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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory

Physics Consultative Committee

CC128: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 12th March 2009

Present: Dr D A Green (chairman), M Michailidis, J Burley, J Foerster, P Armitage, S Begley, W Barter, C Wymant, P de Grouchy, Prof. D Ward, Dr R Padman, Prof. Littlewood (for some items), H Marshall (minutes).

Apologies: E Freeman.

1. Minutes

The Minutes of the last meeting were approved.

2. Teaching Committee Matters

Prof. Ward confirmed that the proposed revisions to the IA course, which had been outlined at the previous meeting, would be implemented in the coming academic year. The course will be split into five lecture courses and will cover slightly less ground but in more depth. The individual lecturers have been asked to liaise with each other to have a consistent course throughout the year.

There will be some slight changes to the Part III courses next year following on from this years course sharing in Part II with the IoA.

The discussion on the courses was taken in a different order: all items are recorded in agenda order.

3. Part IA

Electromagnetism, Oscillations and Waves (Dr Jones) Overall Score 3.29 (225/410 replies, 55%)

The course was generally well received but it was felt that there was not enough differentiation between the handout and the lectures. At times it was felt that the speed of working through the difficult parts was too fast. It would be useful if the handouts could give pointers as to where to look for further information.

IA Practicals (Dr Riley) Overall Score 3.4 (279 replies)

The practicals were felt to be more enjoyable but many students still found there was not enough time. Some students found it confusing having a separate marking scheme for each practical in addition to the instructions in the manual. The standard of the demonstrators was generally good, but some gave confusing advice.

4. Part IB Physics A and B

Quantum Physics (A) (Dr Gibson) Overall Score 3.45 (123/158 replies, 78%)

There was an even split between students who liked this course, and those who did not. Some students would have liked more theory. It was also felt that not enough background was given for the questions on the examples sheets. The lecture notes also need more space to allow for additional notes.

Classical Dynamics and Fluids (B) (Prof. Gull) Overall Score 2.84 (95/146 replies, 65%)

There was a very broad distribution of marks for this course with some students finding the order of the course difficult to follow. Some felt that too much time was spent revising material from the previous lecture. The lecturers website was very useful, but there are aspects of that handout there were not liked by all.

IB Practicals (Prof. Haniff) (118/159 replies, 74%)

The practicals were well received and felt to be better than last term. It was noted that this was the first time that electronic feedback forms had been useful for the practicals, and the omission of an overall rating question would be rectified in future.

5. Part II

Astrophysical Fluids (Prof. Clarke) Overall Score 3.42 (58/77 replies, 75%)

This course is shared with Part II Astronomy and new to our students this year. Students did not like the lack of handouts and the pressure to buy the book that accompanies this course. The use of the blackboard was difficult to follow.

Concepts in Physics (Prof. Littlewood) Overall Score 3.83 (58/77 replies, 75%)

The lecturer is new to this course and had devised some new lectures. It was well received but due to timing issues some students were unable to attend all lecturers. The course will run over into next term.

TP2 (Prof. Payne/Prof Stirling) Overall Score 3.49 (43/130 replies, 33%)

Generally well recieved course, including the examples classes.

Computational Physics Lectures (Dr Richer) Overall Score 3.57 (67/135 replies, 50%)

The course was new this year with a new lecturer and followed on from the IB Computing course from last year. The students appreciated the fact that Dr Richer made lots of effort to improve the course as it went along.

Computational Physics Practical Classes (Dr Richer) (60/135 replies, 44%)

It was felt that there were not always enough demonstrators, with some demonstrators spending too much time with one or two students. The number of compulsory exercises had been reduced by one. Students taking the Computing project as a piece of further work would like the titles offered to be made available before E2b starts so that they still have time to choose between the two.

It was suggested that in future both the Computing lectures and practicals be included in a single feedback form.

6. Part III

Information Theory (Prof. MacKay) Overall Score 4.25 (13/28 replies, 46%)

Well liked course. Supervisions were not structured in the same way as other courses which was not liked by some.

Biological Physics (Dr Guck) Overall Score 4.67 (3/5 replies, 60%)

The numbers for this course were disappointing. It is hoped that it will prove more popular next year.

