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Am I supposed to be this lost?

  1. Oct 11, 2006 #1
    This is my first quarter at UW (2 years community college before that).

    2 of my profs from the classes I'm taking (math phys and astro) just don't give a damn about anybody. The math phys guy expects you to already know the material that he is about to teach. The astro guy makes up his own questions (as opposed to book problems since it's a simple book) and they are SO VAGUE that you don't even know what he is asking. Like, asking for the ratio of the potential energy to kinetic energy of a comet at 1 AU. This comet is also supposed to be on a collision course with Earth. Did it already hit? Is it assumed it's right before the collision? Who knows?

    I don't know. I'm getting seriously depressed here. It just seems like there is a barrier here that I cannot jump over, no matter how hard I try.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 11, 2006 #2
    dont worry too much. it should be fine. I'm currently enrolled in a second year physics class... my teacher too goes over some gibberish fourier series math that i haven't even learnt (i bet most people doesn't). as long as you are at the same level with your classmates, you will be fine. the professor can't fail the whole class can he/she?
  4. Oct 11, 2006 #3
    Err... he has...

    I think he got spanked for it, though, because someone who took the class before and dropped and is now retaking it says he is teaching much differently. So... I guess that kind of gives me hope. I'll have to wait until the mid term, I guess. I have 3 friends in that class and seriously, I'm the one who is the worst when it comes to math. 2 of them will probably math/physics double major and the 3rd is just a bit better. I've never been very strong mathematically. I'm more of a conceptual and experimental guy. The hardest part for me is that I can never "get" the trick that you need to solve the problem until someone finally shows me. I'm very horrible at that, and it seems that's all math really is: a bunch of tricks.
  5. Oct 11, 2006 #4


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    some professors on tenure can get to be pompus asses. Sometimes something can be done about it, sometimes not, depending on university politics.

    Don't fret it man, transfering from community college to university life was horrible for me. My math went from A's to C's my first two years at the university. It really made community college seem like preschool.

    Use whatever resources you can to learn the material, you have libraries, the internet, and other professors in the department (it's hard to go up and ask them questions at a new university, I know, but sooner or later you'll have to do it. Some professors may even realize who you're taking the class from and be somewhat sympathetic.)

    If you have to take the class again, you'll already know the material and you have a chance of getting a better teacher. As long as you're going after what you want, you're going to get it, don't let one professor/class bring you down, it's a long road, you'll have plenty of chances for reprise as long as you look for them and jump on them when you see them.
  6. Oct 12, 2006 #5
    I feel for you. I've got a prof at the moment that is just awful. He's completely disorganized, rambles on about topics that are not related, and doesn't follow the lesson plan he provided in the syllabus. The other week we had a quiz and none of the questions he asked had anything to do with what we'd covered in homework or in his "lectures" (if you can even call it that). Most people got a D or an F on that quiz. He then had the nerve to call us "lazy." I was so pissed, I almost lost it. I still haven't decided whether to drop the class and hope I get a better prof next semester or just stick it out and see what happens with this loser.

    Try not to get too down about it though; I'm sure the other students in your class are equally as frustrated.
  7. Oct 12, 2006 #6

    matt grime

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    it is at a distance of one astronomical unit away, and *on* a collision course. I think that tells you it hasn't hit yet.....

    Anyway, it is common to be quite lost. The emphasis at university is on you to learn it, not for the teachers to spoonfeed it to you. They give you the information, you write it down, this forces you to start to learn it (reading it in a book is not the same), and then you're supposed to study it until you master it.

    That said, some people do struggle with lecturing. Have you considered talking to the lecturers in person and explaining these issues, rather than suffering silently in class and then character assassinating them on an internet forum?
  8. Oct 12, 2006 #7

    matt grime

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    The primary focus of a professor at a university is *not* teaching. They are not there because they love to teach, want to teach, or indeed care about teaching one jot, though many of them do, and take great pride in teaching. They are there to do research. That is how they earn their living - getting research grants. Teaching is one extra thing, along with administration, that they are required to do.
  9. Oct 12, 2006 #8


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    Exactly, it's part of their job and quite frankly a lot of them suck. If you don't care to teach, tell the students flat out you don't. Don't play some stupid game with the students with the different "style" you have. It's not even that hard to teach and explain ideas.

    Although in the other thread I mention that I don't care to be able to explain all my ideas or what not, but really it's not that difficult. I really don't get what the hard part is.

    It's part of your career, so personally I think the professors should just learn how to teach and lecture. If you don't want to learn how to teach, don't become a professor. Do your research somewhere else.

    I hate this whole attitude of I'm here for research non-sense. I'm here to learn, so um... deal with it or students will leave and you won't be able to do your research.

    Note: Not directed to you matt_grime. You do a better job teaching online than most professors do in person with a chalk board!
  10. Oct 12, 2006 #9
    Uh, seems to me you could answer that question...
    Use the sun's gravity to find the orbital velocity at 1 AU. Use that to find the kinetic energy. Then find the gravitational potential energy at 1AU, then find the ratio. The fact that the comet is orbiting 1 AU away from the sun means that by definition it's gonna hit the earth.

