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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 twenty-five lecture courses 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 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 Laboratory do?

You can expect 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.

You can expect to see all of the following types of auxiliary teaching during the year:

Supervision usually in a group of three (occasionally pairs) You will be sent a link from Student Admin to an electronic sign up sheet on the day of the third lecture, and you will be able to choose your supervision partners. The sign up sheets are open for three days and the day after the closing date (or as soon as possible), you will be sent details of your supervision group and can arrange your first supervision. You should liase with your group to produce a list of dates and times you can all do, and then contact your supervisor with this list. Supervision Rooms can be booked directly with the Computer Laboratory Reception. It is important that only students who want supervision 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 you. 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.

The sign-up procedure

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

Before the day of the third 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.

On the day of the third lecture:

Students: Sign up for supervisions via the electronic sign up sheets sent to you from Student Admin. When you are notified of your group, liase together to generate a list of convenient dates and times to hold your first supervision and inform your supervisor of these times.

Supervisors: 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.

What do the colleges do?

The Laboratory has asked the directors of studies to provide back-up provision. This will take different forms at different colleges. For example, your director of studies might arrange for someone to see you regularly (weekly or fortnightly) to help with any general problems and provide non-expert supervision. Alternatively, your director of studies may just be available for you 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 Laboratory's 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 you are having difficulties with your work, in general, then it is your director of studies to whom you should talk first. If you have problems or complaints with specific Laboratory-provided auxiliary teaching, then there is a procedure for handling this (see below). If this does not provide a satisfactory outcome then you should talk to your director of studies who will decide on appropriate action.

If there are problems

If you are unhappy with the supervisor that you have been given, or there is some other problem, then please put this in writing (either on paper in the supervision work box or by e-mail to ) and we will aim to fix the problem.

If you are still unhappy then you should 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, you are expected to take the initiative to a greater extent than in IA or IB. There is less specialist supervision, there is a much greater choice over which courses you could take, and there is your personal project. You will need to be disciplined in your work and must be able to balance the conflicting needs of project and course work. There are various strategies that you could adopt.

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

Secondly, you need to have strategies to ensure that you have adequate support. If you do not do so already, then you 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. You also need to be willing to hunt things out for yourself, rather than expecting everything to be given to you, and you should not be afraid to approach the lecturers if you find things that are unclear.

Finally, Part II is, for the most part, interesting and enjoyable. If you are prepared to make the most of the opportunities that lie before you then you should get a lot out of this year.