Michael Shaevitz

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Apr 2021

I strongly second that person who said Shaevitz does not deserve his silver nugget. Don't get me wrong, he seems like a decent enough person but he cannot teach to save his life. It's to the point where when I stopped going to class and reading his crappy handwritten notes and terrible textbook I actually started doing better in the class. I didn't take any AP Physics courses in high school so this is all fresh and new to me and let me tell you this class is NOT beginner-friendly at all. Khan Academy will be your friend and get ready to do everything and I do mean everything on your own. Shaevitz cannot teach. His lectures are confusing streams of consciousness that makes it feel like you're listening to some old guy try to see if he remembers physics for himself versus any sort of actual instruction.

Mar 2021

He truly is a friendly and lovely man...but he is quite boring. The content is not too hard, but his explanations make it super difficult to understand. Going to office hours was a must for me. That said, once you are able to learn the material, the quizzes were fair. Midterm was really easy. The final was absolutely brutal.

Dec 2020

WHY does shaevitz have a silver nugget? He seems like a nice guy but is actually so old that he loses his train of thought while attempting to explain problems. Good luck trying to decipher is variable-ridden notes that never actually define concepts in understandable terms. Lots of assumed knowledge in this class. If you took AP physics in high school you're very lucky but everyone else, sorry. Get ready to teach yourself physics with the world's worst textbook and the most niche problems that physics majors will be unable to help you. Shaevitz in the age of zoom is even worse than what I assume he would be like otherwise. This part I feel bad about because he tries his best but his online teaching is highly highly ineffectual. Midterm and Final are all multiple choice and worth 10-15 points each with follow up questions based on the previous - so if you mess up, there's no partial credit. Very easy to not do well due to silly mistakes.

Dec 2020

I took General Physics I with Professor Shaevitz. His lectures were clear cut and doing the assigned problem sets really helped me practice and master the material. Although the homework is optional and ungraded, it is basically essential to passing this class. Professor Shaevitz was really helpful during office hours--he has one two hour section and one one hour section in the evenings two days a week. He would answer questions on the homework or lecture patiently and clearly. He did lots and lots of practice problems during class, which I found really helpful for when I went and did the homework. Occasionally it could seem like he was flying through material in lecture classes (this was mostly due to time limitations), but I found that only when I watched the lectures live--all of the lectures are recorded, so if something was not clear or if I missed it, I could could always go back and re-watch it and pause as needed to write everything down. The lecture notes are also available on Canvas. I found that the quality of this class was not diminished despite being in an online format due to COVID-19. The only thing that was a bit of a downer was that our quizzes and exams were multiple choice, and so there was no partial credit for wrong answers. (Prior to COVID-19 and the interruption of in-person learning, partial credit was given because written equations and work was shown on paper exams and quizzes.) Ultimately, this class basically entails understanding why and when to use certain formulas to solve straightforward questions. Once you master how do that for each topic, you'll be golden. Just for disclosure, I expect to get an A+ in this class.

Jun 2018

I took Professor Shaevitz class first semester and did swimmingly. The concepts were easy and it was simply put- plug and chug. I felt that my professor prepared me well, and I did what was necessary to do well without a strenuous amount of effort. Second semester, I assumed would be similar but it was painfully not. I received an A- but it was tough noogies coming from a dearth of high school physics preparation. (Plus, truth be told, the material was simultaneously incredibly boring and challenging for me.) The concepts were not easy to understand, and I did not find Professor Shaevitz did an adequate job teaching us conceptually speaking (to the point where I was still confused what voltage was the day before the final). Given he did not want us to know the derivations for the exams, I wish he spent more time conceptually breaking down the material. I didn't find the derivations helpful to my conceptual understanding. Maybe the best way to sum up my experience is to say that my professor did not help his students gain a deep understanding of the material conceptually, making it difficult to approach problems with a theoretical framework of what was happening physically speaking rather than "hmm what equations do I have and what variable am I given". The class is painfully superficial to the detriment of the students' learning and understanding. (Maybe a helpful example to sum this up: A week before the final I asked a TA to explain relativity like I had never learned the material. His 15- 20 minute explanation helped me beyond the hours I had spent in lecture, doing the homework, reading the book, on Khan Academy/ YouTube- i.e. I never found a source that helped me consistently learn the material. I made the mistake of going to Shaevitz's recitation. Would highly recommend finding a TA who can help you understand the material conceptually.)

