Review Comment

[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

January 07, 2012

Collins, John
[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

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

I am not the type of person to speak negatively about a professor, but I just needed to do this for the good of our school and for anyone who is ever considering taking a class with John Collins.

Collins is funny and adorable; he can blow your mind and, to some degree, make you think about your life differently. But it stops there. As a professor for Probability and Decision Theory he was completely negligent and indifferent about the class. At several times during the semester, I thought "maybe he's just trying to test the limits of how little effort one can put into a class and still get through the semester..." I'm not saying he's lazy or anything...for all I know, maybe he was going through a lot that semester.

THE GOOD
- he's funny
- he digresses and talks about interesting things
- he doesn't punish you with his grading

THE BAD
- he does not respond to emails, no matter how many times you reword them and send them
- he does not post his office hours online, so that if you want to meet with him to talk about something you sent him 4 emails about, you have to get him before he ducks out of class at the end of his lecture
- he does not give a syllabus
- he changes his requirements over the course of the semester so you never know how you're doing or even how you COULD be doing in the class
- he does not give assignments back...not even the midterm...so you don't know what you did right or wrong
- his exams test you on things that you wouldn't know from the class...which I guess wasn't that surprising since there was nothing substantive taught in lectures to actually be on an exam
- he promises to give weekly readings...he gave ONE for the entire semester. he said he would post another reading at the end of the semester, but never did
- he promised to give us a written assignment (40% of grade) every 1-2 weeks. he gave TWO for the entire semester
- he does not use Courseworks, like every other professor at Columbia (I think they are actually required to)
- he cancelled class 3 times
- he promised to post notes for the class throughout the semester. He posted them the DAY BEFORE the final
- he often came to class and realized he was unprepared to teach things that he was planning on teaching
- he held a review session for the final (what a saint!) but everyone was so confused about what they should even ask him that he wound up just teaching some new concepts
- his grading had to have been very arbitrary...I thought I must have failed both the midterm and final but still got an A- for the semester. I think he probably just realized that he was so neglectful all semester that he couldn't rightly give anyone a bad grade

Workload:

2 short assignments
a midterm and final
nothing else

May 09, 2010

Helzner, Jeffrey Silver_nugget
[PHIL W3551] Philosophy of Science and [PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

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

First off, Helzner is a really nice professor. I thought of him more as a dude. Very approachable, jokes with his students, but very conscious of bullshit.
Go to his office hours for homework help and he will help you more than is due. But he expects you to try very hard.

Rational Choice and Philosophy of Science tackle pretty technical subjects in philosophy. You won't ever have had anything like it. The readings are dense, and his lectures will work off of them. If you intend to cram for homeworks or exams, you will have a grueling (but not impossible) time.

The thing to note about Rational Choice and Philosophy of Science is that while they are philosophy courses, learning the material is like learning in a science or math field - the material builds up sequentially, and it takes time to sink in. Don't expect to strap down last-minute with a few essays for the final paper and expect to come up with brilliance.

Grading: Helzner himself said that an A should be an earned grade, should feel special to a student. He gives very few A's. He says he gives out a lot of B's.

Workload:

Philosophy of Science: 4 homeworks, one 12pg take-home exam

December 30, 2008

Helzner, Jeffrey Silver_nugget
[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice and [PHIL G4515] Special Topics in Epistemic Logic

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

How to describe Jeff Helzner? He's a really great guy, very laid-back and approachable, and he's smart beyond belief. He genuinely cares about his students -- he wants them to learn, not just do the assignments, and to get excited about ideas. He himself gets pretty excited about the subjects he teaches, and his enthusiasm is contagious. I've taken two classes with him, and I loved both of them. The first day of the first class I took with him scared the sh*t out of me, because he gave only a cursory introduction and then jumped in at a high level. But instead of dropping the class I went to talk with him, and I'm very glad I did, because he was incredibly helpful, friendly, and understanding. He took my difficulties into account but at the same time challenged me repeatedly to think harder and at a higher level than I had been before or, honestly, than until that point I had thought I could. I took another class with him the next semester, and was equally happy there. As other reviewers have said, he's very responsive to student feedback about his lectures, and he's quite accommodating about extensions, etc. Highly recommended.

