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CC94: Minutes - Thursday 12th March 1998

Physics Consultative Committee

CC94: Minutes - Thursday 12th March 1998

Present: Ms Avery, Mr Buckley, Mr Dodson, Mr Eldridge, Mr Hetherington, Ms Inglessi, Mr Murray, Mr Sawicki, Mr Wilson, Pr Longair, Dr Waldram, Dr Ward, Dr Batley.

1. Approval of Draft Minutes

The draft minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

2. Matters Arising

A working group has been set up under Prof. Littlewood to consider the syllabus of the various Solid State Physics courses. It will report to the Teaching Committee in the Easter Term.

The Teaching Committee have informed all Part III lecturers that worked solutions to examples must be made available to students, and have recommended to Part II lecturers that solutions be made available in Part II courses also.

The request for additional supervision in Part III was noted, but, because of the financial implications, pressure for this would have to be exerted via the Colleges.

The request for better timing of the last Part III supervision of Term had been passed on, and arrangements had worked well this Term.

A more optimal timetabling of Part III lectures with respect to Part III Maths would be investigated by Dr Ward and could be introduced next year.

As Dr Mackay was on leave next year, the non-examinable course on Modelling in Physics would be replaced by a course on Supercomputing in Physics given by Dr Rajagopal. Steps would be taken to ensure that the course was better advertised.

A working group consisting of the lecturer, the Heads of Class and Dr Phillips had been set up by the Teaching Committee to consider the syllabus of the Part II course on Computational Physics. It will report to the Teaching Committee in the Easter Term.

The Part II and Part III questionnaires have now been extended to allow student feedback on the quality of supervisions.

The deadline for the allocation of Part II literature reviews would be moved to later in the Michaelmas Term to allow more time for those taking Experiment E1. Also, a new system whereby students select five literature reviews of interest, one of which is then allocated at random, is being considered for next year.

Consultative Committee minutes will be made available via the WWW once some technical changes to the Cavendish Lab computer system have been completed.

3. Teaching Quality Assessment

Physics and Astronomy teaching within the University will be subject to a Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA) exercise later this year, and the issues involved were summarised by Prof. Longair. Lab and college teaching will be inspected on Nov 2-5 1998, but a more immediate deadline is that a Self Assessment document summarising various aspects of our teaching must reach the Quality Assessment Agency by May 5th. Prof. Longair emphasised the importance to the Department of the TQA itself, and the importance of student involvement and feedback in preparing the various submissions.

A draft of the Self Assessment document will be circulated to student representatives at the start of next term, and a special meeting with student representatives was arranged for Thursday 23rd April at 4pm to discuss the draft. A first draft of our teaching aims and objectives, which will form part of the document, had already been circulated and some initial comments and suggestions were made. The need to canvas the wider student body was also raised, for example by making the draft documents available on the WWW or by raising the issue in lectures.

Supervision Rooms:

There is an urgent need to provide additional Part II and Part III supervision rooms within the Cavendish, and to improve the working environment for Part II and Part III students. Plans of proposed changes to the present Part II area adjoining the bridge between the Rutherford and Bragg buildings (to provide a seminar room, three supervision rooms and a quiet area), and to the yellow stairwell in the Mott building (to provide a seminar room and three supervision rooms), were circulated. It was suggested that some key textbooks, and magazines such as New Scientist, could be provided in the quiet area, and also that the provision of a small number of computer terminals might be considered.

Introduction to Cavendish Research at Part IA:

To improve student perception and knowledge of the Cavendish Lab infrastructure and research activities, a more welcoming approach to new Part IA physics students is being considered. Some possibilities are: to provide new Part IA students with a booklet describing the research work being undertaken at the Cavendish; not to count the mark from the first Part IA physics practical towards exams; and to arrange short (approx 45 minute?) small group tours of the Cavendish Lab for Part IA students during the first physical practical. These ideas were favourably received.

4. Part III

Information Theory, Dr Mackay (8 replies, avg=4.8)

This course was described as ``brilliant'' and was enthusiastically lectured. There were too many questions (approx 40) on the examples sheet.

Phase Transitions, Dr Simons (2 replies, avg=4.5)

A good course, but containing too much material which had been covered at too fast a pace.

Shock Waves and Explosives, Prof. Field and Dr Bourne (7 replies, avg=3.3)

A good, well-lectured course. It would help if the distinction between examinable and non-examinable material could be made clearer, both in the lectures and in the handout.

Remote Sensing, Dr Rees (10 replies, avg=4.4)

A very good, well lectured course. Although the supervisions were in relatively large groups, they worked well and were very useful.

The Frontiers of Exptl Astrophysics, Prof. Hills (8 replies, avg=2.8)

There is a lot of material in the course and more complete notes would be very helpful.

Concepts in Physics, Prof. Howie and Prof. Longair (8 replies, avg=3.6)

A well received course. The more historical topics such as the history of the electron were felt to be of less interest.

