professor
Szabolcs Marka

Apr 2021

Physics for Poets was a wild ride. I took the class during Covid-19, so I am not certain how much my experience reflects what it would be like in person. The professor is excited about the material and loves physics, and shares that excitement with his students. My major issue with the course was the separation between the lectures and the homework -- the homework required lots of outside (seemingly random) research and was incredibly time-consuming, and the lecture notes only helped marginally. While I did find the course material interesting, because of the amount of work required, I'm not sure I would recommend this class. With that said, it is definitely appropriate for someone who is not a science major.

Apr 2021

Took this Fall 2020 - Szabolcs is one of the nicest professors I've had, but the class wasn't that organized. He barely follows the textbook and the lectures/slides aren't that clear. However, the homeworks do closely follow the textbook, which is largely unrelated to the material taught in class. The exams don't cover the homework material but do cover the lecture material. A lot of the material didn't make sense until we were given actual practice problems before the exam. We didn't have a TA for the first month or so, but once we did the class improved significantly. (Andrew Sullivan is the GOAT). His review sessions and recitations clarified so much of the material. If you ask questions in OH and try to understand the practice exams, the class becomes much more doable. The actual exams mirrored the practice exams super closely, and the final was around 50% questions from the midterms and practice exams. This class is supposed to cover a lot of material, but we probably got through only two-thirds of it. If the TA is good and you're comfortable with learning from review sessions and practice problems, then the class is definitely manageable.

Jan 2021

This class is a joke. Quite literally from start to finish, an actual joke. The lectures are incoherent, the problem sets are taken from one book while the lectures follow another, and the exams are just random. The grading feels like Marka threw a dart at the wall and gave you the grade it landed on. In this class, you will learn no physics. You will learn, in fact, absolutely nothing. You will get to hear Marka semi-coherently whisper about oscillators and bridges, and you will get some good inside jokes out of it. I can't believe this class is required for my major, and I can't believe I go to an Ivy League institution.

May 2019

Where to begin. Before registering for this class, I was confused by Culpa reviews that seemed pretty positive until a few years ago, then a dramatic change to horrific reviews. Let me tell you- heed the latter's warning. This class was the ultimate shit show. The workload is absolutely obscene- be expected to get hammered with time consuming homework requiring extensive outside research on things intentionally not covered in class and something like 1000 pages of reading a week if you were to attempt to complete it. Do NOT believe the description, the entire first month of the class is pure straight physics at a break-neck pace. The majority of us are non science majors (aka as the fucking class says its supposed to be friendly to) and were drowning in rapid fire quantum physics, thermodynamics, etc. Marka is. a really likable guy but his sense of humor veils the fact that he doesn't really care about this class. The man was part of the LIGO discovery of gravitational waves and is clearly given massive amounts of research $ here and forced to teach this class. He hardly uploads lectures, sometimes just before the exam and has a general ambivalence that anyone is taking any other class besides his, as reflected by the workload. Our TA (1 TA for over 100 people and wasn't appointed until a month into the class) spoke to us like we are all complete morons, basically barring anyone from getting help. The exams were not reflections of understanding material, instead blatant traps with questions on specific names of random missiles or my personal favorite from a footnote (!!!) of a reading, a 'retarc' which is a fancy name for a cavity blown up in the ground from a nuke test. We didn't get homework or exams back until months later. Basically. DO NOT TAKE THIS CLASS. Its a shame because the material is fascinating. We had a guest lecture from former CIA consultant Chuck Hailey and he was awesome. Wish he taught the class. Until then DONT DO IT. Hours upon hours upon hours in tears on a class that is in no way related to my major just to fill the core. For God's sake and your sanity just don't. Literal dumpster fire of a class.

