professor
Robert Beer

Apr 2021

TL;DR: It doesn't matter if you'll have to take this class in the next semester—avoid him at all costs. This review was written by a student who has been getting good grades over the semester and who rarely has any ill things to say about a teacher. From first grade to freshman year of college, I haven't met a single teacher who is as incompetent of an educator as Beer. The first few lectures made it clear that I would be wasting my time watching lectures, so I've resorted to reading the textbook over the semester. While he does share his "lecture notes" he wrote by hand a few years ago on Courseworks, not only are they redundantly long (200 pages, which is as long as the portions of the textbook combined) and don't explain anything, they are hardly readable (go see for yourself). I'm honestly surprised how Beer has preserved his position as a lecturer at Columbia. You will essentially have to resort to teaching yourself because not only does this professor not help you with your education but rather wastes your time. Aside from the fact that he assigned the 3 midterms all on Sunday mornings, a majority of the contents of midterm 3 were not even covered anywhere (apparently, because the average for the 2nd midterm was around 70 he wanted to "lower the average"... by testing content he didn't even teach!). The "practice exams" he released were nothing similar to the actual exams, and his "office hours" are just him staying after class for a few minutes (if nobody shows up, he just leaves). The TAs were nice people, but the recitations are just sessions of "does anybody have any questions" which are not worth attending if you don't have any questions (but this isn't the TAs fault because the content for recitations is decided by the professor). Again, just do yourself a favor. Don't take his class.

Apr 2021

TL;DR: It doesn't matter if you'll have to take this class in the next semester—avoid him at all costs. This review was written by a student who has been getting good grades over the semester and who rarely has any ill things to say about a teacher. From first grade to freshman year of college, I haven't met a single teacher who is as incompetent of an educator as Beer. The first few lectures made it clear that I would be wasting my time watching lectures, so I've resorted to reading the textbook over the semester. While he does share his "lecture notes" he wrote by hand a few years ago on Courseworks, not only are they redundantly long (200 pages, which is as long as the portions of the textbook combined) and don't explain anything, they are hardly readable (go see for yourself). I'm honestly surprised how Beer has preserved his position as a lecturer at Columbia. You will essentially have to resort to teaching yourself because not only does this professor not help you with your education but rather wastes your time. Aside from the fact that he assigned the 3 midterms all on Sunday mornings, a majority of the contents of midterm 3 were not even covered anywhere (apparently, because the average for the 2nd midterm was around 70 he wanted to "lower the average"... by testing content he didn't even teach!). The "practice exams" he released were nothing similar to the actual exams, and his "office hours" are just him staying after class for a few minutes (if nobody shows up, he just leaves). The TAs were nice people, but the recitations are just sessions of "does anybody have any questions" which are not worth attending if you don't have any questions (but this isn't the TAs fault because the content for recitations is decided by the professor). Again, just do yourself a favor. Don't take his class.

Aug 2020

I had a hard time in Professor Beer's class. I didn't have a strong chemistry background from high school, and even though I went to his 'office hours' (basically 10 minutes he allots after class for quick questions), I didn't feel supported by this professor to succeed. His lectures are hard to understand as he moves really quickly and scribbles sometimes unintelligible notes on a whiteboard in chalk. I ended up withdrawing from the class, and taking it again in the spring but with Professor Savisky instead. I did WAY better - if you struggle with chemistry or are not as STEM-inclined, I really really recommend Savisky. His lectures were much clearer, he provided all his notes and powerpoints ahead of time, and the weekly homeworks gave me a much better grasp of the material. Professor Beer is not a bad guy, and if you are a strong chem student you will probably be fine. But if you didn't take AP chem, or need more hands-on teaching, I strongly recommend Savisky instead.

Apr 2019

Beer is a pretty boring professor, but his class does the job. He teaches pretty much straight from the textbook, and his exams are also pretty much out of the textbook. He always gives 2-3 practice exams for each exam, which are pretty helpful. Overall, a good gen chem class to complete a requirement. TAs can be super helpful depending on the semester. This class was graded on a Z-score curve during my semester. Exam averages dropped from about 80 on the first exam to 60-something on the last one.