Nuclear Power Engineering (Dr Parks) Overall Score 3.71 (8/19 replies, 42%)

This is a course with Part IIB Engineering, which had been available to physics for the first time this year. It had been success, as the material was accessible to our students, at an appropriate level.

Entrepreneurship (Dr Muthirulan) Overall Score 4.00 (1/2 replies, 50%)

The course was given by a different lecturer again this year and only two people from physics took the course, only one response was received. The restriction that students had to do project work with others from the same Department was not liked.

Frontiers of Observational Astrophysics (Dr Saunders) Overall Score 4.20 (10/16 replies, 63%)

The course was well liked and the lecturer enthusiastic. Some felt that the handouts could have more direction and focus.

Medical Physics (Dr Ansorge) Overall Score 3.40 (5/11 replies, 45%)

Some students found the course content quite easy.

Gauge Field Theory (Dr Batley) Overall Score 3.69 (13/19 replies, 33%)

The course was well received. It was noted that there was some overlap between the Quantum Field Theory course.

Phase Transitions and Collective Phenomena (Prof. Simons) Overall Score 4.75 (4/10 replies, 40%)

Well received course with an excellent lecturer. Some students found the supervision questions too hard.

Quantum Information (Dr Barnes) Overall Score 3.00 (11/19 replies, 58%)

Some found the lectures confusing and the lecturers handwriting difficult to understand. The handouts were also not very clear.

The Frontiers of Particle Physics (Dr Lester) Overall Score 4.25 (8/20 replies, 40%)

The course was well received with an engaging lecturer. There was a problem with the late starting of the supervisions.

The Physics of Nanoelectronic Systems (Dr Ford) Overall Score 3.80 (5/9 replies, 56%)

No specific comments.

General Relativity (Dr Hobson) Overall Score 4.33 (12/20 replies, 60%)

A well received course with an excellent lecturer, although the supervision questions were difficult.

Advanced Quantum Field Theory (Dr Dorey) Overall Score 3.80 (5/8 replies, 60%)

There was some difficulty in being able to see the board as the room was not tiered. It was felt that a warning should be given as this course is very much more difficult that Quantum Field Theory in Michaelmas.

The Frontiers of Experimental Condensed Matter Physics (Dr Cole) Overall Score 4.00 (8/10 replies, 80%)

The course was given by a new lecturer this year and was well received. More detail on the handout was requested.

Ethics of Physics (Dr Jennings) Overall Score 3.38 (35/85 replies, 41%)

This is an optional course . Some students felt that there was not enough direction or guidance and that the course needed a bit more structure.

Philosophy of Physics (Dr Butterfield) Overall Score 3.11 (36/85 replies, 42%)

This course like the Ethics course is optional. Again some students felt that it could do with a bit more structure and theme.

7. Other Matters for Discussion

i) Discussion took place regarding the electronic feedback forms and the general feeling was that these were much preferred to paper versions. It was requested that if there were any comments on the wording of the questions for the feedback forms, these should be sent to the Teaching Office.

ii) Following the request of IB Rep J Burley there was a discussion of the provision of model answers to examination questions. J Burley had put together a paper requesting that the Department routinely provide the students with model answers to previous years examination papers. Currently some model answers are available from the Teaching Office for Supervisors. Dr Padman stated that although examiners provide marking schemes, these are so the paper can be marked, and are not the same as a full working model answer that might be used in the supervision context. It had been agreed by the TC from this year that examiners will provide a commentary to all examination questions as well as numerical/formulae answers, and that these will be made available to students. This question will be raised at the annual DoS meeting in July and further discussion will take place.

iii) Dr Padman/Prof. Ward asked the Part III Reps for their comments on increasing the length of the Part III Major Options examination from 1.5 to 2 hours per paper. The student reps thought that this was a good idea as it was felt that 1.5 hours for a 24 lecture course was too little time to answer a question in detail. Discussion will continue with the Part III Senior Examiner and the timetabling will have to be considered.

8. Other Business

It was noted that, as is advertised in the `Blue Book', the Teaching Office should be the first point of contact with any teaching query.

9. Next Meeting

The date of the next meeting Thursday 21st May 2009 at 09:30 in the Committee Room.