December 22, 2010

Olsen, Paul
Dinosaurs and the History of Life

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

AVOID AVOID AVOID like the plague. I entered this class expecting a fairly straightforward and only moderately difficult science course (since I'm not a science person). It is neither. Professor Olsen is certainly a knowledgable professor, but his lectures can be difficult to follow and too much time is spent on extremely scientific details, thus preventing a real understanding of the broader concepts and themes of the course. I learned very little about dinosaurs overall, despite being one of a select few people to actually attend almost every lecture. Olsen's unexplainable arrogance aside, the TA's (Steve and Rui) were pretty much useless. Steve is cocky and condescending, while Rui doesn't speak a lick of English. Let me repeat: DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS, even if you are a science person.

Workload:

One difficult cladistics homework assignment. 2 in class pop-quizzes, on which you receive full credit if you are in class that day to turn it in. A 10-page research paper where you turn in a rough draft halfway through the semester and get a preliminary grade (the average for the first draft was a C-). My advice: write on a simple concept and keep the paper straightforward.

The final exam was the most difficult I've ever taken at Columbia. It consists of a time scale, true/false, multiple choice, short answer, essay, a cladogram, and a bone chart (yea, pretty much every form of test combined into one disastrous exam). I prepared for 3 days and still didnt know a fair amount of the questions. The cladogram section, while only worth 15% of the test, requires memorizing up to 6 huge charts. However, the chart on the exam has many species/characters NOT on any of the material distributed in class. Study the practice exam, many questions appear verbatim on the final.