January 15, 2009

Yang, Jian
[BIOL W3004] Neurobiology I: Cellular & Molecular

Please keep in mind that this review is more than 5 years old.

I am a Neuroscience major, and enormous lover of all things neuroscience - I read each and every article about the neuroscience world I come across, I have worked in numerous labs on campus and off, I am on the board of the Columbia Neuroscience Society, I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Mowshowitz' biology class and succeeded in it despite it being difficult.... However, this class, Neurobiology taught by Professor Yang, honestly made me question my desire to enter the world of neuroscience. It started with his too-great emphasis on the aspects of neuroscience that are based in physics - without the understanding that not everyone in the class has taken physics yet. The first exam was full of questions that ought to have been on a higher level physics exam, not a neurobiology exam, especially because physics is not a prerequisite for the course. Arguments against this were answered with "Well, you are allowed to drop one exam, so it is fine" rather than attempts to clear up the subject matter. As the course went on, the exams were to continue to test us on small insignificant details (eg. the size of a gap junction channel rather than its purpose/function). Professor Yang also did not stay in communication with his TAs, so they were also unable to really help us, as hard as they might try.

During class, Professor Yang repeatedly mixed up information, said one thing while writing another on the board, or simply just did not explain himself well. Before the exams, when students would ask him, for example, which of the formulas he had provided us with would be important for the exam, his only reply was "Well, if you had paid attention in class you would know" (he sent this response out several times as an email to the entire class, which I found quite inappropriate). What was worse was that in class he had at various points said one thing was important and another was not, then reversed that, and then ultimately on the exam, it was necessary to know both the things he said were important and those he said weren't, and those he had never discussed and which weren't in the text book either! I have done all the reading, I attend every class, and yet Professor Yang still manages to confuse more than instruct. Moreover, he sends out questions prior to the exams, questions that are supposed to help us study for the exams, but these questions are simply taken from previous years, when the professor taught different material, and Professor Yang does not think it necessary to remove questions that are on topics we have not discussed, leading to even greater amounts of confusion and wasted time.

I had really been looking forward to this course, but found in it only disappointment and confusion. In class I sit with two other people, and end up having to explain to them what the professor MEANT to say with his last statement. I am not writing such a harsh critique because I did poorly in the class, in fact I received an A in the class (thankfully we were able to drop the physics exam). I am writing this critique because it was only thanks to my background knowledge that I was able to have an idea what Professor Yang MEANT to say, and I spend the entire class doing a simultaneous translation from what was just said into something that actually makes sense/is relevant.

What does Professor Yang need to do to be better? He needs to be clearer, have his information correct before coming to class (once he spent fifteen minutes trying to figure out whether or not he was right about something a student had just questioned him on), he needs not to test on random numerical facts but on the things that are actually important, he needs to not assume everyone in the class is an advanced physicist. Overall, this class could have been really interesting, but instead Professor Yang just made it painful.

Workload:

3 midterms on course material (one can be dropped) and a mandatory final on 2 of 3 journal articles given about two weeks in advance.
Weekly articles are also assigned for recitation section discussions.