Apr 2019

Perhaps to another student this class is good. But I am not that student. Indeed at times it feels as though I was put on this earth specifically to prevent people from taking this class. Apparently at one point this class was an easy A for nonscience majors needing a science credit, but it is certainly not easy or simple anymore. For starters, Professor Marka is clearly a knowledgeable human being and knows his stuff, but his lectures are long and border on the incoherent at times, with long stretches of tangents and other points where it's unclear how one would even take notes on what he's talking about. The lectures themselves have little to no visual supplements, which could be fine if the content of the lecture was more substantial, but unfortunately it leaves one wondering what exactly he's talking about halfway through the class. It also makes it nigh impossible to study later. The homework packets assigned are apparently designed to be unrelated to the class, and you are encouraged to do your own research on the Internet. The result is an insane amount of busywork, along with required reading of at least one large nonfiction book per packet as well as other supplemental reading that needs to be logged. None of this will help you when the midterm arrives. Often it seems as though the lectures, the homework, and the midterms are all from three different classes. Normally I would give the professor the benefit of the doubt in this sort of situation. After all, I'll freely admit that I haven't gone to the optional recitation sections. But the simple fact that after emailing him five times asking for him to actually do what he promised in class and upload the topics of the midterm, he still did not answer back until two days before the midterm itself, I cannot have any sort of sympathy for him. One can only sit through so many youtube videos that appear almost completely unrelated to the class material before they lose all patience. As of right now, the midterm that we took nearly a month ago is still being "interpreted", meaning we don't know if it's curved, or what the curved grades are. When questioned, he admitted that he was guilty of not doing that, despite promising to have it done the weekend after it was returned, and said something to the effect of "only delaying happiness". This class has delayed my happiness. There's a paper as well, which as a minor pet peeve, is marked on the syllabus as 4 pages, but is in fact 8 pages due to the formatting needed. I feel like he should've mentioned this, but maybe that's just me. This professor is a great guy. When I had to turn in an assignment late, he was super chill. He makes jokes, and appears to have genuine passion for the subject. But none of that can make up for the fact that this is one of the worst classes I've ever taken. Throughout the class one of the jokes Professor Marka would make repeatedly was to ask us, a bored and ever-shrinking audience, whether we were appropriately scared or horrified by what he was describing, which was usually some form of catastrophic disaster caused by a nuclear weapon. I confess that sitting in that lecture hall, I did feel an extreme sense of pain, anger, and existential hopelessness. But not for the reasons he said.

Mar 2018

Don't take this class if you aren't good at math or physics. This used to be an 'easy' class but the syllabus is SO misleading. We only cover history/societal consequences of WMD's in a few homework questions and the term paper, but EVERYTHING ELSE is solid physics. In week 2 we were doing thermodynamics and nuclear fission. Also, Marka is funny and all, but after about 4 minutes he stops being endearing.

May 2017

Reviewer has not received the grades but likely to receive an A. Professor Marka is clearly a first class astrophysicist but felt that lectures were not delivered in the most coherent manner. Some questions on the finals and homeworks were not explicitly discussed in class which left some students confused. My recommendation is to go to class to see experiments in class and review the slides at home. One homework had 20 pages so be warned that this class may not be as easy as before.

May 2016

I took this because (1) I took Professor Marka's "Physics for Poets" class and loved/aced it; and (2) I'd heard from friends that it was the easiest class they'd ever taken. THIS CLASS IS NO LONGER EASY (if you don't know Physics and Math). I think Professor Marka has had to crack down due to all the A's his students were getting, ha. First off: Professor Marka is AMAZING. He is hilarious, humble, kind, and so enthusiastic. Everyone adores this guy. AND-- he is THE genius who was recently on the front page of the New York Times for having confirmed Einstein's theory of general relativity by studying gravitational waves in space. He is truly one of the coolest professors at Columbia. This class is not what it used to be, however. Apparently (before the alleged crackdown) you could coast in this class. That is no longer the case -- this class, although easy and completely manageable if you put work into it, is not intuitive by any means. Class attendance is no longer optional if you want to get a decent grade. Much of what is discussed in class (guest speakers, etc.) is not Google-able and will be asked on the exam. Do the homework (answers are ALL Google-able, but they sometimes take a while to find) and write a decent term paper -- these are the only easy A's in this course. For the final exams, make sure you GO TO RECITATION. The team goes over what will be covered on the exam and will show you how to do the equations. The exams are still a bit tricky, though. Thankfully, I took this course with a group of 6 friends, and if any of us missed class, we would fill each other in on what was covered. **TL; DR -- Professor Marka is the coolest, nicest professor ever, but this class is NO LONGER easy (if you don't know Physics and Math) and takes a lot of work. Do really well on the homework and term papers (only easy A's in this course), and study/go to recitation for the exams.

