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cal-tech students least happy w/ professors as ranked by PR

eternity_hope2005eternity_hope2005 Posts: 524Registered User Member
Princeton review ranks cal-tech #1 for having students give professors the lowest marks.

http://www.princetonreview.com/college/research/profiles/rankings.asp?listing=1023684<ID=1

why is this?
Post edited by eternity_hope2005 on
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Replies to: cal-tech students least happy w/ professors as ranked by PR

  • eternity_hope2005eternity_hope2005 Posts: 524Registered User Member
    the site is unaccessible to non-members (you can sign up for free though...)
  • happyentropyhappyentropy Posts: 162Registered User Junior Member
    Our classes at tech arent very classroom/lecture oriented, mostly due to the student body itself.
  • eternity_hope2005eternity_hope2005 Posts: 524Registered User Member
    ^^ what exactly do you mean by that? Can you elaborate?
  • happyentropyhappyentropy Posts: 162Registered User Junior Member
    Caltech students tend to be more of the independent learner kind, in part from their pre-college experiences where independent study is often necessary to learn anything beyond the often unchallenging high school curriculum.

    Therefore, the preferred method of learning at caltech is through reading textbooks, doing homework sets, doing research, rather than directly listening to words from the professor's mouth.

    As a sign of this attitude, classroom attendance at Caltech is abysmal. In my abstract algebra class I was one of only only 4-5 of about 25 students to attend class regularly toward the end of the year, and it definitely wasn't because the others were any less committed or interested. Rather they learned the material by reading the (excellent) textbook chosen by the professor and completing the accompanying problem sets (posted online) on their own time.

    Since students tend not to care much about the way material in class is presented, professors have little reason to put much effort into preparing their lectures, and many do not- often either lecturing verbatim from a book or using notes written by them (or often a former TA) 25 years ago, while happily spending the rest of their time on research for which caltech hired them in the first place (and in which they are usually very happy to work with interested undergraduates).

    In this way the students' and faculty attitudes reinforce each other, resulting in poor classroom experiences for students who prefer to learn from living teachers and lectures rather than published sources- resulting in low ratings of professors by these students.

    Keep in mind, the dissatisfaction with teaching does not translate into dissatisfaction with caltech in general- most students are quite happy with learning/research opportunities here; i for one don't think i would have learned more at any other school.
  • eternity_hope2005eternity_hope2005 Posts: 524Registered User Member
    You're exactly right. Engineering and many other applied sciences at top schools are something that the student must prepare himself for individually. These aren't business majors where you can take notes and walk away with an "A" without even reading the book.

    Good luck with everything.

    p.s. - what's your major at cal-tech ?
  • happyentropyhappyentropy Posts: 162Registered User Junior Member
    I am a math major.
  • eternity_hope2005eternity_hope2005 Posts: 524Registered User Member
    so do you have the ability to take a complex math and / or physics text and learn the material in it on your own? In preparation for my physics and math courses next semester and made an attempt to learn some of the material on my own.......i bought two textbooks and it's been really hard to learn the stuff on my own (especially the proofs)
  • happyentropyhappyentropy Posts: 162Registered User Junior Member
    Thats really the only way I know how to learn- I can't really pay attention in class or take notes since that distracts from thinking about interesting tangential problems. Besides, once you get to doing original research the only way to learn about the work done in the field is to read recent publications in research journals, which are typically at an even higher level than textbooks since they are written for experts in the field.

    The independent learning style at tech prepared me quite well for the applied math research I did this summer.
  • George HagstromGeorge Hagstrom Posts: 41Registered User Junior Member
    I also came to the conclusion that in the future I will have to learn things by reading books and journals. I decided I should try to learn everything from books. In my last two terms last I had three classes before noon. I only went to class twice before noon, but I went to a majority of my afternoon classes, so maybe I just don't like the morning.

    Maybe I'm just gullible, but the lectures that I did go to in my upper division classes all seemed pretty good to me. Maybe I'm wrong. But professors should get high marks for trusting students with doing research.

    Speaking of TAs, I have had the dubious honor of attending a physics review section with Billy Cottrell (sp?), who was the guy convicted of blowing up lots of hummers at SUV dealerships as a member of the eco-terrorist Earth Liberation Front. I remember some of the class grades were lost when the FBI seized his computer and wouldn't return it.
  • tech_fantech_fan Posts: 2,822Registered User Senior Member
    With due deference to happyentropy, I have to disagree with the evaluation. I should first say (though anybody who knows anything at all knows this) that the PR rankings are well known to be nonsense, based on very small sample sizes; they do not claim or aim at any rigor or validity.

    Anyway, the vast majority of the classes I've taken have been very well-planned; the lectures, while not always theatrical, has largely been extremely helpful and aimed at getting students to absorb the material from a perspective other than the book's. In Math 5, the course that happyentropy mentioned, I thought the professors (Aschbacher and Wales) were just stellar -- though their styles differed, they made it worth it for me (not at all a morning person) to come to the earliest math class of the day on a regular basis at 9 am.

    As I mentioned, since the PR rankings are obvious crap, I don't accept the premise that Caltech students actually do give their profs low marks in any meaningful sense. But if student dissatisfaction were unusually high at Caltech, I would not have any doubt about the cause of this -- unusually rigorous courses taught at an unusually demanding pace with unusually uncompromising grading standards. Since many analyses of professor-rating surveys have shown that the major correlate of student satisfaction is how easy the class is (i.e., if you want high ratings, make all students feel good about themselves, whether they deserve to or not), it's no surprise that Caltech wouldn't take the cake in this silly category. Nor do we want to.
  • tokenadulttokenadult Posts: 17,473Super Moderator Senior Member
    A statistical nuance to why the PR surveys are crap is that it wouldn't matter EVEN IF their sample sizes were adequate (which they generally aren't), because the respondents are self-selected. The sample bias (PR surveys are not AT ALL a "simple random sample") means that any number of responses still are all junk data. Basically PR markets a product that could only impress a journalist or someone else who lacks the statistical training found in any good AP statistics course.
  • taxguytaxguy Posts: 6,520Registered User Senior Member
    Eternity_hope2005, notes,"These aren't business majors where you can take notes and walk away with an "A" without even reading the book"

    Response: Sorry Eternity, I majored in accounting years ago. I can 100% assure you that no business major can walk away with an "A," especially in accounting, without thoroughly reading the book. I am 99% sure that this also applies to most other majors such as economics, finance etc..

