Waterloo, Part 1: Professors

This is the first of a series of indeterminate length (depends on my laziness, which is high), about the University of Waterloo, the Waterloo area, university life, university education, co-operative education, etc. Being in my (hopefully) last semester of university, it is time I put into words some of the infinite wisdom and experienced I have gained since the fall of 2003.

With nine semesters, albeit not a full course load in all of them, I have had quite a few different professors, teaching assistants, etc. There have been a few duplicates, but most have been unique. Obviously one would have different profs depending on subject, etc, so these comments apply to all that have taught me. The overwhelming majority have been mediocre, satisfactory-to-good. There’s nothing wrong with “good,” of course. A few have stood out, either in a positive or negative light, but I will avoid mentioning specific names of the latter.

In the fall 2006 semester I had my first and second professors who actually tried (and succeeded) at learning everyone’s name. I’d forgotten what that was like. Many of my other courses, especially in first year, were too large for name-knowing to be feasible, but I’ve also had courses with under fifteen students where the professor didn’t even try. Note that I’m not saying that knowing people’s names is important, I’m just noting the trends. These two profs were Hawthorn (biology) and Edwards (earth science). Hawthorn (on Rate My Professors) is now retired, but had an amusing streak of jokes and impressions (including accents). He was also surprisingly able to coax some good “animated” information graphics out of PowerPoint. Edwards (on Rate My Professors) was an interesting prof whom I had for Environmental Geology (climate change), making sure that we were very critical about every single thing in the few scientific papers we dissected in detail. It was fun, it is what science is, and yet I find it very much lacking in university. Edwards also treats students as friends, more on the same level than any other prof I’ve had.

Beyond them, the three profs which stand out (positively) are Bodell (economics), Morgan (earth science), and Semple (biology). Bodell (on Rate My Professors), also retired, was my prof for Economics of Natural Resources, my best course in university. The actual course content, although somewhat interesting, only took several actual lectures, spread throughout the course, and he spent the rest of the time on more important and interesting topics, such as the history of Middle Eastern oil, his own experiences working for governments, and even how to lecture, why MBAs are a waste of time, and University of Waterloo administration (I’ll write more about that eventually).

Morgan (on Rate My Professors) is quite a character. I know he had a larger website, but I can’t seem to find it; at any rate there is a brief biography from the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences. He’s had plenty of experiences over the years and his slides are essentially a subset of photos he’s taken. I think he overheard me saying to classmates just before our palaeontology midterm that we’d probably fare better if the questions were about his life instead. Beyond the slides, the course “textbooks” are also all his own work, and done well. He definitely makes class interesting, and his “method number X of dying in earth sciences” series is always amusing. Contributor to everything, I really like his idea for the Geo Time Trail in Waterloo (where each kilometre represents one billion years of earth history), now partially completed.

Semple (on Rate My Professors) is funny (or at least tries to be) pretty much all the time. He’s very “with it”; bringing current news (Mike Huckabee) and other things (flying spaghetti monster) into his humour is what makes the class a lot more fun. I like his attitude and cynicism. In a lab, he will talk to you about anything until you stop him. Especially if it’s about how old he is and how the world, university, biology, etc have gone downhill during his lifetime. I find it amusing that his dried flowers are inside three-decade-old newspapers. The Flowering Plants lab notes are filled with so many well-drawn vector graphics than I can’t imagine how long they took to make. He is technoliterate, and shuns the school’s LMS ;-). I should probably check out his garden sometime.

Oh, and if anybody was expecting comments on Larry Smith, although I have heard him speak, I have never had him as a prof.

Alrighty, I have spent far too much time on this post, so any more comments on profs will come later.

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3 Responses to Waterloo, Part 1: Professors

  1. Rajesh Kumar says:

    Can’t wait for the UW administration post.

  2. Mattt says:

    Every day I dread returning to UW to finish getting my piece of paper of questionable worth.

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