Jun 2013

Shaevitz was a nice break from the Mowsh Bio, as you knew what to expect on the quizzes, midterm, and final. Make sure you put in the time for each quiz and the midterm+final will be just review, making it much easier. Going to class is not a necessity, since he really did not explain some of the concepts that well. I received an A+ by studying and getting near perfects for each quiz + doing all of the problems, and understanding the concepts behind them, acing the midterm and missing little on the final. Honestly, the great thing about this class is that you can predict what kind of questions Shaevitz likes to ask and understanding the theory behind them. I feel like I am confident in physics, but maybe still not confident as I am biology for the mcat even though I did not do nearly as well in biology. Take advantage of this class since biology will most likely drag your GPA down. All in all, this class was a great class and I would take it again in a heart beat.

Feb 2013

So I really don't understand how Prof. Shaevitz earned his silver nugget. He isn't an awful professor. (I've had worse.) But he isn't particularly good in lecture. Sure, I will admit that his section of premed physics is probably the easiest section at Columbia. (How often is it that 20+ people get 100's on a midterm?!) And maybe the lack of GPA-induced stress in Shaevitz's section explains for his "popularity." But that shouldn't make this man deserving of a silver nugget. I have the MCAT coming up this semester, and I don't feel particularly well-prepared in physics (based on what I learned in Shaevitz's section). Learning how to plug and chug numbers into equations is not equivalent to learning physics. If anything, Shaevitz's section does not feel like a legitimate physics class. Rather, it feels like a throwback to my old high school science classes. (Some people feel that their AP Physics classes in high school were harder than Shaevitz's class. Mine certainly was.) An earlier review describes the professor's lectures as stale, and I totally second that. Below is what happens during just about every lecture: Shaevitz comes into class. -> He flashes a wide smile. -> He writes a bunch of derivations on the board. People occasionally ask him to explain the derivations that he writes on the board (assuming the class is actually engaged). -> Oh, you don't need to know that for the test, we are told. -> He flashes another wide smile. -> Prof. Shaevitz does a demo. (Without fully explaining the relevance of the demo.) -> The demo doesn't quite work. -> Oh well, says the professor. -> He flashes a toothy grin. -> Then he proceeds to write more derivations on the board. He skips a bunch of steps in the derivation. -> A few minutes later (midway through the derivation), he tells the class (he clearly thinks we are math-phobic): "We know what to do when we have differential equations! We plug in the answer!" -> A wide smile is flashed. -> The professor skips even more steps in the derivation. He makes a bunch of logical leaps and finishes the derivation. -> The class is confused but no one bothers to raise their hand. (These derivations are obviously not going to be on Shaevitz's tests, so why bother paying attention?) -> Sooner of later, Shaevitz completes his derivation. -> Time for another toothy grin. -> Now it's time for another demo. -> The demo works this time and is actually kind of cool. (Though the relevance of the demo, once again, isn't explained.) -> Pleased that the demo worked, the professor flashes yet another grin. The toothiest and widest grin of all. While Shaevitz's class is relatively easy in comparison to other required premed classes, don't expect to develop a deep understanding of physics from this class alone. You are going to need to put in a lot of INDEPENDENT work, and if you are in Shaevitz's section, it is up to YOU to take the initiative to learn enough physics to be well-prepared for the MCAT. The professor seems to be a nice guy and is willing to help you. Prof. Shaevitz also has a wonderful sing-song voice and an even more wonderful smile. You may be charmed during your first few lectures. But it gets old kinda fast.

