For Aron: So, How Was College?

>> Monday, August 24, 2009

Aron Sora asked: Do you have any funny/interesting stories from your college days?

I do. Remembering them, of course, is easier said than done and, in my experience, what I remember fondly or as an amusing anecdote rarely translates well when I try to tell them.

There are some stories about my limited number of men/boy relationships, but I can't imagine they would be of the least interest to anyone. I have a few conversations I had regarding religion, gay rights, a few other philosophical things, but they would sound more pointed than I'd like if I related them, more like a lecture. And then there were just some weird ones.

But I guess the ones that would matter most to someone going to college would be the ones having to with grades and my lessons learned.

Like the time I missed a final in one of my early Electrical Engineering classes. My freshman year wasn't particularly challenging and, as a result, I developed some pretty bad habits, like skipping a lot of classes, particularly if I had a "buddy" in it. I did the homework (ALWAYS do the homework) and took the tests, but it was an early class and I'm not an early person. I rarely went. Which is how I missed the probable repeated reminders that the final exam was not at the time scheduled for it's class time but as a unified exam (all segments taking it at the same time) - just like it said in the syllabus. This can still work out, of course, if the unified exam takes place at a later date than the scheduled time, but, in this case, it came four days before. So, there I am, studying for a test, calling up my buddy to ask about a review question. Why do you want to know, he asks me. For the final, I tell him. Didn't you already take it? It never occurred to him to make sure I knew the right time. After all, it was in the syllabus.

Word to the wise, physics (and likely other sciences) can be pretty reasonable if you miss a final or a test or, well, most anything. In my experience, they can be pretty laid back and cool. I've seen people who slept through the final one semester, show up, in bathrobes and bunny slippers, the next semester to take the test and turn the I into a real grade. But, in the Engineering College, at least at my university, it didn't work that way. Oh, they sympathized, they really did. But I got a big fat zero on my final test. My first C in a class, in my entire life, and I loved it with all my heart because it wasn't the F I expected.

Here's the weird part. This professor, who I clearly didn't see often ('cause I skipped his class a LOT), whose final I missed and then bitched about (to no avail), he sees me walking to class. More than that, he hailed me like I was a favorite student and asked me what I was taking that semester. Then, when I told him, he told me I'd had no problem with any of those classes; they were easy for someone like me. Weird.

Then there was my FORTRAN class, which was painfully easy. Computers and I understand each other. We're both quite adept at straight line logic and speak algebra, so it was just a matter of knowing the right terminology to go with the compiler. The class was 2.5 hours Tuesdays and Thursdays and the work was simple. The teacher would put the assignment on the board and then spend 2.5 hours explaining all the tools we'd need to do the work. 'Cept they were readily available in the book, too. I'd write down the assignment, write the program (usually a dozen or so lines - quite simple), debug it. All in all, it would take me maybe 20 minutes. I didn't see any point in sticking around a class to learn what I'd already done, so I'd get up and leave, go down to the (surprise!) empty computer room (personal computers were not ubiquitous then) and input my program, run it, print it and leave. I never got less than a 96 on my homework. I got the second highest grade on the midterm and I know I aced the final (though I never saw the score). I got a B in the course. Clearly, he graded on attendance and that seemed desperately unfair. Clearly, I got it. Oh well. Flit would have likely been torqued at me too if she'd been teaching it.

Ah, and then there was my other class on Electrical Engineering. Tough class, tough subject and the teacher was notorious. I knew several students that deliberately took it as an underclassman because they expected to fail it a couple of times. Although nominally an exceptional test taker, there was something about that class, that subject that switched my brain off at test time. I did all the homework, answered well in class. Studied the subject until I knew my diagrams and review problems like the back of my hand. But, then, I'd walk into the test and, apparently, leave my brain at the door. Here's the test, with problems just like on the review questions, except they switched the direction of one diode and I'd realize I had no idea how to do it. Oh, I knew it after I left, because I'd pick up my brain on the way out and it would tell me all the things I got wrong and why. I never worked harder for a C in my life, though I managed it. I'm lucky. I know there are people who have this happen to them on every test. At least, for me, it was only one class.

