professor
Samuel K Roberts

Jan 2021

I had never taken a class even remotely similar in terms of content but this is literally the best class I have ever taken. Maybe it is Roberts' resounding voice, passion for the subject, funny personality, or the amazing content, idk but this class was amazing. Even the boring units in terms of content (in my opinion, other people seemed to love them) were really fun because of prof Roberts. Honestly, every single one of my friends, regardless of major, have gotten a text from me that basically said "take a class with professor Roberts. He changed my life." You study everything from tuberculosis, to COVID-19 and I believe some of the units change year to year (I know that a previous year did a full unit on mental illness but skipped reproductive justice, whereas we did a bit on Schizophrenia but an extremely extensive unit on reproductive justice). TLDR; take this class, take any class taught by Samuel Roberts. I cannot stress this enough; he is AMAZING Also, I got an A in the class and even if I failed it, I probably still would have thought prof Roberts is a God amongst men :)

Sep 2015

I was very surprised when reading Prof. Roberts' other reviews because I thought that his seminar was GREAT. Perhaps he is more effective in seminars than he is in lectures (but I have also seen Prof. Roberts speak for large groups of people, and I think that he can be an organized, effective speaker). First of all, as mentioned in other reviews, Prof. Roberts is brilliant. He has a deep understanding of the history of racial inequality and criminal justice in the United States and always brought his expertise in the history of medical and public health into our discussions. All of the texts that we read for the course were extremely interesting and gave us a good historical foundation for our discussions on current events related to policing and incarceration. Although Prof. Roberts' classes were sometimes not as organized as they could have been, I did not necessarily think that this was a complete loss. The way that he structured the class gave us the space to discuss the parts of the texts that were most relevant and interesting to us and to talk about how the historical framework that the texts provided shaped our understanding of these issues presently. Also, as a professor who is actively working to address the issues that he discusses in his work, Roberts brings his applied experiences and practical knowledge into the classroom. Lastly, Prof. Roberts genuinely cares about his students' growth. He demonstrates this by leaving class time to address students' specific interests, meeting with students one-on-one regularly, and providing detailed feedback on assignments. For example, the big project of the course was to write a 20-page research paper related to the history of criminal justice in the United States (we pick the specific topic). From the first class, Prof. Roberts emphasized that we should meet with him to discuss the paper and so that he would be able to provide resources/show us where to find resources and so that he could get a better understanding of our research interests and career goals. Prof. Roberts' individualized guidance (that was always honest and never sugar-coated) made me a much stronger writer and researcher. It was an honor to learn from a professor who is genuinely dedicated to ensuring that his work in academia has a direct impact on the communities that he centers.

Jul 2014

I completely agree with the previous review. The readings for this course were fantastic and I typically enjoyed my discussion section, but Professor Roberts is a TERRIBLE lecturer-- definitely the worst I have had at Columbia. It's too bad because the course has so much potential-- like I said the readings are fascinating and the subject matter is so interesting, but he does such a poor job that it basically ruined the class! He was unbelievably unprepared for lectures, and rarely ever made a coherent point about anything he was rambling about. I consider myself a pretty good note taker and I was literally unable to take notes in this class because I could not follow anything he was saying. He goes from one tangent to another without ever really saying anything and its SO frustrating. He was prepared for class one time because there was a guest sitting in and the difference was shockingly obvious, which bothered me because it's clear he is quite capable of delivering a decent lecture if he decided to put some effort in. My favorite classes were the ones when we had guest speakers, which happened a couple of times-- they were great. I don't completely regret taking this course because I loved the readings and felt like I got a lot out of them, but Professor Roberts did a REALLY poor job of teaching the material.

