Andrew Cole

Jan 2020

Despite what the other review says, I actually really enjoyed Cole's Mechanics. He is by far the most knowledgeable professor I've ever had and seems to genuinely care about students understanding material. I think that, as he actually addressed in the first lecture, the other review comes from a misunderstanding of what he expects of you and what he is trying to accomplish. First of all, yes he does go at a blistering pace that is impossible to keep up with. This is because he expects students to review their notes diligently until it makes sense. Mechanics is a pretty large subject and he wants to get through as much material as possible. There would occasionally be make up (he would have conferences of conflicts occasionally) lectures that would somewhat turn into catch up lectures where we would cover a massive amount of material at a very high pace. He just expects you to spend at least 30 minutes each night looking over your notes and rewriting them (there were actually two assignments that involved rewriting your notes). The best thing you can do is to continually ask clarifying questions during lecture. He moves so fast that sometimes notation / convention changes mid-lecture. So if something seems out of the ordinary just ask. He knows everything. The other review clearly hated the problem sets. Although they are certainly hard and time consuming, there really aren't that many of them and they actually get you to understand the material. He isn't naive like a lot of other professors I've had and just pulls problems from online. Instead, he develops his problems so that a simplified version can be found online and then the student can use that as a jumping off point. He'll then add some change that makes the problem far more interesting and informative. His second problem set was a bit much mainly because there was a complication he hadn't expected but, as compensation, he graded it very generously. He also expects and encourages group work which is nice. I enjoyed his problem sets since they actually get you to think and apply what you're learning and they take into account both that we have internet access and will work in groups. He also talks about the difference in exams and problem sets during the first lecture. They are, as the other review says, completely different. But this isn't in a bad way. The exams are WAY easier than the problem sets (but often pull basic concepts from the problem sets). They more test if you have been paying attention and put in the work to genuinely study. He is one of the only professors I've ever had who has said "The exam will have..." and actually told the truth. If you listen to what he recommends you study, you can definitely do well on the exams and that's coming from someone who didn't do too hot on the first exam (around 15% below the mean). To the last point of the other review, I think that he can come off as frustrated when answering a question. Instead, I think he is just so intense and serious about what he is teaching that it seems that way. Rather, he just wants to give you the best possible answer and is trying to think of a way to do it as quickly as he can. Other things that the other review doesn't address. He is wildly available. Sure, there's specific times that he has office hours but if you show up to his office pretty much anytime on the day that he is holding office hours, he will answer any questions you have. That's another thing the other review didn't address. He makes himself very available so that you can identify what you don't understand when reviewing his lectures and then ask him at office hours. They're also a great help (basically necessary) when you get stuck on the homeworks. He's great at identifying what exactly you don't understand then driving it home until you get it. Cole really cares if you understand this material but expects a large amount of effort on your part. I feel like the previous review is angry that Cole didn't hold their hand and bend over backwards to explain this subject at a leisurely pace. He is incredibly helpful if you really listen to him, do as he recommends, and attend office hours every chance you get.

Apr 2015

I'm aware that almost everyone who takes this course is required to do so, but if you have any choice at all, stay far away. Take the course in another department if you can. Plan your four years at Columbia so that you never have to take this course. This was hands down one of the worst courses I've ever taken at Columbia, which is sad because the subject matter is important for anyone interested in physics or engineering. Cole goes through each lecture at such a ridiculous pace that it is actually impossible to follow what he's saying in class. Most professors, when covering difficult material, make it a point to repeat important points more than once or tie the end of their argument back to the beginning, but Cole doesn't do any of this. To emphasise this contrast, another professor once substituted for Cole and the material during that lecture was perfectly comprehensible. The only option you have left is to copy down what Cole writes on the board and try to decipher it later, which is extremely difficult if not impossible for most people to do. This brings me to the other sources of frustration in this class, homeworks and exams. Problem sets often take days to finish in groups. They are almost impossible to do alone. Worst of all, the problem sets do not actually test your understanding of the material and instead seem to be an assessment of whether you can find which textbook or website Cole has pulled the problems from so that you can search for the solutions. (Occasionally Cole writes his own problems which are even more painful to solve.) I cannot emphasise this enough: the homeworks in no way add to your understanding of the material. Anyone who has taken a physics course knows that you can't have a good grasp of the subject unless you've solved many problems and really understood how concepts can be applied to solve problems. The problem sets achieve none of this. Exams do not necessarily test the material that has been covered in class. Quite frankly, considering the amount of real learning that happens in this class, it would be a surprise if they did. You normally end up using whatever you remember from intro physics courses in an attempt to solve the problems. Cole also tends to get frustrated quickly when people ask questions and do not understand his answers. This course is a waste of tuition money and Columbia would do well to refund everybody who took it.