professor
Latha Venkataraman

Dec 2019

The previous review is accurate, except she doesn't curve to a C anymore! I did about average on all three exams and got a B. Also, people tend to give her a bad rap because she flies through the material, isn't very approachable, and tells you to leave the room if you talk during lecture. However, given her straightforward lectures, the fairness of the exams, and the organized-ness of the class, it's clear that she just wants us to learn the material, and learn it well. It's a nice contrast from other professors in APPH who don't give a f about their classes and deliver messy lectures unprepared and have given the same exams since 2007 which aren't even relevant to the course anymore. So Latha's not evil, she's tough. There's a difference. I should also say that this is the only applied physics class I've taken where I really feel like I learned things well. It's because the individual lectures make sense, the various topics we cover through the semester fit well enough together that I have a coherent understanding of quantum mechanics, and the homework is actually relevant to what we covered in class (something I've learned to appreciate after so many APPH classes).

Dec 2018

I think it's about time for someone to submit a new review of Latha, because the previous two are both incredibly terrifying (but mostly still accurate), so everyone reads them going into the course and loses all hope. This class is really not all that bad. As mentioned, Latha is a great lecturer and very helpful during both lectures and office hours (never went, but I've heard this). I found her to be very kind and even a little funny, but in a terrifying way. She loves students who participate, so don't be afraid to ask questions! I think she may have eased up on homework in the last few years because I disagree with the review about homework requiring an industrial stapler. It's true that they're mostly reworded Griffiths problem (especially towards the end of the semester) so you can definitely get a really high homework grade without actually learning the material, although you'll just get your ass handed to you on exams. The exams are really hard, and basically determine your grade. The semester I took it we had no final exam, just three midterms, which were each "cumulative" (but not really). I know the year before mine, she gave two midterms and a final. The first exam, which covered basically everything from a typical first semester course in quantum, was the most conceptual and scared the shit out of everyone for the rest of the semester, but also motivated people to study even harder for the next two, which were a little easier than the first. After the first midterm she also allowed a one-side cheat sheet. You could also choose to not use a cheat-sheet and get a 5% bonus on the exam. The averages on the three exams were 41%, 53%, and 60%. The highest scores on the three exams were 73%, 93%, and 105%. I think, after asking around, it's true that she curves the class average to around a C or C+, which is pretty jarring considering almost all other classes in APAM curve to a solid B. I have no idea if it's true that she does a historical curve, i.e. it's possible for no one to get an A in the class if it's a "dumb" year. If so, maybe I was in a "smart" year, because there were a few students who still managed to do very well in the class. Someone in the class told me that she, and two of her friends, all got A's, which isn't even that bad considering there were only 20 students in the class! I think the final curve is something like add 10% to your total grade and that's roughly the letter grade you'll get. So it's definitely not impossible to do well, as the previous reviews might lead you to believe (or maybe she's just gotten nicer over the years), but you just have to work really hard. But you definitely shouldn't go into the class with no hope! Also the biggest tip I can give future students is that she loves Cohen-Tannoudji, and really only lectures out of Griffiths for roughly the last third of the course. Do yourself a favor and read CT to study for the exams, it's a much better textbook.

May 2012

The course uses a great text by Griffiths, "Introduction to Electrodynamics" Latha is well known for being a GPA killer, but I wouldn't say she's all bad. She's more than willing to help you if you put in the effort and respect, i.e. show up to class, ask questions and pay attention. She won't fail you if she can see you've done your homework and have made a serious attempt to understand the material. That being said, she also has a historical curve for the courses she teaches. That means if you are below the curve in a "smart" year you might not be doing so bad but if you are on the curve in a "dumb" year, you're screwed (as is the rest of the class). Supposedly she failed two students last year and handed out 5 C's. The workload is hard, mostly reworded problems from the book. You can go to the solutions manual if you want easy answers but you're going to eat shit on the exams. Since HW is not such a big part of the course grade, doing well isn't important. In fact, if you are not doing great on the HW it's probably a sign you're actually doing it yourself and it will show in your exam grade. This is a great course; lots of material to cover but all very interesting and it will often times leave you pondering the world around you. The last few weeks this year were very rushed and we covered a little more than 3 whole chapters (4 partial chapters) in about two weeks. Keep up with the reading and examples in the book; it will do you good. If you're a good student already, then you know the drill. If you've been pissing away your time here at Columbia by taking 1400 and getting wasted every weekend as an an Applied Physics major, then you're in for a world of hurt come this course.

Jan 2011

Beware of the GPA killer. Unfortunately, this class required for all applied physics majors. So most of us have no choice in the matter. There have been some clever chaps who managed to take Prof. Green's course in the college but the app physics department frowns upon this. Still, I would suggest looking for any alternatives to the course. First, let me get the positives out of the way, she is an ok teacher. She knows her stuff and follows the textbook. She has a tendency to speed through her lectures but with a bit of extra reading before and after each class, you can keep up. The course itself is interesting (from a physics student's perspective) and covers much of Griffiths has in his book. I should also mention that Griffiths is perhaps the best physics author you'll ever come across. That's about it for the positives. The negatives... well just about everything else. Her problem sets are ridiculous and most are a huge waste of time. She loves to choose questions that are algebraically tedious that don't add anything to the understanding of the material. You'll look at a question, take 10 minutes to think of a way to get the solution, work through the problem then encounter an integral that takes you 2 hours to solve. When you are done, you will have amassed a stack of paper so huge that you will need an industrial stapler to fasten them together. The class probably accounted for a several trees in the Amazon. She gets most of her questions from the textbook, so most people end up just using the solutions. I for one am against this but I had to drop this stance when I realize that a lot of these questions had no educational value. Her exams are doubly ridiculous. Typically, an exam mostly covers what was covered in the course thus testing how well you grasp the material. There might be a curve ball question or two that stretches our minds but that's fair and it gives the grades a good spread. Latha doesn't believe in this. Her exams tend to be all curve balls, which seek to test what you don't know. She might throw the class a freebie so that people actually get above single digits. The exams are also long and the questions can be confusing. The two midterms had averages in the 40s and mind you, this was a class filled with first year grad students who were mostly taking this class as a refresher for their qualifiers. Seriously, how can you give an exam and have the class, on average, not being able to get half the questions right??? I wonder how she sleeps at night. But wait, it gets better. She doesn't curve. Got that? To be honest, I am really not 100% sure how she assigns her grades but I was about a half a deviation about the mean for her two midterms (~50s), got roughly 90s on the problem sets and I was pretty confident about how I did in the finals. In the end, she gave me a glorious C+. So that means she either doesn't curve and uses a fixed scale based on percentages to award letter grades or she curves but to something like C. Either way, I am positive a few Ds were dished out. I took Applied Em with her the semester before and about 10 people were in the class. I spoke to about 5 people and the highest grade was a C+. Go figure. In the end, I can say this class forced me to master QM. I am pretty confident about my grasp of the subject but I have absolutely nothing to show for it. Thank you Lantha for ruining my GPA.