The members of the Blackett Laboratory staff you are likely to interact with during your studies fit into a complex network. Here is a brief summary of the different categories of individuals you will meet.
Permanent members of the academic staff are sub-divided into Professors, Readers, Senior Lecturers and Lecturers, about 115 in total, and each devotes, on average, a quarter of their time at work to undergraduate teaching. (The remainder is divided amongst postgraduate teaching, administration and research).
Teaching Fellows were added to the Undergraduate Teaching staff in 2009. These three appointments, on relatively long fixed-term contracts, are all postdoctoral physicists with a special interest and experience in teaching. They are not involved in normal physics research and they have brought an extra energy and sense of direction to the teaching. You will benefit from their new approaches, techniques and ideas in the coming years.
Research Associates (RAs or PDRAs, often called post-docs) outnumber the permanent academic staff, and are usually on two or three year contracts. They already have a PhD and their primary task is research, but they do a limited amount of teaching, usually as tutors or laboratory demonstrators.
Advanced Fellows are a small but prestigious group – RAs who have been recognised (by the Royal Society or the Research Councils) as being of exceptional talent. Like the RAs, they have a modest teaching load.
Postgraduate students also teach. They bring freshness to teaching and are usually closer in age to most undergraduates. They are all working towards the PhD degree, have good first degrees and may also have a Masters degree. Their teaching duties are principally as laboratory or teaching assistants.
Computing and laboratory technicians make an important contribution to teaching and are the first people to talk to if your experiment lacks a vital component or the computer where you are logged on is refusing to co-operate. (Note that you ask the demonstrators if you do not understand what you are doing or why you are doing it, not the laboratory technicians). Workshop technicians will help if you need something to be made as part of your project.
Quite possibly the group you will see more often than any other is the small number of people who support the teaching system, especially Laura Kington and Kayleigh Murphy in the Department’s Student Administration Office, Room 317. They are a vital source of information, help and advice. The office is frequently the place where work has to be handed in (usually by a strict deadline). It is also the place to obtain other useful documents.
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Tutors and Tutorial Classes
In years 1 and 2 you will be a member of a tutorial class of about 20 students. Each tutorial class has two tutors who are members of the academic staff. There may also be Research Associates and Postgraduate students associated with each tutorial class. Laboratory and Computing and Professional Skills classes, as well as tutorials, will be done in these groups.
One of the two academic staff tutors will be your Personal Tutor, who will usually remain in that relationship with you throughout your time as an undergraduate. Your personal tutor is someone with whom to discuss your progress, your choice of options and other “strategic” problems. Normally, you will meet your Personal Tutor at the beginning and end of each term, although a tutor or student can initiate a meeting to discuss specific matters (option choices, a request for a reference, advice on the College facilities, etc).
Your Personal Tutor will supply references for your job applications, a duty which does not expire on your graduation. This is something that he or she will find difficult to do if you have not seen them on a regular basis.
If you hit personal difficulties of any kind, your first port of call is usually your Personal Tutor who will advise you or direct you to an appropriate expert. You are, of course, free to approach any of the sources of aid and assistance (the Senior Tutor, the Undergraduate Education Manager, the College Tutors and Counsellors, the Student Union Advisor etc) on your own initiative, but it is usually best to talk to your Personal Tutor first.
In Years 1 and 2 your two tutors will act as academic tutors, sometimes assisted by Research Associates or Postgraduate Students.
During these two years your tutorial class of 20 will meet with a tutor in a classroom three or four times per week. These tutorials will be associated with individual lecture courses, as well as covering more general skills such as problem solving.
In Year 3 (or Year 4 for Year in Europe students) tutorials will help prepare you for the comprehensive examination papers.
Reports and attendance
Tutors are required to write short reports on you at the end of the first two terms in the academic year, including the fraction of tutorials attended and your performance in set work. You will receive feedback from these reports, which are added to your file and will be consulted by academic staff for the purpose of writing references or to determine your academic standing. Tutors are required to inform the teaching administration if you miss tutorials for unexplained reasons and if a pattern emerges your Personal Tutor and the Senior Tutor are informed. It is advisable, and good manners, to let your tutor know if you are unable to attend a tutorial – preferably in advance.
