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Department of Physics

The Cavendish Laboratory

Physics Consultative Committee

CC96: Minutes - Thursday 21 May 1998

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

1. Approval of Draft Minutes

The draft minutes of the meetings held on March 12th and April 23rd were approved.

2. Matters Arising

The suggestion made at the CC meeting of March 12th that the current Part III course on ``Concepts in Physics'' be replaced by a series of lectures on current research at the Cavendish had been favourably received by the Teaching Committee. The new course, ``Themes in Cavendish Research'', will begin next Michaelmas Term and will probably run on a two-year cycle to accommodate all the various Cavendish research groups. The non-examinable courses on ``Philosophy of Classical and Quantum Physics'' and ``Modelling in Physics'' will be moved from the Michaelmas to the Lent Term.

The suggestion that the Part II Examples Classes be moved from the Lent Term to the Easter Term was also favourably received and will be implemented next year.

The TC had considered the suggestion that each lecturer provide a list of recent Tripos questions which might be useful for revision, but had decided that it would not be appropriate to make this compulsory.

Prof. Baldwin is currently heading a review of the way in which Practical Classes at the Cavendish are organised and assessed. One possibility being considered is to move towards a more milestone-based approach to demonstrator marking, whereby marks are awarded for successfully completing different stages of an experiment. This suggestion was greeted favourably by the student representatives.

3. Teaching Committee Matters

At its next meeting, the TC would consider whether it might be useful to arrange a talk on examination skills at the Cavendish, as is sometimes done in other departments. It was pointed out that the CUSU already organise such a talk each year, and it was felt that the best approach would be to advertise this event within the physics department.

The Senior Tutor's Committee had agreed that up to four hours of supervision could be provided for the Part IB course on ``Mathematical Concepts in Physics''. Dr Marseglia would arrange supervisors where this could not be done by individual Colleges.

The results of the new student questionnaires inviting feedback on the quality of Part II and Part III supervisions had been analysed by Dr Marseglia. The overwhelming response had been that the supervisions were of good quality. Two or three supervisors had been identified as unsatisfactory and would not be asked to supervise in future. The supervision questionnaires were felt to have been very useful and would continue to be used in future.

The working group set up by the TC to consider the theoretical physics course syllabuses has recommended that the Part II courses TP1 and TP2 should be swapped. The Part III courses were still being considered.

4. Gender Issues

Dr Green presented some statistics on the proportions of male and female students taking NST Physics, and on the subject intentions of male and female students taking Part IA Physics at the start and end of their first year (see attached note). A larger proportion of female than male students change their intended specialisation from physics to another subject by the end of Part IA, possible reasons being that (1) physics is too hard, (2) physics practicals are off-putting, (3) the NST maths course is too hard. The student representatives felt that female students were generally less confident than their male counterparts and that (3) might be more important than (1).

The possibility of sending out worked examples or other material on physics to students before they come up to Cambridge was discussed, but it was felt that this would be counter-productive. There will be a new lecturer (Dr Waldram) this year for the Michaelmas Term Part IA `B'-course, and this will provide an opportunity to reassess the level and content of this course, with a view to trying to help ease the transition from school to university physics. Moves are also underway to try to make the physics practicals, especially those early in the year, less stressful. Encouraging a greater proportion of female students to study physics is clearly a complex problem and it is intended that the TC will keep this issue under constant review.

5. Part III

Examples Classes, Dr Warner

Attendance at the Examples Classes had been poor - typically 15-20 students. Dr Allison and Dr Saunders had given about 15 minute overviews at the start of their classes, and it was felt that this was a good feature which could perhaps be made more general. For many classes, the examples sheets were not available in the filing cabinet outside the Pippard Lecture Theatre. It was suggested that the examples sheets and solutions might also be made available via the web.

Part III Projects, Dr Ford

It was asked whether the allocation of Part III Projects could be carried out at the end of the Part II year, as is the case in Chemistry and Engineering. This was clearly not possible for next year but could be considered for future years.

The deadline for holding Part III Project vivas is very close to the exams themselves. Due to time pressures in the Easter Term it would be very difficult to move this deadline forward, but more encouragement will be given to supervisors to hold the vivas as early as possible. There seemed to be a wide variation amongst supervisors as to what was expected of the student in the viva; for example some supervisors had made it a requirement that transparencies be used during the viva. The amount of guidance given by supervisors during projects varied widely. Most students (and supervisors ?) were not aware that up to four supervisions were allowed, and it would be useful if this information could be added to the Physics Course Handbook.

