Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Know Your Audience

The professor from the statistics class I took last semester is teaching another graduate-level statistics course this semester. Last semester's course was defined by him canceling nearly a third of the class meetings, canceling the second midterm and the final exam, and having the TA do all the grading (including for the one exam we did have) while issuing everyone very high grades and no feedback. Lectures, when there were any, were recycled slide decks. At the beginning of the semester they were recycled from previous incarnations of the same course; later, they appeared to be somewhat arbitrarily selected and mostly came from conference presentations that the professor had given several years ago.

So how do I know that he is teaching another graduate-level statistics course this semester? Because he sent out a mass-email to the class from last semester advertising the course, and he included a syllabus. Based on the syllabus, this course promises to be completely insane. Included in the course description: "This new richer approach, coupled with an interactive and open architecture computational environment developed by Dr. [Professor's name] using MATLAB, will provide the practitioner, researchers, and
students with a concise, efficient, and more refined statistical data mining and knowledge discovery in studying comparative statistical inference." (I don't really think "open architecture" when I think "MATLAB." Maybe it's just the people I hang out with, but MATLAB seems to conjure up an image of "expensive and flawed software that we mock engineers for using." Or maybe I'm just biased by proxy after my coworkers spent a long time figuring out why MATLAB insisted on spawning thousands upon thousands of threads.) There are 14 topics listed on the syllabus, and even as a non-expert in statistics I can assure you that each of them would take far more than a week to cover appropriately.

According to the online registration system there are currently five students enrolled in the course.

But what I'm wondering is: Does this professor think that class went so well last semester that his former students are keen to sign up for a second semester with him? If we thought that was a good idea, wouldn't we have signed up already?

Have I mentioned that I'm taking a biology class and it is awesome? It's taught by a very gruff Russian dude, and he is hilarious. Also, he is a very good lecturer, which means that he has earned the leeway to be iconoclastic. ("Oh, I forgot to mention office hours. There are none. Do not come to my office. Some people say you should go to your professors' office hours to get to know them so that they will like you. That is bullshit.")