I agree with everything that previous reviews have mentioned about the steel bridge project (namely: lack of clarity about expectations, harsh review regardless). I would like to add by discussing his similar lack of clarity in day-to-day class presentations. Professor Panayotidi often spends the class having students flip through pages in building codes as he mumbles on about various minutiae that he expects us to remember for eternity. If a student forgets to bring their book to class, he'll chew them out. Other days he spends the class writing the solution to an example problem on the board, but saying very little about the process as he goes. He might spend five minutes just jotting down math and formulas as we copy along without explanation as to his specific considerations. His examples never properly show the diversity of problems that we may encounter in tests. In other words, there are usually many variations in a type of problem that we are expected to cover, however he never is clear about the differences that we may encounter. ...Which brings me to the topic of his tests. His tests always include some twist on the class material. The twist is usually something that he might have mentioned once for a few seconds. In other words, even if you thoroughly study the class material and know how to do all of the textbook problems, it is likely that you will take a look at the midterm and final and have absolutely no clue how to do it, because Professor Panayotidi likes to teach students what they don't know via his exams. This testing strategy is completely demoralizing to students. It makes you feel as if you can study Structural Design for ages and still have no grasp of the material. Professor Panayotidi is very welcoming and understanding outside of class. If you go see him in his office hours, he is happy to help and further explain the concepts. It is clear that HE MEANS WELL. However, if you ask a question during class related to a topic that he already covered, he might respond by asking why you don't remember it from a previous class or semester. I wish I was not so harsh on Professor Panayotidi, but considering that he teaches every structural design class at Columbia, it would be to the great benefit of students if he improved as a professor. From talking to my peers, I know multiple of us that have been steered away from pursing structural design in industry because of our bad experiences with Professor Panayotidi.
I have now had the pleasure/misfortune of taking Professor Panayotidi for three courses (two of which fell in the same semester). I can say with confidence that this was the worst one yet. Professor Panayotidi runs it like a continuation of Structural Design whereas it seems like it is meant to be a comprehensive semester-long project that builds off of the course material covered in Structural Design. Because of this, it effectively becomes both. Like Structural Design, this course is divided down the middle: pre-midterm material focuses on steel and post-midterm material focuses on concrete. The key difference between this course and Structural Design, as made evident in the name, is the project. Early on in the semester, Professor Panayotidi spends an entire lecture introducing the project by tediously going through the parameters set forth by the National Student Steel Bridge Competition. Yet he does little to emphasize which rules are most relevant to our project and he says nothing of what he expects going forward (especially with regard to scheduling). As such, this project quickly faded into the back of my mind. It only became real once Professor Panayotidi announced that he expected a midterm presentation to discuss what we've prepared thus far, sending the students into a collective frenzy. My group pulled an all nighter to prepare a semi-functional bridge. After presentations, it again faded from our minds (and so too, it seemed from Professor Panayotidi's). As the end of the semester approached, this project reared its ugly head once more. I put in 20+ hours over the course of four days to work out all the complexities of the bridge design (which had only recently been specified by Panayotidi as essential components). Not to mention we only ever met a single time in the computer lab for Professor Panayotidi to offer his input--and this was two days before our final presentations. Because so little guidance was given on this project, you might expect Professor Panayotidi to be lenient in his critique of your presentation. That, however, was not the case. Professor Panayotidi was quick to attack any missing consideration or false assumption. Not to mention he brought Adrian Brugger with him for both the midterm and final presentations. Adrian was certainly more constructive with his criticism but it was still hard to stomach (even if you weren't the group being torn to shreds!). Oh and forget about the quality of lectures at the end of the semester. Once your focus is on the bridge project, Professor Panayotidi more often defers to presenting via projector. Some topics are best presented through the projector, but complex concrete design is not one of them. All in all, this was probably the most stressful class I've taken at Columbia. Not because the course material is impossibly difficult, but because Professor Panayotidi just isn't clear. He isn't clear with what he expects for the semester project and, after a certain point, his lectures are equally unclear.
Professor Panayotidi has a love for Civil/Structural Engineering, but unfortunately I think almost all who have had his class would agree that teaching is not the appropriate facet for his passion. Lectures consist of Professor Panayotidi displaying his handwritten notes and example problems on the projector. Luckily, these notes are also posted on courseworks. However, following his work is very confusing and frustrating, as he pulls numbers seemingly out of the far without displaying the equations or from where in the Steel or Concrete manual he obtained that equation. Hence, he tends to simply read what he wrote down which, needless to say, is difficult to follow. Time in class is not used productively. He often gets on long tangents redundantly describing how most structural engineers do not do their job properly or lecturing us fairly condescendingly on how we need to study harder. That he takes attendance and calls out people who come in late or are obviously having a bad day does not help. The class "Structural Design Projects" had a large group project which was supposed to be a semester-long project. Because of his poor time management, Professor Panayotidi fell far behind schedule and instead assigned the project immediately before election day weekend, with a major deadline the day we returned from the long weekend. Despite our insistence that this was not fair given that a large share of the class already made plans to go home over the weekend and it would be virtually impossible to arrange a group meeting with such short notice, he simply told us to "Do what you have to do" in somewhat harsher words. Professor Panayotidi seems to have favorite students. Admittedly, I was one of those favorites and recognized that I got more of his attention and respect when I came to him with a question or comment. He can be quite rude to those he does not like (publicly, and privately from stories I have heard). Because of this, it is difficult to approach him, as he does not hide that he is surprised by your lack of knowledge and responds abrasively.