Coronavirus information and guidance

Information for new and returning students, August 2020



Welcome back to returning students, and welcome to our entrant students. We look forward to having you all here from the start of the new session.

Students and staff created this welcome and advice video last year, featuring a number of students giving their thoughts for entrants. What they said a year ago is still relevant today.

Orientation week runs from Monday 7 September 2020, with introductory classes starting on the Thursday of that week (10 September).

The semester dates can be found online.

The University has an Orientation web page where you can find more information and download a useful Orientation App.

COVID  planning

Delivery of teaching and learning

Each summer has some revision of existing modules, developing new teaching lab experiments, etc. But during this COVID-related summer much of our development work has been focussed on preparing for teaching and learning under the conditions necessary to protect against the spread of the COVID virus.

In semester one of 2020-2021, most of the School's lectures will be delivered online. In many modules, this will be complemented by socially distanced 'in-room' meetings of the class, or parts of the class. That may take the form of small group tutorials (as planned for example in Physics 1A, Physics 2A, and some core JH modules) or larger workshops for groups of maybe around 18 (as planned for example in Astrophysics 1 and some level five modules).
[Update 1 September] Following the Principal’s announcement, for the first two weeks of teaching in the semester all the School’s tutorials and workshops will take place on-line only.  Those teaching labs that had been planned to run “in room” at this time will normally still do so.  From the start of week three we will transition to the plans that we had had in place for many tutorials and workshops to be “in room”, as well as running the dual delivery alternative. 

Physics laboratory-related work will continue, though in different formats in different modules. Entrant students in Physics 1A and Physics 2A will start with a lab skills course that will be taken online, with Physics 2A entrants having some new 'take-home' work on programming and microcontrollers later in the semester. We plan for practical work in the School's teaching laboratories in second semester for Physics 1B and Physics 2B students. Returning students to Physics 2A will have some work in the laboratories, and will also have the 'take-home' work on programming and microcontrollers.

We plan to run in first semester the SH labs and the MSc/CDT photonics labs, spread out more in time and space to allow distancing. In second semester we plan to run the JH physics lab module in our labs.
JH Computational Physics, for example, will have a mix of support online and in the School's PC Classroom.

It is too soon to have much certainty on what the pandemic situation will be like in semester two. We have developed timetables for both a conventional semester and a socially distanced semester.   

Details for all modules will be posted on the School's web pages on timetabling. Timing of lectures will be in your personalised timetable, but please note that where the class is split in to groups for tutorials or labs, these may not show on the centrally provided timetable.

We realise that some students will not yet be able to return to St Andrews for visa or other reasons. Some students who are in town may need to self-isolate during the semester. In such cases the studies of these students can be carried out remotely, as part of the St Andrews 'dual delivery' arrangements. Part of our preparations for that has been the development of remote-controlled experiments for our first and second year lab classes.  

Health matters

As part of our collective responsibility for the health of our community, there are various COVID regulations that must be obeyed.  

If you exhibit symptoms or if you have been contacted by the NHS Test and Protect team due to your earlier proximity to someone with symptoms, you must isolate and you must not come in to teaching buildings. If you are already in a teaching building when the symptoms appear, check that your face covering is securely on and leave immediately. You should then follow the NHS advice about testing and isolating.  

Everyone must keep the appropriate distance (currently at least two metres) from other people wherever possible, and with very few exceptions wear face coverings in specified areas. Face coverings must be worn in the corridors, and in all teaching rooms.

People should maintain good hand hygiene, and should avoid touching their face.

Please read carefully the University advice on Coronavirus at

Teaching buildings have signage up about COVID precautions. Some seats are labelled as permissible to use and others as not permissible to use in order to help us maintain physical distancing. Hand gel dispensers are in many locations, and we should routinely use them. Disinfectant sprays and wipes are provided for people to wipe down their working area before and after use.  

Students who may have concerns or anxiety about the pandemic are encouraged to communicate with staff in Student Services.


Staff member wearing a face mask.

Study preparation

Entrant students

The School suggests that students preparing to enter their first degree programme should spend some time looking over the work they have done in physics and mathematics. It is perhaps surprising how rusty some of these skills and knowledge components can get over the course of a summer! It may be particularly useful for entrants to look at their most recent learning about mechanics in both their maths and physics courses, and see how these tie together, please.

