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CC127: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 4th December 2008

Physics Consultative Committee

CC127: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 4th December 2008


Present: Dr D A Green (chairman), M Michailidis, E Freeman, J Burley, J Foerster, P Armitage, S Begley, W Barter, C Wymant, P de Grouchy, Prof. D Ward, Dr R Padman.


1. Minutes

The Minutes of the last meeting were approved.

2. Teaching Committee Matters

Prof. Ward provided some background to the proposed revision of the IA courses, which were described in detail by Prof. Haniff. The proposed revisions, which are planned to be implemented from Oct 2009, were well received. These included shorter courses, less coverage of some topics (mainly those in the current last IA course), to allow a staged progression from school level, including more examples to develop problem solving skills, etc.

Dr Padman reviewed the results for Physics from the `National Student Survey' undertaken by HEFCE, copies of which were circulated. Generally the feedback was good in comparison to other Universities. However, it was noted that the response to Q7 (`Feedback on my work has been prompt') and Q8 (`I have received detailed feedback on my work') were poorer than for other science subjects in the University. There was a discussion of how students would have perceived these questions, which concluded that this was largely referring to supervision feedback, which was poorer at Part II and III levels than in Parts IA and IB. There was further discussion of the difference in the style of supervisions in Part II and III, and how TC might provide more support, e.g. in terms of worked solutions to supervisors for these supervisions.

Prof. Ward and Dr Padman outlined the possible revisions in next years Part III courses -- particularly in the astrophysics area -- that are currently being considered by the TC, following on from the revisions in Part II this year.


3. Part III

This term electronic feedback forms had been used for the first time -- for Part III only -- which allowed for a wider range and different style of questions to be asked. The overall score is an average from the overall assessment question, for which answers were: `terrible' (=1), `poor' (=2), `satisfactory' (=3), `good' (=4), `fantastic' (=5), so are not directly comparable with previous paper feedback numerical responses.

Advanced Quantum Condensed Matter Physics (Prof. Sirringhaus) Score 3.6 (21/33 replies, 64%)

Generally well received, but the handouts could be clearer.

Soft Matter (Prof. Steiner) Score 3.7 (6/13 replies, 46%)

Good feedback overall, although there were comments that the handout was difficult to follow.

Astrophysics & Cosmology (Dr Alexander/Prof. Fabian/Prof. Lasenby) Score 3.6 (16/36 replies, 44%)

A popular course, although some students found parts of the course too discursive, and the handout could be more relevant.

Particle Physics (Dr Thomson) Score 4.1 (41/61 replies, 67%)

An outstanding course, although some pointers to other sources would be useful.

Physics of the Earth as a Planet (Dr Priestley et al.) Score 3.7 (21/37 replies, 57%)

Generally well received, although it was noted that there was a lot of material in the course, and that some colour figures were printed as black and white in the handout, and so were not understandable.

Quantum Condensed Matter Field Theory (Prof. Littlewood) Score 3.3 (18/22 replies, 82%)

This was perceived to be a hard course, and it was noted that the students taking this course were finding the year difficult overall, which was not apparent for other courses. Some students found the style of presentation using the blackboard difficult to follow. The prerequisites for this course need to be clearly specified.

Atomic and Optical Physics(Dr Hadzibabic/Dr Köhl) Score 3.4 (19/29 replies, 66%)

A new course, which was generally well received, although it was not always clear how some of the questions related to the lecture topics.

Quantum Field Theory (Prof. Davis)

This is a Part III lecture course, for which there was no feedback forms, although the student representatives did not think there were any particular problems with this course.

General Comments: Dr Padman noted that the modal overall assessment score for each of the Part III Major option courses this term was `good'.

It was requested that the Part III supervisions start earlier in the term, e.g. week 2. Dr Padman pointed out that the deadline for students to indicate which courses they want supervisions in is delayed from at the start of term, to allow students to sample several courses. However, she would emphasise to the supervisors the need for an early start, once the arrangements had been made. It was also noted that it would be useful if some guidelines for supervising these rather larger groups was available to supervisors.


4. Part II

Thermal & Statistical Physics (Prof. Terentjev) Score 4.3 (59 replies)

A good overall score. Although some students liked the lecturing style with overheads being different to the handout, others found coordination between the two difficult.

Advanced Quantum Physics (Prof. Ritchie) Score 3.5 (61 replies)

Generally well received, although some questions were thought to require too much algebra.

Optics & Electrodynamics (Dr Hughes) Score 3.5 (13 replies)

A disappointingly small number of feedback forms, as these had not been advertised by the lecturer. A well liked course, with the electrodynamics being preferred over the optics topics.

