Alexei Onatski

May 2010

I took Econometrics with Professor Onatski in the fall 2009 semester. While I found many of Onatski’s examples to be interesting and helpful (if a little morbid….child mortality and GDP, suicide rates and GDP, etc.), I didn’t think he was particularly clear in getting major concepts across. Problem sets were pretty challenging (although many of the answers can be found online if you do a little digging…), and my class notes were too jumbled and confusing to be much help. In the end I was able to pull of an A- but ONLY because I took the time post-midterm to read, re-read, underline, highlight, and annotate the Stock and Watson textbook, which is surprisingly clear and well-written. I went to lectures anyway, but this might not be a good professor for you if you’re not able to teach yourself out of a textbook.

Jun 2009

Professor Onatski's class has been a mixed exprience for. On one hand, I really like him because of the unconventional examples he gave in class, which made the models memorable; on the other hand, the book adopted by the econ department is way too abstract, and perhaps simple for Onatski's taste. I think it would have helped tremendously if we had another textbook that better suited Onatski's style, which requires a thorough understanding of the underlying mechanism, and the ability to apply theory in un-farmiliar situations. Onatski's problem sets come straight out of the textbook. But as the textbook is hard to grasp, it can take hours for your to solve the problems correctly on your own. I feel that I need to read the textbook for at least 4 to 5 times to appreciate the link between the theory it presents and the application to problem sets. It certainly would have helped if we had more practice problems to solve. The difficulty I experienced in the class can be largely attributed to my lack of statistical background. I am a sophomore and took Micro (Elmes), Macro (Reis), Stats 1211, and a bunch of finance classes (which are irrelevant in this case), and have gained "A"s in all of the classes. It took me lots of time at the beginning of the class to get comfortable with maneuvering with statistics problems. I would recommend my friends to (1) really learn stats in W1211, despite a sure "A" in most cases (2) take more advanced stats classes before attempting this class. For the mid-term, I boarderlined on B+ and A-; I spent almost 50% of my study time post-mid term to read over the textbook and really think about what's going on with those models. It paid off well, and I got an A for the class, despite the feelings that I've failed the class after final. Professor Onatski, unlike many professors in the department, does not make his test like the samples or homework; this really pushes students to understand the material. Even though I had a hard time with this class, I now appreciate his approach to the class more because I actually begin to understand what econometrics is about. P.S. Due to class conflicts, I never went to the TA's office hour, which is at 9am on Friday. It might have helped a lot if I did attend one ot those section. But the TAs are nice and post everything online before exams.

Nov 2004

Contrary to rumors, this class wasn't bad at all. Lectures were very interesting: he often used real-world examples to illustrate his arguments. Sometimes he would go overboard with the math, but only for lectures--you didn't need to know the advanced material for problem sets or for the exam. In general, the math was really, really simple--straight out of calculus. I had a good time in this course--Prof. Onatski explains concepts very well, and makes a sincere effort to answer students' questions.

Jun 2004

Just to keep it simple, Professor Onatski is not good at conveying the material. His class is boring, and centered completely around intricate mathematical manipulations. The book is ok, so you can read it without going to class and will be fine. There is no need to go to class because you wont learn anything anyway and will eventually have to read the book. The TAs are useless as well. Problems sets are straight out of the book, and altogether pointless.

May 2004

I have to disagree with a number of things the previous reviewer writes. First and foremost, Alexei is a nice guy but he does not care about the students one bit. If he did, in my opinion he might have taught something of value in his lecture. Maybe I'm not smart enough for this class--which I can readily accept--but I learned nothing in lecture and was not able to gain anything significant from the book either. I don't know where the last guy heard that Macro is an easy A; I've never heard that in my life! The added handicap of Alexei being a non-teacher did not help matters at all. The only way to do well in this class is a. to have a good background in the subject from the get-go; b. be naturally inclined to learning difficult concepts (the SEAS and science majors must have thought this class was pish tosh, easy breezy); or c. be able to memorize the book front to back. I cannot stress enough that this material is too difficult to learn on one's own. I learned very little in this class, although I gave it a chance til the very end; I showed up to every lecture and recitation--although I stopped going to recitation after I studied 5 days for the midterm, got a C, and realized Onatski is not interested in people like me, who are willing to work hard to understand but just can't because the man doesn't explain anything. His lectures are in fact derivations and proofs, which you'll never need to know and only serve to confuse you more. I'm warning you--unless you already know what's up, don't take this class thinking you'll learn macroeconomics because i guarantee that you won't!

May 2004

Onatski is a really nice guy, and his class can be entertaining at times. He really cares about his students, and he definitely knows what he's talking about. That said, rumors that macro would be an easy A seemed totally inacurate. Truthfully, lecture was a waste of time. He seemed to dance around complicated derivations or incredibly superficial experimental data. Problem sets were a pain, and problems in general were so difficult because he never gave us any examples to work off of in the class! TA's just went over homework problems, but it would have been nice if the basics in problem solving were actually explained, because it would have saved me a lot of time! Furthermore, and this is probably more the TA's fault, but NO partial credit was given on the midterm, and probably wont' be given on the final exam. This was VERY frustrating especially when there were questions that relied on previous parts! In all, it was a frustrating class because I never knew what was going on, even tho I went to every lecture. There's barely any math in this class btw, only simple geometric series and maybe a couple of derivatives. Macro seemed easy once I learned the stuff on my own... but yeah. Lecture tended to be a waste of time.

Dec 2003

While I would agree with previous reviews that Prof. Onatski teaches a heavily math-based class, his class his certainly not a math gulag like one of the reviews suggests. I only took one math class at Columbia (IIA) before taking macro, and I did lousy in it. Nonetheless, I managed Onatski's class with an A (even though I was convinced I had failed the final before I got my grade). While I am not the biggest fan of math or macro, I would still highly recommend Prof. Onatski. He's entertaining, thoughtful, and will always leave you with another speculative scheme with which you can cheat the world! I am now approaching my final in Micro, though, and I can honestly say that Onatski's class makes this one seem like cake. But you'll learn from it (if not from the incompetent TAs).

Oct 2003

Alexi can be cruel. If you answer a question and are not correct, he will let the class know it. He studied mathematics in Moscow University, the boot camp of math. That is why his tests are so heavily math based. He won third place in a Soviet Mathematical Olympiad at the age of 13! If you are great at math, you will do well. If you are not, you will get a C-. I got a B and I have gotten successive A's semester after semester in Columbia math classes.

Aug 2003

Alexei is a funny guy, full of stories like why buying Big Macs in America and selling them in Russia wouldn't work, and also sage advice such as maintain your TVs so they don't depreciate. Seriously, though, Alexei is a good lecturer. He gets through the materials in class, and if his clear explanations and notes on the board aren't enough, he'll stay after to help you through it. He doesn't stray far (or at all) from the text, and his tests are also pretty much taken from the text. He tends to emphasize the quantitative (or at least mathematical) side of economics, but he also makes a point of explaining the qualitative reasons behind The Way Things Are. Lectures sometimes run a bit slow, but overall very helpful. I don't know about the other TA, but the one I got spent the whole recitation going over problems and getting into math that we really didn't need. Not helpful.