    Somehow, you have this mindset that if it isn't science or engineering, it must be much easier and less work. Sorry to disappoint you.
  • tech_fantech_fan Posts: 2,822Registered User Senior Member
    I think Eternity_hope2005 was saying that it's often easier to slide by in non-science/math/engineering courses without a true understanding of all the material, but this certainly isn't always the case.

    I know that in literature/history/philosophy courses (the classic humanities) I've often been able to finish with A+ grades reading only about a third of the assigned readings and just focusing my essays on the parts I knew well, and people at other universities confirm this experience. In quantum mechanics or abstract algebra, if I decided to do that, I'd be lucky to squeak by with a C, since the material is often so linear that a single gap can completely end your chances of comprehending the rest.

    Personally, I'd put financial accounting in the engineering category... we have a bunch of very rigorous finance courses at Caltech. I think Eternity_hope2005's remark would be more accurate of the classic business management case study courses, in which the rigor is much less serious.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    As I mentioned, since the PR rankings are obvious crap, I don't accept the premise that Caltech students actually do give their profs low marks in any meaningful sense. But if student dissatisfaction were unusually high at Caltech, I would not have any doubt about the cause of this -- unusually rigorous courses taught at an unusually demanding pace with unusually uncompromising grading standards. Since many analyses of professor-rating surveys have shown that the major correlate of student satisfaction is how easy the class is (i.e., if you want high ratings, make all students feel good about themselves, whether they deserve to or not), it's no surprise that Caltech wouldn't take the cake in this silly category. Nor do we want to.

    While I can agree with the notion that the PR ratings are not particularly scientific, and I also agree with the general principle that extremely rigorous coursework often times translates into poor teacher evaluations, I would point out that it doesn't necessarily have to be that way. It is possible to combine rigor and highly satisfactory teaching. I would simply point to the example of Harvey Mudd. PR found that Mudd's professors are highly satisfactory, yet I don't think anybody would seriously accuse Mudd of not being rigorous, or of not preparing highly skilled engineers. Far from it, in fact.

    Now, don't get me wrong. Again, I agree that the PR ratings are not particularly scientific. However, if it is true that Caltech students are dissatisfied with the teaching (which may or may not be the case), it's not a necessary outcome of the rigor. It's not an either/or situation. You can have both good teaching and high rigor at the same time.
  • George HagstromGeorge Hagstrom Posts: 41Registered User Junior Member
    There is a very vocal group of people at Caltech who really hate the teaching. Generally, they complain about the difficulty. To me this makes sense. If you do badly in a class (which happens to lots of people at Caltech) who would you rather blame, yourself or your professor? Its really easy to make excuses for poor performance, especially when you went to college expecting to do very well. One thing I have discussed with my friends is that lots
    of classes are taught with the brightest students in mind (they are brighter than my friends
    and I). This makes the material harder for us to understand. I prefer it this way because
    I think I am smarter as a result of it. Some really hate it though.

    I think most people specifically hate the teaching in core classes, in my experience. Students find that they didn't really want to learn quantum mechanics or whatever. They just find a hard time relating to the professor and the course material. Maybe this is the professor's fault. I personally thought that Chem 1 was worthless. It was only poorly taught from the point of view of someone interested in physics or other quantitative fields.

    One thing I do remember is one of the first days I was at Caltech when the president, David
    Baltimore, said in a speech that faculty were not chosen for their teaching ability. I think
    that teaching ability is extremely hard to measure, though. For example, there are some
    teachers that are very well liked by most people, who I think are worthless, and vice versa.
    One thing that is in Caltech's favour is that there are lots of faculty, so not everyone has to
    teach. Instead, most people that do teach usually do so because they want to.

    I would say the department with the best teaching is math (every math class I have been in
    has been extremely well taught). I major in physics, and in physics classes professors
    tend to adopt more annoying policies (less time on exams, worse textbooks, and more
    incosistent presentation (inconsistency is somewhat a characteristic of physics, thought)).
    I had one amazing bio professor and one mediocre one. My humanities professors were
    uniformly great teachers, and I usually go to humanities classes since attendance is more
    important. In applied math I had one great lecturer (afternoon lecture so I attended), and one mediocre one. In physics I had 2 great, 3 good, 2 mediocre, and one very annoying.
    In math all were great except 1 who could speak English but couldn't understand anything
    people said. It was particularly comical because he was completely scatterbrained, and made lots of mistakes during proofs in lecture. I remember hearing that someone had to talk to him in Russian during lecture to communicate. He had good class policies, though, so it was bearable.

    Harvey Mudd probably has better teachers, but that has its downsides as well. Faculty research is not a priority. I was a prefrosh at an HMC prefrosh weekend thing, and my prefrosh host was working pretty closely with a professor in mathematical biology. The professor did good research, and my host was dependent on him because he was the only mathematical biologist. The professor had bad teaching reviews, and wasn't given tenure, and was going to leave. I don't know what happened to the mathematical biology major, but my host was very worried about it. So you can get screwed over there as well, and there are fewer areas where you can participate in undergraduate research.
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