All Physics students (including PSP and Astrophysics) conduct a year-long individual research project on a topic chosen from a range of options provided by the Institute. The 40-credit project comprises literature review, planning, practical and dissemination phases.
Students on joint degree schemes (Physics with/and something else) take the 20-credit Project module in sem. 2 instead. This contains a project preparation phase at the beginning.
The project allows you to apply your knowledge of physics and your problem-solving skills to a specific problem. The problem and the approach to solve it are unique to you - each project is different, and you are responsible for preparing, planning, carrying it out, and reporting on it. Your project supervisor will introduce you to the topic and be available to advise and support you, but you are in charge of the project and decide in detail where to take it. At the end, you will write a thesis, i.e. a detailed project report, which you can take pride in and show off to potential employers as well as friends and family.
Scientists rarely work alone. When you look at any scientific paper, there will almost always be at least two authors (a postgrad and their supervisor) and sometimes hundreds (e.g. in the huge particle physics experiments at CERN). Each author is responsible for the paper as a whole, even though they will only have done part of the work. This means a balance between trust and friendly critique is needed to ensure everybody is getting their bit right and is pulling their weight.
We think it is important that you practise this aspect of scientific work. It'll help you plan, manage and report your work as a team and appreciate the crucial role each team member plays for the project as a whole. For this reason, most of the assessed components of the project are joint submissions. It is up to you how to distribute the work, making use of the strengths of the team members, but in the end you're jointly responsible and will receive a joint mark for these items.
There are two exceptions: the oral presentation is an individual effort and, for BSc students only, the final report is an individual report on the joint project. MPhys students have an individual project in their final year, so they co-author their report.
If you are having difficulty coordinating and distributing work within your group or think your partner doesn't pull their work, talk to them first. Perhaps you just need to work together around a stumbling block. If this doesn't work, arrange a group meeting with your supervisor and discuss ways forward with them. If all else fails, talk to the module co-ordinator.
The project is structured into a literature research phase, a project planning phase, an experimental (or computational, theoretical, software design...) phase, and a dissemination phase. These phases don't necessarily have to run consecutively, e.g. you may want to do a few preliminary experiments to decide between alternative approaches in your project plan. Your supervisor can advise you on how best to progress if you're in doubt.
The project begins with an induction session during Freshers' Week followed by a few days in which you can make up your mind as to which topic from the list of project descriptions you would like to do. The supervisors have indicated where they think a project is particularly suited to students with a certain specialisation or for joint or ordinary degree students. However, this is only to guide you, and you are free to choose any topic you like. Do go and talk to potential supervisors to find out more about the projects you fancy. If you have a niggling interest in a particular topic not on the list, talk to a member of staff to see if a project can be tailored around your interest. You should provide a rank-ordered list of your four favourite projects by the deadline indicated in the table below. We'll try to accommodate as many first choices as possible.
There will also be a mandatory seminar by the safety officer about risk assessment at the beginning of term. Following this, you need to read the departmental safety regulations and sign that you have done so.
|literature search strategy||5%||-|
The project description will contain a few pointers to review articles and other sources to get you started. However, this list is, intentionally, nowhere near exhaustive. After reading these introductory texts, you should do substantial further literature studies, focussing mainly on refereed literature which you can search using the Web of Knowledge database. Of course, text books and specialist web sites, used sparingly, can complement this. Wikipedia (or, for that matter, any other encyclopaedia) can be a good starting point to get acquainted with a scientific topic, but it isn't a suitable source in itself. If you're stuck with your search for sources, consult your supervisor, but expect to be asked in detail how you've approached your search.
After week 4 (see dates in the table below), you should hand in a one-page document describing your literature research strategy up to that point. This is a joint submission worth 5% of ph375 (joint students on ph356 don't do this) and serves mainly as an aid to focus your literature effort. Use it to discuss your strategy with your supervisor - they may be able to think of a few keywords you may have overlooked at first.
