Nightmare professors

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  • #26
mathwonk
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my fault denks. i was in a bad mood. but you just proved you can indeed learn from anyone, even one who is being a jerk.
 
  • #27
Moonbear
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Have you tried office hours? I know that the natural tendency is to avoid someone who doesn't seem good at lecturing, but some of them can be surprisingly helpful when discussing things one-on-one. Sometimes it isn't their interest in teaching, willingness to help students or knowledge of the subject that is the problem. Sometimes they just aren't good at managing a classroom, or engaging with the students in lecture. Sometimes it's actually even a form of stage fright. Compensating for that can go many directions. Yours seems to be overly-authoritative, but might also be in a mental "zone" where he just runs on auto-pilot and can't think through things with an audience (maybe that's why he isn't employed by the military anymore). Others stumble over words and sound unprepared even if they aren't, or never make any eye contact. But meeting one-on-one with well-prepared questions might turn out better than you expect.

Though, the other possibility already raised could be the case too...he was such a hot shot that he never had to think through the process of learning the material, and may have no idea of how to explain it another way. That too can be inexperience with teaching, although not inexperience in the subject. If teaching is a second career for him, his age may not reflect his experience.

If you want to help him improve for future students, resist the temptation to rip him to shreds on teaching evaluations at the end of the course, and instead suggest constructive advice on how to improve, such as explaining something a different way instead of repeating the same explanation if the class doesn't understand. It will be more likely to get taken seriously for improving his teaching.
 
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  • #28
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If the professor is really that bad, then it's likely that most of the students in the course feel the same way. In which case, it should be easy to learn the material amongst yourselves. A text book and a couple of students plus a whiteboard can go a long way. I've learned much more from situations like that, than I have simply watching a lecture and trying to keep up.

Don't go to the dean to berate your professors. Just be sure to do the survey at the end of the course (if they give you one, otherwise write your own!). Unless the guy is doing something unfair, going in to complain to the dean will only look bad on you.
 
  • #29
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So I believe I have one of those "nightmare" professors for my digital circuits class this semester. I don't mean he's really hard in the sense he gives really hard exams or tons of homework. I am talking personality wise. He is THE most condescending and arrogant person I have ever met.

He laughs when students answer incorrectly, snickers and shakes his head if you make a mistake, makes you feel about 2 inches tall, and very unapproachable. If you ask a question in class, he will question you as to why you don't understand it. When he's explaining concepts, he will basically say if you don't understand this...you are a moron. He will ask, "Does anyone NOT understand this?", and if you say no he will not repeat but only ask, "Why don't you understand?" in a very harsh and condescending tone.

He was an ex-military guy and tons of experience in the industry (designing control systems for fighter jets). I don't know how or why he is a professor at all.
If he can design control systems for fighter jets he's probably really good at research - that's why he's a professor. If he's a top researcher the dean & university will not care if he's nasty to undergrads - research brings in the money and prestige.

If he snickers and you feel two inches tall it is *you* making yourself feel two inches tall - look around carefully, other class mates will just be ignoring his snide comments or laughing them off, and are left feeling just the usual height. So work on your feelings until you feel normal under his barrage. Good training for life!

If he's condescending and arrogant, so what. What difference does that make to you? That's his problem!

Treat "So you understand this?" as a good wake up call! Don't buy in to his attempt to make you feel stupid - he can't do that - only you can do that - but don't do that...

If "you don't understand this" then you can work on it later until you do understand it - or, if you are feeling up to it, you can press him for explanations while just ignoring the snide remarks.

He may be cultivating the "Mr Nasty" persona so that undergrads steer clear of him and he gets more time to do research... or play bridge...
 
  • #30
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To sympathize with the OP, I have had professors that were complete asses, towards me and my peers at the time. I'm a pretty calm fellow with a tough past so a few words and petty demeanor are like water drops on a duck's back.......but I did see how it negatively affected a specific classmate and I have to state that no matter the capabilities of the students to learn from a 'nightmare' professor...behavior such as what the OP is talking about should not be tolerated.

I also think a lot of the talk on here is exactly what exacerbates garbage like this by it's condonation, even so far as people rationalizing the professors conduct. The "stop being a baby and learn it yourself" is irrelevant since college students pay money to be taught, not to be abused by someone who feels it's their place to insult your intelligence because they have done something you haven't.

In any case, the way universities are ran, as one poster said, everything is stacked against the student, which should not be the case.
 
  • #31
mathwonk
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maybe i should apologize for this, but i spent most of my preparation, at least in advanced graduate classes, figuring out how to prepare the mathematics in the best, most logical and insightful way, not how to avoid hurting the feelings of the students who did not get it.

When I presented it, I tried to make it clear that not everyone would understand it right away, and i admitted that i had not done so myself, but i felt an obligation to present the material at a level that would do justice to those who could get it.

in undergraduate classes i admit i also spent a lot of time trying to make it as gentle as possible. But at the graduate level I felt as if the students should be more qualified.

the ratio sort of thins out as the level goes up. Most of us never ignore the students' feelings, but we do make

judgments as to what they should be willing to try to do at different levels.