Returning students

As a returning student you are advised to spend some time over the summer revising the material in the modules you have taken over the last year or two. In most cases the content and the skills will be useful in the coming session. Those of you entering level three modules will need to be familiar with what you have done in Physics 2A, 2B and Maths MT2501 and MT2503 (and astrophysics where appropriate).

Students entering Junior Honours are encouraged particularly strongly to revise and practice their mathematics skills, as well as their physics and astronomy. There is a lot of rather sophisticated and new physics in JH, including multidimensional quantum mechanics and electromagnetism. This requires some new mathematical methods, which you will be taught in JH Maths for Physicists. To manage all this in the available time, it is really important that lecturers are able to treat your second-year mathematics, physics, (and astronomy where appropriate) as 'assumed knowledge' for your JH modules.

Those moving into level four will need still to be up to speed with the material that they covered in all of their JH modules, as much of this will be needed for the work in SH modules. Modules of particular relevance may be highlighted in the pre-requisites section of the University Module Catalogue.

Please therefore make sure that you are fully comfortable with multivariate calculus, linear algebra, Fourier series, solving second-order differential equations, classical and quantum wave equations, quantum states, expectation values, DC circuit theory, Faraday's Law, multiplicity, the Carnot cycle, angular momentum, and many other items from your level two courses and before. The video mini-lectures on Fourier Series and Fourier Transforms accessed from the School's web pages may also be worth a look. Working through past second year exam papers and tutorial sheets again is a good way to test that you remain familiar with the material and really understand it.

If you find that you are having trouble understanding any of the material that you review, please don't hesitate to contact one of the relevant academic staff in the School by email for help - we are happy to provide it.


Three students performing calculations on a computer in the astro lab.

Information sources

The School publishes online its Pre-honours Handbook, its Honours Handbook, and the Taught Postgraduate Handbook. These documents contain a lot of useful information, and are also the 'rule books' for your study in the School. Please do read the relevant handbook carefully. It should be in agreement with the material published by the University in the Course Catalogue and in the University regulations, but put in the context of your studies in this School, and with School-specific information there. The 2019-2020 versions may currently be online, but if so these will be updated to the 2020-2021 handbooks in the coming weeks. You are expected to be familiar with and to act on the material in the relevant handbook. The School also provide guidance documents on module and programme choices for each year group. The University's course catalogue and programme regulations are the formal statements of what is in your degree programme. In the course catalogue you may find that there is more information about modules in what comes up in the 'module search' than there is in the pdf that includes all pre-honours or all honours AS and PH modules.


Recommended books

The reading lists are being updated for the new session, though there are few changes expected from last year. These lists are accessible from the School's Current Students page, or via the University library pages. A significant change for first and second year physics is that the core textbook is now in eleventh edition, and it is expected that it will be provided by the University library as an ebook.
Due to the pandemic the School should not be requiring students to read paper-based books from the library, but such resources will still be available for those students who wish to access them and who are able to do so. Online resources should be highlighted in the booklists.

Lists of recommended reading for each module are available via the Booklist links for AS or PH modules on the School's web pages.


Two students in the library looking at books.


Pre-advising and module choices

New and returning students are asked to consider their choices of modules over the summer, and to register these on the University's pre-advising system. These indications may still easily be changed at advising, but it is useful for both students and staff for the pre-advising process to be completed. It is directly useful to students as they can take time to consider their module options and start some relevant reading over the summer, and it is useful to staff to ensure that the correct sizes of rooms are booked for teaching, etc.

Entrant students are required in their year of entry to take modules that can lead to their stated degree intention, but by careful choice of modules they can also leave open routes to other degrees.

By the time people enter year three, following the honours entry process run by Registry, they have usually determined their degree path. There may still be some flexibility after this point, which may be discussed with your Adviser of Studies.

If the online advising system does not permit you to select a 'non-standard' but appropriate set of modules, please discuss this with your Adviser of Studies.

The School's web pages provide links to documents written to help guide students at different stages in their studies on their choice of modules.


Several students at the James Gregory telescope.


