Teaching Pages of Dr. Robert J. O’Hara
After Michelangelo died, someone found in his studio a piece of paper on which he had written a note to his apprentice, in the handwriting of his old age: ‘Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time.’
These pages are intended for past and prospective students in my courses. They contain syllabi, study guides, and other information that I, in my wisdom, think it is important for you to know. Some general tips on studying appear at the bottom of the page. Should you take one of my courses if you haven’t already? As with most important questions in life, there are arguments for and arguments against.
I’m always glad to talk to students at any time about academic work or about life in general. E-mail is a reliable way of contacting me outside of class (firstname.lastname@example.org). My formal office hours each term are listed on the syllabus you receive at the first meeting of each course.
Special note: Want a chance to be famous? Then join the SETI@home project, the University of California’s search for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Middlebury College Courses
- BIOL 075 — Scientific Lives
- BIOL 195A — Genetics and Evolution (Lecture, co-taught with Dr. Jeremy Ward, wherein we learn that it is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank)
- Syllabus (pdf format)
- Week 1 packet and one-minute paper responses (pdf format)
- Week 2 packet and one-minute paper responses (pdf format)
- Week 3 packet and one-minute paper responses (pdf format)
- Week 4 packet and one-minute paper responses (pdf format)
- [Dr. Ward’s packets for weeks 5–10 are on the department website]
- Week 11–12 packet and one-minute paper responses (pdf format)
- Week 13 packet and one-minute paper responses (pdf format)
- BIOL 195W — Genetics and Evolution (Laboratory)
- BIOL 202 — Vertebrate Life (Lecture and Laboratory)
- BIOL 496 — Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology (Seminar)
- BIOL 496 — Darwin and His Critics (Seminar)
- INTD 1012 — The Collegiate Way of Living: Middlebury’s Commons in Historical Context (Seminar)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro Courses
- BIO 105 — Major Concepts of Biology: Natural History
- BIO 105L — Major Concepts of Biology (Laboratory)
- BIO 112W — Principles of Biology II (Lecture)
- BIO 112H — Principles of Biology II (Honors Program Lecture)
- BIO 112L — Principles of Biology II (Laboratory)
- BIO 370/370L — Natural History of the Vertebrates (Lecture and Laboratory)
- BIO 430 — Biological Evolution
- BIO 431 — The Biosphere
- BIO 589a — Biogeography
- BIO 589a — Darwin and His Critics
- BIO 589a — Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology
- FMS 104W — Campus Natural History (Freshman Seminar Program)
- FMS 104W — Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species (Freshman Seminar Program)
- HSS 204W — Campus Natural History (Honors Program)
- HSS 208W — History and Theory of the Historical Sciences (Honors Program)
- HSS 208W — Scientific Lives (Honors Program)
- MLS 610a — Trees of History (Master of Liberal Studies Program)
Transylvania University Course
Harvard University Courses
- Biology 7b — Introductory Biology (Laboratory)
- Biology 99hf — Evolutionary History of Birds
- Biology 145 — Biology of Birds (Laboratory)
How To Learn Stuff
Study as if you were to live for ever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learning stuff is easy, as long as you remember that it is work. Several thousand years of experience show that repetition is the most important technique for learning just about anything (repetition to the point of memorization). Here are some other things that are important.
Repetition — This is the most important factor in learning anything. Read your class notes. Then read your textbook. Then read your class notes again. Then read your textbook again. Then read your class notes again. Then read your textbook again.
Deep understanding of vocabulary — If you’re a science student you should really consider taking a class or two in Latin or Greek. If you don’t recognize what polyploidy, polydactyly, polymers, and polymorphic species have in common, you’re expending a lot of unnecessary energy. Regardless of whether you take any Latin or Greek, you should certainly get yourself a copy of Donald Borror’s classic Dictionary of Word Roots and Combining Forms. (Borror was a famous entomologist for many years at Ohio State University, and this little book is specially tailored for science students.)
Repetition — This is the most important factor in learning anything. Copy all your notes onto a new sheet of paper. Then copy them again. Then copy them again.
Familiarity with study materials — Most books, especially textbooks, are designed to help you learn things in many different ways. In addition to a table of contents and an index, many also contain glossaries, summaries, reviews, etc. Use all these things frequently. An anecdote: a student came to me saying, “On your study guide you said we should know about ‘homology’ and I can’t find anything about that in my notes.” By opening the textbook to the index and looking up the word (something the student hadn’t done), we miraculously discovered an entire page of information on the subject.
Repetition — This is the most important factor in learning anything. Read your notes aloud to a friend. Then have the friend read them aloud to you. Then read them aloud to your friend. Then have the friend read them aloud to you.
Familiarity with your instructors — Ideas, theories, concepts, facts, stories, and equations don’t exist in some abstract universe: they are embodied in the work of individual people who spend their lives struggling with practical and intellectual problems. Even though science, in particular, tries to produce objective results (results that are true no matter who does the investigating), from the crooked timber of humanity nothing wholly straight can be built. You will do better in your courses if you learn a little something about your instructors and the people whose work you study. Where are these people coming from, both intellectually and personally? What are their interests? What do they love and hate? What has influenced their lives? For past figures, biographical dictionaries and textbooks can help; for present ones (like your teachers) look over campus publications and webpages to get some insight into these people as individuals.
Repetition — This is the most important factor in learning anything. Find an empty classroom, stand at the front, and give a complete lecture to an imaginary class on the subject you are studying. Write notes on the board as you go along. Then erase the notes and give the lecture again.
Curiosity — I’m afraid you’re on your own on this one because I don’t know how to make you curious if you aren’t already. If you have any tips, please let me know. If you find yourself perpetually bored in all your classes and never curious, you should (seriously) consider taking a year or two off from school to work in the world, and then come back later when you will get more out of the experience. There is nothing at all wrong with doing that, and for many people it is a very smart thing to do.
Four Books Every College Student Should Have (and Use!)
Every college student, and every educated person, should have a few books right at hand at all times. These are books that you should keep and use in all your classes throughout your college career. Buy them and put them beside your bed, your desk, your computer, or wherever you spend a lot of time, and flip through them regularly. You will be surprised at how much information you will absorb.
A desk dictionary, such as Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary. One of the most important things in a dictionary is the etymological information. Learn how to interpret it, and use it. (Don’t know what “etymological” means? Get a dictionary and look it up!) An anecdote: once I was in a campus bookstore and one of the student employees called to his friend, “Hey Joe, what’s p-a-l-e-o-n-t-o-l-o-g-y? Is that, like, archaeology?” Quoth Joe: “Uuuh, I think it’s, like, rocks or something.” Alas, they never found out, which is a shame because they were standing about ten feet apart on either side of the advertising display for Merriam Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary, with a big fat copy sitting open on the counter between them.
A world atlas, such as Goode’s World Atlas. When you’re sitting in your room, instead of spending 15 minutes watching the end of a TV rerun, spend 15 minutes browsing your atlas. If you do that a few times you’ll be amazed at how many things you begin to absorb.
An almanac, such as the World Almanac or any similar one for the current year.
© RJO 1995–2016