Student Feedback

Princeton University FRS145/149: Earth's Changing Surface & Climate

These comments have not been edited (not even for spelling), although only a selection appears.


Every paragraph below is an individual student's answer to the question: "Comment on the amount of writing and the pacing of the assignments. Did you receive helpful criticism? Do you believe that the seminar improved your writing skills?".

Lots of writing, OK feedback. I think my writing (at least in the sense of writing a scientific paper) has improved. Actually, I didn't really even know how to write a scientific paper before this class.
Three papers amounted to nearly the same amount of work as a writing seminar, but the workload was definitely reasonable. The professors gave long and detailed comments and feedback for our papers, showing that they really cared about our work and our improvement.
I thought the amount of writing was manageable, and both professors provided extremely detailed feedback not just about scientific content but about general writing mechanics. I learned to be a much more careful, thorough writer and to always be specific with any claims I make.
We completed a large amount of writing, and I received plenty of helpful criticism and look forward to further improving my scientific writing.
Ah, there was considerably more writing. In fact, I dedicated more time to the writing in this class than I did to any other part of any other course. There were three major essays, and they each required many hours of research and writing. Later papers required data processing which also took a long time. However, the result of this is that I now feel like I know how to write a scientific paper. I had never really read a journal article before and was often confused at its prominence in source-citing guides. Now I understand the flow of information in the scientific community, and I even feel like I'm a part of it, having written a scientific paper of my own (despite the fact that it isn't being published, of course).
Yes, I received helpful criticism on the writing assignment that I turned in. I don't believe the seminar improved my writing skills, but that is at the fault of myself, not the professors. They have published many papers, and are definitely authoritative resources for scientific writing. Again, if you work hard, you'll get something out of it.

Every paragraph below is an individual student's answer to the question: "Please comment on in-class and out-of-class assignments, hands-on activities, trips, and other kinds of special opportunities, and describe how important they were to the Freshman Seminar".

The California trip was quite amazing. Sure, it was tiring because of all the field work we did every day, but it was nice to be together as a 16-student group 24/7 for a week. Analysis of the data afterward was a lot of work.
The California trip was absolutely essential to developing my interest in the course. It helped me understand why the material I was learning in class was so important, and it provided the motivation for me to understand the course material better.
The trip to California was the culmination of everything we had learned in the first half of the class! Not only were we able to see for our own eyes things we had only read about or had seen in pictures, but we were also able to apply the techniques we learned through labs.
The trip to California was an amazing experience and was, I think, the most important part of this seminar. Had it not been for this trip, a lot of the information and skills we learned would have seemed completely irrelevant and dull. We also had the invaluable experience of talking to our professors about everything, both geology related and not.
The field trip was basically the highlight of my year so far and single-handedly made the work I put into the class worth it. Not only did I learn about various geologic facts that I could see with my own eyes, I also learned what it felt like to be a scientist, conducting original research in the field and processing and reporting on it. The work that our group had to do after the trip was tiring and long, but it was extremely satisfying to see the results we got match up with our hypotheses and know that it was our effort that generated that data. It really makes me look at data differently, knowing that behind every chart there is a story of the scientists who calculated it. I look forward to more work like this during the rest of college.
The fall break trip to the Sierra Nevadas was a great experience for any geology enthusiast. It was well-planned, the professors were in their element, and students do some cool hands-on projects. Definitely memorable. The class then culminated in a final group project, which was a lot of work but allowed us to present some fascinating data. Assignments often involved going around campus and doing hands-on things. I'd definitely say out-of-class activities were vitally important to the experience of the seminar.


Every paragraph below is an individual student's answer to the question: "Comment on the amount of writing and the pacing of the assignments. Did you receive helpful criticism? Do you believe that the seminar improved your writing skills?".

Especially compared to other freshman seminars, there was a very large workload of assignments and laboratories. The expectations for graded work were very high, making it nearly impossible to earn full marks. However, the criticism was helpful and my scientific writing did improve.
My self esteem is far worse off, but my science-writing skills and understanding of the process have improved beyond recognition.
It was my first time writing a scientific paper, and the first time I had to do research to find evidence to back-up a scientific argument. It was NOT easy. It was definitely very challenging and time-consuming as I had to first understand what the papers were saying, and try and figure out the terminology being used. And then use those pieces of evidence in my paper. Yes I think it did improve my writing skills because Adam and Frederik are both geoscientists and linguists, and are very precise and demanding on word choice. As we can tell from their exercises with the abstracts in class. :) I learned to be specific, concise, clear and distinct. Or at least I learned that I had to try to do so, even if I still fail at times.
The assignments were well planned and appropriately challenging. With other difficult classes, the work load was not light. The criticism was extremely helpful and I think my scientific writing skills were improved.
There are writing assignments (labs or papers) due about every other week, sometimes more often. They really teach one to focus on one's writing, as well as forcing one to develop and explore new ideas.

