January 15, 2011

Olsen, Paul
Dinosaurs and the History of Life

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

I had to take a class to fulfill some of my science req's, and I'm not any kind of science pro (ie no chem or bio lab for me). And besides, like most children, I have always loved dinosaurs. This class seemed like a naturally easy option. Unfortunately, it's not as awesome as it sounds. There's two lectures a week (and a lab section that you can take if you need a lab; one of my Barnard friends had to take it with the lab and she says that part is pretty unhelpful). Olsen, while a nice and quirky guy, is not easy to follow when he lectures. He often gets side tracked about very specific things such as the quality of mud at the Yixian Formation in this part of China. There is no midterm, so it's hard to gauge where you are until you get the practice final test and you realize that you know nothing. The book isn't very helpful - it's outdated, and Olsen never references it. For good reason, too. The book jumps around. Your only grades are a ten page term paper (your choice on the subject) and the final. I went to all of the lectures, but I either fell asleep or was confused for most of them. I ended up getting an A on the term paper, but that didn't help with the final. The final is based entirely on stuff that Olsen covered in lecture. A lot of people stopped coming to lecture, but I talked to some of those people after, and they had a harder time without notes. This class isn't great, but if you don't leave the paper to the last minute and you study really hard during reading week, you can pass with a decent grade. **Also, Olsen takes this class very seriously. It's not a throw away class. It's a hard core intro to paleontology and earth history.

Workload:

There are weekly book assignments, but don't have to read them. One term paper and one final.