6. Part II

Feedback to students of the marks obtained in the TP2 examination had not occurred. The TP1 exam marks had been sent to all students, since performance in this exam could influence the choice of future course options. Though this is not the case for TP2, students would still very much welcome the opportunity to find out in good time how they had fared in the TP2 exam.

Some Part II `A' course students had commented that, due to the small numbers taking this course, the poster project had been carried out individually rather than in teams. In future years, it will be urged that this be organised as a genuine group project.

7. Part IB Advanced

Quantum Mechanics, Dr Carter (49 replies, avg=4.2)

An excellent course, very well lectured with an engaging style and good reinforcement of key material. The handout was very good, and was complemented well by worked examples in lectures. Some students had not had adequate prior coverage of the relevant mathematics, but this will hopefully be rectified next year with changes to the supervision arrangements for the ``Concepts in Mathematics'' course.

Solid State Physics I, Prof. Field (47 replies, avg=2.6)

The material on crystallography at the beginning of the course had been covered very quickly and was difficult to understand for those students who had not taken the Part IA option in Materials. The questions on the examples sheet did not always link well to the material presented in lectures.

Examples Class in Mathematical Physics, Dr Warner and others (13 replies, avg=3.5)

Most students had not attended these classes, though they had again been found useful by those present. It was felt that the classes needed to be given more structure.

General Comments

The arrangements for the handing in of the Head of Class write-up at the start of the Easter Term had been advertised in lectures, but not all students were aware of them. It was suggested that e-mail might be used also in such circumstances, and that the Physics Course Handbook (``green book'') should emphasise that students should be aware that e-mail might be used to convey information.

8. Part IB Physics

Physics of Electronic Devices, Dr Cleaver (3 replies, avg=3.3)

Only limited feedback had been obtained on this course (three replies) and no particular problems were raised.

9. Part IA

Fields, Relativity and Quantum Physics (course A), Dr Green (73 replies, avg=3.8)

An interesting and enjoyable course with a good handout and good examples sheet. It was sometimes difficult to know which material actually needed to be learnt. The material and the examples on relativistic dynamics were generally felt to be difficult. More demonstrations would be useful. Dimming the lights in the lecture theatre made it harder to stay fully alert.

Fields, Relativity and Quantum Physics (course B), Prof. Longair (119 replies, avg=4.2)

An extremely well received course where the lecturer's enthusiasm was greatly appreciated. The demonstrations were excellent. The handout was very good, though it was sometimes difficult to distinguish between examinable and non-examinable material. It was suggested that summary sheets might be provided in addition, but the lecturer felt that this was something that students should produce themselves as an aid to revision.

Practicals, Prof. Lonzarich (189 replies, avg=2.5)

Many students commented that the practicals in the Easter Term were an improvement over those in previous terms, and it was unclear why the overall rating (2.5) was so low. The problem of time pressure had been generally less severe, perhaps because students were more familiar with carrying out practicals by this stage of the year. The experiment on complex impedance was felt to be too long however. The manuals provided were generally of good quality except for the gamma-ray experiment. Most students found the arrangement this term of having a different demonstrator for each practical preferable to that in previous terms of having the same demonstrator throughout.

10. Any Other Business

A request had been received from Dr Linfield that students be asked to add their names to the questionnaires so that any comments made could be followed up. It was agreed that this would be introduced as an optional feature next year.

The possibility that the present paper-based questionnaire system could be converted to an electronic (e.g. web-based) system has also been considered. The Engineering department, for example, had obtained a much improved return rate by converting to such a system, and JRB had discussed this with Dr Prager from Engineering. However, unlike Engineering, relatively little physics teaching is centred on lab-based computing facilities, and it was felt that fewer rather than more physics students would complete an electronic questionnaire, especially in the Part IA year. Some features of the Engineering system, such as the ``Instant Whinge'' web icon, could usefully be implemented however.

The student representatives were thanked for all the work they had put in throughout the year, especially in view of the additional burden of the TQA exercise, and were presented with book tokens by way of appreciation.

11. Next Meeting

The next Consultative Committee meeting will be on Thursday 3rd December 1998 at 09:30a.m.

JRB 28th May 1998