Every paragraph below is an individual student's answer to the question: "Please comment on in-class and out-of-class assignments, hands-on activities, trips, and other kinds of special opportunities, and describe how important they were to the Freshman Seminar".

The California trip was really cool, and the projects we did on the California field work were also pretty interesting. It was very important to the seminar. The Catskills trip was also good, and helped prep us for California.
The trip to California was a lot of fun, and I felt that our research projects were by far the most interesting and relevant assignment we had. I wish we had concentrated more on field work.
All those difficult, time-consuming labs built-up to the California trip itself where the skills we learned were finally applied! I felt more confident on the trip than before, and I am happy about that. I really enjoyed sketching the things we saw along the way, and I cherish my yellow notebook dearly. I would love to have it back soon, especially since it is riddled with battle scars and sand from California.
The California trip was amazing, it was fun getting to know the professors that well, and it was great hands-on experience.
They were excellent and fit in very well. The highlight was the California research project.
Trips and are a huge part of this class. Much of the second part of the semester is based on the trip to California. The California trip is very intense but equally interesting. One can easily learn as much from the field trip as from the whole first half of the semester.
the California trip was thoroughly enjoyable and enabled everyone in the class to know each other better. the out of class assignments were challenging but not impossible.

Every paragraph below is an individual student's answer to the question: "In thinking about the overall quality of the course, please comment on what you got out of the course. What did the instructor do particularly well, and in what ways might the course be improved?".

Taking the course was definitely a good decision, giving me a nice introduction to geosciences. However, it was on the difficult side and expectations were consistently high. Overall, I would recommend this course to any science-oriented peers.
I'm tempted to say make it less intense, but you know what, if it weren't as intense I would not have gotten out of it what I did. So honestly, I'm not sure. Do make a point to warn the poor children from the beginning that they will be living, eating, sleeping, breathing rocks for the next semester.
First, thank yous and thoughts about the professors. Adam is an inspiration! His dedication and passion for the subject is amazing. He is a walking encyclopaedia and is always willing to share knowledge. He is always available for help via e-mail or by meeting up, and he is also a joy to talk to on long road trips. Frederik too, is a less cynical House-like (hence funny) companion on a road trip. Frederik's help to the tree team was amazing. And also in general, his Matlab genius gives him a glowing aura of computer-awesomeness. I enjoyed talking to Prof. Phinney throughout the California trip. He would point out interesting things along the away to the stragglers behind and share his immense experience and insight as well. This course is excellent, very hard but worth every ounce of strain. :) As every student would, I would ask that the pace of the course be brought down a bit, but that would take something out of the experience no? Maybe 100 trees is not necessary? Maybe 50 trees would be enough? But then again, this 100 tree thing IS a rite of passage. :) So let's stick with it.
Was not necessarily interested in all the material (liked the quantitative stuff and geophysics), but still enjoyed the class. Particularly liked the group research project and final paper. I think some people may not be ready not necessarily for the content, but high expectations. The helpfulness of the professors was unmatched by any course I took this fall.

Various other comments (also from the Student Course Guide)

