School of Physics & Astronomy

Information for new and returning undergraduate students

Information for new and returning students, summer 2019

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. Orientation week runs from 9 September 2019, with teaching starting on the Thursday of that week (12th Sep).

We have been preparing for the new teaching year and for welcoming our new students. There is the usual evaluation and revisions of existing modules, updating library stock, developing new teaching lab experiments, etc. We look forward to having our theatres, tutorial rooms, social learning areas, and teaching labs filled with new and returning students.

Please be aware that the University has a useful Orientation App. There is more information on this at

There may be some links and bits of information that are not yet available on this page, but we will be updating this as we count down to the start of the new academic session.


Study Preparation

Entrant Students
We suggest that students preparing to enter our 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
We advise returning students to spend some time over the summer revising the material in the modules they have taken over the last year or two. In most cases the content and the skills will be useful in the coming session. Those entering level three modules will need to be familiar with what they have done in Physics 2A, 2B and Maths MT2501 and MT2503 (and astrophysics where appropriate). 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 Catlogue and our Module Synopses.

Those 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 we will teach you in Maths for Physicists. To manage all this in the available time, it is really important that we are able to treat your second-year mathematics, physics, (and astronomy where appropriate) as "assumed knowledge" for your JH modules.

Please therefore make sure that you are fully comfortable with multivariate calculus, linear algebra, Fourier series, solving second-order differential equations, the Manipulate function in Mathematica, 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 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 familar with the material and really understand it.

If you find that you’re 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’re happy to provide it.


Reading lists

Our 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 Students and Staff page, or via the University library pages.


Orientation Week

In recognition that the University expects all students to do some academic work in their week of arrival, the University refers to this week as Orientation Week rather than Freshers' Week. We realise that there are important social things to be doing that week, but the School encourages students to use some of the time at the start of the week to revise their previous work in physics, astronomy, and maths as appropriate, in preparation for the coming session.

Please note that most modules start the formal teaching for the semester on the Thursday or Friday of Orientation week, and attendance is expected. We are also providing a number of learning opportunities and resources for new and returning students during Orientation Week. These are likely to include:-

  • All entrants - PC Classroom familiarisation sessions Thursday and Friday
  • Level two physics - maths revision material, study skills
  • All those entering JH - Intro Session Thursday of Orientation Week at 9 am, and an event on Friday afternoon
  • All students entering level 3 modules - mathematical revision sheets to be emailed out.
  • All students entering level 3 modules - vodcasts on Fourier Series and Fourier Transforms to watch and digest.
  • Students aiming to take Special Relativity or General Relativity - vodcasts on tensor notation to view and digest.
  • Students doing final year project modules - 10 am Friday kickoff meeting.
  • Career or postgrad-study planning - Presentations at 10 on the Wednesday of Orientation Week.
  • Enrolement and start of teaching on the Thursday and Friday.

Information Sources

Handbook, textbook, and computerThe School publishes online, and will provide on paper, its pre-honours handbook, its honours handbook, and the taught postgraduate handbook. These documents contain a lot of useful infomation, 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 2018-19 versions are currently online, but these will be updated to the 2019-20 handbooks in the coming weeks. You are expected to know and to act on the material in the relevant handbook. We also publish synopses of all our modules (still to be updated for 2019-20), and you are asked to read those relevant to you. These materials, the School's timetables, and other materials are available via the School's Students and Staff web pages.

Recommended Books

Lists of recommended reading for each module are available via the "Booklists" AS or PH links on the School's Staff and Students Web page. We note that the main textbook for level one physics is to be the 10th edition (extended) of Halliday, Resnick, and Walker, titled of Principles of Physics. Students in level one and level two physics are asked to purchase this book with the associated electronic resources from a particular local bookshop at a good price and with the electronic resource. This book covers most of the material in the first year physics modules, and has useful material for some of the second year physics modules. Where electronic books are available these can be obtained following the links from the booklists.

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 can 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.

On the School's Students and Staff web pages we provide links to documents written to help guide students at different stages in their studies here on their choice of modules..


Orientation Week Events and Advising

All students are expected to be in St Andrews from the start of Orientation week. Advising and Matriculation should normally be completed by the end of Wednesday. All of Thursday and Friday are set aside for the possibility of modules running in their usual lecture slots. Most of our modules will be starting formal teaching at this time. Please plan to attend all your AS and PH classes at the "usual" timetabled time, and check on arrival if there are any that are not running.

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. We encourage new students to make use of these not just to learn more about the University and School, but also to meet other students.

In Orientation week all undergraduate and taught postgraduate students must meet with their adviser of studies, and from there carry on to register with the University (matriculation).

Advising for all undergraduate students is in the first half of the week. This should allow students to get early access to module-specific information. Each student with an adviser in this School is invited to sign up for an appointment with their adviser on the sign-up sheets posted by their adviser or via an online "Doodle" poll - information on location will be on the main academic notice board in the School. These advising appointments happen in the J F Allen (Physics) building in the adviser's office.

The advisers of studies are shown below. The main entrance of the building is on level 2, as are all the rooms with numbers starting with "2". Rooms with a number starting with "3" are one floor up, on the top floor of the building.

