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Lectures and practicals


lab3This section describes the topics that we expect to be covering during the coming year's course; there may be slight changes if individual lecturers decide to modify the emphasis of their courses as the year proceeds.

Each term you have three Physiology of Organisms lectures per week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 12-1PM (see lecture timetable). In Michaelmas and the first two weeks of Lent, these are about animal physiology, whereas for the rest of Lent they are on plant and microbial physiology. The Easter term lectures (which run for just under four weeks only, before the exams) are on more comparative physiological topics, helping you to bring together what you have learned about different organisms.

In both the Michaelmas and Lent terms you will have one physiology class run by the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience every two weeks, and in the Lent term you also have three practical classes run by Plant Sciences. In the Easter term you have only one practical, run by the Department of Zoology. See the practical timetable for more information.

For those students who are already enrolled in Physiology of Organisms, course handouts can be found on the Moodle Site.

Practical Classes, Feedback and Assessment

To appreciate the subject of physiology to the full, you need to develop your practical skills and ability to undertake laboratory manipulations. Practical classes help you understand how biological systems operate and provide a sense of their complexity and unpredictability... and how "facts" get created in the first place. You need to think for yourself - an ability which the memorization of lecture notes tends to destroy!

To understand how the body works, you must come face-to-face with actual organisms. Like the famous Cambridge scholar William Harvey, who discovered the mechanism of the circulation of the blood, you must think carefully about what you see in front of you, and compare what you observe yourself to what you have been told by others. This is what science is all about, and what our practical classes are for.

The practical classes are hosted and run by the Departments of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience (PDN), Plant Sciences and Zoology. They are designed to complement the lecture material, introduce you to experimental techniques, and help you to think like a scientist! You have one practical class every two weeks in the Michaelmas term, one every week in the Lent term, and one in total in the Easter term.

You will be given a briefing in your first PDN practical class in the Michaelmas term to explain more about the practicals, and a practical handbook will be available as an electronic resource. In PDN, animal physiology practical classes are based on ADInstruments' PowerLab. This involves new hardware and a browser-based student interface within the practical class itself. Students in the class e-mail electronic reports to themselves as word documents (.docx), which will include all their experimental data, for completion in their own time. Feedback is provided by teaching staff as a 1-hour debriefing session and handout sheets.

In Plant Sciences, you will be provided with a separate practical booklet, which describes the practical procedures and allows data entry. Feedback is provided by the demonstrators (teachers of that practical or group of practicals), following each practical, for each student. In Zoology, feedback will be provided on data and presentation at the end of the practical.

Until 2013-14 the material taught in the practicals was only examined by means of multiple choice questions (MCQs) plus some short-answer questions, in the same paper as the theory questions. From 2014-15 there will be one written theory paper of three hours and a separate written practical examination of 1.5 hours.

For those students who are already enrolled in Physiology of Organisms, practical handouts, background material and answers to some of the calculation questions can be found on the Moodle Site. Debrief sheets, produced after each practical class, will also be put on this website.