It was suggested that the Concepts in Physics course could in future consist of a series of lectures (in the Michaelmas Term?) by members of each of the Cavendish Laboratory research groups talking about their current research program. This would be very valuable for Part III students considering pursuing research. The non-examinable course on Philosophy of Classical and Quantum Physics could be moved to the Lent Term. These suggestions will be considered by the Teaching Committee.

Advanced Quantum Field Theory, Prof. Landshoff (2 replies, avg=4.0)

A difficult but interesting and well lectured course.

Given the large number of Part III courses offered this term, it was not possible to discuss all the courses individually. The courses below were felt to be well presented, however, and no particular problems were mentioned.

Gauge Field Theory, Dr Webber (3 replies, avg=3.3)

General Relativity, Dr Carswell (8 replies, avg=3.1)

Low Dimensional Magnetism, Dr Bland (2 replies, avg=4.5)

Superconductivity, Dr Waldram (7 replies, avg=3.7)

Solid State Spectroscopy, Drs Hughes and Richards (2 replies, avg=2.0)

Quantum Properties of Electron Systms; Prof. Pepper, Dr Barnes (2 replies, avg=4.5)

Microelectronics and VLSI, Dr Jones (0 replies, avg=0.0)

Quantum Optoelectronics, Dr Phillips (2 replies, avg=3.0)

Polymers and Colloids, Dr Melrose (7 replies, avg=3.3)

Medical Physics, Dr Dendy and others (3 replies, avg=3.0)

Atomic Astrophysics, Drs Burgess and Mason (1 replies, avg=4.0)

Dynamics of Non-linear Lattices, Dr Baesens (1 replies, avg=4.0)

General Comments

Now that many subjects within the Natural Sciences Tripos have gone over to four-year courses, it was asked whether it might be possible in future to mix options from the various courses and to have more standardised exam procedures across subjects. However, the recent combining with Part III Maths had shown how difficult this can be in practice, though an arrangement with Chemistry might possibly be considered.

It was unfortunate that the Astrophysics and Medical Physics courses clashed since there were relatively few non-theoretical non-solid state options on offer.

5. Part II

Atomic Physics and Light, Dr Butcher (47 replies, avg=2.1)

Though some students found this course to be well lectured and interesting, it had also attracted a fair deal of criticism. In many places, the course relied on students being able to learn material on their own, but in practice time pressures made this difficult, as did the availability of suitable books. Prior knowledge of material was often assumed, and the lecture notes were rather sparse which made revision difficult. Many students felt that the examples sheet, which contained 72 short questions, did not help with the understanding of the course material.

Systems, Dr Allison (48 replies, avg=3.6)

A good, well lectured course. The relevance of some of the early material was not immediately clear, and it was felt that some worked examples would help clarify this. Some students requested a greater emphasis on the material on non-linear systems and chaos towards the end of the course, but it was suggested that this might be better achieved via a Part III option.

Nuclear Physics, Dr White (48 replies, avg=3.8)

An interesting course, enjoyably and enthusiastically lectured. Some students found the handout, with four transparencies compressed onto each page, rather dense and difficult to revise from. The course contained a lot of material and some topics had been covered too quickly.

Particle Physics, Dr Batley (43 replies, avg=3.7)

Reasonably well received, but many students felt that there was insufficient depth to the course and that it came over simply as an advert for the Part III Major Option. Numerical answers to the questions on the examples sheet were requested.

Fluids, Dr Warner (47 replies, avg=3.7)

A very well presented, well structured and enjoyable course. Taking written notes worked well, but it was requested that diagrams be handed out beforehand. The demonstrations were excellent.

Concepts in Physics, Prof. Howie (36 replies, avg=2.7)

The lectures were generally considered to be interesting, though some students felt that the presentation could be made more stimulating.

It was suggested that some of these lectures could be used to introduce the subjects covered in the Part III Major Options. This would help students later in their choice of option. It was noted that the main idea behind the Concepts in Physics course was to present a broader picture of physics and to pull together ideas presented in individual lecture courses. The suggestion would be considered at the next TC meeting however.

TP2, Drs Ball and Ansorge (25 replies, avg=3.4)

The first half of the course (on Lagrangians and Hamiltonians) was felt to be presented at a reasonable level, but the second half (on chaos) was generally considered to be too difficult and was not followed well by many students. The length of the examples sheet, with fewer questions than in TP1, and the general workload were felt to be about right.

Physics in Action, Prof. Brown and Dr Ansorge (1 reply, avg=5.0)

A very good course. It was suggested that the talks by external speakers, which sometimes involved Nobel prize winners lecturing to small audiences, should be advertised more widely. The posters were a marked improvement over the previous year, perhaps because they had been carried out individually rather than in small groups.

Experiments E2 and E3, Dr Scott (22 replies, avg=3.8)

The experiments had generally been carried out smoothly and without major problems, but there had been a difficulty with one experiment where a demonstrator was absent for a week.

