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Brief Guide to Supervisors – IB Comparative Vertebrate Biology (CVB)

Congratulations on being chosen to supervise comparative anatomy to some of our vet students. They are a bright, motivated bunch and I amsure you will enjoy the experience.

The second year of the Cambridge vet course can bedifficult for students. By general agreement it is the hardest of the six yearsof the course – mainly because of the sheer volume of material, partlybecause of stress about some of the assessment methods employed by otherdepartments, and also because some courses are just plain complex. In addition,the vets have receive considerably more teaching than the medics with whom theyare in competition, and they also face an additional 'exemption'exam at the end of the year.

I think the best approach is to be honest, but try neverto allow good students to be complacent, nor underachievers to panic. Remember,colleges run an excellent system of student support and if you cannot resolveany problems you should feel free to contact students' Directors ofStudies or Tutors.

One more thing. Don't worry if you feel that someof your supervisees are brighter than you. It is a sign that the admissionssystem is working! Often these students are the ones who get the most out ofsupervisions.

Materials available

The first think you should do is download thecourseguide. It is available via the CAMTOOLS system. If you have not used itbefore, you can find it by searching Google for "camtools". To getaccess to CVB materials, you will need to be registered as a user –to do that send me an e-mail at <>. The guide is availableas a .PDF file, which means that a fully formatted copy can be downloaded usingAdobe Acrobat Reader, itself downloadable for free from, for financial reasons the department is no longer able to supplyhard copy veterinary courseguides to supervisors.

The courseguide contains much of the information you need– including the timetable and recommended. It also contains the handoutsfor all the lectures. Finally, it contains fairly detailed worksheets for thepractical classes.

You can also download selected lecture materials and pastexam papers from the same location where you found the courseguide.

As described in the courseguide, there is also an'e-natomy' site which the students have to use at times during thecourse. Much of the material to which this directs them is actually arecapitulation of material covered on the course.

What to cover, what to do

The course is in two parts – the mammalian head andthe non-mammalian vertebrates, although it is remarkable how much these twoapparently different courses overlap. The philosophy of the course is that if itstarts with development, and ends with an understanding of what clinical skillsa vet will need, then it shouldn't go far wrong. The material is deliveredas lectures, dissections and demonstrations, and one 'live anatomy'session at the end. It takes place between mid-Lent and mid-Easter.

At the end of the course, the students sit a steeplechasetest. These tests are voluntary and anonymous, but almost all students sit them.They are extremely useful as they are very similar in format to the eventualpractical exam, and they are a rare chance for students to see how they aredoing. It is noticeable that students who fail in the summer are usually thosewho do not attend these tests and we suggest that you strongly encourage yourstudents to sit them and you might also want to try and ask them how theydid!

Most supervisors set some written work almost every week.At the start of the course you may find it useful to give the students someessay-writing practice. Many students reach Cambridge with almost no essayexperience from school, and considering this it is remarkable how well some ofthem write. Of course, essay writing is a complex skill, but if students canwrite a clear, paragraph-subdivided argument, 'bookended' by aninteresting introduction and conclusion and sprinkled with the occasional novelinterpretation or fact derived from additional reading, then they are likely todo well. It is extremely frustrating how few students try and say anything'new' in their essays – extra reading, their own opinions orinsights.

The standard of diagrams drawn in exams has been ratherlow in previous years. Students should be encouraged to include them in essaysand should also be told that they will be asked to draw them in the short answerpaper. Asking students to sketch things can often be an efficient use ofsupervision time.

David Bainbridge,, University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist