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Information for supervisors

Course information is available on-line, on this Physiology of Organisms website. This website includes a page devoted to supervisions, and what the students should expect from them, and also includes information about how to write essays that will please the Physiology of Organisms examiners!

When advising new students about this course, Directors of Studies should be aware that there is (still) a timetable conflict between the Physiology of Organisms practical classes and the IA Materials lectures. The first hour of the PoO practicals from 12-1 PM represents a debrief session, discussing the results from the last practical and introducing the new one. Students reading Materials have to miss these debrief sessions because of their lectures. Although this situation is not ideal, they can catch up by reading the comprehensive debrief sheets provided on-line, and should come at 2 PM to the Experimental Laboratory for the practical part of the class.

We noticed last year that several Colleges were arranging supervisions during scheduled PoO practical class times (12-1 and 2-5 PM Wednesdays and Fridays, every two weeks in the Michaelmas term). Several students were having to leave the classes before finishing their practicals in order to attend their supervisions. Others were missing practical classes because of tutorial or DoS meetings.The practical classes are an essential part of the Physiology course, and an area that many students struggle with: we would be grateful if Directors of Studies would please make sure that their Colleges do not present the students with these timetabling conflicts!

The PowerLab system in practicals - NST IA Physiology of Organisms

In 2009-10, the IA Physiology of Organisms practical classes in the Department of PDN moved to a PowerLab based system, in place of the previous EPIC system. The content of the practicals was largely unchanged except for the first practicals, which now include more information about signal processing and data collection, and look at the finger pulse as an introduction to the new system. Supervisors should be aware that the graphs and tables that the students bring back from the practical classes look different in format to the EPIC material: instead of printouts from the class, students will be expected to e-mail themselves electronic reports after each class in rich text format (.rtf), to be completed at home. The practical books that the students will be given (also available on CamTools for supervisors) now contain more background material and a brief description of the class itself, designed to be read in advance of the class. The .rtf reports that the students produce in the class represent the "results and discussion", to complement the practical book material. Debrief sheets are given out after the class, as before, and are available on CamTools.

The electronic reports must be printed out by students when complete and submitted to the Examiners as hard copies in the Easter term. This replaces the former system, whereby the students completed and handed in green practical books.

Supervising experimental practical work

We would like to remind supervisors that they ARE expected to supervise the practical components of our courses, as well as the lecture-based theory components. Although we realise that supervision time is limited, we recommend that supervisors make time to go over practical-based problems and experimental practical results, in part because this represents a significant part of the final examination in most subjects, but also because this is an essential part of training to be a scientist!

Supervisors should be aware that debrief sheets for the practical classes for Physiology of Organisms are available at on the Moodle websites, in the "Course Resources" folder, usually about a week after the class has finished. Expanded answers to the calculation questions posed in the Physiology of Organisms practical books are also available on the Moodle system.

Many physiology students struggle with some of the physics required in the practical side of the courses, and to some extent in the lecture material. To this end, we have created a website introducing elements of electrical circuit theory for those who have not done A-level physics or equivalent, taking students through this from scratch and highlighting the relevence to physiology. Please point your students in this direction, if you think it would be helpful! The website is entitled "An Introduction to Electrical Circuits", and can be accessed via the PoO website, or via Moodle.

If you have any further questions about the PoO practical course please contact the course organiser. Supervisors are welcome to attend an Experimental Physiology practical class, if they would like first-hand experience of what we do. If you would like to attend, please e-mail Mr Howard Davies () to make arrangements.

Past exam papers

A number of past exam papers and past-paper questions are available on-line. However, the Department has taken the decision, based on the advice of the Examiners, not to make the answers to MCQs available to either students or supervisors. This is because of the increasing problem of students revising MCQs in preference to lecture material, as well as the difficulty of setting new multiple choice questions each year.

Handouts for courses

Course guides, practical handbooks and lecture handouts are available on CamTools, which can be accessed from outside Cambridge too. You will need to be registered as a PDN course supervisor in order to access this material: please contact the Teaching Co-ordinator ( in order to be registered (you will need a Raven password). We do not send out course handouts as hard copies to supervisors. We would be very grateful if supervisors would please refrain from picking up handouts for themselves from lectures, or asking their students to do so, because in this case there will not be enough to go around the undergraduates!

Further information for supervisors

Staff Development run a number of courses for new and experienced supervisors each year.

Please feel free to contact Prof. Howard Griffiths ( if you have any questions about supervising PDN courses, or this web-page, which are not addressed here.