May 13, 2014

Olsen, Paul
Dinosaurs and the History of Life

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

Note: This review is from Spring 2013 course.

One of the more interesting professors at Columbia. Professor Olsen is a great lecturer and goes over quite a bit of material in each lecture. He's passionate about what he teaches and it's always good when a professor enjoys the material that he's teaching.

Fortunately, I had an interest in dinosaurs from childhood which made class more interesting. However, Class will get boring especially for those just using this as a science requirement. No matter which way you slice it, fossils will be fossils and if you don't have the interest in it in the first place, it'll be tough to pay attention in class. If you choose to give your iclicker (used once every class for participation) to a friend and skip all the lectures, you'll have your work cut out for you during your final. It's certainly doable, but you'll need to cram like hell. The cladograms, bone anatomies, and fossil theories seem endless but it is certainly possible to cram for, especially since Olsen provides a practice exam. Pay attention to this, as many questions are repeated on the final.

Outside of the final (no midterm), there is a research paper that needs to be done on your topic of choice. Generally this is pretty flexible, as long as it relates to dinosaurs in some way. The paper was graded twice, with the second grading being the final grade. The first drafts were graded exceptionally harshly, but if your final grade was higher than it would replace the first draft grade. It's not something you attempt the night before, so keep that in mind.

Bottom line, if you have an interest in dinosaurs, by all means take this class. Olsen is very receptive to fielding questions during lecture. If you're just taking this a science req, that's fine, you'll probably have to cram like crazy for the final memorizing a bunch of dinosaurs and cladograms that you'll probably forget after the exam. But as long as you'll study, you'll do well. Just remember those iclickers...


One 10ish page research paper and 1 final. Final was very much like the practice exam distributed in class: T/F, Multiple Choice, Short Answer, etc.