I hate electrical engineering to this day.

One last word of advice. Never take classical physics and quantum physics in the same semester, since you have to unlearn one to learn the other. Just sayin'.


  • Jeff King

    Wow that was a lot... seems to have hit a cord there. Glad you graduated, sounds like you worked really hard at it.
    i never went to college, i never really tried to do anything related to learning. My school years were full of parties and drugs. Glad to see someone had their head on straight.

  • flit

    Flit wouldn't have minded at all.

    Some of the highest grades I've ever given were earned by people I saw maybe 2 or 3 times during the course.

    And my own attendance - at least at college - was no screaming hell either. Had way too much on my plate to spend time sitting in boring classes; I only went enough to get what I needed and then left. And if there wasn't anything I needed, I didn't go.

    Some profs got their knickers in a knot about it, but most were reasonable.

  • Stephanie B

    Flit, I should have known you would be one of the "cool" teachers. I actually did have a cool teacher (taught engineering math via spreadsheet and fluid mechanics) who also cared about what I learned not getting sucked up to.

  • flit

    The only ones that I harass about attendance are the ones that don't do the work, don't ~get~ it, and demand that I come in on my own time to bring them up to speed after they haven't bothered to come to class regularly.

    THOSE students - and I have run into WAY too many of them - irritate the hell out of me.

    And I won't go out of my way for them.

    I will go in on my own time to help anyone who legitimately bothers to show up and try - but the ones who don't ... uh...nope, sorry.

  • The Mother

    My favorite story was in organic chem, second semester. The notorious "wash out" course in premed, we started with a lecture hall and 200 people the first semester. Second? 24 people in a back room.

    Professor gave ESSAY tests. Here's a molecule, turn it into something else. On one test, I couldn't remember a crucial step on one problem. So I did the whole rest of the exam, and still had half an hour to spare (always been the first person out of exams--you either know it or you don't, and if you don't, guess). So I worked around the missing step and took two pages to finish it.

    Got a perfect score on the test. But here's the funny part of the story. Professor used my exam as an example of how NOT to take exams in his class--apparently, he thought I had "wasted" my time on that one question. He spent two days harping on it.

    As a student, I was a goody two shoes. I showed up even for the stupid classes where the TA read the syllabus. I just worked crosswords in the back and kept an ear out for the little things like, oh, exam dates. Stupid, according to my engineer son, but I kept my 4.0.

    And got a rude awakening when I had to actually WORK in medical school.

  • Stephanie B

    Agreed, flit. Classes I struggled with, I was there every time.

    The Mother, I had wonderful study habits in high school, except I never had to do homework (I'm another quick worker). The first year in college was easy and, with freedom I'd never had, I got some bad habits about attendance. Not a smart move, in general. It should be noted (though I ended up with three C's), I was still the highest ranking student in Engineering Physics all four years and I'm the only one (of only five EPhys grads) to do it in four years. But I did break my 4.0. I have to admit, by the second year, I was breaking a sweat in more than one class.

    It should also be noted, and I have no idea why, with the possible exception of my FORTRAN teacher, my teachers, even the sucky ones, thought I was great. It's a mystery for me even today.

  • Aron Sora

    Your FORTRAN sounds like my Gateway class. Which I like to call "All the Parts of Engineering that Suck 101". We get to learn how to work in a team, go to meetings and survive, meet with clients, file reports, program and all the other unglamorous stuff that engineers do.

    Yes, there are lectures on this stuff.

    Read these reviews of the class,

    it's the same. It really is. But I will go to each class because I hear to professor has epic stories.

    I'm going to program my syllabus into Google calender then, as soon as I get it. And set my phone to ring to day before a test...

    Thanks for the great stories, I really needed them.

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