I dont understand the bad reviews. Padma is a very nice lady, always willing to explain anything and absolutely helpful. This class is very interesting, this is not the typical Econ class at Columbia, this class is based on historical facts and no math needed. You will have the opportunity to learn major financial crisis like Russia 98 - which is the reason LTCM failed if any of you know what this is. You will also be covering the breakup of the USSR and the main reasons for it - she actually lived in the USSR for a while. Another great topic we covered was East Asian financial crisis, Brazil and Argentina which has the title for the largest sovereign default on its debt in 2001 aprox 95bn. If you want to work in Wall Street or get an internship there, this is an absolutely interesting and helpful class, I remember talking about this class during my internship at a major BB bank.
I wouldn't recommend this class to anyone. Yes, the material is interesting but the way the class is structured and run is a complete joke. She gave us a midterm, gave us grades and then told us those grades were completely irrelevant toward the finals grade. Final grade = final exam grade, even though it wasn't cumulative and only covered the second half of the semester. Why bother going to class the first half, or even grade midterms? After class, I went to speak with her about the midterm grades and she assured me that they weren't completely irrelevant and was simply for students who didn't do well. Not true. I also thought that they would be 50/50 averaged, nope. Totally ridiculous logic on grading. Material wasn't difficult and I didn't do badly, just feel like a bait and switch was pulled and think it's unfair. It's a joke and I'm humiliated on behalf of Columbia for a professor like this to be recognized here. No one is more disappointed than I am about it. I looked up to her writing and her experience. The class is run like an afterthought. Her lectures are a bit dull, but the material is interesting. Take a different professor, don't waste your money. It's not an easy A, so there's no point.
The professor's lectures were very disorganized. She would jump around from point to point and if you stopped listening for one second you would be lost. While it's evident she knows a lot, she does not know how to communicate this knowledge to students. DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. It's not worth it as you'll leave without learning much and somehow have to cram for exams which is hard to due when she expects memorization of everything she ever said and wrote.
Please stay away from this professor !!! I was so exited to take this class (Transition Economies) but already during the first two classes got a bad feeling about this professor. Why didn't I drop it?? Don't ask... The most boring class I've ever taken and the worse professor I've ever had!! Sorry... Most of the students did not bother to attend the lectures and showed up for the in-class mid-term and the final. After speaking to about 10 students I was reassured that I was not alone ... most of the students hated it!!!!
In my opinion this class should be renamed: Russia according to Padma Desai. God forbid that woman to offer you someone else's perspective on the issues at hand. the thing is--she knows a lot about Russia and its politics/economy, but the way she presents it is slow, real slow, and often flat-out boring. If you already have some background in the region, AND have taken basic macroeconomics, choose some other class.
This class was one of the most interesting (and easy) econ classes I've taken at Columbia. Desai is good at using simple economic concepts to explain complex situations. She is also full of great stories about collosal decisions that led to foreign economic collapses. The reading is somewhat repetitive and explains only Desai's perspective, but on the whole, the course is a thrill to attend and is very little work.