If you can accept that a professor is not trying to shortchange you, but expects a certain level of commitment from you, you may be able to get a lot more from your classes. good luck.
 
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  • #32
Pythagorean
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Something that I've become intrigued with, being a physics graduate and a student of computational neuroscience, is visualization of data and concepts. I sometimes feel like I can explain to other students better than many teachers can (well, students that aren't getting particular material, anyway; and I'm not implying that I get it always. Maybe it's because I share a learning style with the people I assist that I'm a better help).

I'm always trying to generalize and abstract ideas and concepts. I'm always trying to pack as many dimensions at once into data as I can; I can think of a way to conceptualize eight dimensions, but to program a teaching media for it would require something like a gaming engine; traditional listbar/checkbox/text/radiobutton GUIs just won't do.

I am starting to really think I would actually love to teach, despite having always pushed myself more towards research.
 
  • #33
chiro
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I'm always trying to generalize and abstract ideas and concepts. I'm always trying to pack as many dimensions at once into data as I can; I can think of a way to conceptualize eight dimensions, but to program a teaching media for it would require something like a gaming engine; traditional listbar/checkbox/text/radiobutton GUIs just won't do.
I think this will be the future of learning in science and other fields.

In high schools, the smartboards (basically electronic whiteboards with software) are being used to do things like mathematics where things can be created, transformed and visualized really really easily.

The technology in its parts are already here to do some kind of system where 3D engines combined with other things can be used to visualize things like you would see in a 3D engine, but the issues are more or less standardization and engineering issues in both hardware and the software areas.
 
  • #34
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Something that I've become intrigued with, being a physics graduate and a student of computational neuroscience, is visualization of data and concepts. I sometimes feel like I can explain to other students better than many teachers can (well, students that aren't getting particular material, anyway; and I'm not implying that I get it always. Maybe it's because I share a learning style with the people I assist that I'm a better help).
I almost always learn better from my peers than my teachers. I feel that it's because we're all learning it at the same time or very recently. Most teachers don't seem to remember what it was that "clicked" for them so they can't relay this to the student.

Last semester, I asked my professor about some linear algebra concepts and wanted to know if I was thinking about them correctly. I showed him some pictures I drew and when he saw them he said "Ahh, yes! That's a good way of thinking about it." The very next lecture he drew the same pictures I had and reexplained the concepts. I know when I showed my friends those drawings it clicked for them.
 
  • #35
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maybe i should apologize for this, but i spent most of my preparation, at least in advanced graduate classes, figuring out how to prepare the mathematics in the best, most logical and insightful way, not how to avoid hurting the feelings of the students who did not get it.

When I presented it, I tried to make it clear that not everyone would understand it right away, and i admitted that i had not done so myself, but i felt an obligation to present the material at a level that would do justice to those who could get it.

in undergraduate classes i admit i also spent a lot of time trying to make it as gentle as possible. But at the graduate level I felt as if the students should be more qualified.

the ratio sort of thins out as the level goes up. Most of us never ignore the students' feelings, but we do make

judgments as to what they should be willing to try to do at different levels.

If you can accept that a professor is not trying to shortchange you, but expects a certain level of commitment from you, you may be able to get a lot more from your classes. good luck.
I think the main problem people in this thread have is not professors who assume effort on the part of the student (personally as a student I can't stand when other classmates put no effort in as they waste the entire classes time). Rather the issue lies with professors who treat classes as an annoyance between what they view as other far more important activities.

It has always puzzled me why high school teachers must spend years learning how to teach yet it is assumed that if I get a PhD I am automatically skilled in teaching others without ever having received even the most basic training in teaching methods. Skills in teaching and research are totally different, a great teacher may be a terrible researcher and so might a great researcher be a truly terrible teacher. I don't understand why universities assume the two are interchangeable.
 
  • #36
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To sympathize with the OP, I have had professors that were complete asses, towards me and my peers at the time. I'm a pretty calm fellow with a tough past so a few words and petty demeanor are like water drops on a duck's back.......but I did see how it negatively affected a specific classmate and I have to state that no matter the capabilities of the students to learn from a 'nightmare' professor...behavior such as what the OP is talking about should not be tolerated.

I also think a lot of the talk on here is exactly what exacerbates garbage like this by it's condonation, even so far as people rationalizing the professors conduct. The "stop being a baby and learn it yourself" is irrelevant since college students pay money to be taught, not to be abused by someone who feels it's their place to insult your intelligence because they have done something you haven't.

