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CC97: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 3rd December 1998

Physics Consultative Committee

CC97: Minutes of meeting of Thursday 3rd December 1998

Present: Ms Berry, Mr Buckley, Mr Chan, Mr Copp, Ms Deng, Mr Eldridge, Ms Farquhar, Mr Holmes, Ms Klien, Mr Patel, Mr Wilson, Prof. Longair, Dr Waldram, Dr Ward, Dr Batley.

1. New Members

The new student representatives were welcomed and the purpose of the committee was briefly described.

2. Minutes

The draft minutes of the previous meeting were approved.

3. Matters Arising

Examination skills talk: The question of whether it would be useful to arrange a talk for physics undergraduates on examination skills was raised. In contrast to last year, This year's student representatives felt that the existing talks arranged by CUSU were too general in nature and that something aimed more specifically at physics students would be very worthwhile. The matter would be considered again by the TC at its next meeting.

Gender Issues: A meeting was being organised by Dr Marseglia for female staff and female graduate students to discuss gender issues within the Department. The TC had also discussed these issues at a recent meeting to which all female staff had been invited.

4. Teaching Committee Matters

Dr Ward summarised those items relevant to the CC that would be considered by the TC in the near future:

  • the status of IB single subject Physics;
  • the possibility that more Part III option courses shared with other departments could be made available;
  • a review of the current waves and optics courses, coordinated by Dr Waldram;
  • a review of the teaching of computational physics;
  • the ongoing review of solid state physics courses - the Part IB course has been revised already for this year and the review will now move on to consider the courses in Part II and Part III;
  • the teaching of mathematics in the Natural Sciences Tripos.

Subject Review: Prof. Longair reported that the department had been awarded a score of 23 out of 24 in the recent Subject Review (SR) exercise and thanked the student representatives for their support and for their valuable input. The main area which would need reviewing as a result of the SR was the procedures adopted in the setting and marking of examinations. We should also consider how to improve the quantity and quality of the student feedback on our teaching, and this would be discussed in one of the CC meetings later this year.

5. Part III

Solid State Physics, Dr Allison (26 replies, avg=3.7)

This was a very well lectured course. The handouts were sometimes a little sparse, and some of the problems on the examples sheets relied heavily on particular textbooks which were not always easily available in the library.

Structure and Properties of Condensed Matter, Prof. Donald (16 replies, avg=4.0)

An excellent course, clearly and enthusiastically lectured. It was sometimes difficult to take down sufficient notes in the time available.

Gravitational Astrophysics and Cosmology, Prof. Fabian, Dr Lasenby and Prof. Rees (32 replies, avg=4.0)

A very interesting course. The handouts were good, but occasional summaries would be helpful. Many students had found the 3rd examples sheet quite difficult, and it was felt that it would be useful to cover the material on the kinematics of the expansion of the Universe in more detail.

Particle Physics, Dr Parker and Dr Batley (18 replies, avg=4.1)

A very interesting course. Dr Parker's demonstrations were excellent. The handout sometimes contained only the bare bones of the material being covered and there was not much extra space to write down the extra information presented in the lectures. The examples sheet was felt to be a bit too long.

Physics of Earth as a Planet, Dr Priestley and Dr Haines (23 replies, avg=2.8)

The practicals were excellent, but the quality of the lectures varied a lot. Some handouts had no detail attached to the diagrams, while others were much better in this respect. The material on continuum mechanics had been covered too fast. Most students had found this to be a much more mathematical course than expected, with a lot of material and a wide mix of topics, and it was felt that it would be useful to flag this clearly in the synopsis.

Theoretical Concepts in Physics, Dr Simons (12 replies, avg=3.4)

The lectures in this course were very good and inspirational. It was felt that more introductory problems would be helpful, and that it would be useful to give more by way of introduction to new topics (e.g. second quantisation) in the lectures. The worked examples were good, as was the use of the blackboard to present material.

Quantum Field Theory, Dr Manton (10 replies, avg=3.4)

A very good, well lectured course. It was felt that worked examples were needed. The timetabling of the course was less than ideal as it clashed with the new course on 'Themes of Cavendish Research' and finished just before the Particles lectures. There had been problems with the supervision arrangements: a list had been put up in the DAMTP common room but a combination lock number was needed to get in. An extra supervision had been arranged for this year's course however. The lecture theatre used was too small for the number of students attending the course.