Aug 2017

Professor Beer's class is very straightforward. He doesn't deviate too much from the lecture notes he hands out and he's very predictable in terms of his exam style. His practice tests are good indicators of what the exam material is like. Lectures can be a bit dry but he does a fine job answering questions and teaching the material. He's definitely is not one to intentionally put out tricky material unlike other CU professors - so I would recommend.

May 2016

Prof Beer isn't that bad. After reading the CULPA reviews, I was nervous to take Chem II with him and thought it was going to be a horrible experience. However, it wasn't bad at all and I actually did better this semester than last semester in Savisky's Chem I. Chem II is a lot of problem solving so as long as you know the general concepts and how to employ the formulas you should be fine. Prof Beer also gives you all of the formulas on a sheet so there's no need to memorize them. Most people don't come to lecture. In my class of about 100 (?) people, at max. 30 people would come to lectures. Prof Beer writes on the chalkboard, which initially was kind of annoying because I was used to powerpoint, but you get used to it after a few classes. He also posts all of his lecture notes on courseworks. The lectures can be pretty dry, especially when he derives formulas, which is unnecessary because he gives them to you on every quiz and exam. However, he usually explains the concepts well, although I'd recommend doing the textbook reading and taking notes before coming to lecture so you already have a better grasp on the material. He also goes over problems in class that usually appear in a slightly different form on the exams, so it's important to know how to do those. Sharon was the best TA ever. She makes sheets with important terminology and formulas and chooses problems from the homework questions that are more important. Rose was not a good TA, perhaps from lack of experience. She also speaks way too softly and isn't clear about what she's doing. So if Sharon and Rose are the TA's next year (even in Chem I), definitely choose Sharon. Her quizzes aren't easy, but you can do well. The exams were a lot harder than Savisky's, but the average was also lower (usually around 15-17 out of 25). However, there are problems that you can get each time and its only the last few in each section that are usually more difficult

Jan 2015

The only reason I took Gen Chem with Beer was because it was the only one available when I registered for classes. Beer is a horrible lecturer and you will find that you will be teaching yourself the whole course. Nevertheless, it is important that you go to lecture so that you know what was emphasized so that you can do well on the weekly quizzes given by the TAs (who actually do not do much to improve your understanding of material in the course). Exams are multiple choice, so if you're not great at MC or guessing you will definitely not do well in the course. Beer uses Z-Scores so you will not know your grade in the course until it is posted on SSOL. If you have the option, do not take this class with him.

Jan 2014

I will preface this review by noting that I had taken AP Chemistry before and had some grasp of some of the material, and was mostly taking the class as a refresher course (hate me if you will). I suppose it will be difficult for me to say more about this professor, and this class, that has not already been said, but let me try anyways. [exceptionally short summary at the end] To note, I believe that most all of the below reviews (except the Aug 9 2007 and Aug 24 2007 reviews) are accurate almost in their entirely. Most everyone that I talked to had various levels of not wanting to take this course with Beer, or pity that I had to take the course with him. I mainly cited three reasons that made it desirable for me, at least, to be in this section. There is no need to buy an iClicker, there is no reason to go to lecture, and there is no graded homework. There were also the additional idea that it's a convenient time, in that I don't have to wake up early for it. There is no iClicker is sort of a trivial reason. However, there is honestly no reason to go to lecture. He is a well intentioned man, and nice, and funny, and a great person like most reviews agree upon. He tries to accommodate student desires in lecture and is very responsive to trying his best to answer questions thrown his way. However, he is by no means a good lecturer. He makes weird analogies and has many personal anecdotes (the fact that I know some of them, such as the Technitium story, despite going to <10% of lectures all semester testifies to this fact). He does mostly chalktalks, and the only problem with this is that he is notoriously unclear as to the actual material he is trying to impart, or what he wants to say. Many people I talked to ended up realizing that he takes material that the book presents in a fairly decent manner and makes it all sorts of harder. In addition, he puts all of his lecture notes online. So yes, his lecture notes are long and byzantine and his handwriting is hard to decipher and his lecture notes themselves have issues in terms of accuracy, but at least the general level of information you need to succeed is in those notes. In addition, there is no graded homework. This is a double-edged sword; it means that you can learn all of the material on your own time at the pace of your own schedule, but it's definitely easy to fall behind and be lazy and not do the homework. Chemistry is the kind of subject were there are so many if/else cases and conditional application that only practice drills it into your head, but you can choose to decide how much you need. I can't count the number of times I've heard friends griping about OWL and chemistry homework. It really is a light load off your worries. In terms of his tests, I think everyone else hit the nail on the head. For the most part, like 22/25 questions will be written with no errors and relatively straightforward. Probably 3 (maybe even more) there will be poorly written questions. Some are exceptionally ambiguous (what does he mean by "surrounding electrons. does that include bonds, and do bonds count as one or two electrons!?") and some require knowledge that he tells us that he doesn't expect us to know and honestly no chemistry teacher would expect you to know. For example, the one that sticks out in my mind was a question that asked "A chemistry program shows that PH3 is nonpolar. How do you explain this?" Well, PH3 is like NH3 and it *should* be polar in terms of molecular geometry, which was what the test was testing on. The only way to feasibly answer the question during the test was to rely on eliminating wrong answers and praying between a 50/50 shot. The right answer, that the electronegativities between P and H are so similar they share electrons equally, is a concept that is not expected to be tested on and we aren't expected to know at all. It was essentially, an irrelevant question that only is confusing. There is another subset of question, which is the "arcane information" type of question. Despite not going to many lectures, I attended the ones on subjects I hadn't already covered. Near the end of the semester, there were questions on crystal field theory/metal complexes. There were concepts that were tested on that were never covered in lecture and he made no attempt in lecture to describe that they were expected, and the only reason that you would know they existed is by combing his impossible to read lecture notes, or tripping up on a question in his practice tests and caring enough to figure out what this arcane information is/where it came from. He did this at least once on every test but the first. On questions that he wrote on tests that were ambiguous or flat out wrong, he placated everyone by saying he'd "review" them, but in the end, they basically stayed and essentially went with the philosophy of "the curve will make right every mistake I made while writing that test." This makes it difficult to stand out, gradewise. That being said, he screws up so much that the averages (for 25 question mid terms, was 18, 15.5, and 15) are dismally low. He rushes through the material near the end of the semester. After the third midterm (standard for chemistry, but still, what.) he expected to give a lecture on spectroscopy, which would be covered on the final. On the final day of lecture, he devoted 40 minutes of the 75 minute lecture talking about the third midterm and chatting pleasantly with the class. He then told us that if we didn't have time, we could just not learn spectroscopy because it was only 6 questions worth on the final, lectured for about 40% of the spectroscopy section, and ended his duties. His TA's saved much of the class, I think, by making up for his subpar lectures with their own mini lectures in recitation (or at least mine did, bless his heart). tl;dr: The benefits of taking this course with Prof. Beer only exist if you are motivated to learn on your own time and have some knowledge base; for someone who isn't motivated to learn well by themselves or who don't really have a solid chemistry foundation, Prof. Beer does nothing to help you out and you get to flounder on your own, essentially. Why would you do that to yourself, when you could take a professor who would actually help you out, or at the very least wouldn't snub out any like for the subject by teaching and testing it in such an arbitrary manner? The majority of people would thrive in a different environment.

Dec 2013

Although Prof. Beer is funny and makes us laugh with his anecdotes, he cannot explain things well. For example, when we learned Psi represents the wave function, he just started throwing the symbol all over the place on the board, while a more clear instructor would say something like "Psi, the wave function, ..." for the first few times when writing it. He tends to write things on the board as fast as he can, making too many abbreviations and not leaving time for students to absorb what he just said. The result is that it's easy to become lost if you stop listening for a few seconds to jot something down. Finally, he is bad with explaining by analogy, which is needed in a course like chemistry with so many abstract concepts that you can't see. The homework assignments in this class were all optional, but without doing them there would be no way to pass the course. Yes, I have heard the "this is a college class" explanation -- however, it is a college class taken by many SEAS freshmen who are just out of high school. A little bit of structure (and feedback on why homework answers are wrong!) goes a long way to help students succeed in their first semester at Columbia.

