Teaching

At Birmingham you'll be taught by the experts, most of your core courses will have a format based upon lectures by an active researcher in the field. However, the learning experience is not just about lectures. The lectures are supported by tutorials, examples classes, skills development classes, experimental physics, computing laboratories, project work and self-directed learning.

Physics Year 2 lab students performing the Rayleigh scattering experiment

Themes

Core Physics

There is a core of physics modules that everyone must study. This covers the fundamentals of the subject that every physicist should know. Studying this core will ensure you are prepared for a variety of advanced courses and are employable as a scientist across a range of areas. This core initially dominates each of our courses and grows smaller each year to give way to more specialised optional modules. Some of the topics covered include: Quantum Mechanics, Classical Mechanics, Special Relativity, Electromagnetism, Statistical Physics and Optics.

Specialised modules

Courses specialised to different areas of physics start to appear in the first year and expand in later years to let you tailor the degree to whichever areas interest you. It’s possible to specialise in one or two areas or keep your options broad. Some options may be restricted depending on which degree programme you are on or which previous modules you have chosen. There is plenty of support in planning your route through your degree and to help you decide which modules to pick.

Mathematics

Mathematics is the language of physics so it is vital you have a good grounding in this area. Mathematics is compulsory in the first two years and is supported by guided study sessions where you will be able to work through problems with teaching assistants.

Computing

 

Programming is a key skill for physicists and learning to code will make you successful in a variety of other fields too. We don’t assume you have any prior knowledge of coding and will teach you Python in Years 1 and 2 as part of the Physics and Communication Skills module.
A student at a PC during a python computing class

 

Communication skills and problem solving

Physicists are excellent problem-solvers and you’ll naturally learn how to solve problems through many of your modules and projects. We support this learning through our skills development sessions, where you’ll practice how to approach problems which don’t fit into a single well-defined subject area. These skills ensure you will be highly employable in a variety of fields.

Experimental work

 

Laboratory work is an integral part of your degree if you are studying a Physics, Physics and Astrophysics or Physics with Particle Physics and Cosmology course. Five hours a week in the first year and eight hours a week in your second year are spent working in our state-of-the-art laboratories. Lab work is conducted in pairs and is assessed continuously throughout the term. Later years’ lab work will depend on the exact modules you take and projects can be experimental in nature if you choose so.
2 students conducting an electricity experiment in first year labs

 

Teaching Methods

Lectures

Most modules are delivered in a traditional lecture format by an active physics researcher. Lectures last 50 minutes and are all held on the Edgbaston campus. Lecture material, in the form of notes, slides or recordings are available to you on our online virtual learning environment, allowing you to review the material in your own time and at your own pace. Lecturers are happy to discuss the content of their lectures either at the end of class, in their set office hours or at any mutually convenient time. Most lecture courses are assessed through a mixture of problem sheets throughout the term and an end-of-module examination.

Tutorials

During your first and second years you will meet once a week with your personal tutor in a group of no more than four students. These hourly tutorials are an excellent opportunity to discuss the content of the previous week’s lectures, practice problems and discuss areas of physics that interest you. Your tutor is your first point of call for any problems you have and they are supported by a wider welfare system.

In Year 3 you will still have a personal tutor for pastoral support as needed but, as courses become more specialised, weekly tutorials are not held in this year and you are encouraged to talk to specific lecturers about your modules as needed. In your fourth year, the project supervisor will take on the role of personal tutor. 

Example classes

Mathematical and skills modules are supported by example classes or guided study. These classes are a chance to work through example problems alone or in small groups as guided by teaching assistants.
Physics staff tutoring 3 undergraduate students

Laboratories

Laboratories are overseen by lecturers and supported by teaching assistants. In experimental laboratories, you will work in pairs and in early years you are guided by detailed experiment outlines. As the years progress the lab work becomes more self-guided and open-ended. In computing laboratories, you’ll work alone to undertake programming tasks related to physics. Experimental and computing labs are continually assessed as each piece of work is completed. For experimental work this entails keeping a lab book which is marked each week.
2 undergraduate students performing a forces experiment in year 1 lab

Project work

You will have the opportunity to undertake plenty of project work in your degree. For those who take laboratories, this will be as part of your lab work in the first two years. A project develops a wide range of skills including planning and report writing. Group studies in your third year is a major project which is undertaken in groups of 10–20 students. The task requires the group to work as a team and enables you to solve a problem of much greater magnitude than could be attempted by an individual. The teamwork skills learnt here are invaluable for success in a future career.

If you study for the MSci, a large part of your time in the fourth year will be devoted to an independent research project. As well as learning great detail about the area of physics you have chosen, you will also learn vital project management and communication skills during this project.