May 2015

Professor Marka is the shit. If you're not a science person (which is who the class is obviously designed for) you will probably feel pretty lost the first few lectures. After a while you start getting some of the stuff and if you're interested you can learn a lot. If you're busy you can skip class and not miss a beat. Watching Professor Marka is the real pleasure. It's like someone gave a curious child unlimited resources and encouraged him to play with all the dangerous things in the lab. He gleefully handles liquid nitrogen and harasses his TA by being casually brilliant. He also speaks in a hilariously villainous German accent which can be a little hard to understand but makes the class that much more of a good time. Professor Marka is a world class scientist who specializes in Black Holes and other mysterious shit. Get him to explain it all to you and take this class for an fun and easy way to knock out your science requirement. TL;DR Professor Marka is the man. Class is Easy A. Very little work.

May 2015

Easiest class I've taken in both my college and high school careers. No work necessary. Okay, maybe a few psets and a term paper about nothing and a presentation at one point. No midterm. Take home final. If you're a humanities person like me with absolutely no sense of science needing to fill the patriarchal requirement of the CC science requirement, take this class. Oh and also if you're lazy, take this class. There were 130 people registered for the class and I'd say that about 20 would show up to lecture on a good day. You're fucking welcome.

Nov 2014

Professor Marka was without question the nicest, most enthusiastic, most sincere guy I've ever met, let alone Columbia professor. He is BRILLIANT, immensely warm and understanding. He has a bit of a thick accent, but, at least for me, that made him all the more endearing. He asks very little of you for this class (not even that you show up most of the time), but if you do give him even a little bit of energy and/or curiosity, you will be rewarded in spades. Not only is he more than willing to give you a good grade for relatively little work, but he teaches amongst the most interesting and under-discussed courses at CU. WMDs is simply fascinating, and his enthusiasm is infectious. Don't worry about not being a scientist! He doesn't give the greatest explanations in the world of the complex scientific phenomena covered in this class, but they are serviceable, and you really don't need to understand it all--just get the essentials of how whatever he is describing works and you'll be fine (his explanations should be more than clear enough for you to do this). Moreover, though the class opens with some technical, dry explanations of nuclear reactions, it quickly moves on to a broader discussion of nuclear technologies that will appeal to anyone from political scientists, historians, and human rights majors to environmental scientists and engineers. I really cannot say enough nice things about this class and Professor Marka. This class was the most interesting class and (surprisingly because there is no work) amongst the most informative classes I've taken at Columbia. If ever a professor deserved a gold-nugget, it is Marka. He is simply the best. Definitely do yourself a favor and take WMDs.

Aug 2014

This class was a very strange class. I would recommend taking it if you're looking for an easy way to fulfill a science requirement and do not have a genuine interest in the material. Attendance is pretty much optional and in my opinion not necessary, The only times i went to class were to force myself to do the reading for another class that i had immediately after that, but other than that there was no point. And i really did try for about the first month. The format of the class is pretty much some sort of experiment that usually doesn't work done by Marka and his assistant, this takes about 10-15 minutes then for the rest of the class he just goes through slides, many which have the word optional written across them, therefore REALLY discouraging me from paying any attention at all. there were suppose to be problem sets due very two weeks but it took him about two months to actually get that going and the homeworks were long but you could mostly look up everything online. There were 3 midterms which he failed to evenly space out so towards the end of the semester it felt like we were having a midterm every two weeks, The midterms were mostly based off of questions in the practice given beforehand and the material seemed pretty basic, but I had never taken any sort of physics class before so I had no idea what the answers were if the answer wasn't previously given to me on the practice. Don't bother purchasing the textbook for this class, it is completely useless and won't help at all. Cheat Sheets allowed on all midterms anyway so you could put the practice exams on there. overall, the material isn't easy if you haven't taken physics before but the class also has a bizarre curve that pretty much ensures that everyone does well.

Sep 2013

I love professor Marka. He's the best professor I had so far at Columbia. He made me develop a genuine interest and understanding of the physics terms and bases. He has the coolest office and is definitely an extremely energized professor that is always in high spirits. I had an extremely pleasant experience with his class and I think that's what classes should be about in the end. I had a great time, learned a lot, brushed up skills and elected him my favorite professor so far. I'd make him a golden nugget if I could.