Aug 2013

As someone who have had a solid science background and a great deal of understanding of Gen Chem prior to enter this class, I will not try to speak for everybody. It's not fair to say that the exams are hard or tricky. How should I put this, a 40 year old vigin might find all women tricky and mysterious. A lady's man will tell you Humans in general are mysterious, but there are differences among inidividuals which can be significant. And I'm your lady's man.I usually get above 90% (raw school or ranking) on any given science exams. I would have to say, Beer's exam and grading schem are by far, is one of the most straightforward out there. Too straightforward for my lady's man's taste. I love getting the kicks in hard exams--Beating standardize tests is a hobby of mine. Beside lacking the kicks, the problem with easy exams is that you can't secure your spot high on the curve just by being on top of your materials. There are just way too many people gettiing above 23 out of a 25 point exam. You can know all the tricks and materials. But one misread of "NOT" will destroy your Z-score by a minimum of 0.2. It's not a problem is you don't aim for above 22. For the easy exam will get you an easy B+ easily. Beer's lecture is perfectly sensible, logical and concise if you are prepared in advance, but I can see why it might be hard to follow if you have absolutely no clue what he was talking about. My suggestion: just quickly read through every words on the chapter PRIOR to class. It takes no more than 30mins, and you don't need to try understand anything.

Mar 2013

I usually don't write reviews but I feel I have to in this case. I had two semesters with Beer because he's only teacher who teaches in the evening. Nice guy, pretty funny but he can't teach...seriously. He doesn't use powerpoints, jumps around, isn't receptive to students, and writes his test questions in a way that doesn't readily relate to what we learn in lecture, recitation or the textbook. He messes up his own tests, as though he didn't take the time to look over them at all (questions are numbered wrong, or the right answer isn't one of the choices which he admits afterwards, that type of thing). If you have questions, even about what he meant in a test question, he usually refers you to TA's. I really don't know where he gets his exam materials. The exam questions are related to the topics we learn in class but they're more think outside the box, critical thinking questions than anything that you'd be able to actually study and learn from the resources provided. He curves but not nearly enough considering how he teaches and tests. I consistently learned twice as much from my TA's in the 50 mins a week I had with them than with Beer in the 3 hrs a week of lecture. The one and only upside to Beer is that he gives good feedback after the tests, i.e. puts up solutions and class performance statistics. It doesn't at all make up for what his teaching does to your grade though. My advice, unless you have a private tutor, keep away from him.

May 2012

Professor Beer seems like a really nice guy, but seriously -- avoid taking his class if you can. Especially if you want to major in science and actually want to learn the material. It's very hard to stay awake and jumps from topic to topic pretty sporadically. He also doesn't use PowerPoints, which is more annoying than you'd think. Sometimes you just have a gap in your notes (because he moves really quickly and isn't very good about writing down what he says on the board) and you simply want to review -- BUT YOU CAN'T! I found it incredibly annoying. Students who have already taken AP Chemistry tend to find his class pretty easy (apparently his tests are easier than most), but if you have just high school honors chemistry under your belt, it's not likely you'll get above a B+.

May 2011

I think the previous review was a bit harsh. Yes, he makes a bunch of mistakes in his notes. But I never had trouble contacting him by e-mail. Although I never tried to go to his office hours. I also think if you find it hard to learn things from him, his two TAs are amazing. I had Zak, who is really on top of his chemistry and goes out of his way to teach you anything you ask about. Zak's quizzes are tough, but the curve is generous. I'm a chem or biochem major, and I honestly didn't find this class bad. It's very straightforward. The notes are put up on online on the first day, and there really is no point to showing up to lecture, which I appreciated considering my other classes were kicking my ass. My only recommendation is not to take this class in the evening. Taking tests this late in the evening really has an effect, and I think my grade might have suffered from that.

