Tuesdays with Professor Reid

It is an unfortunate reality which dawns upon every incoming first-year Arts student at the University of Toronto that all students are required to fill in their Breadth Requirements, which includes 1 full credit in either science or math. For some of us who had abandoned math and science as soon as possible in high school, this revelation struck fear and horror into our very souls (no exaggeration, of course). Upon attempting to get an answer from the university as to why I had to continue studying a subject utterly irrelevant to my program and guaranteed to weigh down my GPA, I was told that it was important that I get a “well-rounded education” – that I expose myself to subjects I otherwise wouldn’t. My immediate response was that there is a reason I chose not to expose myself to those subjects – namely, that while I can grasp on some level that they are interesting, I cannot understand 90% of what is being taught.

However the complaints of one (albeit highly opinionated and ferociously persistent) student did not, evidently, suffice to remove the breath requirement policy that I considered so unjust. Thus I was forced to search the calendar for the least scary science course – and when it came down to geology or astronomy, I opted for space over dirt.

Therefore, with great hesitation intermingled with contempt for the system, I enrolled in AST101, co-taught by Professor Michael Reid and Professor Stefan Mochnacki. On the first day of lecture in Convocation Hall, Professor Reid showed a slide of a complicated math equation and noted that if we weren’t able to work out the equation, we should not be in the course. I looked around at my fellow horrified arts student and felt the familiar panicked feeling that used to arise in me during high school math tests begin to course through my veins.  Then, however, Professor Reid changed the slide which placed a big X over the equation and the words “NO MATH”, and explained that he was joking – this course required no math. All of Con Hall erupted in a combination of relieved laughter and plain adoration: this professor understands us, the lost souls of high school math and science!

As an arts student, I never believed I could be interested in any sort of science. I had committed the crime of closing myself off completely to those subjects out of fear of complicated equations. Dr. Reid is able interest students in space and to help us understand stars and galaxies without delving into incomprehensible math. His lectures are fascinating and most make science accessible to students who otherwise would be failing in such a course.

Not only are the lectures consistently interesting (and the slideshows a visual delight), but Dr. Reid himself has designed AST101 and AST201 to be extremely accessible courses. Through office hours, MSN chats, an active discussion board on Portal and “cafe chats”, students are able to speak to the profs and TAs directly with ease to address issues and exchange astronomy-related news.  Other perks of the course include free planetarium shows and observing nights where students can look through telescopes.

Commanding a class in Convocation Hall is a feat in itself, but Dr. Reid manages to create a personal atmosphere in the university’s largest lecture hall. I’m not becoming an astronomer any time soon, but I have been checking the NASA website more than I used to (i.e. never). I am genuinely interested in astronomy since taking the course, and that’s thanks to Dr. Reid’s skilled lecturing.  I think I can speak for most AST101 and 201 students when I say that Dr. Reid had us at “no math”.

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