First Year Experience

Every Brandeis education is fueled by exploration, imagination, inquiry, creativity and participation in our diverse community.

The first year experience fosters all these ways of learning. In your first year, you will engage with new disciplinary perspectives and diverse ideas through writing and argumentation — building skills to nurture all that you do here, and beyond. 

Please watch this short video created by our faculty to welcome first year students.

University Writing Seminar, Critical Conversations, Small Group Discussions and Experiential Learning

The University Writing Seminar (UWS) is where you hone your academic writing skills through studying rhetoric, text and readings. It’s where, right away, you encounter fascinating ideas and perspectives.

Ever wondered what attracts people to each other? There's a seminar for that: "Darwinian Dating: The Evolution of Human Attraction." Or maybe you're fascinated by "Environmental Justice," "Neurodiversity and Culture" or "The Mythology of the American West,”" to name just a few topics. The required University Writing Seminar is an opportunity for first-years to explore new ideas collaboratively.

Browse University Writing Seminar Topics

As part of the university seminar, you will attend at least one Critical Conversation, a moderated faculty discussion about a specific topic. Consider it an introduction to scholarly discourse. How do faculty engage the world (and each other)? Your University Seminar will follow the Critical Conversation with further discussion and writing. In addition, each seminar will assign an experiential learning activity to expand the boundaries of the conventional classroom. Sometimes that experiential learning activity will be a Small Group Discussion.

Small Group Discussions are informal faculty-led meetings specifically designed to introduce first-year undergraduates to faculty members and other first-year students. Topics can range from learning more about academic departments and majors, to adjusting to academic expectations, to faculty’s educational and professional backgrounds and pathways, and more. All undergraduates in their first year at Brandeis are highly encouraged to participate. First-year students can register for up to two discussions per semester. 

How to fulfill the university writing seminar requirements

Learning Goals

  • Use writing and discussion to work through and interpret complex ideas from readings and other texts (visual, musical, verbal).
  • Critically analyze your own and others' choices regarding language and form.
  • Engage in multiple modes of inquiry using texts (field research, library, web).
  • Incorporate significant research into writing that engages a question for a research-based essay.
  • Use writing to support textual interpretations; understand that there are multiple textual interpretations.

See the Critical Conversations Schedule

2023-24 Faculty Committee

Name Department
Paul Miller, Chair Biology, Chair of FYE/CC
Mark Berger Music
Elissa Jacobs University Writing Program
Katrin Fischer University Writing Program
Matthew Fraleigh German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literature
Pu Wang German, Russian and Asian Languages and Literature
Olga Papaemmanouil Computer Science, Senior Associate Dean of Academic Affairs
Lauren Buckley Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs