Peter De Menocal

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Jan 2014

This class has definitely changed for the better since the reviews about the class being a heavy anchor, etc., were posted. There are no longer iClickers, and as far as I can tell he doesn't even take attendance. He did say in the beginning of the year that he gave extra points for participation, but considering he didn't seem to be taking attendance or attempting to get to know our names, I'm assuming that was only happening if he actually knew who you were and registered your attempts to participate by answering questions, throwing out comments/questions, etc. I did make an effort to introduce myself to him and I participated in class regularly, so I may have received some participation points, but the people in back who spoke rarely and whose names he didn't know probably never did. There is also no longer a final project. At first he said there would be a short, modified version of the project, but then he tacitly nixed it altogether. Our grades were based entirely on our five highest graded homework assignments (out of six, but we only actually did five because we ran out of time at the end of the semester and he gave us all 100% for the last one), the two tests during the semester, and the final. But despite the improvements, be warned that this class is indeed not something to blow off. It's not that the workload is heavy, but that it has to be taken very seriously. He marks down (or rather, has his TA mark down) liberally for tiny mistakes, non-ideal wording, failure to mention a concept that the question wasn't explicitly looking for, etc. I was doing well on the overall concepts, but kept getting graded down on the homework because I was bleeding quarter points off everywhere for nitpicky things like that. The HW and test questions tend to be worded vaguely, which only makes it worse. Good grades can be achieved on the homework, but you will actually have to try. You can't wait until the last minute and do your half-assed best based on what you're reading as you scroll through the Powerpoint from that lesson (by the way, take good notes--the Powerpoints are SORELY lacking in text/explanations for what the slide depicts, so if you didn't take good notes on a slide, you'll be left to stare at some context-free diagram and wonder what the hell it's supposed to be depicting or how it relates to the lecture). Similarly, you have to study well for the tests. You can't just memorize a bunch of facts from the lectures and expect to do well. The tests usually have inferential questions that require you to genuinely understand the material covered. Plus, you get a one page, handwritten cheat sheet, making it a waste of time to try to study via rote memorization. The test grading is not as nitpicky as the homework grading is, thank God. He also tends to like concise answers and specifically tells you to keep the short answer questions short (like two sentences, most of the time). Our class as a whole was not doing well on the tests, so he gave us a long list of potential final questions in advance. One of the questions on the final wasn't from the list and I think everyone got it wrong (it was on something we barely touched on), but whatever. A good deal overall. De Menocal does really know his stuff, and if you are interested in climate science, you will probably find the class enjoyable. Despite the irritation of vaguely worded questions, etc., I don't regret taking the class and feel I have a far better understanding of climate and the oceans than I did before. The climate change section wasn't particularly thrilling for me, but I am already pretty well-versed in the topic. I thought he did a great job of explaining the phenomenon and the realistic ways we're going to need to adapt to this new state of affairs on Earth. Plus, we had a small class (forty people or so) and a fabulous TA (Miyo--if you have her as a TA for this class, seek her help if you need it! She is very accommodating), which made the experience that much more pleasant. Unless you want to get deeper into the science of climate change than the class really delves, you don't need to buy the book. I don't regret buying it and have found it interesting, but it was not used beyond being assigned as reading. I think I was one of three (at the most) people who were actually doing the reading. The reading also isn't necessary--like, you can get by without doing it, except for some stuff on the first test--but I found the subjects interesting and I liked having a fuller picture of what we were talking about, so I always did the reading. In short, if you're looking for an easy science requirement class, take Oceanography or Psych, not this class. You can't just blow it off. If you are curious about the subject matter, want to understand climate change better, and are aware that you can't sleep through this class and then expect to do well, take it. It's a good course. Final comments: I got an A, so take my (probably biased) assessment as you will. Also, the guest lectures at the end of term were sort of worthless. The guy from the Econ dept only talked about the Montreal Protocol, which is what we spent the entire first month of class covering in detail. The woman who used to work in petroleum was more interesting but the lecture was pretty scattered. De Menocal himself can seem standoffish, but I really don't think he intends to come off that way, and he loves a good, on point student question. This class is graded on a strict curve, so there are a limited number of As per class--but also a limited number of low grades. And fortunately, the mean is set at a B+, not at a C or something. He made a couple offhand comments implying that if a student participated a lot and his/her grades were on an upward trajectory throughout the semester, he might reward them in their final grade, but I'm not sure if that's really true since he also seemed pretty strict about having a strict curve to ensure fairness.

Jan 2011

This class is awesome and I would recommend it to anybody. The material isn't hard as long as you go to class and Professor De Menocal is one of the best professors I have had at Columbia in the science department. If you have any trouble whatsoever with the material he has office hours after class for at least a couple of hours and his TA is also available on other days of the week.

Jan 2010

DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. If you are looking for a manageable class that satisfies a science requirement for the core then don’t take this pointless and horrible class. Take Oceanography instead, which is much more interesting and manageable. I got a decent grade from this class but that still wasn’t worth the mental agony that I was put through by taking it. My advisor said that Climate and Society used to be more manageable in the past but deMenecol has now made it a very heavy anchor for anyone’s student schedule. Let me explain the horror I went through. The key points why you should avoid this very far from enjoyable class: -There is homework every single week that usually has nothing to do with anything we learned in class. You will find yourself figuring it out on your own and when you get downgraded on your homework there will be no explanation why. -Professor deMenocal may seem very nice and affable on the exterior until you ask him questions after class. There were instances where he flat out told my friends (in not so many words) that he is too busy to work with the student and to figure it out for themselves. The teaching assistants never answered emails and their office hours were only held on Friday so making your way to school on an off day only to learn that for the most part the TAs don’t really have any clue can only give a student the abyssal feeling of hopelessness. -Throughout the middle of the course we were told to buy an additional book, which was horrible and a waste of money due to its irrelevance. Yay. -Quizzes, quizzes and more quizzes. -The web-poster project requires you to build a website and publish it to the web but like most students...nobody has any experience with that sort of thing at all. Doing the large amount of research alone is a lot of work for this project and fellow students downgrade each other during group presentations through the iClicker voting process just so things can be curved towards them. deMenocal is a harsh grader when it comes to these web-poster projects as well. He was not even there for the student’s presentations on the last day of class…you know..the presentations that students have been working on for most of the semester. -The very few interesting things you learn in this class you can learn in Oceanography, which is much more interesting and manageable. Oceanography only requires three easy muliple choise homework's, a midterm and final. All tests use the 70%, 30% group testing process and the professor is very nice. Climate and Society is the perfect example of horrible and dull science class. It is a grueling experience and the worst class I took since have I been at Columbia. I plead with you to steer away and take something like Oceanography. Turtles and dolphins are much cooler than false global warming data.

Jan 2009

Do not take Climate and Society unless you are SURE that you are EXTREMELY interested in the materials covered on the syllabus. I signed up with a vague interest in the material, and ended up hating lectures and not learning much at all. Though deMenocal is clearly a very brilliant and knowledgeable guy who is enthusiastic himself about the topics, his lectures are actually pretty dull and not particularly engaging. In addition, he basically forces you to spend money to buy an iClicker so he can take attendence, which is a huge annoyance since few took it seriously to answer the multiple choice presentation questions. In addition, this is simply not an easy way to fulfill the science requirement if that is what you are looking for.

Dec 2008

I say with complete confidence that this was among the worst classes I've taken at Columbia. To say that the material is not 'riveting' is a gross understatement. Many people did not attend lecture, and most who did came only to get a few clicks on their iClicker to make their attendance count - a lot of people couldn't even bear to bother with notes and didn't even bring notebooks to class, instead just playing games on cellphones. But all this would be okay, especially if you're taking it to fulfill the science requirement like I was. However, BE AWARE that this is NOT AN EASILY GRADED CLASS, nor is the workload a total joke. That pointless final webposter project was beyond tedious and a complete waste of time and effort - not to go overboard with the superlatives, but once again, worst project I've ever been assigned so far at Columbia, and I'm a senior. Basically - I highly recommend NOT TAKING THIS CLASS. It has been a huge pain in the ass; it seems deceptively easy, but every other science class I've taken has been less difficult in terms of workload and especially grading. Just don't do it.

Dec 2008

Great Professor. Took Climate and Society-a course designed for undergrad non-science majors. deMenocal is charismatic and very enthusiastic in the classroom. Very energetic and has a way of getting non-science types like me interested in the material. Brought in a number of guest lecturers from various departments at Columbia to speak about the cutting-edge research they're doing. I took two things from his choice to do this: 1. he wants students to think horizontally (which will become increasingly important in the future), and 2. he's very secure about his teaching abilities and his command of the class. I've seen teachers try to butt in during guest lectures in other classes, but he sat in the front and shut his mouth like everyone else. Even though deMenocal tailors the class for non-science majors, his standards are still high. Some of the homework involves a decent amount of math-nothing too heavy-and all of it requires critical thinking. If anything, the midterm and final were a bit on the easy side, but I didn't respect the class any less for that. I think deMenocal's style is such that the real learning is done in the classroom and in the research-the tests are somewhat of a formality. I think he's found a good balance between fun and challenging. I'd criticize the fact that he didn't make sure we knew how to do some of the math before handing out the assignments, but if I wouldn't have waited till the night before it was due I'm sure I could have asked one of the TAs. Group research project involved building a website on which the research results are displayed-this was easier and more enjoyable than I thought it would be. Ours was probably around the average quality for the class (haven't gotten grades back yet): I would recommend this course for anyone who needs the core credit, especially those interested in any social science or policy field in which the issue of climate change might someday arise. It's probably a decent beginner course for interested science majors too-although I imagine they'll find the quantitative side a bit light.

Dec 2008

Professor De Menocal is very enthusiastic about his subject. As another review here has noted, the majority of students are in this class to fulfill a science requirement, so there's less enthusiasm coming from the student end. It is a lecture class, so if you can stay awake (I can't) you may be able garner some information, although all the slides are online so its not imperative that you concentrate. Guest lecturers are a highlight. We had some very interesting visitors. Overall I recommend this course for anyone who's willing to put in some effort to get more than a superficial understanding of climate and the policy issues involved. Alternatively, you could just gloss right through it, fulfill a science requirement, and forget about it.

Jan 2008

As as I could tell, everyone in this class was taking it to fulfill the science requirement, and it gets the job done. Professor De Menocal was organized, usually enthusiastic (although not very warm or friendly), and clear about his expectations for us. That said, his lecture style got a little stale as the semester wore on, and it often seemed like most of the class either wasn't showing up or wasn't paying attention. This class isn't as interesting as some past reviews make it out to be, but it's not so bad. I'm glad it's over, though.

Jan 2006

I took this course hoping to fulfill the science requirement with as little pain as possible. I wasn't dissapointed. As another reviewer noted, Peter is very organized and lays out his grading expectations clearly. Sure, he grades on a curve, but it's nothing unreasonable. Because you know exactly how he grades, you can pull off an A without doing any of the readings as long as you make you sure have the basic concepts down and attend his lectures. Also, if you are confused about the "sciency" part of his lectures go to Louisa's office hours instead of trying to figure out the equations/concepts on your own. She is an amazing TA and actually does a better job explaining the science than Peter. As for the class itself, the topics (Global Warming, Ozone Damage, El Nino) are really interesting, even for a humanities type like me. I wasn't going to do the reading but I ended up doing them anyway because I wanted to learn the material for myself. HIghly recommended.

Dec 2005

I am writing this after just taking the final so I still haven't gotten my final grade but what I have to say is irrelevant of the grade I get which will be somewhere between an A and a B. What makes a professor good? Does grading you in accordance with his very specific requirements count? I think it should. deMenocal tells you exactly what he wants for every assignment and and he grades you on fulfilling those requirements. This class is good for those, like me who do not have a mind for math although deMenocal does throw a couple of equations in. I took this class thinking that it was more of a policy class that got away with an approval to fulfill the science requirement however by the third week that perception was quashed -- at one point I felt that there was way too much science but it is doable and he gives you two parts of the equations on the tests so all you have to do is remember how it works and plug in the right numbers. Overall you do not have to do a lot of scientific concept application. It is more memory based and he tests you on EXACTLY what he teaches you. For several reasons, this class is NOT an easy A if easy A for you means a class where you barely have to come to class or put effort into your work and score an A: 1. The glass is graded on a scale: deMenocal likes a perfect curve where there are a certain number of As, Bs and Cs 2. He takes off 5-10% per day for any work that is late. 3. He requires that you attend class and there is a sign in sheet. 4. You have to follow the guidelines of his assignments precisely in order to earn a good grade. For my southern ears he speaks too quickly in his lectures and in conversation however he is available for about half an hour before and after class to take questions and his TA Louisa Bratmiller will work with you after class, during her office hour or at another time that is good for the two of you. I took this class after being out of school for about 10 years and realized that although deMenocal says the most pertinent information is in the lectures, lecture concepts really sunk in when I did the readings -- he gives an enormous amount of reading but if you attend class, you don't have to read it all to do well. To get a good understanding of the concepts for each class just read whatever he assigns from the textbooks or the simplest, most straight forward explanation of the take away concepts that he posts on his website -- sometimes it is a summary page or outside reading. Then you can ask some really aware questions in class which will impress him and your lecture notes will serve as a study guide. Do not print out his powerpoint until an hour before class because he often changes it very close to class time. For the visiting speakers, ask right after the lecture what he is looking for you to take from that lecture. If you are a humanities person or even if you are not -- the web poster is the place to make your grade. It is 30% of your grade. Do well on this and come to class 95% of the time and you are at a major advantage. On your web project don't do a research report-- get involved in the science of your topic. Look at the grading parameters he gives you and structure your website accordingly. If you really get involved in the science aspects especially as they relate to the class modules, he will really reward you for it grade wise. Remember, he is a scientist and he wants to see you analyze the scientific aspects of the issue before getting to the policy issues. If you think the topic you're interested in has no real hard quantitative science to it, you're wrong -- find it-- relate it even if what you say could be controversial and you have to concede in the end that all scientists don't agree with your perspective but another perspective -- that is a part of science and some of the professional research you are going to study during the term will come to the same type of conclusion. Example of a far reaching but sciency enough topic if you really do the scientific evaluations: Evaluate the effect changing the standard american meat and potatoes based diet for the entire country to a vegan diet would have on global warming. Make sure you and your group time yourselves to present in the four minutes you are alloted -- HE WILL TAKE POINTS OFF FOR GOING OVER TIME!! Have fun!!

Dec 2005

Prof DeMenocal is a good guy and he teaches a solid course. If you actually go to class, you will pass. If you study, you will get an A. It is not hard. It is informative though, and even though it is a Weather for Windbags course, you learn some genuinely interesting stuff. DeMenocal is really, really interested in teaching the material, and he wants you to get it, so feel free to ask him questions during class The course website is dees/V1003/ I mean, honestly, the material itself is not exactly the most rivetting stuff possible, but it's a science requirement, so who cares. This probably your best option. And you'll learn something.

Jun 2004

This is why you come to an institution like Columbia--the depth of information and caliber of guest lecturers in this course were truly amazing. As a previous reviewer mentioned, the scope of the course is ambitious, however I felt that it met the goals quite well. By the end of the semester, you not only understand environmental issues from various perspectives, but have gained the facilities to act (part of the course involves learning to build informative websites). The class is taught in three modules: Ozone Depletion, El Nino, and Global Warming. Each module follows the same pattern: understanding the science of the issue, examining the history of the issue and related research, and analyzing the policy aspect of the issue. Each module features one or two guest lecturers who are experts in the respective field. While the guests are a nice bonus, Professor deMenocal alone makes the class worthwhile. He is passionate about the subject and has an enjoyable, often entertaining, style that makes dense material easy to digest. He is very approachable, answers all questions without making anyone feel foolish, and will gladly stay on a topic until everyone feels confident. He is also extremely organized (I urge you to check out the course website) which makes lectures (all of which are listed in Power Point in advance) easy to follow. Do understand, there is a lot of information conveyed in this class and you will be expected to know it in a fair amount of detail. I found that the students in my section who did poorly were the same that attended sporadically and rarely participated in discussion. However, many who did attend and participate regularly walked away with AÂ’s. If you are looking for an easy way to get your science requirement, keep looking. If you are looking for a stimulating, relevant course which is not just handed off to a TA, I highly recommend this one.

May 2003

This is a strange course. Sometimes it was good, sometimes it was vauge, sometimes it was overdetailed, sometimes (especially during the policy sessions) it was kind of obvious. This class tries to teach non science people how to look at the three modern problems scientifically, global warming, el nino, ozone depletion, and show how policy responded. its an innovative idea. does it work? kind of? prof demenocal is a really well-intentioned person, and not hard t understand on the surface, but he teaches in a way that it is difficult to udnerstand the science he is describing. i could not say exactly why. probably because he is not slow enough in his explanations. he say it once, and if you miss it, oh hell. also, his tests are ridiculously hard, even for people who studied. the are very quantity oriented, mutiple choice questions would be wrong if you were a decimal point off. on the other hand, it teaches you how hard it is to get anything good accomplished for the planet because of corporate interests. its no philosophy course mind you, but if you are of that disposition, you see the complexities of discussing global warming in a globalized world. i certainly left with a lot of questions. as in, you learn more about the science of global warming than how can we cut down industrial emissions, where are these industrial emissions coming from, how national laws effect emissions. that stuff is all brushed over for some vague explanations. id say, take it to fulfill the credit for sure, expect to learn somewhat, but the courses idea is more ambitious than the course actuallyt is.