May 2011

When registering for classes there were two second semester chem options. The first was taught by Gonzales/Kaufman in the morning and then there was this choice: Professor Robert Beer taught Mondays/Wednesdays from 6:10 to 7:25. Me and my friends contemplated which class to take and decided we would take Beer's class, thinking that it would be pretty easy because it's a night class so there would definitely be a bunch of post back people. Let me tell you this much. Taking Beer's class was THE WORST DECISION OF MY LIFE. First semester chem was really easy. I got an A in it without a problem. I know a lot of people had Beer for first semester as well and said it was a great class so it might just be the material. But Beer for second semester is the WORST. He posts all his notes online so there was never any point of going to class because he would literally read his notes word for word. Sometimes it sounded like he didn't even know what he was saying. He could barely explain some of the material himself.

Apr 2011

If you are a Post-Bacc, or a CHEM major, take this review into consideration. Robert Beer as a PERSON: seemingly amusing and funny, makes jokes in class, looks like a distant cousin of Robert Downey Junior. I feel like I want to be his friend. Robert Beer as a General Chemistry TEACHER: Completely 100% Sucky, Awful and BAD. He makes mistakes in lecture constantly and the TA's or, usually, other students, have to correct him. He rarely returns an e-mail. He is almost never on-time to office hours and often does NOT SHOW UP to his office hours. I know two people that e-mailed to ask if they could meet him during a specified office hour and he did not respond the to the e-mail and also did not show up for even one minute of his office hours. Also. He posts his notes on Courseworks. His notes - the ones you're supposed to study from - are chalk full of mistakes. If you are someone who goes to class, doesn't have many questions, and is just taking Chem b/c you have to take it and are maybe not necessarily interested in it as a subject, then this class is just fine. If you are a post-bacc, a chem major or someone who actually finds this stuff interesting and like to put in extra work, take another class b/c this professor does not put any effort into even pretending to care. Oh ya, also, he scheduled the third midterm on Passover this year which was the weekend after Easter, the holiday I celebrate; so instead of getting to spend time with my family b/c usually I go home for this holiday, or even getting to celebrate Easter for more than the 45 minutes I spent in Church, I got to sit in a library all day and look at my Chem textbook. Oh, I'm sorry, was it far too much trouble for you to look at a Calendar and see that the day "April 25" had the word 'Passover' in Big Bold letters? Or that 'April 24' had the word "Easter"? I'm so sorry that was such a hassle, asking a Chem Professor to schedule exams accordingly so that they are not on religious holidays (like Columbia ASKS you to do) is really just far too much to ask. Bottom line: He should not be teaching at an Ivy. I don't care where you got your PhD (i think he got his from MIT); be responsible and show up to office hours or answer an e-mail and stop making a million mistakes in class that other students correct (how confusing is that for the students that DONT get it??).

Jun 2009

It is not difficult to do well in this class because he curves very generously. I think something like 48% of my class ended up getting an A- or better. I actually took C1404 with him (not 1403, but 1404 was not a choice). I took the first semester of gen. chem with a different professor and I found Professor Beer's class helped me actually learn the material better. He does not use powerpoint, which I really appreciated, because I thought that was more of a hindrance than a help in my first semester class. He posts the lectures online after class, which I also liked because it forces you to pay attention and take your own notes in class. Overall, his tests are pretty easy to prepare for. He gives a review outline and a practice test. If you fill out the review outline (I usually tried to compile my lecture and text notes plus his lecture notes into a study guide for the test using this outline) and understand all the questions on the practice test you'll be fine. Sometimes the way he words questions can be confusing, but don't stress too much about this, because if it is legitimately confusing and most of the class gets a problem wrong, it will be dropped from the test. He is pretty fair (maybe even too fair sometimes) about this. I didn't think he played favorites or disdained people who needed extra help like another reviewer mentioned (I am basically science-retarded, so I needed a lot of extra help). Sometimes he makes mistakes in lecture, but he or the TA always caught the errors. Overall, I found him much more approachable than other professors in the chemistry department, and though there are parts of him that are unimpressive, I thought he was a good professor and as far as general chemistry goes, I think his class is a good choice.

