August 15, 2003

The Other Side of the Hill

Phu K. Dui, Berkeley Economics major, tries to get into classes he would like to take:

From the Files of Phu: Adding classes in Berkeley must be the most stressful situations I go through. I feel like I'm gonna have a coronary heart attack any minute. There's just too many people and not enough classes offered at Berkeley. Even though I'm in the econ program and it's suppose to be easier to add the lecture class, I can't add the lecture class if the section class is full. Like I really need the section classes. More often than not, it's taught by some Graduate student who could care less and are heardly audible through their thick accent. Last semester, I shouldn't have gone to 2 out of 3 of my sections. What an utter waste of time, those TA's were. They did not offer any insight onto the course material. In fact they were actually hazardous as one of them taught wrong material. Other times, they just try to regurgitate facts that were not as polished as that presented earlier in lecture.

Anyways, I imagine my situation for the fall semester is better off than some people. It certainly is a lot better for me now than it was last semester. But still, there needs to be more classes and less non-fluent english speaking TAs.

What I made out for Fall '03:

  • Econ 119 - Pyschology and Economics
  • Econ 121 - Industrial Organization and Public Policy
  • Econ 136 - Financial Economics
  • "Alls I knows" is I better get LS 147 - Law and Economics that I'm waitlisted for. Otherwise, watch my heart f*****' explode.

Koszegi, Woroch, Craine, and (for LS 147) Sunding... sounds to me like a good outcome (for lectures at least). But (a) it's a big hassle for the student, and (b) Mr. Dui has been lucky and has a substantial edge in the system because he is a declared Economics major.

Posted by DeLong at August 15, 2003 02:04 PM | TrackBack

Comments

TAs that don't actually speak english was probably the most irritating thing about going to a large school (so I left and went to a small school). I don't understand why the TA can't go to a good english speaker and give an RA to the non-english speaking folks.

Posted by: Gideon S on August 15, 2003 03:16 PM

Why reward the grad students who can't speak english?

Far more irritating: a lot of students in the popular classes will withdraw (and many expect to even before the semester starts.) Why oh why is the final "add" date earlier than the "drop" date?

Posted by: Gray Calhoun on August 15, 2003 04:04 PM

Hey cool! Phu and I can bitch about Berkeley together, seeing as how we're both in gonna be in 119 and LS 147.

My four years of experience, though, has generally taught me that if you stick it out long enough, you'll get into pretty much any big lecture class you want. It's those smaller seminars and such that seem to want to kick you out right from the start.

Posted by: Walter on August 15, 2003 05:31 PM

Learning is for losers anyhow.

Posted by: Donald Luskin on August 15, 2003 06:18 PM

When I first walked into a statistics course as a TA and said, 'Hi. My name is Barry, and I'm your TA', a lot of students suddenly smiled. I had no clue why, until much later.

Posted by: Barry on August 16, 2003 03:40 PM

I never had much trouble getting into any course I really wanted into. I'd just talk to the Prof and instead of saying "I really need this course because it's in my major/I need it for Law School/whatever", I'd say "I've always been interested in this subject", talk to the Prof for a while about the subject and he or she would find a way to get me in.

Of course, I hardly took any classes I wasn't really interested in.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on August 17, 2003 06:55 PM

Most fun classes to take: philosophy. Nobody takes philosophy because the "ought" to take it or because they think they're getting a job out of it. Classes full of people who love the subject for itself are so much better than classes full of time servers that there is no comparison.

Posted by: Ian Welsh on August 17, 2003 07:01 PM

For having been Teaching Assistant Trainer at Berkeley, I am surprised at the bad rep Berkeley's GSI's seem to have. As a matter of experience, I taped a section from every first-time Economics TA one semester.

So, I probably saw the rawest form of Berkeley TA'ing I could see (at least in the Economics Department). Actually, I was generally positively impressed by the quality of the TA's teaching.

There were exceptions (but none really remarkable), and yes, a few (but only a few) of those TA's had an accent problem (to a degree where it could get in the way of their being clearly understood by the class). The truth is that foreigners ARE tested on their ability to speak English through standardized or Berkeley-administered tests, before they're admitted to be TA's. A few foreign grads with weaker language skills may still go through the net.

Now, the bottom line is that there is actually excess DEMAND for TA's. So, it's not like you could replace all those foreign TA's with nice sounding Barry's for everyone. You basically get who is willing to TA for a living. Ang given that most scholarships are out of reach if you aren't at least a permanent resident... well, you get the picture.

(On the other hand, for the record, the only truly nice experience I have had with Berkeley undergrads was when I TA'ed sections mostly filled with non-econ majors. Econ majors are typically, uncurious grade-obsessed lazy students, in my experience - with many notable exceptions, of course.)

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on August 18, 2003 07:51 AM

At least Berekeley's telebears has waiting lists. At the University of Toronto you have to click click click until you have obsessive compulsive disorder to see if any of your preferred courses has an opening. I spent half a day creating a program that checks every 5 minutes (with some entropy in case someone is watching) to sign up when there is room, but that's unfair to the non computer science majors (it's tricky). In the last two years I've been able to get into every course I've desired... I feel sorry for the people who spend even 10% of their summer logging in 20 times a day and still missing out on the class they want to enter. Waiting lists aren't perfect themselves but at least you can be on the beach and on a waiting list at the same time.

As for TA's I don't have any problem with them -- I only hate courses where 5-10% of credit is participation in a tutorial. It puts one at the mercy of the worst students who havent done the readings or exercises. Reciting material that everyone should already know is frustrating -- in others, asking questions is like pulling teeth; one or two people feel guilty because they ask and answer all the questions while everyone else stares into the void. But none of my TA's have been particularly bad teachers -- one was so arrogant and condescending that I dropped a course just to avoid him, but that's another story

To Ian Welsh:

I agree! But when the average mark on midterms in first and second year philosophy classes is a C (65-67%) you have to wonder how interested most people are. I'm a horrible writer and the lowest mark I've ever managed was a B+ (79%) (In Kierkegaard and Nietzsche)

Posted by: Shai on August 18, 2003 11:58 AM

At least Berekeley's telebears has waiting lists. At the University of Toronto you have to click click click until you have obsessive compulsive disorder to see if any of your preferred courses has an opening. I spent half a day creating a program that checks every 5 minutes (with some entropy in case someone is watching) to sign up when there is room, but that's unfair to the non computer science majors (it's tricky). In the last two years I've been able to get into every course I've desired... I feel sorry for the people who spend even 10% of their summer logging in 20 times a day and still missing out on the class they want to enter. Waiting lists aren't perfect themselves but at least you can be on the beach and on a waiting list at the same time.

As for TA's I don't have any problem with them -- I only hate courses where 5-10% of credit is participation in a tutorial. It puts one at the mercy of the worst students who havent done the readings or exercises. Reciting material that everyone should already know is frustrating -- in others, asking questions is like pulling teeth; one or two people feel guilty because they ask and answer all the questions while everyone else stares into the void. But none of my TA's have been particularly bad teachers -- one was so arrogant and condescending that I dropped a course just to avoid him, but that's another story

To Ian Welsh:

I agree! But when the average mark on midterms in first and second year philosophy classes is a C (65-67%) you have to wonder how interested most people are. I'm a horrible writer and the lowest mark I've ever managed was a B+ (79%) (In Kierkegaard and Nietzsche)

Posted by: Shai on August 18, 2003 12:03 PM
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