Jan 2012

Dear Professor Marka, Hi, remember me? I was in your 3008 Class. Yes, I was wondering where my grades were. You see, I spent a lot of time studying for your class, and you seemed to like teaching it, heck, you even took us up and let us watch you cut things with your laser cutter! But why, oh why Professor Marka, hasn't my grade been posted yet? Your lecture notes were a disorganized, your accent made you a little difficult to understand, but I grinned, and I bared it, Professor Marka! You see, I tried! I tried very hard to enjoy your class, professor! You explained to us the most interesting of modern physics experiments, you always explained how the concepts were relevant to everyday life; this could have even been a good CULPA review! It could have been! But no, Professor. After delivering our final exam grades just hours after the test was over, you have yet to post our semester grades. It has been four weeks, Professor. I have already begun learning newer physics; the applications of what you taught me! Just the way you wanted-- But still, not a grade in sight! Sincerely, A student

Jan 2009

Marka is the most inept professor/teacher I have had in my life, and this is a view shared by EVERY person I knew or worked with in the class >15 people. Sure I got a good grade, but this class was worthless. The course material is obviously engaging and the foundation of so much physics. Upon further investigation.. I found out that Marka has trouble keeping graduate students to work with him in research. Here's a few reasons to describe what makes Marka so bad: -Poor (useless) lecture style: does not explain derivations, explains topic as if it is a review, starts talking about things that are barely examples of the phenomena -Poor class organization: Syllabus gets filled in on courseworks as a one word topic a few weeks after each class, spaced 2 out of 3 midterms with 2 classes in between, homeworks get handed back months later or not at all -Long and difficult homeworks of which the lectures are of no help, draws on concepts and ideas that you may have never been exposed to -"-has no concept of how little the class understands the material, not helpful during office hours because he Doesnt Understand Questions how unfortunate that a class he teaches is a requirement for so many physics majors. to get a good grade- share homeworks, copy down the questions from the practice midterm on to your formula sheet- he uses the exact same questions and answers year after year from the practice midterms to the midterms/final sample of review for midterm, that he posted on courseworks two days before midterm. In summary, teach a course by listing pages of information that students have to know: " Please make sure that you understand the material covered on pages 313-331, 355-382, 413-441, 519-577 and the related problems. (pages 453-488 are recommended) . The multiple choice and conceptual problems most likely will cover: A.P.French: An Introduction to Quantum Physics . Some of Chapters 1 and 2 . -> Please make sure that you understand the material covered on pages 17-102 and the related problems. (pages 1-16 are recommended) . Also, please make sure that you study the material posted on courseworks."

Dec 2006

Marka is a good professor overall. Good points: 1. Very entertaining, engaging professor. More classroom participation than normally expected in a physics lecture. 2. Very accessible, helpful with questions, knowledgeable about material. 3. Enthusiastic about material, decent pacing most of the time. Things that I didn't like: 1. The TA took forever to grade things. We didn't get midterm grades till nearly the end of the semester, and I think I only recovered 1 or 2 of the many graded problem sets (he took forever to grade those too.) 2. In class, Marka uses powerpoint slides a lot. This is good when you want to review material (he always posts them online) but bad because he never does the derivations for equations on the blackboard, which would have helped immensely. 3. Tests had a tendency to be very long. Only the final was of appropriate length. Overall, this was a good class that is significantly more difficult than W3003 and W3007.

Dec 2006

Professor Marka made this 2000 ridiculously difficult. Not only does he recycle slides from his 3008 class, he assigns homework from their textbooks/midterms. The first exam was unnecessarily difficult and nothing like the homework problems. He uses like 6 different books and the one he starts out with is this POORLY written book by Pain. The text is confusing and the homework problems are all algebra and no physics. The class got a little better once we stopped using that book, and then he hit us with this insane E&M homework. The curriculum for this course is fantastic. I just wish it was taught better. I hear he's better at his 3008 course, maybe he's just not fit to teach fundamental concepts. Nice guy though.

Aug 2006

I thought Marka was a good professor. It was a huge class, so it wasn't at all personal, but I think he did as much as he could to ensure that most of the class was not left behind. Attending class really didn't contribute very much to your understanding and he often covered different material than what we were tested on, but I often liked going to class because he was so entertaining (especially when he did experiments) and earnestly enthused about physics in a way that was contagious. He posts everything he does on Courseworks, and his slide shows are helpful if you've already read the book. The homeworks are graded fair to easy, and the midterms and final are reasonable. The course covers a whole lot of material, so it is often fast paced, but I thought Marka made it as close as possible to fun.