Apr 2008

I have to disagree with aspects of the previous reviews. I was in both sessions of the class, and found him to be quite unhelpful. He has a tendency to play favorites with the people whom he likes because they're on top of the material and helps them further, while being less helpful to those who are having issues with the material. Oddly, he even played favorites with the classes (term I vs term II), telling the term II class that he liked them better. I found this bizarre for a professor and indicative of his general attitude. As for his exams, in this case, I do actually agree with the previous reviews. His tests were generally fair, had the occasional mistake and he adjusted them based on the experiences of the students. The material is dry, but he does an OK job with what he has to work with. He occasionally deviated from the material in the book by going into more depth (ex: heisenberg principle of uncertainty), but nothing major. Overall, fair, but I found his attitude towards those who wanted/needed help contrary to what one would want in a teacher.

Aug 2007

Overall, a good/fair professor. After reading the first few reviews on CULPA from 2004, I was frightened of him. In reality, he was a pretty nice guy. His lectures were dry and straight from the book, but that's expected of a gen chem professor. He knows his stuff, and tries to answer any student questions. He takes student input seriously, as he would take in student comments and adjust his tests accordingly. The tests were fair and didn't have many mistakes (they were usually minor: spelling/grammar errors, etc). Overall, I found it to be a fair class.

Aug 2007

Professor Beer is an excellent teacher. I was a little worried going into this class based on past reviews, but it seems he has taken in a lot of feedback and changed his methods. He genuinely cares about the success of his students, a rare quality in freshman lectures, and asks for as much input as possible to make his students happy. His grading was extremely fair, and even adjusted it after the class had started to accommodate students' schedules and workloads. He teaches the class much like a high school class, which some students may not like. However, the fact that he takes the time to write notes on the board instead of just throwing up some powerpoint slides is a better method of teaching, in my opinion. It gives you time to absorb the material, rather than just scribbling down notes and trying to understand them later. By far one of the best teachers I've had so far. Great guy. Plus, his stories are amazing and keep class interesting.

Sep 2006

So I'm not sure if Prof. Beer read up on previous culpa reviews, but my experience wasn't that bad. Everything was completely fair (tests/ quiz/ hmwk). The only thing that can be particularly difficult is the material. His tests were doable (there were mistakes every once in a while, but really not a big deal). And he is a very nice guy. He really wants people to learn the material. Like most science courses, his lectures can be quite dry. So, don't fear this class if you have to take it. Just do the work and you'll be fine.

Nov 2004

The problem with Prof Beer's tests wasn't even so much that they were difficult, unpredictable, and often vaguely worded, but that the number of mistakes in the question statements and his later refusal to admit said errors rendered the tests impossible to complete. I don't believe that he managed to write a single exam in either semester that didn't have at least one major error in it that was caught either during the test (after most students had expended a lot of time fruitlessly struggling to solve it) or afterwards, when the TA went over the exam in recitation. Perhaps it would have helped if prof beer actually came up with an answer key instead of handing off that task to the TA after the test had been administered or even if he had just, you know, read over the exam once before giving it. The worst example came up during one of the later exams of the second session when he provided a table of data which did not include the necessary information to solve the problem because he'd copied the wrong stuff. When this was brought to his attention after the TA and class discovered it while going over the test solutions during recitation, did Beer throw the question out or give the points to everyone free? No and no. He had the TA grade the question according to "how much it looked like the student would have been able to answer it had the table been correct." What the hell is that? I felt bad for the TA.

Sep 2004

This man is well intentioned sometimes- but a very very bad teacher. His tests have nothing to do with either the material taught in class or the book. Our teaching assistant-- who is like in her 3rd yr at Fu COULD NOT DO THE TESTS!! She was very smart and very together and if a teaching assistant cant do the tests-- how is the class expected to be able to do them.

Aug 2004

This is not a class to take. I mean NO. The exams don't test your knowledge. Hard work does not make a good grade, in fact, if you work hard, you'll do worse. If you study from the book, the book is wrong, if you study from the notes, the prof had a bad day,and those are wrong as well. When you sit for the test, sit in the front so you can't hear the mutters of disaproval in the back, and so you can leave after you realize you don't know what you're doing. He's a good guy, he buys you doughnuts so you can have a full stomach while sinking in the pit of despair. he wants people to do well, but he doesn't understand that if we dont learn the material that he tests us on, then we cant do well. If you are taking chemistry because you want to get ahead, its better to just deal with Mc Dermott or Brus, atleast you wont be covering the material in 6 weeks.