    Maybe I missunderstood you? Or am I wrong?:frown:
  11. Oct 12, 2006 #10
    Well put! Students (or their parents) pay a rediculous amount for tuition, which helps pay for the professors salary and (at least partially) their research. The whole "teaching-is-just-this-pain-in-the-ass-thing-I have-to-do" attitude is piss poor in my opinion.
  12. Oct 12, 2006 #11
    aaah! I felt the same way when I first started some of my classes nothing but 70s but I eventually go everything up to 80s and 90s but they were AP class. Oh and by the way I'm still in high school... :D
  13. Oct 12, 2006 #12
    I love hard teachers who want to challenge me. My old 1st year prof did that and now my thermal teacher is doing the same (although I know most of the material already. :p). It's when they are vague or make you make leaps of logic without any help is when I just can't progress. Most of my homework time isn't spent doing the problem, it's trying to figure out what they want or what operations are or are not legit on a given function. I spend more time trying to figure out what the hell the book and the lecture is about, than actually getting to know the math and physics. It's ridiculous. Today, for example, my astro. prof went over equations that we'll need on the homework. The homework that was due at the beginning of class. Oops, he was in Cali (work, not play) last class and didn't go over them.

    Some guy asked him about series. That it isn't a number, but just converges to a number. Prof explained that it is a number. And by "explained" I mean, kept making jokes at his expense while showing him he was wrong. I felt sorry for that guy.

    If the prof can't teach, why is he in a teaching position? Shouldn't he be in industry or something? I would have assumed that universities would have had higher standards than that.

    I'm taking 4 classes this quarter, and my 2 other profs are GOOD teachers. Those classes I'm doing alright in. One prof happens to be a big experimental researcher. That doesn't stop him from being a good teacher.

    EDIT: Wait, my point isn't to rag on professors, actually, even though it seems like it. It's just the whole university "experience" is a lot different than anything else. Not so much harder, but a lot more "survival of the fittest" where they just throw you to the wolves and see who can run faster, which really in my mind goes against a "learning environment". I'm not a dumbass, so I know I'll pass the classes. I'm just afraid I'll lose my sanity on the way to my Ph.D.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2006
  14. Oct 12, 2006 #13


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    13 posts in and you're already on your way to understanding how university life works!

    The best part is that once you lose your sanity (or the illusion of it rather) you can be happy while you're struggling.

    p.s. spiders are your gods and irrational numbers don't exist
  15. Oct 13, 2006 #14
    It does get better. Your upper level classes will be in somewhat smaller classes (depending on your major) and you will be in tune with the insanity that goes on with university learning. The "ambivalent professor" will always be present at the university. So will the "whiny, point grubbing student."

    But once you hit your upper level major classes, you will start to get professors who care a little more about the subject and they know you are really there to learn it. That matters to some of them and makes them try harder. You should really get to know some other students in your program and ask ahead of time if any profs should be avoided. Most departments keep old student reviews available and you can usually go and look at what professors got what reviews for what classes.

    Grad school is a whole different ball game. I think most of us will lose (or in most cases have lost) our sanity along the path to the Ph.D. You gain it back later over break only to be lost the next semester. :surprised:

    Good luck.
  16. Oct 16, 2006 #15
    You'll get used to the "rhythm" of the classes. I used to be like a little kid "geez the semester will never be over" and feel like I was getting no where. Now it's more like a fun but time consuming job, where I know what to expect from week to week, how much time studying is necessary and when I'd be better off going to bed. I never did the community college thing but I know it seems to be a real shock to the system when people transfer. Don't worry about grades, just what you learn is what my husband always tells me (yells at me).

    At the beginning of a break, a few days later when it sinks in, I always end up laughing non stop for like half an hour. When I'm watching a sitcom and realize I don't have to feel guilty about undone homework, I just suddenly unwind. And then the first few days back at school, I'm just mad.:mad:
  17. Oct 16, 2006 #16
    Yeah, it's the greatest feeling ever.
  18. Oct 16, 2006 #17
    Your husband is a very wise man. I wish all people had this kind of insight.
  19. Oct 16, 2006 #18


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    That's what I tell everyone, but no one listens! :mad:
  20. Oct 17, 2006 #19
    a random point ..i think the vagueness comes from the fact that he may also expect you to know stuff you dont already know aaswell ,just like the other prof.
  21. Oct 17, 2006 #20
    I think you are operating under a false assumption that Professors are there to teach you. They are not. They are there to do research. I will quote Matt Grime again (emphasis mine):

    Once you come to terms with this, things might get better, since your expectations of the professor/student relationship will change.

    If you really care about having good teachers, maybe your current institution is not the best place for you. Or maybe you should do your homework on who is teaching what classes and when, and try and take classes with good teachers. When it comes down to it, you are spending a good amount of money on an education. Be a good consumer and do your homework first before you shell out the cash for the product.
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