Relativity (Dr Haehnalt) Score 2.8 (47 replies)

The content of this course was well liked, but the lecturers style was often difficult to follow. More physical interpretation of the mathematical results was requested. It was also noted that more background on tensors may be needed in the IB `Mathematical Methods' course.

TP1 Lectures & Classes (Prof. Webber/Dr Barnes) Score 3.9 (31 replies - lectures) Score 4.2 (5 replies - classes)

Well received, although some questions required a lot of algebra, but did not lead to much understanding of the concepts.

Experiment E1 (Dr Allison) Score 3.9 (4 replies)

Generally well enjoyed. Although there problems with some equipment failing, these were generally fixed promptly. Problems locating the demonstrators for one of the experiments were reported.

General Comments: As with Part III, it was noted that it would be good if supervisors arranged the first supervisions somewhat earlier in the term.


5. Part IB Physics A

Oscillations, Waves & Optics (Dr Greenham) Score 3.4 (113 replies)

Generally positive feedback, although there were some comments that summaries of the key points within the handout would be useful.

Experimental Methods (Prof. Haniff) Score 2.7 (45 replies)

Not well received. The style of the handout, from powerpoint slides, was not liked, and more detailed notes were requested. The OpAmps part of the course was found to be hard, and finding suitable books to support this part of the course was a problem. The use of convolution before it had been taught in the NST Part IB Mathematics course was a problem, as it was for students taking only Physics A and not Mathematics in Part IB, as they are not taught convolution.

6. Part IB Physics B

Electromagnetism (Prof. Withington) Score 3.8 (45 replies)

Generally well received. But it was commented that rather than referring back to equations much earlier in the handout, repeating the result would be clearer. Also, some more white space in the handouts, for adding notes, would be useful.

Mathematical Methods (Dr Green) Score 4.1 (22 replies)

The style of the course, to teach the mathematical methods in the context of physics had worked well. It was noted that several students and college Directors of Studies seemed to be unaware that this course existed for students not taking Mathematics in NST Part IB, despite it being clearly listed in the Reporter and the Department `Blue Book' and website. It was suggested that this course should be advertised at the first Electromagnetism lecture in future years.

Practicals - Systems & Measurement (Dr Saunders) Score 3.2 (91 replies)

Perceived to be better than the practicals in Part IA, although the overall score is actually lower. But there were concerns about insufficient time, inconsistency in demonstrators, and that the manual needs improvement in places.

Introduction to Computing (Prof. MacKay)

Feedback on this course will be obtained next term when the course is completed.


7. Part IA

Principles of Relativity, Electrodynamics & Fields (Dr Duffett-Smith) Score 3.4 (162 replies)

The speed of this course was generally thought to be about right. There were some comments that summaries of the key results would be useful, and that more worked examples, and problems in graded levels of difficulty would be useful. It was noted that these are issues that the proposed IA course revisions were expected to address.

Experimental Physics (Dr Green) Score 3.5 (146 replies)

This was well linked to the practicals, which was generally well appreciated.

Practicals (Dr Riley) Score 3.8 (297 replies)

A good overall numerical assessment, although some students find the practicals stressful, and the that the time allocated is too short. There was a suggestion that the laboratory be open before 2.00pm, to allow students to read through the demonstrator feedback from the previous experiment.


8. Electronic Feedback

There was a general discussion of the use of electronic feedback forms. It was agreed that the trial for Part III courses this term was successful, although some revisions in the wording of questions could be made, as well as allowing for individual feedback on lecturers for those courses with more than one lecturer. The student representatives commented that their job was easier, as the electronic system provided the detailed reports and statistics automatically.

9. Any Other Business

In response to a question, Dr Padman explained that the Department is possibly moving towards providing a system via the Teaching webpages so that students could submit write-up and other assessed work electronically. This would avoid bottlenecks on the day of a deadline, and would also provide a backup system so that earlier versions of work could be stored also. But currently there were no plans to use any electronic anti-plagiarism detection software, as this was not thought to be relevant to the style of work submitted in Physics courses.

There was a brief discussion of what advice the Department could provide to students for how to answer Tripos questions. The recently circulated document on how to answer `short notes' and essay type questions. It was noted that answers to recent Tripos questions are available for recent years in the Teaching Office, which supervisors can consult if needed. It was agreed to discuss this issue further at the next meeting.

10. Next Meeting

The date of the next meeting Thursday 12th March 2009 at 09:30 in the Committee Room.