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Brief Guide to Supervisors – IB Veterinary Reproductive Biology

Congratulations on being chosen to supervise reproductive biology to some of our vet students. They are a bright, motivated bunch and I amsure you will enjoy the experience. The VRB course is generally one of the mostpopular ones they study in their first two years, partly because it has a goodbalance of theoretical and practical material. We even get students saying theyare looking forward to it!

The students have a great deal of work to do in thesecond year, and they find some of the other IB courses difficult. The VRBcourse often comes at a time when the students are questioning whether they willever get to clinical school. Yet this course is one of the most integrated andclinically relevant courses they study, and so you should use it as a tool to're-motivate' them. Remember, colleges run an excellent system ofstudent support and if you cannot resolve any problems you should feel free tocontact students' Directors of Studies 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 <db125@cam.ac.uk>. 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 adobe.com.Unfortunately, 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, recommended reading and exam format. It alsocontains the lecture handouts for all the 24 lectures – although you willnotice that lecturers vary a great deal in how much printed material theysupply. Finally, it contains fairly detailed worksheets for the 6 practicalclasses.

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

Before Christmas there is a 3-lecture endocrinologycourse, which is examined in the same paper as the reproductive biology. Thiscourse is delivered to vets and medics. You should make sure you are clearwhether you are supposed to be supervising this material as well. It is easy forit to be left out of revision plans but we make sure that it is examined everyyear. The lecture materials are available at a separate part of the departmentalwebsite.

What to cover, what to do

You may wish to plan your supervisions using thetimetable as your guide. Two thirds of the course are mainly physiology and areshared with the Natural Scientists, whereas the other third is moreanatomy-orientated and is for the vets only.

At the end of the term, and at the end of the year, thestudents can sit mock steeplechase tests. These tests are voluntary andanonymous, but almost all students sit them. They are extremely useful as theyare very similar in format to the eventual practical exam, and they are a rarechance for students to see how they are doing. We suggest that you stronglyencourage your students to sit the tests!

Most supervisors set some written work almost every week.Essays take quite a lot of time to write, but for some topics you may feel thatthey are the best way to encourage learning. Many students are quite experiencedat writing essays by this time, but feel free to foster improvement! Of course,essay writing is a complex skill, but if students can write a clear,paragraph-subdivided argument, 'bookended' by an interestingintroduction 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. As the year progresses, you might want to give the students moreshort-answer type questions, and you may want to use the past papers forthis.

As the exams approach, you may find that students graduallytake over the running of supervisions – having discovered the gaps in theirknowledge for themselves. This is entirely natural and, to be honest, makes lifeeasier for you! In the Easter term, you should consider how pressurised thestudents' time is, and maybe not set too many long essays – essayplans or short answers may be more appropriate at this time.

David Bainbridge, db125@cam.ac.uk, University ClinicalVeterinary Anatomist