Andrew Gelman

Jan 2011

(I don't think Andrew is teaching this semester, but Val is. She was on his team last semester and is great, you should take her class.) Having had a beast of a Stat teacher in high school (I'm talking about you Mrs. Campbell you ogre, wherever you are!) who I literally learned ZERO from, I was not looking forward to having to take Statistics. At all. To the reviewer below I say the following: the first day of class Andrew told us he would be teaching the class in a different way to the other sections, and that if you wanted a more traditional approach to Stat (in a class that would not be using R) then you should switch to any another section. So, perhaps you should have switched to another section then? I decided to stick with Gelman's class, and am glad that I did! (By the way, I have no computer programming experience whatsoever, and absolutely loathe math.) Andrew, along with Val (who was a HUGE help with the class), Vince the TA, and Daniel the R programming guru, taught statistics in a way that illuminated why the subject is in fact important and exciting as well. Yes the weekly homework assignments sometimes took a long time. Yes the book wasn't always as clear as it could be. But, we were told from the beginning that Andrew was in the process of writing a new book, and that would be the "textbook" that we would use. So, all students knew that the book/class was a work in progress and some kinks might need to be ironed out along the way. Also, in general the R-code could be copied/slightly modified from examples in lecture for the homework. And the Stat team encouraged doing the R portions of the homework in this way. As far as workload is concerned, especially in comparison with other Science/Math classes, the workload was totally doable. And, the whole Stat team were ALWAYS available to help work through homeworks/questions about the material. That's more than I can say about other classes. The key to being successful in Andrew's class was attending recitation with Val. Within the course of an hour she would breakdown seemingly impenetrable concepts into straightforward formulas, ideas, etc. Andrew really seems to care about his students, and its hard not to enjoy a class where the professor says things like "noise is the data's way of getting jiggy" on a regular basis. If you just want an easy A without much thought, then perhaps you should take another Statistics section.If you'd like to be in an entry level class where you can participate, where the professor values your ideas and takes criticism into account, where you can ALWAYS find someone to help you with the material when you're stuck, and where you'll actually learn something, then take this class. You know, if more professors (I'm looking at you Calculus professors!) quoted Will Smith raps on a regular basis, perhaps Columbia's math classes might be a little more bearable...

Jan 2011

THE HORROR, THE HORROR… Abandon all hope ye who enter here, for ye will feel like Sisyphus, continually rolling a rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down. At least Sisyphus though was being punished for what he did. This is more like Kafka. Watch! Just watch! as you are metamorphosed from the primarily positive person into an angry bridge troll, lacking sleep while kicking people in the shins for HAVING THE GALL to smile. In this class, you will learn the fine line that can often exist between tragedy and comedy…you will start to laugh if only to keep from crying. But enough with might seem to the uninitiated like hyperbole, but so very very unfortunately isn’t. It is not as if Mr. Gelman does not know the material, or even doesn’t care (though complaints fall on deaf ears). No. He is just teaching the class wrong. It is not as if the material is difficult—it’s rather that I could learn far better with an Idiot’s Guide to Statistics than with his manner of teaching. His lectures will take a simple concept, and in the interest of making it simpler by providing illustrative examples, actually ends up twisting the material into an unrecognizable glop, leaving you scrambling to ask your friends “What was this class about….?” He once made an analogy that learning statistics is like learning a language, where you learn individual phrases and eventually put the rules together. I wanted to scream. NO, actually, that’s not your job. We should learn the rules in a straightforward way and how to apply them. THAT’S your job. That’s how you should teach. And BEWARE, those who think they are taking simply a statistics class, for it is also half a computer science class. Didn’t tell you that in the class description now did they? Yep. You will be learning R! A cruel and unusual form of torture masquerading as computer software! This is necessary to do the homework. You will spend your weekends trying to write intense code that you have been given only the slightest clue of how to write all for a meager few points, points that add up though. Also, no partial credit. It’s okay though, you can go to office hours. All the way in the social work building. At 1 pm on a Monday. YEAH. If you were like me, you missed out on an opportunity to be GIVEN the answers directly, cuz you got shit to do yo! My time ain’t free! Regarding the positive review….I don’t know, I really don’t. I read it thinking, what??? How??? At least know I’ve talked with many in the class and have never heard positive comments about the class. Maybe it’s my habit of talking to non-masochists, I guess. I can barely go on…I may be a healthy 20 year old, but I fear my blood pressure when talking about this class. In summary, this would be the level of hell if your sin were having excessive joy in your life. “BAHHAHAH YOU LIKE JOY DO YA!?! WELL ENJOY INTRODUCTION TO STATISTICS WITH ANDREW GELMAN!!! MWAHHAHHA!!!”, said the demon.

Dec 2010

Great professor in a course that has a lot of potential for boring-ness. Gelman taught the whole year from his own free textbook that he is writing to compete with "normal" textbooks, which he thinks are overpriced. The material was pretty standard...surveys, standard deviations, confidence intervals, probability, but Prof. Gelman was extremely good at breaking the fourth wall and getting the class involved with engaging and creative activities (the first day of class he filled a bucket full of ping pong balls with everyones' names on them and randomly called out people to answer). There was a lot of work, much of it using R, an open-source statistics program, although it was not nearly as difficult as Stat B sounds...more like busy work. Bottom line is that Gelman is hilarious, engaging, and you will not regret taking this class.

Nov 2006

I've taken a bunch of statistics classes at the 4000 level and this is the best. Gelman is the best teacher I've encountered at Columbia. He makes enjoyable what could be a truly dry subject. He runs the class with ease and confidence, answering questions with informative digressions and performing calculations on the fly (and showing you how to do these things quickly in your head). It's a very interactive class, without the "fourth wall" that most professors hide behind. You will probably find yourself fully engaged in the class and you might actually enjoy it -- something you probably don't expect from a stats class. There is plenty of work in this class: homework every week, plus 5 minute quizzes at the beginning of most classes to make sure you've actually done the reading, and 10-minute quizzes once a week. Gelman uses his own textbook (not quite yet published), a very handy book with lots of practical tips on how to use statistics, including R code. He also supplies students with a detailed outline for the entire course at the beginning of the semester, so you don't have to spend so much time taking notes during class.

Mar 2003

I really enjoyed going to this class. Prof Gelman isn't an excellent teacher, but that was ok. He didn't really teach the material so much as do examples that were kinda hard to follow. But I was never stressed about going to this class. We had a costume contest on Halloween and he gave out the Halloween soundtrack as a prize. We also did stuff like guess how much candy is in the bag. This class was pretty open and everybody always talked.

Nov 2001

Gelman is the best of a bad group of professors that always teach Stats 1111. He designed the course and knows everything he needs to know about statistics, but he is not a very good teacher, not that responsive to questions, and generally gives most work to the TA's. If there is another section for your course where you know the professor is good, take that professor over Gelman. If you have no idea, than Gelman is a good safety, but not the best professor.