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Department of Computer Science and Technology


Part II supervisions and auxiliary teaching: an overview


Part II is the most exciting year of the Computer Science Tripos. There are around fifteen lectured courses (this is excluding the Units of Assessment) ranging over, and sometimes beyond, the full spectrum of computer science. The courses go deep into the details of the subject.

The specialisation of each Part II course means that there are often very few experts in the field in Cambridge. There is thus a lack of available supervisors for many of the Part II courses. With this in mind, in 1998, the colleges collectively asked the Laboratory (now called the Computer Science Department) if it could undertake to co-ordinate Part II supervision arrangements and to arrange alternative provision for courses for which there were too few (in a few cases, no) supervisors.

What does the Department do?

It is expected that, for each course, the lecturer and the student administration office will between them arrange some form of auxiliary teaching to supplement the lectures and printed notes. We will try to provide supervision where it is at all possible. Auxiliary teaching will take different forms depending on the type of course and the number of expert supervisors available. As the units of assessment are coursework based with coursework submissions at various stages during the term supervisions are not offered.

There will be the following types of auxiliary teaching during the year:

Supervision usually in a group of three (occasionally pairs) The students will be sent a link from Student Admin to the moodle sign up page on the day of the second lecture. The sign up page are open for three days (longer if this includes a weekend), the students can see who has signed up to which group and so can choose to be in a group with others they work well with. Student Admin will then create allocation sheets from the sign up groups and send them to the Supervisors for them to check and agree too. Once agreement is sort from all the supervisors student admin will email the allocations to the students. The students can contact the supervisors if the supervisors haven't contacted the students already to arrange dates, times and locations of their supervisions (if supervising in person). Rooms for supervision sessions can be booked directly with the Computer Science Department Reception. It is important that only students who want supervison in that area sign up for it. To prevent abuse of the system, college directors of studies will be informed if any students miss supervisions without notiying their supervisor in advance.

Marked supervision work. On some courses, exercises will be set which will be formally marked and returned to the student. This work will not count towards your exam mark but will, obviously, be useful in helping you to assess your progress. Some courses may combine such set work early in the course with supervision toward the end of the course.

Examples classes. On some courses the lecturer will run examples classes. These are similar to lectures but run on more informal lines. They will either run as part of the lecture course or run in parallel in the afternoons. In these classes the lecturer may go through example problems (which will usually be set in advance so that you get a chance to do them before the class), answer questions, and/or clarify things which were unclear in the lectures.

Informal help. The lecturers are always pleased to stay on after the end of the lectures to answer questions and to discuss things further.

Supervisions with external lecturers.  Some of the Part II courses are staffed almost entirely by people from outside of the university who have other full-time employment and have no obligations to take on any teaching commitments. In these cases there will be some level of restriction in terms of how supervisions can be offered, specifically:

  • The supervisors will normally only respond to email in normal working hours.
  • If the students do not respond in a timely manner to confirm the supervision / do not submit work by the specified deadlines, the default will be for the supervision not to go ahead.
  • The supervisor will not necessarily be able to reverse this decision at short-notice, even if there was a provisional time put in beforehand.
  • If supervisions are missed (especially without good reason, or because of lack of timely communication from the students), it may mean that there is significant knock-on delay that persists well into the summer term.
  • Swapping supervisor is not an option, unless there is a serious complaint of misconduct.

The sign-up procedure

We expect the following procedure to be followed by supervisors and students.

Before the day of the Second lecture:

Supervisors: Prepare work for students to do and allocate spaces in your diary for your expected number of supervision groups.

Students: Decide whether or not you are serious about this course and wish to have supervisions in this area.

What to expect after the student sign up page is closed:

Supervisors: The Student Administration team will create the allocations as soon as possible. Once you have recieved the allocation sheet please be very punctual with your reply of agreement or not, so we can make any changes swiftly and we can email out the allocation sheets to the students as soon as we can.

On receiving an e-mail from students, send them the first set of work and arrange a mutually convenient time for the first supervision.

We expect there to be about one supervision for every four lectures. Supervisors should therefore arrange that the first supervision for each group of students is as soon as practicable after the fourth lecture, so that students who are struggling with the early material in a course get help as early as possible.

Students: You will be sent an email of the allocations. If you have changed you mind about supervisions in the area please notify student admin as soon as possible. If you missed the deadline and you want supervisions in this area please contact student admin as soon as possible and they will do ther best to accommodate. Please be in contact with your supervisor and arrive at arranged supervisons in good time. Your DoS will be contacted if you do not show and you haven't let your supervisor know your reason for not attending the supervision.

What do the Colleges do?

The department has asked the Directors of Studies to provide back-up provision. This will take different forms at different Colleges. For example, a Director of Studies might arrange for someone to see a student regularly (weekly or fortnightly) to help with any general problems and provide non-expert supervision. Alternatively, Directors of Studies may just be available for students to contact on an as-needed basis.

A few Directors of Studies have chosen to provide Part II supervisions on some or all courses, rather than using the department supervisors. If you are a member of a College where this is the case, then your Director of Studies will let you know what you should do.

If a student is having difficulties with the supervision work, in general, then the supervisor should speak to the student's Director of Studies in the first instance. If a student has problems or complaints with specific department-provided auxiliary teaching, then there is a procedure for handling this (see below). If this does not provide a satisfactory outcome then the student should talk to their Director of Studies who will decide on appropriate action.

If there are problems

If a student is unhappy with the supervisor that they have been given, or there is some other problem, please e-mail and we will aim to fix the problem.

If the student is still unhappy please approach either (or both) your Director of Studies or the Part II Representative on the Staff-Student Consultative Forum.

What are you expected to do?

In Part II, the student is expected to take the initiative to a greater extent than in IA or IB. There is specialist supervision but the student needs to sign up for this.  There is a much greater choice over which courses the Part II student could take, and students will complete the Part II personal project. The student will need to be disciplined in their work and must be able to balance the conflicting needs of project and course work. There are various strategies that the student could adopt.

Firstly, the examination structure allows the student to pick and choose which courses to concentrate their efforts on, and hence the student can tailor this year to suit their own particular predilections. This means that the student needs to carefully consider the examination structure to determine whether the courses that they are interested in give sufficient coverage of exam questions to allow the student to be certain of answering five questions on each of the two papers (it is more sensible for the student to be able to answer at least seven or eight questions on each paper). At the other extreme, the student cannot expect to prepare every single course to examination standard as this would lead to serious overwork, so  the student will need to ensure they are are intelligently selective in the amount of effort that they put into each particular course.

Secondly, the student needs to have strategies to ensure that they have adequate support. If they do not do so already, then they should consider teaming up with friends to form self-help study groups: it is well known that students learn an awful lot from one another. The students will also need to be willing to hunt things out for themselves, rather than expecting everything to be given to them, and they should not be afraid to approach the lecturers if they find things that are unclear.