School of Physics & Astronomy

Welcome to new and returning students 2017

Information for new and returning students, summer 2017

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 11 September 2017, with teaching starting on the Thursday of that week (14th Sep).

University dates document

We have been preparing for the new teaching year and for welcoming our new students. We have been working on a new module at level four and at level five. JH Computational Physics has some significant revisions planned. There is the usual evaluation and revisions of existing modules, updating library stock, refurbishing some parts of the building, 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.

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

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 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 Ctalogue 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 where appropriate). The video mini-lectures on Fourier Series accessed from the School's web pages are particularly relevant.

Our reading lists are being updated for the new session, though there are few changes from last year. These lists are accessible from the School's Students and Staff page, or via the University library pages.

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.

Students in our Group Study AreaIn 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
  • 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, University Student Handbook, and in the University regulations, but put in the context of your studies in this School, and with School-specific information there. The 2016-17 versions are currently online, but these will be updated to the 2017-18 handbooks in the coming days. You are expected to know and to act on the material in the relevant handbook. We also publish synopses of all our modules (now, 2 August, still to be updated for 2017-18), 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, as detailed in the letter to entrants that is linked to from this web page. The book is available from the local bookshop at a good price and with the electronic resource. This book covers most of 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.

This summer sees the first full operation of the University's new online advising system. The new system should bring a number of advantages to students and staff, but any new system has the possibility of problems that have not yet been detected. If you are not able to pre-advise on to a module that you believe you should be able to pre-advise on to, please email your Adviser of Studies or the School's Director of Teaching. Please note that some students will wish to take "non-standard" modules which in the past have been able to be entered in pre-advising and approved by the Adviser of Studies. In the new system the request for "non-standard" module choices will need to be made at the advising meeting, and the new sytem will alert the Pro Dean to seek permission for this choice.

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 should 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 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. The advisers for level one and two students are Dr Graham Smith room 219, Dr Natalia Korolkova room 311, and Prof Moira Jardine room 318. The main entrance of the building is on level 2, as are all the rooms with numbers starting with "2". Prof Jardine and Dr Korolkova have offices on the top floor of the building. Level three students will meet with Prof Ian Bonnell, level four students with Dr Donatella Cassettari, and level five with Dr Charles Baily. Taught postgraduates should meet with Dr Bruce Sinclair, and PhD students should meet with their research supervisor before matriculating. Junior Semester or Year Abroad students should meet with Dr Charles Baily at the advising session, which we expect to be in the 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, 10.15-11.00 - 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, Upper and Lower College Halls, off North Street
  • Monday 4.00 - Meeting for entrants considering level one or level two entry
  • Tuesday 11-12 am - Meet and Greet for taught postgraduate students in the School, ie Astrophysics MSc students, Photonics and Optoelectronic Devices MSc students, and EngD Applied Optics students, room 230.
  • Tuesday, 2-3 - Meet and Greet for the School's Gateway students, room 230.
  • Tuesday, 3-5.30 - Welcome events for all entrant students in the School, Theatre B.
    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 Presentation aimed at final and penultimate year physics/astronomy students from Careers Centre staff 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 Ian Bonnell
  • 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 2 pm - Study Skills event for Ph3011
  • Thursday afternoon - Taught postgrad photonics induction and welcome from 2 pm in room 222, MSc in Astrophysics events from 2.30 pm in room 338
  • Friday at 10 am, theatre C - meeting of all students taking a final year project module in the School
  • Friday afternoon - Induction event for students on the ID4001 module
  • Friday 2 pm PH3061 Peerwise Sesssion, Theatre C
  • The Student Astronomical and Physical Societies, AstroSoc and PhySoc, are independently of the School running a number of events, including a Tuesday and Wednesday breakfast near or in the School, and a Wednesday welcome event outside the Observatory.

  • Orientation Week School Timetable

Entrant Students

Welcome to the School of Physics and Astronomy, and thank you for choosing to study with us. We have an open letter to you available via the relevant 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.

Returning Students

We look forward to seeing our returning students too. Developments that you may see, some in part due to student feedback, include

  • A more substantial Second Year Physics Study Skills and Welcome event in Orientation Week
  • A more substantial JH welcome and mixing event in Orientation Week
  • New computers in the P&A PC Classroom
  • Working with Student Services to run a wellbeing workshop for students and staff
  • JH Computational Physics lectures have gone; there is a revision of PC Classroom session content and timetable
  • PH4039 has been renamed to Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics, with a small change in content.
  • A new SH module in Advanced Condensed Matter Physics, in part to make this material available to BSc honours students, in part as a prelude to changes in Condensed Matter Physics modules in level 5
  • Allowing some module choice in SH for students in the Chemistry and Physics joint degree programme
  • A new Nanophotonics level five module
  • A new 65 credit MPhys project module for Maths and Theoretical Physics students to allow better meshing of credit numbers
  • Improved pre- or early-module information in some modules
  • Additional guidance earlier in the programme on scientific writing as preparation for final year project reports

We ask all returning students to revise the material in previous AS, MT, and PH modules, as this is likely to be useful/essential in the coming modules.

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 core of the programmes forms 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.

Our picture above shows those in PH3014 last session at their conference at the Burn House, near Edzell.


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. The rain showers on the day could not dampen the delight of the event. 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 (level 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 2017-18 is Alisa Danilenko. She is happy for members ot the School to contact her regarding any issue they may have, in confidence, at physicspresident ( Alisa is looking forward to working with staff and students alike.



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 Graham Turnbull, 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.




First published BDS 9.8.17
Updated 24.8.17