On brewing and the wizardry of directed readings

A post from student blogger Josh

If you feel sincerely uninspired by your standard coursework, and you’re struggling to find an elective class that suits your fancy, you’re not alone. I’ve reviewed a multitude of course catalogues and found the experience to be like ordering food at your least favorite fancy restaurant; everything is expensive, arduous to consume, and none of it sounds palatable. This is where directed readings come to the rescue. This is the equivalent of saying “screw your fancy food, I’m a Kraft Macaroni, Top Ramen and Miller Light man until I die”, and you get to decide what’s on the menu. In the case of MSPL, you do need your electives to be science courses, so you are limited in that whatever course you want to take does have to be justifiably scientific. You also need to find someone willing to teach whatever topic you decide. You have to select a book, write a syllabus, and just generally create a course with an appropriate workload to be considered for credit. My concoction of choice for the semester is “Commercial Fermentation for Scientists and Engineers”, which has evolved into a surprisingly scientific course.

First of all, it isn’t as though I expected the course to be easy. After all, a directed readings class undergoes scrutiny for approval. Truly easy classes are well established, and can hide underneath the guise of once having been a legitimate challenge or learning experience in some way. As unusual as this may sound, I’ve spent many more hours doing outside classwork for commercial fermentation class than I have all of my other classes this semester combined. It’s difficult to research each lecture and draft a brief presentation every week, especially when the act of actually brewing beer, even from a malt extract (so that I don’t have to mill grain), is a long process. Add in the additional layer that you are looking for perfect consistency between batches, such that changing a single variable for each batch produces a measureable or tastefully notable change in your product, and you actually have a surprisingly difficult endeavor.

What this directed readings course solves, more than anything, is a problem of motivation. I happen to like beer. I like consuming it. I like learning about it. I like making it. I also happen to like the scientific method. I like establishing conclusions based on repeatable fact patterns. As a result, I am actually motivated to put in the extra hours necessary to make this class difficult, and truly learn from it. I can guarantee that I’ll retain more information from my hands on brewing class than I would any course where I had to peruse textbooks and power points, filling out periodic questionnaires. If you’re feeling uninspired by your work, it’s your responsibility to change that. So go do it.

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