In any case, the way universities are ran, as one poster said, everything is stacked against the student, which should not be the case.
I agree with daveyinaz. The "nightmare professors" that the OP started this thread about are not simply those that are incompetent, mediocre, or have unreasonably hard tests/homeworks... they are those who demean students to the point where it can affect students' emotional well-being, not to mention hindering their learning and academic success. I've had 2 "nightmare professors" (both during the same semester!). Realistically, what could I have done except for try to learn the material on my own and write negative (and truthful) evaluations at the end of the semester. One professor made sexist jokes. Although I'm sure my college had a policy against this, any action on my part would probably have involved considerable time and energy from me, as well as potentially causing me to lose respect and credibility from my classmates and other professors, since I was 1 of only 2 female students in that class, and would probably be mocked as being overly sensitive or politically correct. However, I wouldn't be surprised if some of my male classmates found his jokes distasteful too. The other professor berated students every class and when I tried to see him at office hours offered very little help. We had no textbook in the class, and when I asked him for a book recommendation he said he couldn't think of any. Both professors were tenured and actually both are now retired, so hopefully I was one of the last to have to put up with them.
 
  • #37
Pythagorean
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Teachers should be required to have a bit more teaching education, I agree.
 
  • #38
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My prof for EM last semester was a nightmare. We were working out of Griffiths Ch 1-7. The prof used notes and slides from a different prof who taught it the previous year. I don't even think he looked at the slides before teaching. Every time he hit next we had to suffer through a bout of: 'ohh.. hmmm ok.. lets see here.... ah yes... so after some work we get to this equation... which.. well... describes this thing here that we're talking about.. and well... yes.. hmm.. no... well... yes yes oh its so simple.. just do some algebra and we get here! Go back to chapter 1 if you don't understand... next' *repeat*

I did so poorly in that class, my EM2 prof this semester is MUCH better.

edit - After reading some more of the posts here I suppose my situation is less of the nightmare you seem to be defining here. To me it was a nightmare. Despite the teaching this prof actually wasn't a bad person.
 
  • #39
mathwonk
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It is hard for me to identify with these complaints. Once in 1969 I knew a math grad student who said he was shortchanging his teaching to make time for his thesis research, but in the following 41 years I never heard of this phenomenon again. Every professor I knew in my department worked hard on his/her teaching. Almost every professor I had in college and in grad school also prepared his lectures extremely well.

I believe you, but based on my own experience, this is a rare phenomenon. That is my math experience. However I admit my first physics professor was terrible. I also had one bad French lit professor, but the other French lit professor and in history, philosophy,shakespeare, chemistry, slavic literature, 20th century novels, French language, the professors were all excellent. the psychology prof was so-so but he meant well, he just had no flair for lecturing.

but it really matters what you are looking for. there was a professor who was highly recognized and very popular at my college who had a seductive style of lecturing that suckered in the audience. His approach to lecturing on science was to present "straw men" and knock them down for the audience's benefit.

I.e. listening to this guy you came away thinking how stupid those people were that he made fun of and clever you and he were for not agreeing with them. Much later you might learn that the people whose opinions he ridiculed actually had a good case, but he hadn't presented it fairly.


This model of intellectual dishonesty was one of the most popular lecturers on campus at a top school, but to me he was an intellectual charlatan.
 
  • #40
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It is hard for me to identify with these complaints. Once in 1969 I knew a math grad student who said he was shortchanging his teaching to make time for his thesis research, but in the following 41 years I never heard of this phenomenon again. Every professor I knew in my department worked hard on his/her teaching. Almost every professor I had in college and in grad school also prepared his lectures extremely well.

I believe you, but based on my own experience, this is a rare phenomenon. That is my math experience. However I admit my first physics professor was terrible. I also had one bad French lit professor, but the other French lit professor and in history, philosophy,shakespeare, chemistry, slavic literature, 20th century novels, French language, the professors were all excellent. the psychology prof was so-so but he meant well, he just had no flair for lecturing.
I've had similar experience to you thus far. I've had bad professors because they lack capability in teaching or are perhaps monotone but almost all my professors clearly prepared extensively for class and (in all but one case) cared quite a bit about how well the students do.

I would say the first case of a professor I've had who does not prepare was this quarter in complex analysis. The professor 'seems' to just walk in and start lecturing but every once in a while he pauses and takes a look at the text book as if he doesn't know what to say next then goes off lecturing again.
 
  • #41
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I've had some poor professors, but most of my problems come with jerk graduate students. Seriously, grad student TAs can be some of the most annoying, pompous douche bags you have ever dealt with. They think they know everything (but they don't), and their only pleasure in life is making themselves feel better about how terrible they are at research by being a tool in lab.

I have had some really nasty TAs. They would yell at you if you asked a question, acted completely condescending towards any undergrad, etc. And the problem is that you have to learn how to tiptoe around their ego in order to do decent in the class. God I hate these kinds of TAs.
 
  • #42
turbo
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I had a recitation TA for Chemistry that was so bad!!! She was a cute Asian lady, and her English was so bad that she was impossible to follow unless you were brave enough to ask her to back up again and again. These recitation periods were mandatory, but they were absolute hell.
 

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