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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience


The 2021-2 course

The course organiser is Prof. Matt Mason (

Because the PoO course has >100 students taking it, as per the guidelines we are given by the School of Biological Sciences, all lectures in the Michaelmas term will be online. We will be running live practical classes, however. We do not yet know what teaching will be like later in the year.

We will continue to use the Moodle "book" structure introduced last year. All the lecture and practical material is within the "Course Material" section of that site. The idea is that all work is presented within these Moodle books, in weekly modules. The students can see how long each exercise should take and should work through each book before the completion date for that module.

We strongly recommend that you consider the completion date for each Moodle book module (generally a Wednesday), and supervise on that module after that completion date, at which point the students should have gone through all that material.

Lent and Easter term material from Plant Sciences and Zoology may or may not follow this same format, depending on the views of those departments.

The SBS has informed us that exams in PoO this year will be "3 hours, open book, and on-line", using the new Inspera system. We have no further details at the time of writing, but see the PoO Moodle site for updates.

I would be very happy to answer any questions you may have.

Matt Mason

Department of PDN, September 2021


General information

Physiology of Organisms is the first-year physiology course for natural science students. Taking a comparative physiological focus, PoO combines lectures from PDN, Plant Sciences and Zoology. Many Colleges have two PoO supervisors, representing the 'animal' and 'plant' side of the course, but a few use the same supervisor to cover all the lectures. The plant physiology is taught as a block in the last six weeks of the Lent term. As well as the lecture material, PoO supervisors are expected to cover the experimental physiology practical classes which the students take as part of this course; there is a practical paper set as part of the June exam. If you wish to attend a practical class to get a better feel for what it is all about, please contact Dr Matt Mason (

The PoO Moodle site describes the lectures in this course and holds all the course material. It is designed primarily for those students enrolled on the course but it also includes a Moodle 'book' for PoO supervisors, which gives advice and guidance about supervising in general, as well as hints and tips specific to Physiology of Organisms supervisions. Please note that this "Information for Supervisors" section should be visible on the main PoO title page, but it is not visible to students. If you cannot see it, it may be that you are not enrolled as a supervisor: please contact Mel Quy ( and ask her to put you on the list and give you access.

We also have an open-access Physiology of Organisms website, designed to give basic information for those outside Cambridge, for example potential applicants or new arrivals.

When advising new students about this course, Directors of Studies should be aware that there is (still) a timetable conflict between the Physiology of Organisms practical classes and the IA Materials lectures. The first hour of the PoO practicals from 12-1 PM represents a debrief session, discussing the results from the last practical and introducing the new one. Students reading Materials have to miss these debrief sessions because of their lectures. Although this situation is not ideal, students can catch up by reading the debrief sheets provided on-line and copying up notes made by other students in the session itself. They should come at 2 PM to the Experimental Laboratory for the practical part of the class.

We have noticed that several Colleges have in the past arranged supervisions during scheduled PoO practical class times (12-1 and 2-5 PM Wednesdays and Fridays, every two weeks in the Michaelmas term). Several students were having to leave the classes before finishing their practicals in order to attend their supervisions. Others were missing practical classes because of tutorial or DoS meetings. The practical classes are an essential part of the Physiology course, and an area that many students struggle with: we would be grateful if Directors of Studies would please make sure that their Colleges do not present the students with these timetabling conflicts!

Please have a look at the supervising physiology in Cambridge page, written to give some general tips for new supervisors teaching general physiology courses, but as mentioned above, there is a subject-specific supervision page on the PoO Moodle website.