McCormick junior launches course-scheduling tool Paper


Illustration by Gemma DeCetra

McCormick junior Dilan Nair said the name for the course-scheduling website Paper came as a “shower thought.”

Esther Lim, Assistant Photo Editor

Last year, McCormick junior and computer science major Dilan Nair saw his friends creating a four-year Northwestern plan on a spreadsheet and thought, “I can do better than that.”

So he did.

His first product, Plan Northwestern, was an online tool that allowed students to visualize and organize classes they have taken, hope to take and will need to take throughout their time at NU. 

Fast forward to Halloween this year, when Nair launched Paper, a new version of his course-planning vision. The site merged Plan NU and Salad, a quarterly class schedule visualizer created by McCormick senior Andy Xu. 

Paper now offers two main functions: “Plan,” which provides a quarter-by-quarter breakdown of a student’s time at the University, and “Schedule,” which allows for a closer view of a specific quarter through a weekly class schedule. Nair also added new features such as the ability to export schedules and to save multiple versions of schedules.

McCormick sophomore Annie Edwards is currently transferring into the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. She said Paper has helped her navigate her new academic pursuits.

“Last year, I had maybe one class that I could choose for myself, and the rest of it was already planned out for me,” Edwards said. “But now that I have so much more flexibility, having a tool where I can look at what classes are available is helpful.” 

Nair said his interest in Paper, which he refers to as his “child,” comes from a humble beginning: the block-building video game Minecraft. As a kid, he learned to export his own plugins into the game and started receiving commissions to do the same for others.

Nair said he still remembers the first plugin he coded from a YouTube tutorial. Although he was a beginner, the comment section helped him debug his first error. 

In the same way, Nair’s projects are fueled by online knowledge compiled over time by different coders, he said. 

“Paper is powered by so many different community projects,” Nair said. “Same with anything you see online. It’s a bunch of small things that other people make that come together.”

Nair also acknowledges change as part of Paper’s natural growth.

Though one of the harder parts of product development, incorporating feedback and criticism from NU community users was crucial for Nair. 

“I can test (the product) on my own. I know how it all works,” Nair said. “But if I give the product to someone else and have them experience it, I don’t know if they’ll have the same experience.”

For Nair, learning is all about doing, and that often means taking his projects outside of the lecture hall. This year, the computer science department is sponsoring the “doing.” The department covers data storage costs and provides independent study course credit for his work on Paper.

“For the first year, Plan NU was something that I would (work on) in my free time on top of my classes,” Nair said, “and I learned four times as much from doing this than I do in any of my classes.” 

Nair also partnered with the Office of the Registrar and NU Information Technology, which provided him with more accurate course data. Dustin Levell, senior assistant registrar, first reached out to Nair about giving him access to this information. But Nair isn’t the first to work with the Office of Registrar, with other course-planning sites like Serif preceding Salad. 

According to Levell, it’s a common pattern for websites to pop up and disappear once their creators graduate. Xu, who is graduating in 2023, had been looking for someone to take over Salad when Nair reached out to him.

“There is definitely a cycle of students coming to campus, building something and then once they leave, whatever they build just gets left in the background,” Xu said. “It’s a great thing that Dilan is doing — he’s picking off where I left off and not allowing Salad to die.” 

However, Nair’s goal is to make Paper self-sustaining by automating the data collection system. He said he might have to construct a team to manage Paper after he graduates, but for now, he’s determined to continue realizing his own vision.

But for someone who spends so much time helping others plan their academic journeys at Northwestern, Nair lives his on the edge. 

He appreciates the irony.

“In terms of my classes, I’m a very YOLO kind of guy,” Nair said. “This quarter, I didn’t finalize my schedule until the Friday after classes started.”

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Twitter: @EshLim1213 

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