Drooling, snoring and chem class

By Jan Creaser

Due to a horrifying swing catastrophe, the Professor and Dr. Brain are unable to join us this week for Wild University. Instead, their protégé in training has a take on university professors.

My head jerks up, drool almost escaping in a disgusting display of classroom napping. Thank God, this is one of the big Science Theatres. Hopefully, nobody noticed my lapse of attention. I glance around and spot at least three more nappers and several nodders. What’s going on here? Is winter forcing us into strange, hibernation-like sleep habits? Are we all exhausted and overworked from trying to eke out our educational existences in this last dash toward finals?


It’s much simpler than that.

Our professor is the most boring man on the planet. I’m sure he has other redeeming qualities, but he has not one lecturing bone in his body. I often feel as if I should check him for a pulse to ensure he’s not some automaton invented by the administration to lecture to large groups of unsuspecting students. How hard is it to lecture? Get up at the front, speak, leave. Lecture complete. Theoretically, a robot could do it. Right?

Wrong! Wrong! Wrong!

Lecturing is hard and requires skill. I hear so many of my peers complain about the quality of professors, but as students they don’t feel as though they have a right to criticize other than among themselves. I assume this lack of desire to inform the establishment of low quality professors is due in part to the fact that many students don’t feel they have a solid voice in this matter. Currently, our voice has been reduced to a 12- question scantron sheet that may or may not inspire change in an instructor.

We all have prof horror stories and I can sympathize with both the students and the instructors. I can only imagine how hard it must be to keep 200 people interested in the structural resonance of benzene or fascinated by the scientific method. There are many topics that appear cut-and-dry with no fun facts to spice them up. Plus, different topics interest different people. By definition, the history buff should love all history and the chemistry major should adore, without question, benzene’s quirky bond structure, shouldn’t they?

Well maybe, provided it’s not delivered in a monotone by a Mr. Rogers clone reading straight from a 4,000 page volume of Canadian history.

Remember this: “Bueller Bueller Bueller?”

Monotone speaking is the main characteristic of a boring prof. What causes the monotone, you may ask? My current theory is a serious lack

of passion. No spunk. No humor. No obvious love of one’s own subject. Without passion, how can a prof make his lectures thought-provoking and enticing?

I actually had a history prof in 1993 who read straight from a big, thick, dusty volume of history. That nightmare was my Canadian History course. Kind of hard to get all jazzed up about the FLQ crisis when you’re asleep, isn’t it? This man had a serious boring streak. On the lighter side of things, I will probably never forget an entire Math 221 lecture on why Star Trek is fundamentally wrong according to algebraic topology. True story. And it demonstrates my point. My linear algebra prof was quirky, but he loved math and because he loved it I was interested. Although, I’m still not sure what an algebraic topologist is

Where do professors learn how to lecture and is it really important for your prof to be interesting? Do profs need to fascinate us day in and day out?

Of course they do! Lecturing is not about merely providing students with masses of information to be regurgitated later. Professors are responsible for inspiring us to new levels of enlightenment, knowledge and opinion. We should want to run out and find the cure for cancer or a way to solve the Asian economic crisis. Sorry, my PhD friends, but a monotone is not going to get us there. We’re young and impressionable: Make your impression. I say that if you’re required to lecture, do it with style. It takes 10 years to get a Doctor of Philosophy. You must have something interesting to say other than simply spouting the cold, hard facts.

“Did you know that the Romans used to call mercury quicksilver and they would drink it to flush out their digestive systems in order to stay at the orgy all night long?” Solubility products are no fun, but that comment at the 25 minute mark saved that chem lecture from sending me into snoozeville.

Speaking of snoozeville, no matter how boring your topic may seem, seek out one fact of divine fascination. If you can’t find that one wonderful fact, crack a joke about it. Anything. People like humor, especially useless fact humor. We’re also morbidly curious, so if a topic is gravely serious deliver it that way. Practice and a resurgence of interest in your subject matter will make a lecture flow and prevent us from taking those annoying trips on the 9 a.m. drowsy train.

Now, before every prof who reads this runs out to see if I’m on their class list, think about your own presentation style. Did you do everything possible to make the covariance of X and Y a little less dry? Did you inspire me to run out and learn more about that jerk Cortés and his so-called explorer friend Columbus? Did you make me have no choice but to absorb, digest and analyze the info you gave me, other than to reproduce it on a midterm? Granted, it’s not easy to make all subjects exciting all the time, but at least give it the “old college try.”

Jan Creaser can be reached at jicrease@ucalgary.ca.

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