Structure and Evolution of Stars, Prof. Gough and Dr Tout (3 replies, avg=3.0)

Only a small number of students attended this course. It would be useful if the course could be given more structure.

Themes of Cavendish Research, Dr Phillips and others (16 replies, avg=3.4)

This was a new course, with each lecture being given by a different member of staff. The quality of the lectures varied widely. They were generally found to be interesting, but students were not always sure what they were meant to get out of the lectures. The lecturers should be encouraged not to include a lot of mathematical detail. Overall, the lectures were not felt to have helped much with the question of applying for Ph.D.'s, and it was suggested that one of the lectures be given over specifically to the topic of Ph.D. applications. The turnout had been low (typically about 30 students), though this may have been due partly to timetabling clashes.

General Comments

CC elections: Since Part III courses are all options courses, the election procedure for the Part III student representatives needs to be advertised more widely, via a transparency to be shown in all lecture courses for example.

Solutions to examples: It is TC policy that all Part III lecturers make worked solutions available to students at the end of a course, e.g. by placing a copy of the solutions in the Part III library, but this had not always happened.

6. Part II

Solid State Physics II, Dr Needs (58 replies, avg=2.9)

The lecturer tended simply to read out the handout without providing any extra explanation of the material. The pace had been too slow, and the lectures often overran. Audibility was poor, even with the microphone. The examples sheet had not been very useful in terms of helping to understand the material; many of the questions merely involved substituting numbers into a particular formula.

A working group is currently considering the syllabuses of all solid state physics courses. This group will shortly be looking at the Part II course in detail, following on from the changes already introduced this year into the Part IB course.

Thermal and Statistical Physics, Dr Julian (58 replies, avg=3.9)

An excellent course, lectured in an exciting and inspiring fashion. In places, the handout did not contain sufficient detail and the material had been slightly rushed.

Quantum Mechanics II, Dr Ward (58 replies, avg=3.5)

This course was very well received. The two sets of handouts had complemented each other well and were much appreciated. The examples sheet related well to the lectures, and making corrections available on the web had worked well.

Relativity and Electromagnetism, Dr Alexander (56 replies, avg=3.7)

An excellent course, very well lectured.

Computational Physics, Dr Nex (53 replies, avg=2.3)

Most students had found this course to be very unsatisfactory. The handout was poor, and it was suggested that a more tutorial style handout would be more appropriate. Comprehensive handouts on FORTRAN and UNIX were needed, for example along the lines of those provided by the Computer Laboratory. It was also suggested that the lectures be replaced by examples classes so that students could try things out for themselves. The web site at Liverpool, suggested as a useful reference, had not been found to be helpful. The number of demonstrator sessions had been reduced early on, and many students had found themselves rushed for time.

A working group has already been set up to look at the teaching of computational physics in general, in response to similar problems encountered with the course last year. It was suggested that it would be useful if the working group were to meet with the student representatives themselves. It was also noted that the lecturer had been very helpful and sympathetic concerning the problems encountered, and this was much appreciated.

TP1, Dr Ansorge and Dr Terentjev (34 replies, avg=3.3)

This was rather a ``course of two halves'' which tended to be poorly organised, especially in the second half. The material itself was generally found to be interesting and challenging. Dr Terentjev however did not seem to be aware of what material had already been covered in other courses. One particular problem encountered was that covariant and contravariant notation had appeared with little or no explanation.

The first two examples classes (by Dr Ansorge) had been excellent, but problems had been encountered with those in the second half; the reading list provided was unsuitable, and solutions to the problems had not been made available during the class.

Experiment E1, Dr Scott and others (17 replies, avg=2.9)

In general, the experiments had passed off smoothly and were well received. Problems had been encountered in some cases however, including: equipment which was oversensitive to vibrations, poor quality of demonstrating, an experiment where the staff member organising the experiment was hardly seen after the initial briefing, and an experiment where the student write-ups had not been read before the viva.

General Comments

Supervisions: A common complaint was that work was not marked properly before the supervision. Most students are not clear about exactly what they can expect from the supervsion procedure and it was suggested that something could be added to the Course Handbook to clarify this.

Sexual harassment: The Course Handbook already contains some information on the issue of sexual harassment, but it was suggested that this could be given greater prominance by adding it also to the practical class manuals. It was also suggested that it would be useful to have a female staff member as a contact person in case of problems.