General Comments

The Examples Classes were generally considered to be very useful, but the first two classes overlapped with the Experiment E2. It was suggested that they could be moved to the Easter Term and renamed ``Examples/Revision Classes''.

In Part II Chemistry, students are given a list of appropriate Tripos questions to consider, and it was felt that something similar would be useful also for Part II Physics, especially as many suitable questions are actually to be found in Part IB papers, and some past Tripos questions in the end turn out to be poor questions. Each Part II Physics lecturer could be asked to provide a list of about ten good questions to look at, for example. Also, complete answers to all Tripos questions will automatically exist in future as a result of the new examination procedures, and making these answers more widely available will be considered. A sheet of numerical answers might also be useful.

6. Part IB Advanced

Optics, Dr Alexander (54 replies, avg=3.1)

This was generally considered to be a good course. The material on coherence was hard to follow, and this topic is divided between this course and the Part II Atomic Physics and Light course. Some of the questions on the examples sheet were considered to be too vague, and numerical answers had not been handed out. The handout was felt to be somewhat sketchy.

Electromagnetism, Dr Gull (54 replies, avg=2.6)

While a few students felt this to be an excellent course, many had had difficulties. The legibility of the handout was poor and missing intermediate steps were not generally filled in by the lectures themselves. Terms were sometimes defined inconsistently and definitions were somewhat scattered throughout the course.

Thermal Physics, Prof. Howie (53 replies, avg=2.4)

The start of the course closely followed the handout, but later tended to diverge from it with no clear sign that students would need to add their own material to the handout; it would help if this could be flagged more clearly. The physics underlying the mathematics did not always come through clearly enough. The demonstrations were good and useful, but merited additional discussion (e.g. the Carnot engine).

Practicals, Dr Alexander (46 replies, avg=3.2)

Marking of books by demonstrators during the practicals can be very inconvenient. It would be appreciated if the Head of Class and the lab manual could emphasise that the main responsibility of demonstrators is to assist with the experiments themselves, and that it is permitted to ask demonstrators to help even when they are marking. Also, as notebooks are unavailable during marking, it was suggested that students could be given two notebooks for use in alternate practicals.

The demonstrator marks often seemed random and arbitrary, and more feedback on why a particular mark had been given would be appreciated.

The Fraunhofer experiment was repetitive and dull.

Examples Class in Mathematical Physics, Prof. Littlewood and others (30 replies, avg=3.1)

Those attending the classes found them to be very useful. Handing out the examples in advance was helpful, but more guidance from the Head of Class during the class itself would be appreciated. Many people arrange supervisions on Wednesday afternoons because they don't realise early enough in the year that the Examples Classes exist. A knowledge of the material covered in the classes is assumed in some Part II Physics courses.

7. Part IB

Quantum Physics, Dr Ford (6 replies, avg=3.5)

This was a well received and well liked course. It would be useful to be given some extra guidance on suitable textbooks. There is some overlap with the Physical Chemistry courses.

Practicals, Drs Linfield and Warner (6 replies, avg=2.3)

The practicals were generally considered hard. An introductory talk on each practical would be useful. The ``revision sheets'' were not really revision, but actually contained new material. The quality of demonstrating was very good, and the trip to the Department was appreciated.

8. Part IA

Oscillations and Waves (course A), Dr Ball (32 replies, avg=3.1)

This was an enthusiastically lectured course, and the demonstrations were particularly liked. The handout was felt to be rather sparse however and it could be difficult to apply the lecture material to the examples sheet. Newer and less familiar material such as op-amps had been covered too quickly.

Oscillations and Waves (course B), Dr Batley (126 replies, avg=3.7)

A reasonably good and well lectured course. Many students felt that the handout was too complete which made it hard to concentrate in lectures and difficult to revise from. The material on electronics and op-amps is newer and less familiar and needs to be gone through more slowly.

Practicals, Drs Jones and Lonzarich (155 replies, avg=3.0)

This term's practicals were a lot better than last term's. There were relatively few complaints about demonstrators. The approximate times given in the manual were often very wide of the mark, and sometimes added up to more than four hours! Problems were often encountered with faulty equipment, and it was suggested that the demonstrator could be asked to note any problems in the lab notebook.

9. Any Other Business

The question was raised whether the Department should pursue a more active policy towards redressing the gender imbalance found within Physics, and which becomes more noticeable in later years of the course. One possibility would be to ensure that there was always at least one female lecturer in Part IA. There were also reports of demonstrators adopting a patronising attitude towards female students, and this could be more actively discouraged.

Having student questionnaires issued at the end of term rather than at the end of a course is not ideal, and it was asked if this could be changed. This will be considered, though can be awkward in practice. A longer term possibility is to obtain student feedback electronically, in which case such issues would be administratively much simpler.

10. Next Meetings

There will be a special meeting devoted to TQA matters on Thursday 23rd April 1998 at 4:00p.m.

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 21st May 1998 at 9:30a.m.

JRB 9th April 1998