Guidance on supervision work

Preparing work

Long format answers:

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 beyond academia.  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 (or email it) in Clare Old Court porters lodge by 5pm the day before the supervision.

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 department pigeon hole (outside reception, on the left) – 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.

Michaelmas: week 4

Long-format answer: 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.


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 some of the older questions set are often still relevant and useful for revision.

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


Michaelmas: week 0

1 page answer only: Make an information table on the distinctions between sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks. Use columns for the different rock groups and rows for the different distinguishing factors. Put descriptive factors first then process factors later. Incorporate diagrams if appropriate.