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Especially unreasonable requirements to get your degree

  1. Oct 17, 2015 #1
    I was just watching a "Big think" interview with Michio Kaku. There was a segment where he showed uncharacteristic indignation over the fact that he had to memorize all the hundreds of particles in the particle zoo in order to get his PhD in Physics: Fast forward to 31:00


    That reminded me of a similar experience I had as an undergrad going for my Biology degree. As an elective, I chose to take this class entitled, "Natural history of aquatic invertebrates." One of the requirements to pass this class is that we had to memorize the shell patterns of several hundred species of aquatic invertebrates. Sometimes these patterns differed so subtlety from one species to another that the only difference between two shells was a close to imperceptible variation in the way the lines curved on one segment of the shell.

    If that wasn't enough, we had to match each one of these patterns to the scientific name of each species. You can imagine how fun that was to memorize as well. I think we were allowed mild misspellings, but if you got the genus wrong, watch out!

    With this type of operation, you had to study in groups or at least with a partner and use flash cards. I remember us railing (as students often do) about when would we ever need this skill to memorize these shell patterns in future life. But as opposed to my algebra class as a kid, I think I was justified here with the shell patterns..

    Anyway, through some small miracle I passed the class. But my question to you, the reader, is did you have a similar experience in college when something you were asked to do went waaaaay above and beyond any reasonably justifiable sense that it was going to help anybody or anything later in life?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 18, 2015 #2
  4. Oct 18, 2015 #3


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    During my studies I was asked, on more than one occasion, to work together with other people.
  5. Oct 18, 2015 #4
    A friend of mine was a grad student in math. He had to do numerical analysis without a computer. That was in 1972 or something, but still....
  6. Oct 18, 2015 #5


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    Runge-Kutta methods, for example, were invented over a hundred years ago. But yes, I'm happy I was not the one applying them back then.
  7. Oct 18, 2015 #6


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    I would think that a grad student in math would be studying the algorithms and methods. A computer would not be essential.
  8. Oct 18, 2015 #7
    Yup. Back in pre-computer days, offices full of "computers" (i.e. human beings who punched adding-machine-type calculators) did the work. I have some older books (1930s-1940s) which show one how to organize the calculations for celestial mechanics with that method.
  9. Oct 18, 2015 #8
    He was doing the computations. By hand.
  10. Oct 18, 2015 #9
    Yep, back then they used to measure computer power in "Kilo-girls" They'd fill large rooms with rows of girls used as human tabulating machines during the war.


  11. Oct 19, 2015 #10
  12. Oct 19, 2015 #11


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    In one of my classes, we had to memorize what values the colors on a resistor represented.

    Why should I do that when I had a pencil?

  13. Oct 21, 2015 #12


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    In the most general sense, introductory classes where you're asked to remember great levels of detail about the material taught. This is extremely difficult to do in intro courses, where one just gets a general grasp.
  14. Oct 22, 2015 #13
    Luckily it hasn't really happened. I am supposed to remember some names of people that did some important work to understand the learning process in a few months.
    Probably won't happen.

    I adored exams where you could derive your way out of trouble.
    It saved my ass a couple times. These days I'm more concerned about conceptual understanding.
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