Apr 2014

Professor Roberts’ class Health Inequalities in the Modern United States is the worst class offered at Columbia. And possibly more importantly, Professor Roberts is probably the worst lecturer at Columbia University. After taking his class it is almost a disgrace that his has attained tenure here. But before you stop reading because this seems like a hate review just to bash a professor, please let me explain. This past semester was the first time this class was offered and I was unfortunately lured into taking it because professor Roberts’ semi-sarcastic and humorous lecture style during the first lecture made me think he would be a relaxed yet focused lecturer, which I think is important especially for a history class when the material can be incredibly dry at points. Things went completely down hill from the first class. I’ll break it down by lectures, assignments, and readings. Lectures: His lecturing style is horrific. He constantly (and knowingly) went off on tangents that were either not important to the topic of the lecture that day or completely irrelevant from the course as a whole, making it impossible to follow what he was trying to accomplish each class. The lectures were completely unorganized due to his incredible lack of preparation. His slides were consistently out of order showing that he probably spent a total of 10 minutes putting together the lectures each day or he just picked random lectures he had prepared for his previous classes. On numerous occasions he would forget that certain slides were in his powerpoints (one class he changed a slide which had a video link on it that he completely forgot about and the video was 26 minutes long. How do you forget about a 26 minute long video in your lecture?!). Much like his book (which he makes you read) his lectures are completely disorganized, leading him to ramble on and on without actually reaching a concluding point. The ultimate pitfall of the class is that most of your grade is determined by participation yet his lectures are so bad that no one feels motivated enough to try and add something of substance. Additionally, he takes attendance at the beginning of class so you have to go and sit through his mind-numbing lectures unless you want to lose points for skipping. Assignments: The assignments were comprised mainly of term definitions that were supposed to be either from lecture of from the readings. The dumb thing about these terms was that they were either incredibly ambiguous in their meaning or that they weren’t in the readings or lectures. The work you had to do for these terms was not incredibly difficult but rather tedious. The worst part about the assignments was that the syllabus originally only had 2 or 3 term definitions for the entire semester but then during the semester, he would assign a large number of terms that applied to readings we had done weeks before. This made it so you had to re-read your old readings and also do the readings assigned for that particular week in order to stay on top of things (he just didn’t seem to get that he was assigning things out of order). In addition to the term definitions there was a short report you had to do on a series of lectures that related to health inequality. This report was not difficult but you had to make sure to leave that weekend open in order to attend it. In short, the assignments were not difficult in them of themselves but if Roberts has planned out the semester before it began, things would have gone more smoothly. Readings: The readings were the best part of the class. They were incredibly interested and rich of information that related to public health and race throughout American history. Although he did assign quite a lot of reading, it was the only thing that helped me get through his class, although, personally, I thought his book was the weakest one on the syllabus. It is a great class to talk about in interviews if you are interested in public health, but all in all, do not take this class. If you want a good health related history class, take Professor Colgrove's Social History of American Public Health instead.

Jan 2014

Roberts is a pretty terrible professor. While the course readings were good, he came unprepared to most classes after about the 6th week, using PowerPoints that were clearly not made for our class, but rather left over from other presentations he has done in his career. It seemed like he rolled out of bed each morning and made it all up as he went along. I often left lecture feeling like I learned nothing and with no better understanding of the readings. He even made us all go to a (terribly boring) conference that he organized (on a Friday and Saturday), and then had the nerve to re-use one of the PowerPoints from the event in class the next week. Boring and poorly-assembled lectures wouldn't have been a problem if attendance hadn't been worth 50% of the final course grade, but alas. You have to go to lecture and you have to pay attention, or else Roberts will call you out in front of the whole class or berate you after the lecture is over. He's clearly brilliant, but it seems he thinks he's invincible and above criticism. The course opens with a study of tuberculosis and race, but its seems that after that, Roberts isn't very knowledgeable about the histories of health and inequality in the modern US. It's almost like the department let him teach it just because he's written a book about TB, but they forgot to ask if he knew anything else about health in the 19th century. He'd often make up facts and answer questions vaguely, showing that he himself wasn't even too confident about the material he was teaching. The TAs were Mookie and Maria. If you get a choice, pick Maria. Mookie is nice, but doesn't really seem to know much about the subject and was of little help when it came to confusing topics. Quite a few students submitted complaints to the TAs about the terrible lecturing, which they said they'd pass on to Roberts. Ultimately, the lecturing continued to be awful. If you like public health and history, it's a great set of course readings. Just be prepared to show up to lectures in which you will learn little to nothing, catch up on reading your emails and wonder how such a slacker got tenure at Columbia.