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MVST IB Veterinary Reproductive Biology (VRB)

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

The students have a great deal of work to do in the second year, and they find some of the other IB courses difficult. The VRB course often comes at a time when the students are questioning whether they will ever get to clinical school. Yet this course is one of the most integrated and clinically relevant courses they study, and so you should use it as a tool to 're-motivate' them. Also, many vets choose reproduction options at Part II. 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.

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 courseguide. It is available via the Moodle system. To get access 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 available as PDF files, which means that a fully formatted copy can be downloaded using Adobe Acrobat Reader, itself downloadable for free from adobe.com. Unfortunately, for financial reasons the department is no longer able to supply hard copy veterinary courseguides to supervisors.

The courseguide contains much of the information you need– including the timetable, recommended reading and exam format. It also contains the lecture handouts for all the 24 lectures – although you will notice that lecturers vary a great deal in how much printed material they supply. Finally, it contains fairly detailed worksheets for the 6 practical classes.

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


What to cover, what to do

You may wish to plan your supervisions using the timetable as your guide. Two thirds of the course are mainly physiology and are shared with the Natural Scientists, whereas the other third is more anatomy-orientated and is for the vets only. There is no reason why you cannot co-teach vets and natscis for the physiology material.

Near the end of the Lent term, and at the end of the year, the students can sit mock steeplechase tests. 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. We suggest that you strongly encourage 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 that they are the best way to encourage learning. Many students are quite experienced at 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 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. As the year progresses, you might want to give the students more short-answer type questions, and you may want to use the past papers for this.

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, db125@cam.ac.uk, University Clinical Veterinary Anatomist