Dec 2012

He really sucks at explaining concepts so this class was basically taught by the TA during recitation and I had to work extra hard to do well on tests. Its easier to get a good grade in this class because he gives weekly quizzes which make up 35% of the grade, and you can drop two of those quizzes. However this was really stressful because I had to learn the material outside of class cause Shaevitz sucks.

Oct 2011

I thoroughly enjoyed this class. I found his lectures to be very organized and clear. I'm truly not good at math or physics, but Professor Shaevitz presents the material in a way so that anyone can understand it. I was even able to follow his derivations, which helped me to further understand physics as opposed to just memorizing formulas (this helps with homework problems that are not clear cut). People seem to be annoyed with the fact that he derives formulas but honestly it helps you understand the material better and if you honestly just want to memorize formulas and be done with it you can still do so without any consequences (he doesn't quiz you on derivations). He just presents it for those who are interested. Those who say his lectures are stale I don't agree with at all. Its physics, so to some degree people who are not interested in physics will find parts of it boring, but Shaevitz tries to make it somewhat entertaining by doing demonstrations in class every lecture. At one point he stood on top of a desk to prove a point about some physics concept. Shaevitz is also extremely friendly, patient, and approachable. He has no problem answering questions or stopping to explain something again if students do not understand. I highly recommend this class if you have to take physics. If you go to class and the recitation and do the weekly problem sets (optional, but I recommend doing them since material on the quizzes comes from hw) you can easily make an A in this class and don't have to read the text book. So for premed students, you can make an A easily in this class if you do what your supposed to and still be very prepared for MCATS.

May 2011

I just finished Shaevitz's E&M final and I am writing this brief review to fulfill an overwhelming need for catharsis. I will follow-up with a much more detailed review in the future: I will describe the advantages and disadvantages of enrolling in Shaevitz's section (vs. the other premed sections) and suggest who would be best suited for his teaching style and approach to evaluation. Let me preface this review with two comments: (1) this review is not motivated by proverbial "source grapes." I performed well last semester and expect to do equally well this semester. (2) Shaevitz has the best of intentions. There is simply a real problem with his teaching style and philosophy. He has also taught this course for too long. His presentation is extraordinarily stale and he seems inflexible to adapting the course to the changing profile of his students. It is a struggle to convey how extraordinarily mediocre both the class and the professor are. This is a class in learning how to regurgitate, on an endless set of quizzes and exams, a limited set of problems which Shaevitz views as canonical. It is possible to do extremely well in this class and gain little understanding of physics. You are effectively learning how to solve Shaevitz problems and, while one could approach solving Shaevitz problems as an avenue to learning physics, this not encouraged or required. Consequently, what distinguishes an A and B student is not their understanding of the material. Rather, one's grade is largely a reflection of how careful one is with algebraic manipulation, pluggging numbers into a caculator, and avoiding careless mistakes. The class has means in the 90s. This is extraordinarily atypical according to all of my friends in the pure and engineering sciences. The class in best suited for post-baccs (who, frankly, do not have the same aptitude as undergrads, don't care to acquire a genuine understanding of the material, and have endless time to do problems) and undergrad students who suspect that they will struggle with the physics. It is a class where you can do extraordinarily well by just putting hours into solving Shaevitz's assigned HW problems. If you are actually interested in physics, have any aptitude at all, I suggest that you choose another section. You will only be penalized in this class for attempting to really engage with the material at a conceptual level.

Dec 2010

To be honest, I was not impressed with Shaevitz's teaching ability. He is a decent teacher, but for the harder stuff has a difficult time explaining things clearly- he'll write a bunch of derivations and then solve a few problems using variables, not numbers, and then give you a number at the end which is hard to tell where it came from. The weekly quizzes you've read about are very much like the weekly problems-which can be difficult. I recommend going to see the TA during his office hours since he solves the problems clearly in a different manner than Shaevitz does which is usually clearer to understand. The midterm was definitely easier than the final, but this is necessary because the quizzes are worth 10% and the class average on any quiz is usually about an 80, and Shaevitz does not want to apply a curve to an already successful class. Essentially, my experience with Shaevitz was fine, but I feel like I did not necessarily learn physics per se. Instead, I can regurgitate the homework question techniques onto my quiz / test papers and do well. I say take Shaevitz if possible if you are just in it for the good grade.

Dec 2010

Shaevitz is an amazing professor. Cheeky and entertaining, while still very informative. He writes all his notes on the board and fields questions from the repeat (as some in the pre-med world would call) "offenders." He is great at answering these or pushing off the ones that really will be covered later or the annoying girl in every lecture class just asks cause. He intersperses the lectures with amazing demonstrations that he is passionate about. Once splashing himself with water and still proceeded to put on a hard hard, squat on a cart and propel himself with a fire extinguisher - all to explain force. Really a great clear and devoted professor. Even when he missed the last week and a half (leaving it to a cute TA) to go to the SOUTH POLE.

Jan 2010

Having suffered through a terrible AP physics instructor in high school, I can only conclude that those who gave Prof. Shaevitz negative reviews either had their standards inflated by one of those rare brilliant high school physics teachers or are general Columbia misanthropes who love to complain about every required class. I found Prof. Shaevitz to be a wonderful instructor. He must have listened to the comments of the people who complained about too many derivations, because he only did one or two the entire semester and then apologized for doing so. I was shocked that such a brilliant physicist was taking the time to teach the most basic physics class at Columbia and not even half-assing it so that he could keep his tenure. Prof. Shaevitz was more than willing to meet with students outside class, conducted an optional recitation in which he helped clarify concepts and problems, and on top of that did review sessions before every test, even shortening his lunch break so that the majority of students would be able to attend. The problem sets, quizzes, and tests were very straightforward and didn't contain a bit of material that he didn't cover in class. My only complaint is that the assignments were easy enough that one had to score very high to beat the's my first science class at Columbia where an 89 was a B+.

Jun 2009

I'm personally very surprised at the favorable reviews of Shaevitz here. I found him to range from awful to mediocre. His lectures are dry and dull and rarely teach the material well; most of the class didn't bother to show up. I think part of the problem is that he spends his time doing derivations rather than examples of how to solve problems. On top of that, the textbook (Halliday) is mediocre to say the least. First semester (mechanics) was to me much, much easier than second semester (e&m). In fact, this class began to absolutely torture me second semester, much in part because he couldn't/didn't adequately explain the concepts, and these concepts are NOT simple. This review is not based off of my getting a bad grade (I got As both semesters) but because it was such a terrible experience. Try to avoid Shaevitz, if at all possible.

Apr 2009

A genuinely nice guy. That being said, he is not the best of lecturers. Fortunately, Prof. Shaevitz is very aware that Physics can sometimes be very tedious and boring so he does make the course as straightfoward as possible. Personally I came into the class with absolutely no experience in Physics as I did not take the course in High School but I was able to follow along with the lectures (provided I did the problem sets) and managed to stay awake through most of them. If you are a Physics newbie like I was the material is quite intimidating at first but I promise it gets easier to understand as the semester progresses and Prof. Shaevitz is not out to get you with trick questions. He really wants to see that you understand the material through the weekly quizes (most calculations are very simple and he doesn't care about significant figures.) He is very approachable and answers all questions and e-mails. Don't expect to be won over by his oratory skills, but if you want a no-nonsense Physics course that won't kill you, this is the one to take.

Jan 2009

Outstanding professor. You definitely should take this course if you can get in. Always approachable and answers e-mails. Always positive and helpful. Teaching for over 20 years so he has his system and you have to learn it (do homeworks and practice problems always -- do them multiple times). Few, if any, curveballs during the semester on quizzes and midterm although the final did have some tricky problems and it's 40% of your grade. That said, I worked like a dog because I did not have a physics background. Attending recitations is critical to really understanding how to do the problems and ok (I would say recommended) to attend several recitations during the week. Attending physics help room and getting some tutoring before exams is also useful. What I was told is that the time you put into the course is exactly what you get out of it physics learning -wise and grade-wise and I would say that is 100% true here. To me that's refreshing -- you don't have to worry about tricks and nuances. Professor Shaevitz is as straightforward as you can get. Just learn the material/practice problems really well and you'll get a good grade. I'm curious how Physics II will go as I heard the material is more difficult...

Dec 2008

Sets you up for success! You are never blindsided by material from left field on the quizes, tests, or finals. Wonderful set-up.

Dec 2008

I think he tries really hard to make the class painless because he knows this is pre-med physics, and people aren't actually interested in the subject. The weekly quizzes might be annoying, but they keep you on top of the material. The homework problems are all optional but helpful (and very similar to quizzes). He's a clear lecturer and takes the time to answer questions in class. You don't really need to go to lecture, since he does follow the book pretty closely, but he often goes over the trickier homework problems in class, so it's helpful just to hear his explanations. He genuinely loves physics. You can tell just by seeing how much fun he has with the live demonstrations in class. He seriously gets pretty excited about them. And the demos are probably the best part of the class anyway. He's pretty accessible by email and holds multiple office hours during the week, although he's not terribly helpful during office hours. Everything in this class is incredibly transparent, including the exams. He gives out practice midterms and finals, and they're usually pretty close to what he actually ends up giving. The midterm is cake, but the final is a little harder (though still reasonable - nothing impossible). He's also very fair about what material shows up on the exam. This is probably one of the easiest V1201 sections.

Dec 2008

He's a nice character who seems genuinely interested in both physics and the students' performance. Makes a terribly boring subject painless with relatively lively lectures and fun demonstrations (although admittedly I went to class rarely toward the end). Quizzes are easy-peasy. Midterm was fair and pretty easy. Do the homework, it is very very similar to quizzes and exams.

Nov 2007

easy A if you take the quizzes seriously and study the HW. Midterm is exactly like the practice one. Final can throw you off a bit, but it's not that bad. If you ace the quizzes and midterm (which is pretty easy to do) then even if you bomb the final, you will come out with a pretty good grade

Jan 2007

I really liked Prof. Shaevitz. He's a good teacher, he explains things well, he does good demonstrations (although not all of them work), and my favorite, he's always in a great mood; he's always smiling. The quizzes are okay, not too hard, and the exams are difficult but not too much so. He makes good study guides that you should do because the exams tend to follow them pretty closely. I'd highly recommend taking his class.

Aug 2006

I received an A+ first semester and an A second semester and here's my secret: I studied for all the quizzes and I did all the homework. You have a quiz every week, and since there are so many quizzes most people trivialize them. However, the quizzes are 35% of your entire grade so doing well in the quizzes is key to getting a good grade. Also, the homework is very important. If you can do most of the homework problems, then you will definitely do well on the test (Also, the quiz is usually almost identical to a homework problem). First semester is fairly basic and covers most of what high school physics courses cover in addition to a few new topics. The exams first semester are also simple: the midterm and the final are nearly identical to the practice tests. Second semester is definetely tougher. First semester my 98% in the class translated into an A, but second semester I did much worse (92% in the quizzes, 86 % on the midterm, and 75% on the final) and got an A. The key to succeeding second semester is, again, doing your homework. If you are doing badly on the quizzes (which I was initially) I suggest you go to the weekly recitation sections (these are optional but help you do the homework). When test time comes I strongly suggest looking at the practice test.

Jun 2005

No, no, no, no, no. Do NOT do this to yourself, no matter how easy someone tells you the honors class is. As time went on, it became more and more apparent that this course's description is completely false. It is not for students who want to have some calculus in their physics; the class is catered toward students who have a strong physics background from high school. I'd go so far as to say that this class assumes that you already know mostly everything and is merely an opportunity for kids who took AP Physics to demonstrate that they haven't forgotten anything. The rest of us just sit back and suffer. The worst part is that you don't really understand that you are suffering until the end of the semester. The quizzes are deceiving in their simplicity, the midterm is ok...but then comes the final. With 8 questions worth 200 points, even getting every question mostly right results in a mediocre grade. This class allows those who already know physics to freshen up and dominate, while everyone else writhes in agony. And just wait until the second semester, where all of a sudden nothing makes sense, and nothing is adequately explained. It's pretty sad when you can't even do the tests with the answer key in front of you because you lack the knowledge of some basic concept. Unless you have done physics before, this is what your experience will be---best case scenario: You spend at least 3 hours a week trying to do the homework from the AWFUL textbook (if they keep the same textbook next year it is just proof that no one pays attention to the course evaluations, because EVERYBODY complained), spend an hour in recitation doing the problems you can't do, memorize all the answers, do ok on the quiz every week, do alright on the midterm, and then bomb the final. The best day of class that we had was the day where a substitute taught us. He received ten minutes notice before lecturing and I learned more physics in that hour than at any other point throughout the year. Shaevitz is a nice guy...but my praise ends just won't learn anything. I am honestly convinced that I know no more physics now than I did in September. Take least you may get something out of it.

Jan 2005

He's very self amused. Gives neat notes, easy to follow instructions, is very good about answering all questions honestly, even if it's 'i don't know.'

Jan 2005

This class was very surprising for me. I am not a physics major, I'm premed, and I thought I was going to be a biochem major. Then, I changed my major and thought, well, I'll take this class to have an edge. I'm not so sure that was a good decision now. He has fair, sometimes easy quizzes, the lectures are boring most times, entertaining sometimes. He's a sweetheart. His midterm wasnt impossible, he gives practice exams. But the final....I just dont know what happened! I did terribly. Maybe I should have studied harder, but there were questions that I just didnt know what to do, and I dont think there was enough partial credit. My final grade wasnt what I expected, but given the final, it couldve been a lot worse. So maybe there was a curve, but I'm not so sure. Even so, I didnt learn anything. As far my recommendation, just take regular general physics if you're premed and you dont need 1301 for your major. There's more people in the class, so there's a higher chance to get a better grade. Or take honors physics, if you want. But you better go to each and every one of the optional recitation classes to get the answers for the homeworks, because the book doesnt have solutions.

Nov 2004

Shaevitz makes me enjoy going to physics lecture despite my consistently plummeting quiz grades! He has a voice like Kermit the Frog, he makes cute excited sounds when he does demonstrations (every class), and he's pleased to have student input during the lecture. He writes neatly, explains clearly, is very straightforward about everything, and every once in a while he tries to explain relativity and dark matter (even though this is a class full of pre-meds). Hurray!

Jan 2004

A straightfoward lecturer, doesn't make exciting revelations not covered in teh textbook, but explains fairly well and his examples are succinct. He enjoys his toys, especially all the tops he gets to bring in for demonstrations. His arrogance shows through sometimes in snide remarks about the intelligence of the class, but definitely a likeable guy overall. The TA, on the other hand, seems like an a stuck up... but at least he willingly solves homework problems for you in recitation.

Dec 2003

A mediocre professor, nothing special, nothing horrendous. The one problem is that he's usually a bit sloppy with the equations he puts on the board, so take a little more care when you're taking notes. Also, the practice exams were a bit less effective for having a couple of wrong formulae and errors in the solution set.

Nov 2003

Shaevitz is a good professor. He teaches out of the book quite a lot, but he does explain things well and his lectures are interesting and easy to follow. He's also very funny; he seems to always laugh at whatever he is doing, which is hilarious, if you ask me. Breifly, he is understandable and competent.

Nov 2003

Since you probably have to take this class if you are reading this review, all I can say is that you could do much worse that Professor Shaevitz. He is a generally nice guy, very approachable, and his lectures are easy to follow. He writes derivations of the current material on the board, then does increasingly complicated examples until class lets out. His considerable condescension towards his students manifests itself in a sarcastic demeanor that some find amusing and others resent, but he is sensitive to complaints and requests. Problem sets are on the easy side for a non-introductory Physics class. Exams are straightforward. Mechanics will not blow your mind, but if you like doing tricky mechanics problems you can enjoy yourself, and it wonÂ’t put too much of a damper on your social life. Not an easy class, but in comparison to Quantum Mechanics or E+M it is a walk in the park.