Computational Genomics

May 2016

This review ended up rather long, so TL;DR: this class is hard and confusing- do not take it! Unfortunately, I strongly do not recommend taking this class. It was probably my least favorite class I ever had to take at Columbia (disclaimer: I just took it as a second semester senior so I may be biased, but I still think this is a very honest assessment). I wanted to avoid taking Machine Learning because I was trying to have a chill semester, but I wish I had instead. Professor Pe’er is an extremely nice guy, which makes me hesitant to write a poor review, but I had a very bad experience with this class. The material is hard, but what truly made this class truly difficult is the lack of resources to learn from. Usually, I can rely on the lectures, class notes, or the textbook to learn the material for a class. However, I could not understand the lectures due to Professor Pe’er’s delivery and stuttering, the class notes were confusing and extremely difficult to study from, and there was no textbook. Professor Pe’er has an accent, but it is the stammering and stuttering that made it almost impossible for me to understand what was going on in class. He also spoke through a microphone which further distorted his sentences. I’m not trying to exaggerate, but it took intense concentration and patience during lecture to make sense of each sentence for me (moreso than any lecture I’ve ever had). Eventually, as a second semester senior, it was just too much effort for me and I was mostly zoned out during class. There was no textbook to learn the material from. Thus, I was left with learning from the class powerpoints. The slides did not contain full explanations of concepts and diagrams, so they were very hard to decipher. I mostly ended up googling topics and watching Youtube videos to try and learn the material. This class is a mix of computer science, biology, and statistics and the material is unsurprisingly very hard to understand. The problems sets were long and extremely difficult (8 in total). Most of the questions were worded poorly and required extensive clarification on Piazza before you could understand them. Given that the material itself was difficult and confusing, they took me hours and hours to complete. After a couple problem sets, I just stopped caring and scribbled down whatever work that looked okay because it wasn’t worth the time stressing over it. For the midterm, you had to answer 3/8 questions. Not surprisingly, it was hard as well- the average was a 64. It was open book/note, but I didn’t even use anything I brought in. Afterwards, he gave us an extra credit assignment where we had to solve 3 more of the midterm problems (full credit received half the points between your grade and the highest class grade). If you do take this class, I would just focus on learning on 2-3 of the main topics that will appear on the exam (BWT, HMMs, etc.). The project was okay. I was worried our project was too simple because everyone else’s sounded complicated, but most groups didn’t come close to getting good results so don’t overexert yourself. In conclusion, this was one of the most frustrating and challenging classes I took as an undergrad, and unfortunately it was during my last semester here. Avoid taking it, unless you are truly interested in the subject- just take ML!!!! Sorry Professor!

Jun 2015

Everyone kind of sits on the continuum between weeding out people, and helping them learn. Professor Pe'er is definitely on the latter. Here's why: 1) Only 80% completion of your homework is required, i.e. an 80% translates to 100%. Now, I'll caveat this by saying these assignments are done weekly for the first half, and some of them are pretty tough if you weren't paying careful attention in class. 2) Feedback, feedback, and feedback. Every homework assignment you turn in gets notes meant solely for you. Your final project will have presentations, and you will get feedback from both classmates AND the professor and/or TA, each time. 3) A steady/reliable pace with a very welcoming attitudes towards questions. He leaves his cell phone, personal email, and allows skype sessions over the weekend - just to help you learn or get help with your project. 4) Cameron (the TA) is super nice and adopts the same attitude as Professor Pe'er - he only wants you to learn. In addition to that, this course is heavily front-loaded - it's going to be a sprint the first half. I can't speak for everyone else, but I really appreciated this - it gave me more time to work on my project (the last half of the semester), and deal with the impending deadlines for all my other classes. Now, some caveats: 1) His lecture style is pseudo-interactive, or at least tries to be. He asks a lot of questions to check comprehension, and there were plenty of awkward moments where nobody answered a very obvious question (albeit, I'm not sure if it's because we were all scared because it wasn't obvious at the time or because nobody cared. Likely the former). 2) I see other people complain about his voice, his stuttering, blah blah, but if you're interested in the material, then you'll likely pay attention naturally (and you should; it's interesting stuff). 3) The material -can- be hard to follow. It's -a lot- in roughly 2/3rds of the semester. Some of it is almost hand-wavey. This is especially true if you've never had exposure to genomics, or even biology. That being said, I came in here with 0 biology background, and was okay.

Apr 2007

He's one of the worst prof I've ever had. His lecture is very dry and he doesn't seem to really care much about students.

May 2003

Compare to other 4000 level classes such as OS and PLT, this class is an easy technical elective. Christina Leslie is a very caring teacher, even though her lectures can be boring and involve a lot of materials. She writes a lot on the board and you'll have to go to class in order to do the exams. The textbook is virtually useless. The tests are open book and based on the class notes, so, GO TO CLASS AND YOU'LL GET an A. You'll need substantial biology background to truely enjoy this class, though biology is not needed to ace this class.