This is a wonderfully unique course taught by amazing professors. Be prepared, it is a lot of work, but I found the work necessary in order to get the full benefit out of the trip to California.
All three professors are highly knowledgeable, which may be intimidating superficially, but they are equally compassionate as they are astute. They demonstrate their sincere interest in the students' welfare by offering and giving time far beyond their duty. The professor's professional standards encourage reevaluating your own academic standards and elevating the quality of your work to a new plateau. The course is worthwhile if only for the possibility of personal growth, but the trip is also certainly an opportunity that is hard to come by.
The professors are amazingly energetic, helpful, and really good at hiking (you will find it during the field trip).
Although the professors are fascinating, enthusiastic and definitely qualified teachers, their expectations are incredibly high. They're very charismatic and willing to explain things if you ask them specifically. They will also put forth a lot of effort to help you if you express concern.
I really enjoyed the class. It was far more intensive than I had expected it would be, but I appreciated the drive and enthusiasm the teachers showed for both the class and the subject, particularly Prof. Maloof. Frederik is a brilliant guy, high expectations. He will work with you if you ask for help.
I absolutely loved Frederik and Adam. They make a great pair, and complement each other nicely. They are both extremely knowledgeable, while there are definitely things I'd ask one over the other. Adam's like an extremely accessible and personable encyclopedia. I loved the van rides through California with him. Frederik...well... how can one put Frederik in words?
Frederik was one of my most interesting teachers this semester. He presented the material thoroughly and stimulatingly, but perhaps most importantly, the conversations I've had with him outside of lecture were really stellar. Frederik's powerpoints were like geoscience wisdom distilled into pill-size portions.
The professors are amazing in the sense that they put in effort far beyond what any teacher has ever done for my classes. Adam responds to his email within 20 minutes if it's a decent hour. Frederik, Adam and Bob graciously let students discuss, complain and verbally brainstorm ideas with them. They are teachers in every sense of the word.
The field trip, which was central to the course, was one of the coolest field-work experiences I've had. Not only do you get to do all the fun things associated with geology, like climbing rocks, seeing beautiful landscapes, and finding fossils, but you have a unique opportunity, not only to get to know your classmates, but to come to know your professors very well. During that trip, I can actually say that I became friends with my professors, to a degree that none of my other courses so far at college have approached. And, again, the trip in and of itself was amazing. So, it's a trade-off: This is a very demanding course, with expectations that at times seem much too high for a freshman seminar. However, it also offers the incoming freshmen who take it, not only a very engaging introduction to geology and field-work, but a chance to get to know your professors as people, not just the guys at the other end of the pointer in lecture or the ones responsible for all the red marks on your papers. So, you should take the course if you're up to the challenge, and if you are, be prepared for a great experience. The trip was one of the best weeks of my life - hands down. It was very informative and intense, but I feel that an immersion in this type of subject is probably the most engaging way to learn about it. Without the trip, I feel like I would have still learned a lot from the trip field trips around the campus and readings, but it wouldn't have made such a lasting impression on me.
The trip to California was probably the most memorably experience of my first semester.
This course is not for the weak or faint of heart. This statement also applies to the trip to California, which was nonetheless very valuable to the class on the whole. Please don't take this class if you're looking for an easy time, or for a free trip to California.
The trip was amazing and i would not miss it for anything. But as i said before it turned out to be way tougher than what we imagined. May be Adam's expectations are too high, may be the class is too lazy and pampered, but its probably a mixture of both. Frederick and Bob were also very helpful during the trip in providing both emotional and technical support at times of distress and Adam was amazing but it was difficult to keep up with him.
he trip was one of a small handful of great science field-work experiences in which I have ever participated. It was interesting and fun, and it seemed like every day was replete with new experiences and techniques for understanding understanding natural phenomena.
The trip was EXTREMELY important to the seminar. I feel like the majority of information I learned during the class was learned during the trip. It also made something as uninteresting as a rock come alive. We could see events unfold before us, and with the expertise of Adam and Frederik, we could see how a simple rock at our feet told us so much about the landscape we were looking at.
The trip during fall break was absolutely amazing. The daily activities were well planned and a lot of fun. I really enjoyed getting to know my classmates and professors in such an incredible place.
This is not a freshman seminar to take as an easy class, it could easily be one of your most demanding. If you like any aspect of geology and want to meet some cool professors who know their stuff, or don't mind doing a lot of individual work for hard graders so you can learn something and go on a sweet trip and spend time outdoors in a beautiful place, you should take this class.
If you are interested in Geosciences, it's definitely a good choice to take the course, as you will get opportunities to do research on your own and to get helpful feedback. If you are not however, it may seem hard most of the time and even the field trip will not be as easy/relaxing as you may think.
The trip to California was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Being able to take the knowledge that I learned in class and apply it to my own research project in California truly made the class unique. My professors are some of the most enthusiastic and energetic people that I have met so far and made the class a lot of fun.