Workload:

Depends on the class. Usually a few short but dense readings each week, and then a midterm and a final or a presentation and a final. The homework probably won't take as long as many classes, and there's a high "bang for the buck" -- they usually are quite relevant to the class discussions, and Helzner is very good at extracting the key ideas and weaving them into his lectures.

June 24, 2004

Helzner, Jeffrey Silver_nugget
[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

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

Helzner had just graduated from grad school last year when I had him so he was pretty idealistic and naive. He really wanted everyone to participate and get excited about the readings which, unfortunately, wasn't the case in my class. But he's a nice guy, very easy going and friendly. He'll love you if you do the readings and talk a lot in class. And hey, it could be worse. He could be Gaifman.

Workload:

Pretty light. A bunch of readings each week which aren't very long but kind of important. He really wants you to read anf participate in class. Two large papers due (one is the take home final). Pretty fair grader.

December 16, 2003

Helzner, Jeffrey Silver_nugget
[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

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

Why can't all professors be like Jeff?

Jeff is the exceedingly rare mix of an intelligent academic with a personable individual. He turned 'Rational Choice', a course made synonymous with pain and suffering by professor Gaifman into something, dare I say, enjoyable.

1) Jeff knows his stuff and obviously still cares about it, beyond some desperate fulfillment of classroom hours.
2) He is willing to address the various abilities of his students. If you are having trouble, just say something. If you are inspired and want to know more, just talk to him.

Workload:

1 take-home midterm. 1 take-home final.

Both focused on general concepts - an opportunity to review the major themes.

December 13, 2003

Helzner, Jeffrey Silver_nugget
[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

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

Jeff is one of the most caring and unpretentious professors I have had here. He genuinely cares that his students are learning and is not as concerned with grading as with participation and actually getting the students to learn. The class was pretty hard, and I can't say that I understood everything that was going on, but he definitely tried to adapt to all of the students' abilities and knowledge levels.

Workload:

Weekly readings (usually short, but dense). Take home midterm and final, both graded fairly.

November 23, 2003

Helzner, Jeffrey Silver_nugget
[PHIL W4565] Rational Choice

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

If your looking for a proffesor who cares about both his students and the subject matter he is teaching Jeff, as he likes to be called, is the proffesor for you. He lacks the pretension of most other philosophy proffesors and he is very approachable inside and outside of class. He's the kind of teacher who wants to be your friend and is occasionaly very funny in class, but is still interested in covering the material. Lecture is often a bit slow. Jeff spends time reviewing the readings, which are often very confusing, and is perhaps too receptive to people's questions. He is not satisfied until everyone understands the material, which can sometimes bore those who do understand the material. Both tests were based mainley on the readings and graded fairly.

Workload:

He assigns short but hard readings about once a week. Take home midterm and Final. Class particiapation = 20%.

February 01, 2002

Collins, John
[PHIL V3601] Metaphysics, [PHIL W4565] Rational Choice, and Formal Logic

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

I took three classes from John Collins in my four years at college, and I would not hesitate to claim that a few hours a week with him ought to be required for any undergrad claiming to think logically, and certainly anyone considering philosophy as a major or concentration. The man is brilliant. There are those in his classes who think he is smug and disorganized, but they usually make up the vocal minority. Philosophy students, including MA and PhDs, seek out his classes in order to soak in his rants and observe his methodical process of thinking. Classes are engaging, extremely enjoyable, and John is always willing to offer further explanation to the confused mind. I took Metaphysics as my first philosophy class, and did fine without Methods and Problems, which seems to be the class people complain about. The real reason people complain is that they are not philosophers and are intimidated by the process of becoming one (lots of thinking, not much doing).

Workload:

Varies from class to class. He doesn't give away As, and sometimes it is hard to figure out what you did wrong, but intellectually, the classes are gold mines. You come out smarter.

Directory Data

Dept/Subj Directory Course Professor Year Semester Time Section
PHIL / PHIL PHIL PHIL W4565: Rational Choice Jeffrey Helzner 2003 Fall TR / 10:35-11:50 AM 1