professor
Nihal Turkuler Isiksel

Feb 2021

Give Professor Isiksel a gold nugget! She is, without a doubt, the best professor I've had at Columbia. Both in discussion and written assignments, she pushes you to think critically and never settle for the easy answer. She makes philosophy feel meaningful and contemporary and brings in all kinds of interesting debates on race and political ethics. The fact that every single student stayed from the first to the second semester attests to just how great Professor Isiksel is. Professor Isiksel is also just an incredibly kind person who clearly cares about her students. She takes the time to stay behind every class to talk and arranges for students to meet her for coffee outside of class. Despite being a philosophical genius, she's very down-to-earth and doesn't put philosophers on a pedestal just because they're part of the Western canon. The writing assignments are pretty rigorous compared to other sections (you have a little over a week to write 7-8 page papers), but it's absolutely worth it. Everyone should take Professor Isiksel's class. Columbia, please make her teach more undergraduate classes.

Dec 2020

NOTE: There's 2 people listed on CULPA, Nihal and Turkuler Isiksel, but this is the same person. I think she generally goes by Turkuler but her legal first name is Nihal. Either way, you should probably call her professor to be safe. Also, note that this review is for CC *online during COVID-19* so it might be different if you are reading this for (one day?) in-person classes. Dr. Isiksel is literally a genius. For every insightful thing or paradox, you find she has at least 3 very profound remarks to share that deepen your understanding of the text or create some kind of mind-blowing moment. She is deeply passionate about what she teaches and has gone many extra miles to make students connect with CC and the Columbia community. She's intimidatingly smart but very affable -- she invited people to get coffee and shared Thanksgiving cookies (socially distant & outside) and sent memes in the class Zoom and emails. She's very good at connecting the texts to contemporary political issues and highlighting how they've influenced history & western political philosophy, since that's her specialty. She even weaves students' discussion posts and in-class comments into her lectures. Each class is preceded by a pre-recorded 20-30 min lecture on Canvas that offers background context and thematic summaries to keep in mind as you read. It's actually pretty interesting information and since you can watch it on 2x speed it's not that much work. There is a sometimes brutal amount of reading, and only 9 days to write 6-8 page essays. She's not particularly harsh with grading (perhaps due to the pandemic) but definitely has high expectations and she gives helpful feedback in the essay margins. If you want to really improve your essay writing and critical thinking skills, Dr. Isiksel's CC class will help you do that. I'm a poli sci major so I may be biased, but I could not have imagined a better or more rewarding CC experience than this class. Definitely deserves a gold nugget.

Feb 2013

Professor Isiksel is a brilliant instructor who really wants to impart her love of the CC curriculum upon her class. I took her class for two semesters during her first year on the Columbia faculty, and her teaching definitely got more organic and discussion-based as the year went along. I thought that this was ideal given the structure of the class, but it was at times tough for her to get people to participate in class. She was forgiving, however, and she would encourage participation by bringing coffee and cookies on occasion, which was definitely appreciated. Her knowledge of the texts was very strong, and her discussion questions, while obvious at times, definitely got the job done. Two words of caution, however: 1. The distance between an A- and an A is a lot longer than one might expect. This is felt the most in the essays, where perfectly structured essays with a good argument will only get you an A-. To get that A, one must have a nearly-flawless essay. 2. Her absence policy is very strict, even for a Core seminar. We were allowed one absence before our grade started dropping. I would definitely recommend her for students who are looking for a strong focus in political theory and political history in their Core classes and who don't miss class for any reason. At least at the beginning of the year, discussion were fairly dry and uninspiring, but strong classroom participation can easily lift that issue.

Apr 2012

Professor Isiksel's CC class felt like she got out of it exactly what she wanted to get out of it. If you are looking for a safe CC experience with fairly even grading policies and nothing extra expected, then this is the class for you. Attendance - while she is understanding of religious holidays, Professor Isikel's official policy is that students are allowed one missed class per semester. Attendance is 20% of her grading policy, and she takes it seriously that everyone attend class every day. However, she also brings coffee and cookies at least once a month, and she doesn't seem to care too much about constant participation from everyone, so long as you speak up once or twice a class. Essays - the option is on the table to build your own essay topics, but she gives the students 4 or 5 essay topics to choose from. The topics are fairly limited (no more than 2 authors are discussed in a single essay), and textual analysis is absolutely necessary. The tough-but-fair label fits her grading style well - she doesn't hand out A's like candy, but she also isn't trying to fight grade inflation. Teaching style - the classes generally had 10-20 minutes of historical and biographical lecture and 90 minutes of discussion of the text following questions she sent out before class. The questions themselves were pretty bland, and any liveliness in the discussion was generally brought about by students' occasional value judgments when they slipped out. However, Professor Isiksel is prone to not make those judgments - while it's fairly clear that she has a preference for the political theory of the Enlightenment, she never said "this is just wrong" or "this is just true." This made the class a fairly safe experience - it's not what I was personally looking for in CC, because I think that it discouraged debate among the students about the ideas we were learning about, but I guess someone might enjoy that style. I can't say I would recommend this class, but it's definitely not worth immediately dropping - even if class time is, as a general rule, pretty dull, it covers each text very thoroughly and none of the assignments are particularly difficult.