I learned a lot more about rocks and trees and other geological stuff. I think one of the coolest things was when I went back home for break, I could tell my parents what kind minerals were in the granite table at this restaurant.
You will learn a lot in this course. The trip to California is unbelievable in the best ways possible. You will have the opportunity to view things that you would never have seen or known to look for otherwise.
This isn't an intro geology course - it doesn't give you a broad, general knowledge of geology. However it does give insight into some more specific topics within the geoscience field. The field trip is incredible, the professors are passionate and incredibly knowledgeable, and the subject matter is interesting. The expectations in this course are very high, so it can be quite challenging especially if you aren't a "math/science" person. That being said it is completely doable if you put the time in and in my opinion very worthwhile and fun.
I think a lot of people weren't ready for the work load, but if you're willing to do some reading and get interested in the subject, then this course was awesome. Personally, it was my favorite course this semester, and was a great introduction to Princeton academics (mostly thanks to the openness, knowledge, and plain awesomeness of Adam and Frederik).
I enjoyed writing all 3 papers. They provided us a lot of room to choose to investigate something we were interested in. The criticism and comments were very rich. I believe that the writing assignments did improve my writing skills. The hands on stuff (lab, campus rock examination, trip) were crucial to understanding the material. These really defined the course and made it interesting.
I did not anticipate the amount of individual work required for and high expectations regarding homework assignments, but I also did not find the professors standards to be ridiculous. I was not used to such a demand for quality work and first found it daunting but then realized that the sooner I understand what it means to do meaningful work the better.
...sometimes, it seemed like we were given an assignment without much of a start and spent more time attempting to figure out logistics or what the assignment was asking than we did [completing] the assignment itself. That aside, and perhaps partially because of that, this is my favorite class by far this semester. I felt very invested in every assignment I was doing and enjoyed (most of the time) the intensity of the course.
Although the course was a lot of work I found that we had adequate time to work on assignments. The criticism on early assignments taught me how to change and improve my writing for the later assignments. Having either to carefully document a number of the minerals found on campus, to properly calibrate a home-made density lab, or to master a totally bewildering computer program every week ate up a lot of time, but the in-depth nature of the assignments made them much more interesting and hands-on.
The professors prepared clear presentations and gave ample explanations and examples. The amount of reading was very good - short enough, concise, and rich with information. Student participation was an integral part of the class discussions throughout the term. Professors were interested in student opinions and the class managed to sustain its highly interactive discussions through debating various papers focusing on a multitude of geological aspects.
I think the amount and pacing of the writing assignments was perfect. Especially the way they built upon each other. I really felt prepared for the final paper. I know that the seminar improved my writing skills, at least in this genre of writing. I've never written a science article before, and it was awesome!
I feel like the assignments were very helpful, and very important. They got us thinking about science like a scientist. I learned quite a bit about statistical analysis, rocks, and analyzing data in general. I think the hands-on areas with guidance from the professors were really helpful.
I thought the amount of reading was good for the class. I usually found the selections interesting, and I enjoyed how sometimes we would read multiple articles on the same topic so we could approach the topic at different levels. Some articles went more in depth and others spoke to a more general audience which allowed you to understand the overall topic without necessarily getting all the detail in the more in depth articles.
The content was interesting, even for someone who does not intend to study geology. The professors' presentation of the material was usually engaging and stimulating. Sometimes topics covered in class were over our heads and the pace of the course was fast. Be ready to work. Tons of great feedback on papers and other assignments. This course was interesting and, worth the extra effort.
If you take the time to really read up on the topics and make sure you understand what you're writing about, then the papers aren't that bad. We were always given ample time to complete the assignments, and while they were often vague (especially the labs), the professors were always willing to help, and make the process much easier.
I would definitely recommend this course to anyone who is considering it. While it's not a walk in the park, I rather enjoyed the open-ended nature of the writing assignments and the class. I definitely don't have an in-depth knowledge of geology after taking this course, but the professors presented the material in a very engaging way and really showed the inter- connectedness of geoscience and many other disciplines.
If you are not interested in geology or you want to take a freshman seminar as an easy class, I strongly recommend NOT taking this course. However, if you are interested in the material or simply want to learn something new, this is an excellent course to take. Be prepared to put forth efforts better than your best. Pay close attention to every reading assignment, and take notes, because everything ties together. The professors will give you comments that help better the next assignments.
At the conclusion of the class, I found geology to be a really compelling subject, and I had gained a rudimentary basis for pursuing that interest.

Frederik Simons
Last modified: Wed May 16 13:56:09 EDT 2012