Note that the College is obliged to inform the UK Visas and Immigration if anyone on a student visa misses ten “expected interactions”, such as lectures, lab sessions, tutorials, hand-in deadlines etc.
From October 2017 we will be using the Starfish system to record attendance.
The first three years all include laboratory work, either as a “core” (compulsory) course or as an option. Each of these laboratories is under the direction of a member of the academic staff, supported by heads of individual experiments and a large team of laboratory demonstrators. Demonstrators include academic staff, research associates and research students. The experimental sections and computing are each covered by sets of demonstrators who specialise in one topic. They give you assistance as required, often in the form of a discussion which will encourage you and your lab partner to solve the problem between yourselves. Demonstrators also assess your laboratory work; the marks are discussed with and validated by members of the academic staff.
Head of Years
We introduced heads of year for the first time in 2014. The Head of Year 1 is Simon Bland. The head of year role is to coordinate all of the tutorials, problem sheets and marking of assessed problems for the year. In the case of year 1, this extends to organising the maths mastery test and the Christmas test.
The head of year is also responsible for the website that hosts the online tests carried out throughout the year and for the upkeep of the students gradebook. They help the College assess any mitigating circumstances that may have occurred during assessment.
Senior Tutor & Undergraduate Education Manager
The Senior Tutor (Dr Ingo Mueller-Wodarg, Room 308c) has overall responsibility for the personal and academic tutoring in the Department and for the general welfare and progression of the students. The Undergraduate Education Manager (Derryck Stewart, Room 308b) oversees the smooth running of teaching, coordinating the work of the undergraduate student administration team. If you wish to change programme you should discuss it first with your Personal Tutor. The UEM or Senior Tutor will give further clarification where necessary and ultimately make the necessary arrangements. The Senior Tutor deals with absences from teaching laboratories and examinations, the procedures for which are set out in Absences, illness, mitigating circumstances form. He attends monthly Staff/Student Committee meetings [see Student Representatives, Staff/Student Committee, Student Feedback].
Director of Undergraduate Studies
The Director of Undergraduate Studies (Dr Bob Forsyth, Room 308a) has overall responsibility for undergraduate teaching, including the day-to-day running and monitoring of the lecture courses and teaching laboratories. He chairs the Teaching Committee, which meets eight times each year, and consists of members of the academic staff (some elected, some, like the Head of Department, Admissions Tutor and Senior Tutor, ex-officio). The Committee invites bids from academic staff to give undergraduate courses and selects course lecturers. It also considers changes to the curriculum of any kind, including laboratory work. The DUGS is responsible for seeking approval from the College for any major changes.
Student Representatives, Staff/Student Committee, Student Feedback
Early in October, each year group elects two student representatives who will hold office for one year. Student reps are responsible for putting forward undergraduate views and problems to the Department, usually via the Staff/Student Committee. In June, all year groups vote for the Departmental Student Representative to serve during the following academic year. The DepRep often has a leading role in organising student activities and attends several committees in the department and elsewhere. More information on Student reps and how to become one can be found here.
The Staff/Student Committee is chaired by the Departmental Student Representative. The year reps report to this committee, which also contains a few of the academic staff including the Head of the Department and the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Discussions within the committee are taken very seriously and reports are passed on to the Teaching Committee. Any complaints or suggestions you have about the courses or facilities should be given to your year reps, who will raise these issues in the Staff/Student Committee.
All student feedback is taken seriously. At the end of Terms 1 and 2 there are formal exercises, conducted mainly online, to canvass student opinion on lecture courses and laboratory. Results are considered by the Teaching and Staff/Student Committees and released to students and lecturing staff. They are often a major factor in the choice of lecturer for the following year. There is also the additional information on College wide surveys.
Student Liaison Officer
The Student Liaison Officer, Dr. Yasmin Andrew (Room 305a), is responsible for undergraduate academic and pastoral support in the department. She also has responsibility for the physics teaching and learning across the undergraduate course; contributing to the running and co-ordination of the department. She attends the Staff-Student Committee and the Teaching Committees, making sure that clear communication between the student body and academic staff is maintained. The Student Liaison Officer acts as a point of contact for all undergraduate physics students for any academic or personal issues that arise during their studies.