Physics Consultative Committee
CC93: Minutes - Thursday 4th December 1997
Present: Ms Avery, Mr Buckley, Mr Dodson, Mr Eldridge, Mr Hetherington, Ms Inglessi, Mr Murray, Mr Sawicki, Mr Wilson, Ms Wright, Pr Howie, Dr Riley, Dr Ward, Dr Batley.
1. Approval of Draft Minutes
The draft minutes of the previous meeting were approved.
2. Matters Arising
The working party to coordinate the various Solid State Physics courses in Parts I and II had not yet reconvened. This would be put on the agenda for the next meeting of the Teaching Committee.
3. Part III
Solid State Physics, Dr Allison (32 replies, avg=3.4)
The course was felt to be well structured and the lecture content and style were good. Some problems were encountered with the handout however; the photocopies of the overheads were too small and some colours had photocopied poorly. Also, while it was an excellent idea to provide references to the texts used for each lecture, it was generally felt that more detail should be included in the handout.
Structure and Properties of Condensed Matter, Dr Donald (20 replies, avg=4.2)
This course was extremely well received and the lecture content and style were both excellent. The lecturer's handwriting was sometimes difficult to read. It was suggested that the handouts should include the experimental data shown on the overhead transparencies. There was some feeling that the course repeated too much the material from the IA Materials and IB Solid State Physics courses (e.g. the material on dislocations).
Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology, Prof. Fabian, Dr Lasenby and Prof. Rees (34 replies, avg=4.1)
This course was very well received, though it was felt that there could be slightly better coordination between the three lecturers concerned. It was suggested that the handouts could be better structured, for example by providing section numbering for the course as a whole and by highlighting the important points more clearly. The last examples sheet was handed out too late and was generally considered too long and hard.
The question was raised as to whether a course on Astrophysics could be introduced into Part II as the Part III course contained a lot of material.
Particle Physics, Dr Parker (23 replies, avg=4.0)
This was a very well lectured course containing the right amount of material covered at the right speed. It would help if less time was spent on the mathematical sections, allowing more time to explain some of the concepts involved. The handout had not always photocopied clearly, especially the bits in green. Many students felt that there was too much overlap with the Part II course at the start.
Physics of Earth as a Planet, Dr Haines and Prof. Mackenzie (18 replies, avg=3.6)
Most students had enjoyed this course. Prof. Mackenzie lectured well with a good use of diagrams to explain the maths involved. It was felt that Dr Haines could improve the structure of the material presented, for example by providing a brief introduction or overview before each section of the course. The practicals clashed with the TP3 examples class. The use of demonstrators in the practical course was deemed essential and they should be kept. The interstitial lectures sometimes seemed random; the one about Venus could be put at the end of the course.
Theoretical Physics, Dr Lonzarich and Dr Terentjev (13 replies, avg=2.9)
This course provoked a mixed response, some students finding it to be excellent and some to be disappointing. The first half of the course was felt to be somewhat disjointed and could benefit from more continuity and better organisation of the material. Dr Terentjev's handout was a little cramped, while a complete handout for Dr Lonzarich's course would be appreciated.
Quantum Field Theory, Dr Manton (6 replies, avg=3.8)
This was an excellent course which had been very carefully and clearly lectured. The supervisions in DAMTP had been well received.
Structure, Evolution and Formation of Stars, Dr Pringle (6 replies, avg=3.7)
There were very mixed views on this course, some students finding it well lectured but others finding it hard. The content was good and the material had been covered at the right speed.
It was requested that lecturers should always provide full solutions to examples as the supervisions do not always provide adequate discussion. (In principle, the lecturer should place a full set of solutions in the Part III library, but this may sometimes be overlooked).
It was generally felt that it would be preferable to have more supervisions, even if this meant larger supervision groups. This would require negotiating with Colleges however.
It would be better if the last round of supervisions could be held after lectures have finished, on the Wed/Thurs/Fri of the last week of Term. This would be suggested to those concerned but might often be difficult to arrange.
Many books had disappeared from the Part III library, including those marked ``Do Not Remove''.
There had been problems for students taking the Part III Maths QFT option to get to the Cavendish in time for the option course on ``Physics of the Earth''. The numbers of students taking various combinations of options will be examined to see if a less popular juxtaposition of options could be found, but it was probably inevitable that some students would still be affected by this problem.
The optional course on Modelling in Physics with external lecturers was good but had not been well attended. It was suggested that better advertising of these lectures might help.
In allocating Part III Projects, supervisors often asked prospective project students about the grade they had received in previous examinations. While supervisors must retain some input in the choice of students for their project, it was felt to be a little unfair to base the choice on this information.
