Monday, December 20, 2004

I'd laugh if a spammer mistook that for an email address.
Anyhoo, now that I've got all my results back (see my CV), I figure it's time to review the courses I took this year...

First Semester:

PHIL 233: Epistemology and Metaphysics - This was probably my favourite course. Though a big part of that was due to an excellent lecturer, Paul Studtmann, who has since left for America. But the content is interesting anyhow - and just as well, since it's compulsory for phil majors.

PHIL 239: History of Political Thought - This was easily my worst course - again, largely due to the lecturer. [Full disclosure: It's true that I was disappointed with my grade, as I received only an A; but I also made some of the following complaints much earlier, on my course evaluation form, before the final exam even. In my more cynical (or delusional) moments I wonder if the lecturer perhaps recognised my handwriting come marking time! Seriously though, I talked to some of my fellow classmates, and most shared my objections.]

My advice to any fellow Cantabrians who may be reading this: do not take any papers from Prof. Mark Francis. He has a very broad knowledge of historical factoids, for sure, and tells some interesting anecdotes; however, he relies too much on this to cover his unacceptable lack of depth.

I'm just a second year undergrad, but it was obvious even to me that he hadn't prepared his lectures and basically didn't know what he was talking about. Each lecture we had to sit through two hours of unstructured and largely irrelevant ramblings. If a student made the mistake of asking him something, he would pontificate for a lengthy period in response, all the while avoiding the actual question. I'm not exaggerating when I say that his lectures were a total waste of time. Frankly, I regret going to them. Come exam time, I had an exercise book full of notes which didn't say anything. I had to go to the library, find an introduction to the history of political thought, and teach myself from that instead. (The assigned text contained primary sources only, so was little help in this regard.)

There was no philosophical content to this course, the way it was taught. (Which is a pity, because it could be an interesting topic. I enjoyed writing my Rousseau essay, for example.) We didn't cover a single argument the entire semester - not even for Hobbes! When discussing Kant (in one of the shallowest lectures of the entire sorry course), the lecturer even tried to tell the class that "a priori" means "self evident". Francis is a political scientist, not a philosopher, but the course was double-coded to both departments, so one would expect at least some philosophical content. One would be disappointed.

COSC 229: Algorithms - Pretty dull. Prerequisite for the Artificial Intelligence paper (cosc 329) that I'm interested in.

Full Year:

MATH 115: Discrete Mathematics - Waste of time. I couldn't stand the boring lectures so soon stopped going to them. Still got 100% in every test/exam.

MATH 105 - Typical intro calculus and linear algebra course. Necessary, but hardly inspiring. Stopped going to lectures for this one also, to no ill effect.

Second Semester:

PHIL 251: Semantics - Really excellent course. Taken by Linguistics lecturer Kate Kearns (who I've praised before), but double-coded to philosophy. Every phil major should take this course - it covers predicate logic (incl. quantifiers), possible worlds, referential opacity, counterfactuals, and many other central philosophical topics.

MATH 308: Logic A - Disappointingly easy. This was a mixed 200- and 300-level double-coded philosophy course, with the 300-level group having some extra lectures (and an exam) on intuitionistic logic. The 200-level section was ridiculously easy; the lecturer (Jack Copeland, who I know can be really interesting) wasted far too much time plodding through tedious proofs on the board. We covered more interesting and challenging topics (e.g. Godel) in the first-year logic course! (That was taken by different people, however, and was not a prerequisite for this course. Starting from scratch again was a real bore.)

The 300-level section was much more challenging - mostly because it was taken from a mathematical perspective (by Douglas Bridges), and it took me a while to master the new notation and vocabulary. But again, I felt there was too much of a focus on carrying out mechanical proofs rather than exploring concepts. I would have loved an in-depth section contrasting the metaphysics of Platonism, Formalism and Intuitionism/Constructivism, and discussing the motivations for each. Ah well.

Update: To add a bit of balance, see my comments below, which have a more positive focus.


  1. do you think it would help if we spamed the internet with plausible but nonsense email addresses? 

    Posted by GeniusNZ

  2. Impressive CSV - pity about the 'A', it stands out like a sore thumb.

    Good to see that the Australian Maths competition is still going. It's a very good marketing ploy by Westpac. Way back in the early 80s they gave me a prize which was a bank account with some money in it and all my banking has been through them ever since.

    Discrete Maths is interesting, though maybe not at 100 level. Once you get into graphs, the four colour theorem, Ramsey theory etc it is much better. 

    Posted by Nigel Kearney

  3. Yikes. I'd hate to have you as a student. Those are some tough criticisms. 

    Posted by Jason Kuznicki

  4. Oh, but I'm a wonderful student if I like the lecturer :)

    I suppose the above post is a bit imbalanced, in that I skimmed over the really great bits (which were mostly in my metaphysics or semantics classes), and focused on the bad instead. So just let me reiterate how great Paul Studtmann and Kate Kearns were as lecturers - they were simply brilliant, I don't have any criticisms to make of them at all. Their classes were really, really enjoyable.

    Hell, I even found myself enjoying the exam for Epistemology & Metaphysics. How often does that happen?

    Also, the Logic class deserves a bit more praise than I give it there. Jack Copeland is an excellent lecturer, and explains things very clearly, etc. We had some interesting in-class discussions. And the last lecture of the year was very interesting (I discuss it here.) But I was very frustrated by how (inappropriately) simple the majority of the course was. It's a problem, and I hope they fix it for the sake of future students. (It would be so easy to fix too, if only they'd make the excellent [and more advanced!] first-year logic course a prerequisite for this later one!)

    As for the political theory course, well, there really isn't anything much positive I could say. (There were some really cute girls in the class - does that count? :p) It would be one thing if a lecturer were simply young and nervous (and perhaps a little bumbling and incompetent at that stage of their career) - I could sympathise with that. But Francis is experienced enough to know better. He's just lazy and arrogant. And his attitude towards students is terrible: other students told me they were scared to ask him a question, because he would twist it around (i.e. into a straw man) and then attack them for it. The class atmosphere was rather unpleasant because of this.

    I wouldn't normally be this harsh, you see, but Francis is so extraordinarily bad as to warrant every bit of it. 

    Posted by Richard

  5. Australian maths gave me some money too...
    But I dumped them for the asb becaue the asb had a better Uni student package. 

    Posted by GeniusNZ


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