Now it is time to actually read some of the papers whose abstracts you've found in your literature
search. You may need to go back and find some more papers referenced in the ones you already have,
but be careful not to get sidetracked too much, because...
...after week 8 (week 3 of sem. 2 for joint students), you should submit a full literature review. This is a narrative detailing the background to your research project, referring to previous experimental and theoretical work in the field and presenting different interpretations found in the literature. The literature review is a joint submission and counts for 15% of ph375 or 20% of ph356 (for joints).
It is a good idea to start planning your experiment while you're working on the literature. There are only so many papers you can digest in a day, and doing some more practical work alongside will ensure you don't get lost in the literature.
|Mon 8 Oct 11am|
Floor 2 Lab
|Wed 10 Oct 2pm||x||x||project selection||online|
|Mon 12 Nov 2pm||x||lit. search strategy||online|
|Mon 26 Nov 2pm||x||literature review||online|
|Mon 17 Dec 2pm||x||project plan||online|
|Mon 18 Feb 2pm||x||prelim. results||online|
|Mon 18 Feb 2pm||x||lit. review & plan||online|
|last week of teaching||x||x||oral presentations|
|Tue 7 May 2pm||x||x||final report||to Gen. Off.|
The deadlines are hard. There is a 100% penalty for any late submissions. If there is a good reason why you need an extension, talk to the module co-ordinator well before the deadline, who will consult with your supervisor. These are exceptional cases - poor planning is not a good reason!
Click the links in the table for more guidance about the individual assessed components.
Planning is important because you will need to make best use of the available time and resources in semester 2. What is the objective of your study? Which experiments (or computations, theoretical derivations, ...) will you need to do to achieve that objective, and in which order? Are there points where you have to make provision for two alternative plans depending on the outcome of an experiment (if so, consider doing that experiment before finalising the plan if possible)? What external resources (staff time, laboratory access, wheather conditions, workshop time, components to be purchased and delivered) do you need? Discuss all this with your supervisor before finalising your plan to make sure the timescale is realistic and the resources are available. Keep the Easter break clear - you'll be glad to have some unscheduled time towards the end...
If you need anything built by the workshops, make a clear and legible sketch to scale, showing the object from at least two sides. Then discuss it with your supervisor, who can introduce you to the workshop staff to discuss your design further. Make any amendments to your sketch as they recommend and submit a clear final version of it along with your project plan. Equipment or supplies required for the project must be ordered, after consultation with the supervisor, through the senior experimental officer.
Since you will be working in pairs, make sure your plan states clearly who will be responsible to deliver which components of the investigation and by when. You are jointly responsible for the success of the project as a whole, so make sure each of you know what they need to do and what they can expect of the other.
The project plan (one per group) contributes 5% to your mark for ph375 or 10% to ph356 (joints). It should be submitted at the start of the Christmas break (see table). Joint student submit their plan together with their literature review. Please note that a properly resourced project plan is a condition to proceed with your experimental work.
You can work in the lab outside the scheduled lab hours (Mon and Thu 11-13 and 14-16) when it is open and not needed for other classes, but do not rely on the lab being available at other times, particularly during the Easter break! If your project involves work in the research labs, you need to see the Safety Officer for a safety induction. Arrange times during which you can use equipment there by agreement with the other users.
After week 3 of semester 2, you should submit a one-page document describing your preliminary results. This should demonstrate that your equipment works as planned and that you get the kind of results that might have been expected. There is no need to interpret any data at this stage. This preliminary report is worth 5% of ph375; joint students on ph356 do not present their preliminary results.
Following discussion of your first results with your supervisor, you can decide any changes that may be necessary to your original plan. Following that, data collection begins in earnest. Keep an eye on the results as they come in - you may want to deviate from your plan if you get unexpected results. However, you must discuss and agree such changes within the group - you can't just abandon a strand of research your partner relies on. Talk to your supervisor if you're excited about some of the data or if you aren't sure what to make of them. It often helps discussing your ideas with someone else, just to focus your mind, so do have a chat with other final year students to see how they're getting on with their project. Perhaps they've developed a data analysis technique which could be helpful with your data, too! As always, collaboration is good, plagiarism isn't.
