EESC 2300 Earth Systems: Life, and ENV 2200 Environmental Biology II

Nov 2010

The second semester of Enviro Bio was so so so different from the first, they should hardly be considered part of the same sequence. I, too, enjoyed this semester more, but mostly because the I preferred the material and the laid-back character of the professors. Matt Palmer is awesome (too bad he's married now, though!) and he does a really great job breaking material down so that students can understand both the details and the big picture. He very intelligent, and therefore can move through material very quickly, but slows down for in-class questions. Paul Olsen is very old. I found his lectures incredibly random and disorganized. I would often look up from 15 minutes of gchatting to see a massive purple and pink "dinosaur recreation" on the screen, listened for a few minutes to see if what he was talking about was at all related to the image, discovered it wasn't and then returned to my online dalliances. This said, I understand that Olsen knows his stuff about dinos and rocks, but the technology (ie PowerPoint and iClickers) really seemed to get the better of him. Kevin Griffin is also a very smart dude. He tends to do more "big picture" stuff and assumes that his students can get the details elsewhere. His research is pretty interesting and his kids are really cute (they make it into about every other lecture). Shaena is the shit. Again, super smart but also cool and very helpful in lab because most of the assignments appeared to be designed for precocious 6th-graders (read: making phylogenies of LEGOS and counting beans for genetics). She made coming in for 3 hours to do the silly "labs" okay, because she tolerated extensive Tim and Eric Awesome Show breaks. Overall, this is a good class, and if you have the discipline to stay offline in class, you can learn a lot. Hopefully the organization of the whole thing will get better, and the labs will get more college-level.

May 2010

I enjoyed this second half of environmental biology far more than the first half. I guess I just don't really like the grueling rote memorization of DNA replication processes and of central body systems. This class was actually quite fun, though, and I liked all three professors we had. The first section (photosynthesis and respiration) was the most difficult, both in terms of exams and labs, but nothing was particularly difficult. I have never met anyone so excited about photosynthesis and respiration as Kevin Griffin, and it makes lectures much more enjoyable. He teaches the first section of Life Systems/Environmental Biology II in great detail and relies heavily on the Raven et al textbook. Read the textbook! The second section was a paleontological look at life systems on Earth. This includes a brief (two lecture) history of the universe, a similar history of the earth, and looks at dinosaurs, etc. It's fun, and some of it fits in nicely with the Climate Systems course, and it would be helpful to have taken Solid Earth Systems before this or at the same time (I haven't yet taken it). Of the three professors, Olsen had the least clear lectures, though most of the time I could follow along. His discussion of the greater carbon cycle (including through rocks, etc.) I couldn't at all follow, but it didn't show up much on the exam. Olsen did not follow the textbook much, so pay attention to and study the lectures, and you'll do fine. The third and final section (evolution) was taught by the much loved Matt Palmer. Seriously, this guy is great. He's young, engaging, hilarious, and generally a really fun professor. This section is the easiest, and the labs are easy and short. You've learned a lot of it before if you took the first half of environmental biology. Labs were generally terribly written. There were field trips at the end of each section (though it had to be cancelled for Palmer's section), with longer lab reports due for these, requiring some outside research through the literature. Normally, however, the lab reports just required you to fill out the answer sheet instead of writing a full lab.

Oct 2004

Prof. Griffin is another nice professional, and like the other professors, brings to the class his dedication and enthusiasm for the subject. He is also around the world working on his tree projects, and he includes some of his work in his presentations when he covers the biology of life systems. The labs are also interesting. If you have done Environmental Bio I, you should have little problem with this, but if you are new to environmental biology, you need to learn quite a bit about microscopic systems such as photosynthesis, energy cycles, and have a general idea about elements that cycle in the environment, such as carbon. Between the good text (by Raven et al.) and the hand-outs, you have everything you need to learn, and he will tell you what you need to learn, since there is a lot of detail to these systems.

Oct 2004

Great class to take if you are interested in the Earth and ecology, want some special insights and are prepared to spend the time to do the work. The classroom is really nice, like a cave when the lights are down. Most of the chairs are really comfortable, and the decor is educational, with lots of Earth maps. The first section is an excellent and unique introduction to the life of the planet at first, including the solar system, and creation of the planet, following by a month of ecology and communities of life on Earth, and then a month of life systems, including photosynthesis and elements cycling. The professors are all experts and obviously like to teach and are good at it. They can make complicated concepts fairly simple and understandable. They also all have a richness of understanding to convey of their disciplines and for more detail, you can look at individual reviews I wrote for each of them. There is a lot to learn if you have no previous substantial experience of the subject, so look at the syllabus on the website first, although it does not reflect the proper class content which you get by attending, etc. All the professors have presentations, and these are made available on either the course website or Courseworks for download, except the videos and other odds and ends that belong to the professor's particular presentation. They are all available for questions, within reason. This year our TAs were excellent, and they really made the course work well, and they were available nearly all the time by e-mail, and you could see them by appointment also. Highly recommended.