Advisers of studies for first and second year students are:-
Dr Frieder Koenig, room 204
Dr Antje Kohnle, room 314
Dr Sebastian Schulz, room 244
Prof Graham Smith, room 219

Honours students have as their adviser in this School:-
Junior Honours, Prof Moira Jardine, room 318, or Dr Dona Cassettari, room 218
Senior Honours, Prof Natalia Korolkova, room 311, or Dr Hamid Ohadi, room 332
M-year, Dr Charles Baily, room 310

Postgraduate students have as their adviser:-
MSc in Astrophysics, Dr Anne-Marie Weijmans, room 334
MSc and EngD in Photonics, Dr Bruce Sinclair, room 221
PhD students, their supervisor

Junior Semester or Year Abroad students should meet with Dr Charles Baily at the relevant advising event, which we expect to be in the University's Gateway Building on the Monday afternoon.

Please would all undergraduate students complete pre-advising before their advising session, and update their personal information held by the University.

The University has a busy programme for Orientation Week. Some of the events that we are involved in as a School are provisionally:-

  • Monday, 10.15-10.45 - Optional "drop-in" welcome and discussion in main concourse 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 3.00 - Meet and Greet for taught postgraduate students in the School, ie Astrophysics MSc students, Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices MSc students, and EngD Applied Photonics students
  • Monday 4.00 - Meeting for entrants considering level one or level two entry
  • Tuesday, 2-3 - Meet and Greet for the School's Gateway students
  • Tuesday, 3-5.30 - 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, followed by refreshments in the main concourse. Opportunties will also be available to meet staff and returning students and to learn about the Student Physics and Astronomy societies. Following the reception there is the chance to join one of a set of tours around the building, including some research labs.
  • Wednesday 10 am - Careers and Postgraduate Study Presentation aimed at final and penultimate year physics/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 9 am - Meetings for all Junior Honours Students in the School with Prof Moira Jardine
  • Thursday and Friday - most modules have their lectures running in the usual time and place. Please see the School's Orientation Week Timetable.
  • Set times at the end of Orientation Week, - PC Classroom familiarisation and library induction for all undergrad entrants
  • Thursday afternoon - Taught postgrad photonics induction and welcome from 2 pm in room 222
  • Thursday afternoon - Introductory session for Computational Physics
  • Friday at 10 am, theatre C - meeting of all students taking a final year project module in the School
  • Friday afternoon - Study Skills and welcome events for Ph3011
  • Friday afternoon - Induction event for students on the ID4001 module
  • Friday afternoon PH3061 Peerwise Sesssion, Theatre C
  • Friday afternoon Third year (JH) welcome and activities afternoon
  • The Student Astronomical and Physical Societies, AstroSoc and PhySoc, are running a number of events

  • Orientation Week School Timetable (still provisional)

Entrant Students

Welcome to the School of Physics and Astronomy, and thank you for choosing to study with us. We will have an open letter to you available via a link below. If you have any queries before arrival, please contact us 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 your will need paper, pen, and calculator. You will also need a good filing system for your notes and handouts - A4 ring binders may work well. 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 to keep track of your commitments. Our School does not require you to have your own computer, though most students do find this very useful.

Orientation week is a great time to meet many new and interesting people. We encourage you to join our welcome event on the Tuesday afternoon to meet entrant students and some returning students and staff. Those considering first or second year entry please come to our event about this on Monday afternoon where we will have returning students there to let you know how their choice was for them. 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.


Honours Modules

We have made available on the School's Students and Staff web page timetable summaries 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 programms for a number of choice modules that students are advised to choose according to their interests and their plans for the future.

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


Why are you doing this?

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

It was great recently celebrating the success of our students at graduation, and hearing of the interesting things that many are going on to do. On the School's Students and Staff web page we link to a number of our graduates' career profiles, in the expectation that our current students may wish to consider what they plan to do after their study here. Even in second year it is worth thinking ahead to this, and certainly by the time students are in Junior Honours (year three) they should be thinking about what they can usefully do to help them get to where they wish to be. Students may wish to attend the Careers event here at 10 am on the Wednesday of Orientation Week.

A good education in physics/astronomy should provide insights, knowledge, and understanding of the discipline as well as developing a wide range of academic/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 our School's Students and Staff web page. One of our graduates is pictured alongside in her work with lasers used in medicine.

Student Representation

The School Student President elected for 2019-20 is Amy Gallacher. She is happy for members ot the School to contact her regarding any issue they may have, in confidence, on physicspresident ( Amy says

"I'm excited to meet everyone and get involved within the department this year! At university you are never alone; there is a vast support network which can be accessed at any time should the need ever arise. Please feel free to reach out over any issues either in person or through my email,, throughout the coming year and I will do my best to help".

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.




Head of School, School Officers

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

We list other office holders of particular relevance to students at





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 Director of Teaching (Dr Bruce Sinclair) will be present much of the time in his office room 221 and is also happy to answer student queries in advance or during the semester.

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. A large majority of the University's students have at least one one-to-one consultation with a member of the team during their time here, so it is unusual not to consult Student Services.





First posted BDS 15.8.19