4. Part II
Solid State Physics II, Dr Needs (46 replies, avg=3.4)
This course was well lectured, though the audibility of the lecturer could be improved. The handout was excellent, except that the diagrams were poorly explained and not well annotated. Also, the lecturer tended to reiterate what was already in the handout rather than rephrasing and elaborating on the handout material. There had been insufficient time to cover the material on paramagnetism at the end of the course.
Thermal and Statistical Physics, Dr Julian (46 replies, avg=4.2)
An extremely well received course, lectured in an exciting and interesting manner. The historical background material was much appreciated. There was a bit too much material in the course and it was suggested that some time could be saved with less repetition of the material from the IB Thermal Physics course. The handouts were good, but not always in the same order as the lectures. It would help if the lecturer could flag which parts of the course should be copied down and which parts could rely on the handout.
Quantum Mechanics II, Dr Ward (46 replies, avg=3.2)
This was a good course which was well lectured. It would help if more examples could be included in the lecture material, especially as some of the problems involved maths which had not been covered in the lectures themselves. Some parts of the course were felt to be too handwaving, and the section on molecules could be tricky for students who had not taken Part IA Chemistry. More energy level diagrams would be useful.
Computational Physics, Dr Nex (44 replies, avg=2.4)
The course started well with a good introduction to UNIX, but, in general, not enough account was taken of the fact that there is a big disparity of computing experience amongst students taking this course. Many students have a lot of experience with computing packages but very little experience of programming as such. It was suggested that it would help to have some examples classes or some optional examples to try before having to start writing the program itself.
The editor (VI) discussed in the lectures was rather old, whereas editors such as emacs were more widely used and understood by the demonstrators. Similarly, graphics was discussed in the context of the NAG library in the lectures whereas other packages were preferred in practice. The last three lectures in the course on the structure of the NAG library were considered to be a waste of time.
The handout was generally felt to be poor. Problems had been encountered in accessing suitable books for the course since books on FORTRAN 90 are rare. It would help if Colleges could be encouraged to purchase multiple copies of the book by Metcalfe and Reed for example.
No guidance had been provided on how the write-up should be structured. For example, it was not clear what relative weight should be given to the program itself and to the results from the program.
Relativity and Electromagnetism, Dr Riley (45 replies, avg=2.5)
This was considered to be a difficult course, especially as the last encounter with special relativity was in the Part IA course. It was suggested that it could be flagged somewhere that it would be useful to revise special relativity over the summer. The provision of two separate handouts for the course with a lot of duplication was confusing.
TP1, Prof. Littlewood and Dr Rajagopal (27 replies, avg=3.9)
This course contained a large amount of material which had been covered very quickly. There were a huge number of questions on the problems sheets which took up a lot of time, and large parts of the course were effectively self-taught. The solutions produced at the end of the course were very important and useful. It would help if the examples classes could be biased more towards material coming later in the course, and if they could start and finish later.
Experiment E1, Dr Scott and others (16 replies, avg=3.4)
Very little time was given to choose an experiment and the choice had to be based on rather limited information. For some of the experiments (e.g. on ferromagnetism), the underlying theory had not yet been covered in the lectures and it would help if a longer introduction to the theory could be included in the handout. Some problems had been encountered with the availability of demonstrators. It was suggested that in future a separate student feedback form should be provided to obtain more specific feedback from students on each of the experiments.
Most Literature Reviews had already been effectively allocated within the first day of the list becoming available. This tended to penalise those taking the Experimental option as they were usually heavily occupied for the first two weeks of term and had limited time available to find Literature Review supervisors.
Some students had encountered problems with poor quality of supervision, and some mechanism was needed for passing on such complaints. Dr Marseglia would be asked to organise a questionnaire to gain feedback on Part II supervisions. She would also be asked to distribute the Guide to Supervising in Natural Sciences to all new supervisors.
5. Part IB Advanced
Dynamics, Dr Webber (53 replies, avg=3.3)
Though generally well received, this course also generated somewhat more polarised views than is usual. The problems were felt to be too hard and didn't always relate well to the material in the lectures. Each question was quite long, and students would either be able to do the question completely or not at all. It was suggested that including a few more basic problems would be helpful. The lecture speed tended to vary during the course (e.g. tensor notation had been covered quite fast) and the physics could sometimes be lost in the mathematics (e.g. the Coriolis force). Some colours had photocopied poorly in generating the handout.
Experimental Methods, Dr Saunders (52 replies, avg=3.6)
This was considered to be a very good course, well lectured and interesting. The layout of the handout was sometimes confusing and it would help to highlight the more important parts. Only about half of students were supervised in this course, but Dr Saunders had contacted College Directors of Studies to emphasise that supervisions should be provided. It was suggested that some information on experimental errors could be added to the Mathematical Handbook.
