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CC105: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 24th May 2001

Physics Consultative Committee

CC105: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 24th May 2001

Present: Ms Bessis, Mr Eckley, Mr Eldridge, Mr Jewsbury, Ms Knox, Mr Mach, Mr Sharp, Ms Somodi, Mr Wallhead, Prof. Longair, Dr Waldram, Dr Ward, Dr Batley.

1. The draft minutes of the previous meeting were approved, with a minor modification.

2. Matters Arising

The problems with the Lent Term Part IA Mathematics lecturing had been acknowledged by DAMTP and steps would be taken to improve the situation for next year.

3. Teaching Committee Matters

Teaching Office: A new part-time secretary, Sandra Chaplain, has started work in the Teaching Office. Work for Mrs Chaplain should be approved by Dr Ward.

Changes of Lecturer: There will be a number of changes of lecturer next year, one change of note being that Dr Ansorge, a physicist, will be lecturing the Part IA Mathematics for Natural Sciences course.

Review of First Year Courses: The working party has now completed its review of the course syllabuses for Part IA Physics to be introduced in 2002-3, and their suggestions have been passed on to the lecturers concerned for comment. The consequences for Part IB will begin to be looked at over the summer and input is welcome.

MIT Exchange: As part of a new exchange scheme with MIT, six physics students from MIT will be spending next year in Cambridge taking our Part II courses while a similar number of our current part IB physics students will spend their Part II year in MIT. At the end of their exchange year, those taking part from Cambridge will obtain an unclassed degree (``deemed to have deserved honours'') plus a transcript from MIT, so the MIT exchange can only be an option for students taking the 4-year physics course.

Teaching Option: The possibility of introducing a Part II option on Education, involving some physics teaching in local schools, is being pursued and will probably go ahead.

Vacation Project Vivas: Action has been taken to resolve the problem of late Vacation Project vivas and this should not recur in future years.

4. Part IA

Fields, Relativity and Quantum Physics (A), Dr Green (103 replies, 0, 5, 25, 58, 15, avg=3.8)

This was a well lectured and interesting course, with good handouts and clear explanations of the material. The length and level of the examples sheet was about right. A lot of new concepts had been introduced in the last two weeks of the course which were hard to absorb in the time available before the exams.

Fields, Relativity and Quantum Physics (B), Dr Carter (99 replies, 1, 4, 23, 60, 11, avg=3.8)

There was a very positive response to this course, which had been well organised and well lectured. The material on quantum physics was quite condensed and many students were not sure how much they were expected to learn for the exams. There were problems with the use of green and red on the OHP: especially the red pen was not visible towards the back of the Chemistry Lab lecture theatre.

Practicals, Dr Ford and others (197 replies, 8, 40, 111, 37, 1, avg=2.9)

The practicals were generally felt to be better and more interesting this term, and it helped to have a choice of practical. However the practicals were generally still too long and too difficult, leaving insufficient time to think about what was actually being done. The practical on complex impedance in particular was felt to be much too long. The Fourier practical was also too long, but was nevertheless enjoyed by those taking it since it involved using some initiative. In contrast, the spreadsheets practical was considered by most to be far too easy. The manual for the gamma-ray experiment was considered to be very poor. It would be useful if the feedback questionnaires allowed students to comment on the individual practicals, as in the Lent Term.

5. Part IB

Physics of Electronic Devices, Prof. Ahmed (5 replies, 0, 0, 1, 4, 0, avg=3.8)

(The student representative for this course was not at the meeting.)

6. Part IB Advanced

Quantum Mechanics I, Prof. Payne (72 replies, 1, 1, 8, 36, 26, avg=4.2)

This was an excellent course which had been very well lectured. The forays beyond the course were also well judged. Giving out the handouts early so that they could be looked at over the Easter vacation was appreciated, as was the use of the last three lectures for revision of the key points. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if more time could be found for spin and identical particles as most students found it difficult to absorb these topics so close to the exams. The lecturer's handwriting was frequently illegible.

Condensed Matter Physics, Prof. Friend (71 replies, 5, 18, 37, 9, 2, avg=2.8)

The course contained too much material, too big a fraction of which was non-examinable, and many topics had felt quite rushed. Those who had taken Part IA Materials were at an advantage. It was suggested that the main handout for the course be handed out before the Easter vacation (as was done for the Quantum Mechanics course) to ease assimilation of the material in lectures. The course handouts (especially the last) contained quite a few errors. The questions on the examples sheet did not match the course contents particularly well.

General Comments

It was suggested that students be allowed to hand in their practical books before the exams at the same time as their Head of Class interview, thereby reducing the number of trips which must be made out to the Cavendish.

The approaches taken by the Heads of Class to the Part IB practical write-ups were often quite different in the Michaelmas and Lent Terms. It would reassure students if it could be made clearer (via the Handbook for example) that the marks from different Heads of Class would be moderated by the examiners.

The handouts for the examples classes in mathemetics were often given out very late. It was suggested that the handouts for all the classes be given out in a single booklet at the start of the course, as was already done for the Part III classes.

7. Part II

General Examples Classes, Dr Needs and others (7 replies, 0, 1, 2, 3, 1, avg=3.6)

The number of classes and the coverage of the material was considered to be about right. The last class is rather late but this is probably unavoidable. It would be very helpful if the question sheets for all the classes could be handed out early (for example in a single booklet at the start of the course as is already done for Part III), especially as many students like to work through the problems in their own time, without necessarily attending the classes themselves. The solutions for some of the classes were made available after the class, and it would be helpful if this could be extended to all the classes.

8. Part III

Examples Classes in General Physics, Dr Warner and others (8 replies, 1, 1, 2, 4, 0, avg=3.1)

The examples classes generally worked better when they were structured to some degree, for example with the lecturer going through some of the problems part way through the class. The solutions for some of the classes were made available via the web, and it would be helpful if this could be extended to all the classes.

The Part III student representatives had sent out an email questionnaire asking not only about the Part III examples classes, but also about the Part III year in general and the overall impression left by four years of physics. Particular issues raised about Part III included the allocation procedure for Part III projects, the choice of Minor Options, and the amount of supervision provided. Some students had been caught off guard by the General Relativity exam which this year contained an essay question. For the physics course overall, particular concerns were the difficulties experienced in putting together physics from different courses (and the consequent dread of Section A questions), and the off-putting nature of the Part IA and Part IB physics practicals. Some communication issues were also raised; access to the web is still difficult from some colleges, and many of the physics web pages are not visible from outside the .cam domain, which makes access from home during the vacations very difficult or impossible. Also, email communications which make use of attachments should be avoided.

9. Any Other Business

The student representatives were thanked for all the work they had put in throughout the year and were presented with book tokens by way of appreciation. Particular thanks go to John Eldridge who set a record by serving on the Consultative Committee throughout all four years of his career as a physics undergraduate.

10. Next Meeting

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 29th November 2001 at 09:30.

JRB, 27th June 2001