July 01, 2015

Olsen, Paul
Dinosaurs and the History of Life

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

I had a completely different experience from the person below me....
If you're looking for an easy class or expect to spend your time sitting around talking about 'Land Before Time' then this class is NOT for you. I know a lot of my classmates took this class expecting an easy A, but this is not a "rocks for jocks" class.

Professor Olsen is EXTREMELY knowledgable about all things dinosaur related, but he also incorporates general principles of evolution and climate change into his lectures. His lectures did tend to be a bit "dense" and 80% of the material he discusses in class was not on the final or useful in writing the term paper. However, he ALWAYS tells you what is going to be on the final and even discusses what aspects of each lecture might make a good term paper topic. With that in mind I completely disagree with the reviewer below me. If you can't think of a topic for a term paper in this class then you're just not paying attention or weren't showing up to his lectures. I got an A+ on my term paper and didn't have to do rewrites...'Professor Olsen also gives you a giant list of possible topics. If you can't thin of one just choose one (there's literally over 30 given to you).

I chose to take this class along with the lab and I highly suggest to do the same. The labs are run by the TA's and correlate with the lectures. I learned more in depth information from the labs than I did from the lectures. Also make sure to go to office hours! The TA's offer them on various days and they are beyond helpful! I was one of the few students who weekly went to the office hours (mainly for help on my labs) and there were rarely more than four students there. (note: none of the kids just taking the lecture went to office hours... which is why a lot of them did so poorly)

In terms of the final... it was tough to study for. Professor Olsen expects you to memorize a ton of information. However, he gives you a list of the dinosaurs you need to know and the cladograms. It's a lot of cramming that happens the week before the final, but it's totally doable! He also gives you a practice exam and 90% of the questions from the there are on the final. I got an A on the final and I couldn't tell you any of the information that I studied. It left my brain immediately following the exam, but just cram and you will be fine.

I got an A in the class and I really do NOT feel like it was that difficult of a grade to achieve. I got an A+ (Yes a 100%) on my term paper, which I spent time researching and chose a topic that actually interested me. You get to choose whatever you want for the topic and I think the freedom in that was wonderful. If you have issues choosing the topic then Professor Olsen was always available after class to ask and the TA's were always AVAILABLE at office hours. The person below me clearly didn't utilize the resources available to them.

Bottom line- Your grade represents the work you put in. If you're looking for an "easy" A then I suggest taking another class. But if you're willing to put in the work then getting an A isn't that difficult. This is Columbia you should be capable of doing work outside of each lecture and not just expecting to coast until the final sneaks up on you.

Workload:

ALOT if you do the lab, but the labs are extremely easy to get A's on. You get to do rewrites of each lab and resubmit for a new grade (it's averaged with your first attempt)
Lectures: GO TO THEM! He gives random iclicker tests that account for your participation grade
Homework: is vague and definitely ask the TA's for help. Also there's only 3 assignments so... actually put some effort into it
Term paper: so easy. Seriously you could write about how 'Jurassic Park' inaccurately depicts dinosaurs and get an A if it's written well
Final: Take good notes in lecture and cram the week before. It's tough but doable

Note: I did NONE of the readings (didn't even use them to study) and got an A...