Waves, Dr Riley (53 replies, avg=3.4)
Views on this course were somewhat polarised, some students finding it excellent but others hard. The lecturer tended sometimes simply to read out the (typewritten) handout using the OHP. There were varied views on the style and difficulty of the question sheet.
Mathematical Concepts in Physics, Dr Smith (13 replies, avg=2.8)
The handout for this course was very good, but it was felt that the lecturer tended to lose communication with his audience. The physics motivation behind the mathematics was often lacking. It was noted that the course included material (e.g. functions of a complex variable) which went beyond that needed simply to service the IB Advanced Physics course for students not taking the IB Maths for Natural Sciences option.
Examples Classes in Mathematical Physics (37 replies, avg=2.6)
Only one examples class had been given so far. Not enough demonstrators had been available, and it was felt that the style of the IA Examples Classes, where problems are worked through by the lecturer, would be more useful. Another suggestion was to hand out the questions for each class a week ahead of time to allow students to work through them before the class.
Practical Classes, Dr Saunders (51 replies, avg=3.1)
These were considered to be more useful than in IA, and the connection with the Experimental Methods course was appreciated. The standard of demonstrating was uneven, and demonstrators usually did not mark books until the next practical, which interfered with work. The schedule for handing in the Head of Class write-ups counted against those in the Tuesday session; allowing even one extra day would be a big help.
6. Part IB
Waves and Imaging Instruments, Dr Bleloch (9 replies, avg=3.1)
There were no handouts for this course, but it was felt that they would be very useful. The lecturer's handwriting was often illegible. There seemed to be little structure to the lectures, which often produced a lack of continuity.
Practical Classes, Dr Bleloch (9 replies, avg=2.9)
The practicals were about the right length and well linked to the lectures. It would help if the aims of the practicals were made clearer at the start. The visits were useful and appreciated.
7. Part IA
Mechanics and Molecules, Dr Duffett-Smith (93 replies, avg=3.9)
This was a good course and the enthusiastic style of the lecturer was appreciated. Intermediate steps in the mathematics had sometimes been skipped. The problems were a jump from A-level and generally found to be hard, though the structuring of the questions was good. A few simpler questions early on would perhaps help. Some questions (e.g. helicopter power) were not well linked to the lectures. The lecture devoted to solving examples was excellent and could perhaps be moved earlier on in the course. The computer demos were also very good and it was asked if they could be made available to the students in some way outside lectures. The video projector attached to the lecture room ceiling produces an irritating high-pitched noise and should be switched off when not in use.
Mechanics and Molecules, Dr Jones (120 replies, avg=3.2)
This course was generally considered to be satisfactory, though some students had transferred to the `A' course. More mathematical rigour would be preferred; for example terms were sometimes dropped in a handwaving way. The course was a bit rushed towards the end. Too much weight was given to topics which were reasonably familiar (e.g. kinetic theory) and too little to new topics (e.g. Boltzmann). The problems did not always follow the order of the lecture material.
A statistical analysis of the questionnaires for this course has been prepared by the student representative (Mr Buckley) and is attached to these minutes.
Practical Classes, Dr Chaudhri (211 replies, avg=2.8)
The link to the lectures was poor at the start (e.g. not all students had covered gyroscopes in the lectures before doing the practical) but improved later in the term. The practicals were generally felt to be too long and detailed and not enough time was available to complete them; some students found them quite stressful. Dr Chaudhri's handwriting was sometimes difficult to read though the situation had improved with the introduction of printed sheets. The demonstrator quality was variable, with some ``excellent'' and others ``awful''; it was pointed out that the Head of Class could be informed at the time of problems with particular demonstrators.
The layout of the handout was sometimes confusing, for example where material in small type font was mixed into the main text. Extra diagrams in the booklet to illustrate the various pieces of equipment would be useful. The new booklet giving guidance on producing write-ups of practicals was good. More feedback on the Part IA Head of Class write-ups (e.g. by encouraging more written comments by the markers) would be welcomed.
As the nature of the IA Practicals was rather different to anything students had encountered before, it was suggested that it would be helpful if the mark from the first practical were not to count towards the final Practical mark (as in IB Practicals). It would also be useful if the correct handling of experimental errors could be covered in the first practical, especially as the treatment given at A-level is actually wrong.
8. External Examiners Reports
The reports from the External Examiners for last years Part II and Part III examinations had contained some criticisms of our examination procedures. As a result, some recommendations for formalising our exam procedures had been circulated to all this year's Examiners. The new recommendations were discussed and considered to be reasonable.
9. Any Other Business
It had been asked whether it would be possible to make the minutes of the Consultative Committee available on the web; this possibility would be investigated.
JRB, 5th January 1998