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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience


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

The second year of the Cambridge vet course can be difficult for students. By general agreement it is the hardest of the six years of the course – mainly because of the sheer volume of material, partly because of stress about some of the assessment methods employed by other departments, and also because some courses, such as NAB, are just plain complex.In addition, the vets have receive considerably more teaching than the medics with whom they are 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 never to allow good students to be complacent, nor underachievers to panic. Remember,colleges run an excellent system of student support and if you cannot resolve any problems you should feel free to contact students' Directors of Studies or Tutors.

Do bear in mind that there is much more to the NAB course than anatomy – the students have to make time for physiology and behaviour too.

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

Materials available

The first think you should do is download the course guide. It is available via the CAMTOOLS system. If you have not used it before, you can find it by searching Google for "camtools". To get access to veterinary neuroanatomy materials, you will need to be registered as a user – to do that send me an e-mail at <>. The guide is available as a .PDF file, which means that a fully formatted copy can be downloaded using Adobe Acrobat Reader, itself downloadable for free from Unfortunately, for financial reasons the department is no longer able to supply hard copy veterinary course guides to supervisors.

The course guide contains much of the information you need– including the timetable and recommended reading. It also contains the handouts for all the lectures. Finally, it contains fairly detailed worksheets for the practical classes.

You can also download selected lecture materials and past exam papers from the same location where you found the course guide.

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

Please ask Mel Quy (mq200) to enrol you in our new Moodle site for supervisors, which offers help, advice and training for all supervisors involved in PDN subjects.

What to cover, what to do

The philosophy of the course is that if it starts with development, and ends with an understanding of what neurological skills a vet will need, then it shouldn't go far wrong. The material is delivered as lectures, dissections and demonstrations, and a 'live anatomy' session at the end of the year. Apart from that one session, it all takes place in Michaelmas, which of course does not mean that your supervisions have to stop at Christmas.

At the end of Michaelmas, the students sit a steeple chasetest. 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 eventual practical exam, and they are a rare chance for students to see how they are doing. It is noticeable that students who fail in the summer are usually those who do not attend these tests and we suggest that you strongly encourage your students to sit them and you might also want to try and ask them how they did!

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

The standard of diagrams drawn in exams has been rather low in previous years. Students should be encouraged to include them in essays and should also be told that they will be asked to draw them in the short answer paper. Asking students to sketch things can often be an efficient use of supervision time.

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

David Bainbridge,, University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist