professor
Christian Braneon

Nov 2018

Professor Braneon seems to find this class/teaching in general below him. Initially I was really excited about the class. He seems like a cool guy, and he's clearly incredibly smart and successful. But he BARELY teaches. While Stats is not a prereq for this class, he essentially recommended a few 400 pg textbooks that we "could" read if we needed/wanted to. He's very disorganized. He usually lectures for about half an hour (just reading off his slides, essentially) and then leaves. I learned as much, if not more, from the TA. He's an intelligent guy but he's too caught up in trying to show his students what the "real world" is like to actually teach us anything.

Dec 2017

Christian was obviously extremely knowledgable, and when he lectured it was interesting and exciting, because he clearly loved what he was talking about. He made himself available twice a week, which was also helpful. Christian had extremely incorrect expectations of his students. This is a course for environmental and urban studies majors with limited math and science experience, yet he expected us to be mathematicians like himself. The math used in the course was fairly simple, but the problems came when we did have questions that he coyly refused to answer during his office hours or during class. His attitude was dismissive and plainly unhelpful. Expectations for different problem sets were not well explained, and there were many times that homework questions were not even touched upon during class lectures, making them impossible to answer without consulting the Internet, which certainly would not have one clear explanation that would align with Christian's expectation for the correct answer. I have no suggestions here, but student participation was very low and difficult to drum up in the class--perhaps because of its size and our limited time in the classroom. Overall, Christian could approach different students with more empathy for their knowledge backgrounds, and be more generous with his help. Cynthia is also a very passionate person, and an incredibly talented scholar. It was an honor to learn from her, and I wish I had more time in the classroom with her. She communicates with enthusiasm and joy, even during the most depressing class discussions. Cynthia was great at answering direct questions and tried her best to engage us. Cynthia's lectures were surprisingly unstimulating, for such a brilliant person. She read off the slides and didn't offer much more information beyond what was written on them. There wasn't anything she covered that couldn't be found in the readings. I was so disappointed and confused by this! Again, I don't know why class participation was abysmal in the course. Her feedback on work was unhelpful when we did receive it. A peer of mine had Cynthia (as opposed to Christian or Ella, the TA) grade her first draft of the final paper, and Cynthia gave her a D even though it was comparable to my own work--it seemed her standards (and their collective use of a rubric) were arbitrary, and my peer said Cynthia's comments were vague and unhelpful, especially given the grade my peer received. More time with Cynthia would have been great. If she spent more time speaking off the cuff about her work and how it related to the class during her lectures, I'm sure it would have been marvelous. It was a course I have wanted to take since I join my major two years ago. I'm personally interested in agriculture, and there are very few course on it at Columbia and Barnard, so this was an exciting opportunity. The professors both work at NASA, which is impressive. It also fulfills a major requirement for my program, but it was one I had previously completed. I learned very little overall, but almost everything I did learn was new and interesting. It met none of my expectations, because I had none, but somehow I was still disappointed. I would recommend this class if it were better than it is now, because it is a very valuable course, and, again, nothing else similar is offered for undergraduates. In its current state, I would not recommend this course, because I learned very little for a number of reasons, listed below. I can't emphasize enough how poor the clarity of grading standards were! This is the most frustrating thing about the class. The professors decided halfway through to become more lax in their grading scheme. There was an overall lack of cohesion in the flow of assignments, what was expected of us, and literally how to do homework assignments. The class would be served better if it met more often. There was definitely not enough time in each meeting for all that the professors were trying to get done. If we met twice a week it would be easier to have full meetings with our presentation groups, complete discussions and actually have time to talk as a class, and hear full lectures and be able to ask questions. I think all of this would make a HUGE difference in the quality of the class.