At the end of your project, it is time to tell the world about what you've found out - this is called disseminating your results. In science, this usually happens in the form of written reports and oral presentations, so we'll do both in these modules.
You should submit your project report to the General Office at the end of teaching in bound form. If any group members are BSc students, each group member must submit an individually authored report. Groups comprising only MPhys students hand in a joint report instead. The final report is double marked by the supervisor and another member of staff. Marks are moderated to ensure all reports are marked to the same standard. It contributes 45% to the final mark of ph375 or 40% of ph356 (joints).
The report should include the literature review for completeness, although this will not be marked again. It must also include a statement expaining what each author's particular contribution to the project was.
There will be an all-day seminar during the final week of teaching, where each student talks individually about the results of their project in a 15-minute oral presentation. After each talk, there will be an opportunity for staff and students to ask questions, and we would encourage students to contribute to this discussion. The presentation contributes 15% to the overall mark for either ph375 or ph356 (joints). The marks are awarded by two members of staff who will attend the whole seminar session.
|module co-ordinator||Rudi Winter||r.203|
|senior experimental officer||Dave Langstaff||r.202|
|safety officer||Dave Langstaff||r.202|
|senior tutor||Martin Wilding||r.204|
You should meet your supervisor for the first time as soon as projects have been allocated at the end of Freshers' Week. This includes joint students, although their actual project doesn't begin until the second semester. In that initial meeting, you can ask the supervisor any questions you have about the project description, and the supervisor will give you additional information and perhaps show you specialist equipment you are going to use. After this initial meeting you should be able to summarise what your project will be about in general terms, say if someone asks you about it in the pub. You should also know where to start your search for literature, i.e. have picked up some important keywords to look out for.
During the initial meeting, you should agree a mutually convenient regular time slot for further fortnightly meetings with your supervisor, which both sides should adhere to and inform the other if the meeting has to be rescheduled for some reason. The fortnightly meetings are meant to ensure you can talk about your progress, run new ideas past someone else, get access to resources you may need and generally ensure that your project remains on track. The meetings are mandatory (and attendance is monitored) but you set the agenda - it is important that you are pro-active about them. Supervisors are there to help and advise you, not to instruct you how to proceed.
|35% :=||evidence of work by student throughout project (e.g. lab diary) but no usable results|
|40% :=||progress on some objectives - little independent input but some results obtained|
|50% :=||some objectives achieved, progress on more than half of them - identifiable independent input|
|60% :=||most objectives achieved - clearly independent input|
|70% :=||all objectives achieved - substantial independent input|
|80% :=||achievement beyond expectations or work of very high standard meeting all objectives - mostly independent work|
|>90% :=||original work of very high standard representing advancement in the field, publishable - practically independent work|
Before you begin any experimental work, you need to conduct a formal risk assessment. Discuss this with your supervisor, consulting the safety officer if in doubt. This needs to be amended whenever you decide to change the experimental procedure in a way that affects safety.
The supervisor will give you a progress mark at the end of the project, counting for 10% of ph375 or 15% of ph356 (joints). The progress mark reflects how well you have performed against the objectives and milestones detailed in the project description and how independently you have worked. Independence in this context means that you have driven the project with your own ideas, not that you've worked without consulting your supervisor. The progress marked is awarded to each group member separately.
Should problems arise between you and your supervisor, the module co-ordinator should be consulted in the first instance, with final appeal to the Senior Tutor.
Failures on the project modules are very rare as people can choose their own topic and tend to get absorbed in their project. However, if things do go wrong, the resit policy is described below. Note that ph375/356 is a must-pass module - you cannot graduate unless you've passed it, no matter how well you've done elsewhere.
Unless the Exam Board awards a full resit on medical or compassionate grounds, the maximum mark to be awarded in a resit is 40%.