Advising this year has changed. Some students, including all entrants and those who were not studying in St Andrews last semester, will need to meet with their adviser of studies online. Most other students need not meet with their Adviser of Studies, but will need to choose their modules online and ask their Adviser of Studies to approve those choices. Students who wish to meet with their Adviser of Studies online are welcome to do so. Advisers may also ask students to meet with them online if they think a discussion would be beneficial. Advising must be completed by the middle of Orientation week. The name of your Adviser of Studies should be visible to you on your Student Record online. Some pre-honours students will have an adviser who is not a member of our School.  

Advisers of Studies in this School for first and second year students are Dr Claudia Cyganowski, Dr Friedrich Koenig, Dr Antje Kohnle, Dr Sebastian Schulz, and Prof Graham Smith.

Honours students have as their adviser in this School:-
Junior Honours, Prof Moira Jardine, or Dr Dona Cassettari
Senior Honours, Prof Natalia Korolkova, or Dr Hamid Ohadi
M-year, Dr Charles Baily.

Postgraduate students have as their adviser:-
MSc in Astrophysics, Prof Moira Jardine
MSc and CDT EngD/PhD in Photonics, Dr Bruce Sinclair
PhD students, their supervisor.

Year Abroad students should communicate with Dr Charles Baily.


Talk between stdent and staff member.

Orientation week

All of Thursday and Friday of Orientation week are set aside for the possibility of modules running in their usual lecture slots. Many of your modules will have introductory classes at this time.

This School is organising for new and returning students a number of events, which are listed below. These should complement the events that are being organised by the centre of the University, the Students' Union, and halls of residence. New students are encouraged to make use of these not just to learn more about the University and School, but also to meet other students.

The University has a busy programme for Orientation Week. Some of the events, that the School of Physics and Astronomy is involved in, are provisionally:-

  • Monday, 10.15-10.45am – Optional 'drop-in' welcome and discussion online with the School's Director of Teaching, School Student President, and other staff and volunteer returning students.
  • Monday morning – University Opening Ceremony for science students.
  • Monday afternoon – Academic Fair.
  • Monday 3.00pm – Meet and Greet online for taught postgraduate students, ie Astrophysics MSc students, Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices MSc students, and EngD Applied Photonics students.
  • Monday 4.00pm – Meeting for undergraduate entrants considering level one or level two entry.
  • Tuesday, 2-3pm – Meet and Greet in room 230 of the School for the School's entrant Gateway students.
  • Tuesday, 3-5ish – Online Welcome events for all entrant students in the School.
    All those entering physics and astrophysics programmes for the first time at St Andrews are invited to a set of events aimed to help participants meet each other and staff from the School. There will be a fun quiz where we will gather people into different teams.  There will be short presentations by students and staff, and we may manage a short run around the building with a video camera.
  • Wednesday 10am – Careers and Postgraduate Study Presentation aimed at final and penultimate year physics or astronomy students, given by staff from the Careers Centre and our Director of Postgraduate Studies. Other students in the School are very welcome to attend.
  • Thursday 10am – Live online meeting for all Junior Honours (third year) students in the School with Prof Moira Jardine.
  • Thursday and Friday – many modules have class meetings running in the usual time and place. Please see the School's Orientation week timetable.
  • Thursday afternoon – Taught postgraduate photonics online introduction and welcome from 2pm.
  • An afternoon – Introductory session for Computational Physics.
  • The Student Astronomical and Physical Societies, AstroSoc and PhySoc, and our School President, are running a number of events. These include
    on Monday evening, 7pm, the screening of 'Festival of the Spoken Nerd', which is a stand-up science comedy show,
    Tuesday at 12 noon an online event for people on joint degrees including the School to meet up,
    Thursday evening, 7pm, Physics of Gin talk.


The James Gregory Telescope with an open dome.

Entrant students

Welcome to the School of Physics and Astronomy, and thank you for choosing to study with us. 
If you have any queries before arrival, please contact the School via the methods noted below under the 'Queries' section.

Please consider bringing your physics and maths notes to St Andrews, as they may well be useful for you to look back on. In teaching sessions you may need paper, pen, and calculator. You will also need a good filing system for your notes and handouts. In some instances it will be useful to have a USB memory stick to take data off the School computers. An essential item is some form of diary/planner to keep track of your commitments. Access to a computing device is needed. A laptop or desktop computer is recommended. There are student-access PCs in the PC classroom in the School.