Literature Reviews: A new procedure for allocating Literature Reviews had been introduced this year, whereby students submit a list of up to six reviews via a web-based system, and the reviews are then allocated centrally. No problems with this system had been reported to the student representatives and it was felt that it should be continued in future years.

7. Part IB Advanced

Dynamics, Dr Webber (54 replies, avg=3.4)

This was a well lectured course, relatively easy early on, but becoming progressively harder and faster towards the end. There were too many questions on the last bit of the course on the examples sheet, and it was felt that adding some simple questions on tensors would be very helpful. The gaps introduced into the middle of lectures were good.

Experimental Methods, Dr Saunders (52 replies, avg=3.8)

A very good and entertaining course. Some students had commented that statistics were being treated at too low a level, but it was pointed out that many students now saw little if any statistical analysis at A-level, and in general it was felt that by emphasising the basics and practical applications, the lecturer had given a very good feel for the subject.

Waves, Dr Riley (52 replies, avg=3.5)

A well lectured course with a good handout. Some of the material had been covered too fast and the last part of the course had been dropped. The demonstrations in the lectures were excellent, as were the computer demonstrations on the web.

Mathematical Concepts in Physics, Dr Smith (13 replies, avg=3.0)

While the handout for this course was very good, it was felt that the lecturer had not always explained the material particularly clearly.

Examples Classes in Mathematical Physics (32 replies, avg=3.1)

Only one examples class had been given so far but had been found to be useful. The use of overhead transparencies would be preferable to using the blackboard. It would also be helpful if the questions could be handed out beforehand so that better use could be made of the help available during the classes. More encouragement should be given to all students to attend the classes.

Practical Classes, Dr Saunders (50 replies, avg=3.2)

These were considered to be a lot better than the IA practicals. Most students appreciated the longer time available for the practicals and the more relaxed atmosphere. Some problems had been encountered with the practical on tuning forks as some demonstrators seemed not to have understood the experiment well themselves, and many students had been short of time in the FET practical as the failure rate for the transistors was quite high.

8. Part IB

Waves and Imaging Instruments, Dr Bleloch (10 replies, avg=3.4)

This was a well lectured course where the lecturer had maintained the students' interest in the material. Legibility was poor however, and in the mathematical sections, variables were often not defined properly and there were quite a few errors. The handouts had only covered the first half of the course. The questions on the examples sheet were good, but numerical answers had not been provided.

Practical Classes, Dr Bleloch (10 replies, avg=3.4)

The practicals had generally gone well. The linkage to lectures had worked better for the Monday session than for the Friday session.

9. Part IA

Mechanics and Molecules (course A), Dr Duffett-Smith (121 replies, avg=4.0)

A very well received course, lectured in a lively and interesting fashion. The handouts were a bit sparse, but most students had had no problems in copying down material themselves during lectures. The material on kinetic theory had been covered too fast and was difficult, and more worked examples would be useful here. Also, the change from structured to non-structured questions on the examples sheet occurs at the start of kinetic theory, which is perhaps not the ideal place. Some questions on error analysis had been introduced on the examples sheet this year, but many students still had difficulties with this and further consolidation would be helpful.

Mechanics and Molecules (course B), Dr Waldram (165 replies, avg=3.0)

The handout for this course did not include everything covered in lectures, and many students had found it difficult to copy down the notes in the time available. A lot of time had been spent on mathematical techniques early in the course, probably more than necessary for those who had taken double maths at A-level, and this had limited the time available for illustrative material later on. Many worked examples had been introduced this year, and it was felt that even more of these would be helpful, especially for kinetic theory. The course syllabus was found to be very good in terms of easing the transition from school to university, with the Boltzmann distribution the only completely new material for most students.

Practical Classes, Dr Chaudhri (283 replies, avg=3.1)

The changes introduced to the IA practicals this year seemed to have improved their reception compared to previous years. Two experiments had been shortened, but many students found that there was still too little time to complete the pendulum experiment. In the first practical, the introduction by the Head of Class had confused many students. The quality of the demonstrating seemed generally to be good, though demonstrators sometimes gave conflicting advice.

10. Any Other Business

It was asked whether the rms of the overall scores given to lecturers on the student questionnaires could be made available as well as the mean value.

JRB, 22nd December 1998