January 03, 2010

Miller, Amber
[PHYS C1001] Physics for Poets I

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

Forget previous reviews that say how easy it is and what a perfect course it is if you're trying to get your requirement done or boost your GPA.
With Dr. Amber Miller, this 1000-level elementary course transforms into some 3000-level intermediate course, and she teaches you physics more than you wish you knew or in other words, more than it is required of you to know and no decent person will not be overwhelmed by the amount of information that she overloads on PowerPoint slides. So if you happen to love physics, want to gain in-depth knowledge, or find enjoyment in learning, you will love her. Otherwise, I strongly recommend that you take Earth, Moon, Planet with Applegate.

Amber Miller is very knowledgeable and takes her teaching job VERY seriously (possesses characteristics of a good professor,) although she is primarily a researcher. And she has a PhD/MA from Princeton(where I transferred from) and BA from Berkeley and specializes in cosmology, but surprisingly not pretentious at all. She clearly lacks affectation required of every Princetonian. Maybe too serious to be sociable...? I wish she learned how to be a poseuse rather than polishing her diva status.

At the beginning of the term she warned us that this course would not proceed chapter by chapter through a textbook, and I though it should be fine. Boy, was I wrong on that assumption! Since we skipped many chapters, we sometimes lacked prerequisite knowledge that was supposed to be covered and therefore, had to find relevant chapters and do reading on our own or search necessary info online in order to do our homework. In fact there were problems that were so ambiguous or not covered in class that we had to consult Wikipedia or beloved Robert (our TA). She also mentioned that she would select readings that would help us understand the topics that we chose, but for the first part of the semester, there was no instructions. Also, graders didn't return graded homework/exams in a timely fashion, though Robert posted solutions for review.

As for exams, she doesn't tell you what you should know or doesn't give you practice exams, but you can predict and focus on certain topics/questions that may show up on exams. Midterms (short answers and a few easy math questions) were not particularly difficult(mean was about 148 out of 200pts and 137 out of 180 excluding 14 students who missed the 2nd midterm) but long. The final exam was long (total 545 points) and difficult and required thorough knowledge and understanding, though there were also very simple questions - for example, the age of the universe (probably worth only 3pts) and whether or not the orbit of the Earth will change should Venus suddenly collapsed into a black hole.
She grades on a curve, so I ended up with a B despite my poor performance on final (about 55%) But I would have received an A if it was truly a 1000-level course.

Having said that, I liked most materials covered in class. It's just that I wouldn't risk my GPA.

Workload:

Not much reading, or put another way, exam questions come from lectures, so you have to go to class...
Weekly assignment (difficulty varies, can be very easy or challenging, but most people managed to get above 18 out of 20 on average) and the two lowest scores will be dropped. Two midterms and final (long and minute)

Homework assignments (25%), midterms (30% from the better score of the two), and final exam (45%)