Orientation week is a good time to meet many new and interesting people. You are encouraged to join the School's welcome event on the Tuesday afternoon to meet other entrant students and some returning students and staff.

Those considering first or second year entry please attend the online event about this on Monday afternoon, where you can meet returning students who will let you know how their choice was for them. Those considering direct entry to level two may wish to do some maths study and revision using resources provided by the School of Mathematics and Statistics (link below). Those joining us from A levels and who have not yet covered complex numbers and/or matrices are particularly recommended to work on those areas.

Please do make good use of other opportunities to get to know people here through some of the many Orientation week events across the University. Please ensure that you attend on the Thursday or Friday of Orientation week the enrolment etc sessions in any PH and AS level one and two module that you are taking in first semester.


First-year students at a problem-solving workshop.

Honours modules

On the School's web page, timetable summaries have (or will be) made available of what might be appropriate sets of modules to take for different programmes, showing how their time slots fit into the teaching week, and documents giving advice on module combinations at different levels. The cores of the programmes form a solid grounding in useful physics. The different flavours of the different programmes then come from the different compulsory modules within them. There is space in most programmes for a number of choice modules that students are advised to choose according to their interests and their plans for the future.

The picture shows students in PH3014 in a recent session at their conference at the Burn House, near Edzell, a few milliseconds before their snowballs reached the photographer.


Students throwing snowballs at the photographer.

Planning for your future

Returning and new students may wish to contemplate why they are studying for a degree with us. Near the front of the School handbooks the aims of our teaching programme are listed, which is worth a read. The School believes that physics and astronomy are topics that are worth studying for interest, for curiosity, and for application.

It was great to celebrate the success of the Physics and Astronomy students at graduation recently, and to learn of the interesting things that many of the graduates are going on to do. On the School's Current Students web page you find links to some of the graduates' career profiles, in the expectation that as a School's current student you may wish to consider what you plan to do after your study here. Even in second year it is worth thinking ahead to this, and certainly by the time you are in Junior Honours (year three), you should be thinking about what you usefully can do to help to where you wish to be.

Students may wish to attend the online Careers and Postgraduate Study event at 10am on the Wednesday of Orientation week.

A good education in physics and astronomy should provide insights, knowledge, and understanding of the discipline as well as developing a wide range of academic and professional skills and attitudes. Some graduates choose to go on to do a research degree here or elsewhere, some go into physics-based industry immediately or after PhD study, some go into the financial sector, and others into a range of other careers. There is a careers section on the School's Current Students web page.


Graduating Physics and Astronomy students.

Student representation

The School Student President elected for 2020-2021 is Sarah Johnston.

She says: "I'm so excited to be the School President for this year, and I hope to meet many of you (albeit often virtually) very soon! The physics department has a wonderful, vibrant, and supportive community that I hope each and every student finds a place in. This year is bound to be an unusual one, but remember that support is always available to you. Please reach out if you need help, whether it be to your lecturers, your peers, Student Services, or directly to me! My email is always open for comments, queries, or concerns, no matter how big or small the issue!".

Students in the School will elect representatives to the School's Student-Staff Council early in semester one. This Council is an important part of the running of the School. Class reps work with the School President and members of staff to discuss where things are going well and to make suggestions as to how things may be improved.

This Council, sometimes in association with the student Physical and Astronomical societies, organises some events, including an annual dinner-dance.


Sarah Johnston the School President.

Head of School, School staff

Prof Ian Bonnell, pictured, is our Head of School.


Staff in the School are listed via the links below.


Professor Ian Bonnell is Head of School.


If you have any queries before arriving in St Andrews, please send an email to and this will be passed to the relevant person to answer. Once here, the team in the School Office is available to answer questions.

The School's Directors of Teaching (Drs Paul Cruickshank and Bruce Sinclair) are happy to answer student queries in advance or during the semester. They may be contacted on

The University has a tremendous resource in its "Advice and Support Centre" and the associated "Student Services". The team there can provide advice before you arrive, and all through your studies, on physical and mental health, disability, personal relationships, study skills, money matters, bereavement, visas, faith, and many other matters. The School would encourage all students to seek help if they need it. Student Services exists to support students, and nearly all students will utilise it at some point in their time in St Andrews.




First posted BDS 26.8.2020