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CC121: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 30th November 2006

Physics Consultative Committee

CC121: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 30th November 2006

Present: Dr D. Green (chairman), H. Price, S. Begley, T. Fitch, J. Reynolds, H. E, B. Sherwin, A. Brown, Prof. D. Ward, Dr R. Padman, H. Marshall (minutes).

Apologies: Prof. P. Littlewood, C. Templeton.

1. Minutes

The Minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

2. Matters Arising

There were no matters arising.

3. Teaching Committee Matters

Prof. Ward began by introducing himself and Dr Padman, as chairman and secretary of the Teaching Committee (TC), and explained that they and the TC regarded the feedback from the CC as important to improve the teaching provided by the Department.

It was reported that this year the IA course practicals had been revised considerably, and a new two lecture course on `Experimental Physics' provided. It was explained that these changes had been implemented partly as a response to how practical physics is now taught in schools, but also due to feedback received from previous CC meetings. It was also noted that there will be moves to integrate aspects of teaching in NST done by the Cavendish and the Institute of Astronomy. These changes are expected to lead to some revisions in IB next year, with the introduction of some basic computing and inclusion of fluid mechanics in the Dynamics course. Subsequently revisions will be made in Parts II and III. There are to be some changes to the rules and regulations in NST, to standardise across all subjects how late hand-in of projects, reports etc. are dealt with. In Part III there is to be a move to make it easier to take courses from other NST subjects, or Part III Mathematics.

It was noted that Helen Marshall, in the Teaching Office, should be the first point of contact should students have any queries or questions. Dr Padman explained that the Cavendish teaching web site has been improved considerably over recent months, and that she would welcome feedback if there are additional useful information that could be included on the web site.

4. Part III

Advanced Quantum Condensed Matter Physics (Prof. Sirringhaus) Score 3.9 (19 replies)

A good lecturer who was interesting and stimulating, and who presented the mathematical aspects of the course in an understandable way. The examples sheets were felt to be a bit mathematical and some students were a bit daunted by this.

Soft Matter (Prof. Steiner) Score 2.9 (19 replies)

Interesting and varied, but with many mistakes in the handouts, although only some of these mistakes were fixed in the lectures. The question sheet was short and did not cover the whole course. The lecturer was good at answering questions before and after lectures.

Astrophysics & Cosmology (Dr Alexander et al.) Score 3.5 (24 replies)

There was some discrepancies between the three lecturers, which led to the course being a little disjointed. Also, there were some errors in the handouts. The course was felt to be hard with little guidance what examination questions might be like. More co-ordination is required between the lecturers.

Particle Physics (Dr Thomson) Score 4.3 (32 replies)

Generally well received. But it was felt that the pace was too fast, and it would be useful if the handouts covered some topics in more mathematical detail than was included in the lectures.

Physics of the Earth as a Planet (Dr Priestley et al.) Score 3.3 (19 replies)

A little disorganised with five different lecturers. The fluid mechanics given by Prof. McKenzie was not well matched to the students' background understanding of this topic, and the handouts could give a clearer distinction between examinable/non-examinable material. The practical sessions were appreciated and well organised.

Quantum Condensed Matter Field Theory (Prof. Simons) Score 4.4 (12 replies)

Very stimulating, well structured, interesting but challenging. Prof. Simons gave a warning of its difficulty at the beginning. Good use was made of the blackboard. The last few lectures were a bit rushed.

Classical Field Theory & Gravitation (Dr Hobson) Score 4.2 (30 replies)

Challenging and well liked, although some felt it was too difficult and too fast in places. There were some mistakes in the handouts and more examples would have been good during the lectures. The questions sheets were too long and had too many questions. Dr Hobson was always happy to answer questions after the lectures.

Quantum Field Theory (Dr Tong) Score 4.1 (15 replies)

A well received course.

General Comments: it would be useful to clarify the prerequisites for all the courses in the Course Handbook. Also, some supervisors did not schedule the first supervision until the second half of the term, which was too late, and made than last part of term very rushed.

5. Part II

Thermal & Statistical Physics (Prof. Needs) Score 3.7 (36 replies)

Good delivery and a reasonable standard. The material was accessible if not very interesting. The handouts were very detailed.

