October 16, 2004

Olsen, Paul
EESC 2300 Earth Systems: Life

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

Paul Olsen is the first of three professors, each teaching for one month. Professional is a fitting description. His presentations run like PBS documentaries. He is an excellent speaker, and he easily combines perspectives of life from paleontology, geology and the solar system, giving a unique outlook on the Life systems of Earth. So, not only does he know the material extremely well, he presents it with variety and style, and with video presentations. That is a lot of work to prepare for a class, and I really appreciated that he tried to make it real and interesting. The room used for the class is also very comfortable and cave-like, so it can be an enjoyable experience, a little like a trip through time and life. It is a really great introduction to the subject and the other professors. Some notes and a syllabus have been available on the Earth Institute's course website year round, so you can review them to see how you feel about it. However, they are no substitute for the classes, obviously. The professor is straightforward about the tasks and exams, and available for questions, so you should have no problem if you keep up with the lectures and studies. See workload for the lab situation. In the end I felt it was a very wothwhile class, and a privilege to be taught by a top scientist whose knowledge base has a maturity of years of research, and he conveys the richness of his understanding that if you want to learn about the Earth, I highly recommend you experience.


Lecture notes, best to review and learn immediately, since to some extent, a lot of the information builds upon the other. But not very burdensome, and if you are inclined, you can even review these and the readings before the class begins since the information is available on their class website year-round. Note cards for the facts work. The big challenge for this section is getting to the museums and doing the drawings and finding out the information for the labs. It is a fascinating adventure if you want to see it that way, and can be a lot of fun, as I had. But it takes time to do properly, and effort, so be prepared for that, and maybe more than one visit, since it is tiring to go through a museum for more than a few hours at a time. Fortunately, the American Museum of Natural History is free for students. Find out how to do scientific drawings from the prof. or the TA, and find out what they want to see labelled, and you shouldn't have much problem. They are looking for scientific observations, not fine art. Some people took digital cameras with them and then filled out some of the details of their sketches later. So that cut down on time spent standing or sitting around the exhibits. Some are hard to sit by. Altogether, very demanding assignments but very rewarding also and complementary to the lectures. I think that in this instance, I don't think they are being overly demanding of us students. They know why and how they are pushing the students, so that it does become a good educational experience, and I felt confident about that.