  (Cue Star Trek opening theme.)  As my professor put it, if you take EPS SCI 3, you’re embarking on a ten-week mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

Astrobiology is cool.  Do you believe it now?  Good.

2.  Astrobiology is Easy

Or, at least, EPS SCI 3 is.  Of course, astrobiology as a whole is easy.  If you actually get into the science of the subject, it starts getting pretty complex.  There’s a lot of science and math that goes into figuring out if aliens actually are real, as it turns out, but if you’re interested in astrobiology and don’t want to get too bogged down by all of that, EPS SCI 3 is the perfect introduction and overview for the subject.

The homework takes about five minutes a week – it’s absolutely easy, and all of the necessary information is on the lecture slides, which are posted every week to your UCLA class portal.  Additionally, the midterm and final exam really weren’t bad at all.  (Did you know there was only one midterm?  So as a poor, suffering UCLA student, you won’t have to add it to your unending list of classes that all have two.)

3.  So.  Much.  Humor.

Humor makes everything better, quite honestly.  It definitely helps keep you awake when you can get a few laughs out of every lecture.  EPS SCI 3 has an absolute abundance of humor – there were even jokes in the answers on the midterm exam.  (To give you a few examples, “What is one piece of evidence supporting the fact that the Big Bang occurred?  Because Sheldon said so.”  Or, “What was the primordial soup?  A flavor of Campbell’s Soup.”)

And there was even more humor in class.  Oh, so much humor.

4.  Class Demonstrations!

The professors were demonstrably crazy (in a good way), so it’s no surprise they had some crazy class demonstrations as well.  The demonstrations were always engineered to clarify the class material, but also to make the class laugh – was humor mentioned yet?  Just to give you an idea, my professor…

  • had a student spin him around on a little platform and nearly fell off, much to the amusement of the class.
  • swung a tuning fork around his head on a string (a tuning fork which I was almost decapitated by) to demonstrate the Doppler Shift.
  • (accidentally) hit a student with a ball, which was rigged to also demonstrate Doppler Shift (we all laughed).

Disclaimer: No students were harmed in the presentation of the class.

5.  If You’re a STEM Major, It’s Perfect for You…

If you’re in STEM and haven’t automatically satisfied the life science GE (looking at you, physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, electrical engineers…), the class really will be easy for you.  Almost no work, but still interesting.  There’s enough science to keep you busy during lecture, but not enough work outside of class to be a hassle, and if you’re running late on that one huge computer science project and absolutely have no time, you’re going to be able to skip the discussion sessions without worrying about it.

You could probably even skip the lectures and ace the class simply by studying the lecture slides – although I never skipped lecture.  The point is, it’s not a time sink at all, and I think that’s a plus, right?

Basically, if you’re a STEM major, it’ll be a pretty easy A, but still really interesting.

6.  …and for Non-STEM, Majors There’s Almost No Math

Seriously.  Just study the lecture slides and remember some key facts as discussed in class, and you’ll be good to go.  There’s a little bit of basic arithmetic on some of the homework, but not much (which is usually only a page, at most two pages, and contains a lot of easy fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choice questions).

Don’t worry about math on the exams, either.  In case you need it, they give every student a sheet with important formulas and numbers so you don’t have to actually memorize any of it yourself, and even though they said there might be math on the exams, there actually wasn’t a single problem with even arithmetic in it on the midterm exam.

7.  Class Participation

You might already have been able to tell from the class demonstration section, but student participation in all lectures is highly encouraged in this class, and honestly, that does a lot to make it less of a I’m-just-going-to-take-a-nap-for-one-and-a-half-hours class.  For example, the professors will ask a lot of questions in the middle of class to make you think, and discussion and questions are highly encouraged as well (yes, in the middle of the lectures!).  And, as mentioned above, students are often involved in helping with the class demonstrations.  The professors actually care about the subject and about helping you learn – they’re very, very approachable, so don’t be afraid to raise your hand!

8.  The TAs are Really Good

If you’re too shy to talk to the professors or attend their office hours, never fear – the Teaching Assistants for this class really know their stuff, and they’re also incredibly approachable.  If you’re a STEM major in a related field, you might already know the stuff they’re telling you (in which case they’re very cool about letting you skip discussion session), but if you’re not familiar with the material already, they’re very, very patient about helping you learn.

The TAs are thorough, approachable, friendly, and patient.  And, best of all, they really do put a lot of energy and effort into helping you succeed in this class.  They love what they do and they’re proud of doing it – and that’s the best way to be a great TA, and a great professor!

9.  No iClickers

If you’re at UCLA and you’re taking GEs, chances are you’ve already run into the iClicker.  If you’re thinking of taking EPS SCI 3 as your life science GE, don’t worry – you won’t have to buy an iClicker for this class.  All you need is a phone that can text (and who doesn’t have one of those, nowadays?).  Poll results are displayed on the screen as students answer the question, so you can see exactly what your classmates think – and you can tell when people start changing their answers (AFTER the professor confirms which is the correct one!  Cheaters).

This might be a nitpicky point, but I’ve heard so many complaints about having to use the iClickers (and complaints about having to buy the iClickers).

10.  Two Professors = Double the Trouble, Double the Fun!

This class is offered every fall quarter, so plan accordingly.  The class is taught by a dynamic duo – Jean-Luc Margot and Tina Treude.  Professor Margot covers the physics and astronomy side of astrobiology, while Professor Treude covers the biology side.  They switch off about a third of the way through the quarter, and again two thirds of the way through.  Both of them have a great sense of humor and a perfect balance between science and fun, so you’re absolutely going to love this class!

Both of the professors are truly good teachers.  You’re not going to be disappointed!

So if you’re at UCLA and you’re not quite sure which class to take to fulfill that pesky life sciences GE, look no further.  EPS SCI 3 has got your back.  With great professors, interesting material, a textbook that’s barely a hundred pages long, a light homework load and stress-free exams – what more could you ask for?


Alethea Katherine

Alethea is a computer science and engineering major at UCLA (c/o 2021). She is also a novelist, musician, and dancer. She's a hopeless romantic, and her favorite hobby is daydreaming or meeting new people. Go Bruins!

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