Advanced Quantum (Prof. Ritchie) Score 3.8 (21 replies)

There was divided opinion on the content of this course, but overall it was well received. Some felt that there was too much reading out of slides and algebra, whereas it would be more helpful to provided more details of the aims, and explain how to approach problems. The handout could be better structured in places.

Relativity, Electrodynamics & Light (Dr Cooper) Score 4.3 (53 replies)

Very well received, with excellent handouts. It was challenging and interesting, although the lecturer talked quite quickly at times. The worked examples were good, and the material was explained well and backed up with examples.

Computational Physics Lectures (Dr Padman) Score 3.1 (37 replies)

Found hard by some, very straightforward by others, depending on previous expertise in computing. But it was felt that it was set at the right level, i.e. not assuming previous expertise in computing, so to be accessible to the whole class. The basics of computational physics as well as programming were both covered at the appropriate level. The handouts were very good. The numbers attending the practical sessions was very low, and further feedback on practical sessions will be received after the projects are handed in.

TP1 (Prof. Terentjev/Dr Barnes) Score 3.3 (17 replies)

Interesting but hard, clearly aimed at more theoretical students. The speed was felt to be too fast and a bit superficial, and covering fewer topics in more detail would be better. The handouts were unclear in places with some errors, and more worked examples would be appreciated. Some students would like supervisions as well as the examples classes, which generally worked well.

Experiment E1a/b (Dr Butcher et al.) Score 3.6 (55 replies)

The demonstrators were good, but some of the manuals need to be updated to reflect the current experimental setups. The main issue was the short timescale allocated (5 days) to write the report, especially for E1b, which overlaps with supervisions, which tend concentrated towards the end of term, as often the first is not scheduled until several weeks into term. Extending the deadline by just an extra 2 days would be helpful.

General Comments: it would be helpful to have some information given at the end of IB regarding what is expected in Part II.

6. Part IB

Oscillations, Waves & Optics (Dr Greenham) Score 3.3 (111 replies)

A well lectured course, but the handout needs revising as there is too much text with not enough maths and equations. More worked examples would be useful as would summary sheets. The pace was OK. It would be good to have the notes and slides online.

Experimental Methods (Dr Saunders) Score 3.5 (72 replies)

The lecturer was well liked, showing lots of enthusiasm. The course was well received but the subject was not. The problem sheet needs revising to correct various errors, and in some cases more rigorous derivations in the lectures would be useful.

Practicals - Systems & Measurement (Dr Saunders) Score 3.1 (110 replies)

The most comment feedback comments were that demonstrators sometimes gave conflicting advice, and that the practicals were too long. Also the laboratory manual needs updating in places.

As the Part IB Advanced representative could not attend the meeting, the discussion of the feedback on the following two courses is deferred to the next meeting.

Electromagnetism (Dr Ford) Score 3.6 (49 replies)

Mathematics & Theoretical Physics (Prof. Withington) Score 4.2 (12 replies)

7. Part IA

Relativity, Mechanics & Fields (Dr Duffett-Smith) Score 3.6 (207 replies)

Generally well received, although some students felt that lecturer assumed too much mathematical familiarity, and more explanations and worked examples would be appreciated. The demonstrations in the lectures were enjoyed, although these were phased out towards the end of the course. The format of the handout did not give enough white space for additional notes to be added, and it was suggested that less complete notes would be useful, to encourage students to make notes themselves on some topics.

Experimental Physics (Dr Green) Score 3.6 (246 replies)

Not the most exciting topic, but well received. Provided a good introduction to the topics, and was well linked to the term's practicals. The demonstrations were good, the pace was about right, and the handouts were useful.

Practicals (Dr Riley) Score 3.5 (233 replies)

The main comment was that the practicals were felt to be too long, especially the last two. There was also concern that the quality of demonstrators varied. It was noted that, in response to feedback from previous Consultative Committee meetings, students were not allocated the same demonstrator throughout the term this year. The Heads of Class were all very helpful.

General Comments: it was suggested it would be useful that some reading matter be recommended to help students prepare for IA courses.

8. Any Other Business

There was none.

9. Next Meeting

Thursday 15th March 2007 at 09.30 in the Committee Room.