Aug 2006

I think the most awful thing about his class is powerpoint presentation. Even though he might be good physicists, his teaching abilities are not that satisfactory. For those who will be majoring in Physics, it should be taken into serious consideration that the materials presented in the course are very important. Thus a good professor is required to make the materials clear and more interesting. Marka fails to draw the attention of his students in this reagrd. The class had no sense to me when it reached its third week. I cannot judge his intellectual abilities in physics, but i am sure that he does not communicate with his students well in the class. About the workload and finals, previous reviews are enough to give everybody a good impression.

Aug 2006

Professor Marka is a lively instructor who tries his best to engage the entire class. He always stopped to listen to, and answer all questions. He was also always available after class to talk further about the lectures. His grading is fair, and it's clear that he likes what he does.

Jul 2006

Marka is awful. He teaches using power points and pointing to derived equations rather than deriving them himself, which personally, leaves me with no understanding whatsoever. He introduces concepts in differential form when the class is all incoming freshman who mostly haven't taken any diff. eg. classes. He gives these ridiculously easy "quizzes" at the end of lecture that are elementary in concepts and then bombards students with the most difficult questions possible for problem sets. I think he means well, but he really was the worst physics professor I've ever come across in my life.

May 2006

Twenty less people come every time class is held! Marka seems like a good professor but secretly isn't. The lectures are pretty much useless, the homeworks are ridiculously bad (only advanced problems, and lots of them). Recitation sections weren't any good, either, and only 5 or 10 people would usually show up. Just survive it... after Parsons it's an extreme let-down. It doesn't grade that tough, I guess...

Jan 2006

Professor Marka is a good teacher whose classes definitely offer something different than most physics professors at Columbia. For one, he actively encourages class participation. He usually began lectures by discussing a recent development in physics and asking us our opinion on it as well as thought-provoking questions. He was also highly enthusiastic about the physics he was teaching (a characteristic that most physics professors fail to convey). He devoted extra time to interesting concepts that are not usually taught, like rainbows and interferometry. Classes were done using a projector, and while I prefer to learn from a blackboard, this was not a serious impediment to learning the material. While he admits that the proofs of theorems arenÂ’t the most interesting part of the subject, class was usually interesting, though suffered from beginning at 9:30.

Jan 2006

Prof. Marka is a fine teacher who focuses heavily on applied sides rather than trying to teach as if Physics were literature (something many professors here does). The classes are interesting and does not require you to remember stuff that you will never need except for passing exams. Instead, he wants you to master the underlying physics of the experimental world. His exams are pretty easy, which means in class you can have a take it easy approach and rather than thinking about how to get an A can actually concentrate in the physics. I think any student, except for the few who do not care to attend the classes and then complain that he is vague, would love his teaching style.

Jan 2006

I think Professor Marka is the worst physics professor I have ever had, although you will find many who love him to death for reasons that are beyond me (I've heard everything from "ohh, he's a nice guy", to "he's better than Millis" which is NOT true). I had Brooijmans for 3007 and since he didn't say a sentence that wasn't in the textbook, I thought that was the worst it could get. Then I took Marka's class and after a few weeks ended up *wishing* he'd just recite from the textbook. The times when I actually went to class I would wait for him to explain something, but instead we would spend class time either looking at portriats of the physicists themselves, or else photographs of some experiment that used the techniques that we were supposed to be discussing. All I ever got from him was overview. Specifically, several of the classes later in the semester focused on irrelevant concepts: one entire class was devoted to laser safety; another class he showed only pictures of a vibrating guitar. Worst of all, when he actually did go through the math, it was all by powerpoint presentation - he never once - EVER - wrote on the actual board - he would just click a button and the equation would magically rearrange itself into the form he wanted it in (or rather, that the textbook author wanted it in) and he left it up to you to figure out the algebra later on your own. This is a fine technique if you are explaining principles (which, as I said before, is all he ever did), but horrible for actually teaching physics. Here's the kicker: in the review session for the final (which was, mind you, conducted by the TA), we all finally learned how to actually *use* the dipole and multipole formulas we'd been ostensibly studying for a semester. All the countless classes of useless talk by Prof. Marka amounted to our just being confused about what the hell was going on. The final itself was not only a joke, but - unbelieveably - he also called on us to identify those portraits for credit! He'd already done this on the midterm and we thought he was kidding when he said they'd be on the final - but we were wrong.