Guidance on supervision work

Preparing work


Developing good written communication to lay out cogent scientific arguments is an essential part of the Earth Sciences degree, and a very valuable skill more generally.  Although there is no(/little) formal essay training in the Natural Sciences Tripos, feedback on supervision work provides the key opportunity for you to hone your writing skills.  There is also a great article on the science of scientific writing by George Gopen and Judith Swan, which you can find online here, or a pdf here.

In terms of presentation, I would consider handwriting your essays and hand drawing any figures/graphs that you want to include.  The reason for this is that the examination at the end of the year will (for most people) involve handwriting your essays within a time limit, so it is important to maintain practice at this during the year.


Again, I would recommend the doing the work handwritten.  In the case of calculation work, this is mainly because it would be inordinately awkward to appropriately typeset the maths describing your workings.

Thin sections and rock descriptions:

I have produced a short guide for thin section and hand specimen descriptions that goes into more detail.  In brief, it is best practice to make the annotated drawing on one blank page of A4 and then further written observations and inferences on a second page.  Use colour, shading, differing line weights etc., to best communicate the optical differences between minerals.

Where and when to hand work in

Please hand your work into my pigeon hole outside reception in the Department of Earth Sciences (Downing Street) at least 24hr before our supervision.

Michaelmas: week 8 (the Christmas vacation edition)

Map Exercise: Complete map exercise 4 from the examples book.

Thin Section: Describe the rock and thin section Me3.

— Due for the first supervision of Lent Term, before lectures start —

Go over your notes and read around the subject a bit!
A structured way of doing this is by identifying the 1A tripos questions that relate to the Michaelmas term of the course (which you can access through Moodle), and use these essay titles to construct essay plans. Where you can’t think what you would say, head back to the notes and then onto relevant textbooks to find the information you need and to furnish your answers with more quantitative detail and real-world examples of the processes you are describing.

A great book for John’s part of the course is Fowler’s Solid Earth, which contains much more than you need to know, but has good clear explanations of key physical processes. The minerals part of the course is nicely expanded upon in Putnis’s Introduction to mineral sciences. For Marian’s part of the course there are a couple of books you might look at, Klein’s Earth Materials and Philpotts’s Principles of Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology are both good; each of which will also contain some examples of real-world occurrences of metamorphic terranes you can use in your essays and photomicrographs to help you relate geological processes to the textures you can see under the microscope. All of these should be in college libraries/UL so you shouldn’t need to buy them.

As a general read, Langmuir’s update of How to Build a Habitable Planet couldn’t be better, but this is a big book so expect reading it to take a while.

After all of this reading you should have plenty of questions for the first supervision next term, so come back with a list of things you want to discuss.

Michaelmas: Week 7

Essay: How can metamorphic rocks exposed at the surface of the Earth give us information about the pressure and temperature regimes in which they formed?

Map exercise: Complete map exercise 3 from the examples booklet.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 28th November —

Michaelmas: Week 6

Essay: Describe, using appropriate examples, how basaltic and granitic magmas are generated, the different tectonic environments in which these processes occur, and the type of rocks formed as a result.

Thin sections: Describe the thin sections ‘super 3’ and ‘super 7’.  Refer to the short guide I have written to help you.  These sections are in an envelope in my pigeon hole – please be very careful with them and put them back in the envelope and back in my pigeon hole after you have finished working with them.

Remember that after identifying phases you need to decide what type of rock you are looking at, and give a summary of its history.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 21st November —

Michaelmas: Week 5

Thin section: Describe rock specimens and thin sections I5 and I6. Refer to the short guide I have written to help you.

Question sheet 2 [no need to hand in]: Work through question sheet 2 from Rich’s ‘What is the Earth made of?’ course.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 14th November —

Michaelmas: week 4

Essay: Explain why the concept of structure, rather than chemical formula, is more useful in the study of silicate minerals. Use olivine, pyroxene, amphibole and mica as examples in your discussion.

Question sheet 1 [no need to hand in]: I thoroughly recommend working through the question sheets provided with this part of the course.  The first one has you downloading the crystal maker software and using it to examine the structural elements of crystals.  This is an extremely valuable learning tool so do get familiar with it now.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 7th November —

Michaelmas: week 2

Calculation question: Attempt the isostasy question in the 2011 Tripos Part 1A practical exam (it is section 2, parts a-c).

Complete the answer on clean sheets of A4 rather than trying to fit it into the text boxes that come with the exam paper.  You can download past tripos papers from the NST Part 1A Earth Sciences page on Moodle, just follow the ‘past exam papers’ link from the navigation pane on the left (or follow this link).  Note that the structure of the 1A Earth Sciences exams was different before 2012, read your course guide for more details (or look at the most recent exam papers), but the questions set are often still relevant and useful for revision.

Map exercise: Complete map exercise 2 from the examples booklet.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 24th October —

Michaelmas: week 1

Essay: Describe the stratigraphy at Ketton Quarry.  What is the evidence for environmental change recorded in the rocks you saw?

Map exercise: Complete map exercise 1 from the examples booklet.

— Due for the supervision in the week starting Monday 17th October —