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Department of Pharmacology


Pharmacology in the Natural Sciences Tripos and the Medical and Veterinary Sciences Tripos Notes for Directors of Studies and Supervisors.


Pharmacology in Part IB NST and MedST/VetST IB

In the Part I courses teaching is accomplished through lectures, practicals, seminars and supervisions.

The NST course is organised to consider the interaction of drugs with the body first at the molecular level, followed by the effects at the cellular level and finally the consequences for the whole organism.

The course is structured not only to introduce the factual material, but especially to show how the information is obtained and to stimulate the students to be able to solve problems themselves. The practical course forms an integral part of the teaching.

In the Michaelmas Term, a series of eight practicals complement the lectures by providing practical experience of both traditional pharmacological techniques, still in use in drug discovery.

In the Lent Term six of the conventional practicals are replaced by two mini-projects each spanning three sessions. In the mini-projects the students are given explicit instructions to get started, but it is up to them to develop and refine the procedures to obtain the best data possible.

Students are required to submit notebooks their mini-project. The notebook is assessed, and the mark contributes to the overall students' marks in the summer Tripos examination.

The practicals and mini-projects are intended to allow the students to develop sufficient expertise in simple, useful procedures that they can obtain sufficient data to draw new conclusions for themselves.

A number of the one-hour seminars are used for revision of background material necessary to understand the pharmacology. These were introduced originally for students (usually chemists) who had not done any Physiology. However, they have proved popular with all the students.

The Part I MedST/VetST Mechanisms of Drug Action course has similar objectives, but with a slant more to the medical applications.

In the MedST/VetST IB course the practicals are used primarily as illustrated extensions of the lectures, usually with the students producing the illustrations of the effects for themselves. It is important for the students to realise that some material is presented only in the practicals.



Students are encouraged to complete anonymous feedback forms commenting on all the lectures at the end of each term.

At the end of the Lent Term they are also asked to comment on the quality of supervisions they have received (and as a result they are asked to name their Colleges).

There is a comment/queries book in the Teaching Laboratory which students can use. This is examined regularly and queries answered as soon as possible.

The department invites students to sit on committees that meets at the end of each term to discuss the quality of the course that has taken place during that term. We ask for nominations for suitable students from Directors of Studies, and work through the Colleges in rotation. We have found this to be a very valuable exercise.

Supervisors are encouraged to provide feedback from students to Lecturers, Course Organisers and Demonstrators in order to enhance the quality of the Department's teaching. This is best done via our confidential feedback website.



Rang and Dale's Pharmacology (Ninth Edition). James Ritter, Rod Flower, Graeme Henderson, Yoon Kong Loke, David MacEwan, Humphrey Rang; 2018.


Handouts and Examination Papers

Both Handouts and Examination Papers (both Tripos and 2nd MB and 2nd VetMB) are available on Moodle.

Hard-copies of lecture handouts will only be provided to registered students with Specific Learning Difficulties, who can contact Mr Sergio Tomey to make further arrangements.


Guidance for Supervisors

College supervisors for Biological Sciences should referd to the Faculty of Biology advice.


Supervisions in Part IB Pharmacology

Arranging supervisions for the Part IB course is a matter primarily for the Colleges. However, the department does have a view on effective use of supervision time.

Supervisions are much better suited than lectures to the teaching of problem solving. The practical paper for NST and MedST/VetST consists of three or two (respectively) compulsory 'problems'. Many students feel that this paper is one of the hardest they sit in Cambridge. It can seem very daunting to be confronted with new data and actually be asked to think about what they mean.

There is only one way to be prepared for this type of question and that is practice on similar questions. It follows that a substantial portion of supervision time should be spent preparing students for this paper.

One point we try to make very clear to the students is that they are all in the same boat on the practical paper. The questions are all compulsory. So if a question is difficult it is difficult for everyone and will be marked accordingly.

On their feedback forms, students are asked to evaluate the supervisions they received during the Lent term. The results for each College are available to the Director of Studies.

Any queries regarding Supervisions in Pharmacology should be directed to (who is responsible for Liaison between the Department and Colleges).


Pharmacology Supervisor's Moodle access

Information for current supervisors is via Moodle which provides access to:

  • discussion forum for questions relating to the course
  • email notification of items added to the discussion forums to which you are subscribed
  • email notification from the Course Organisers of announcements relating to the course
  • electronic copies of lecture and practical handouts where available
  • electronic copies of past examination papers
  • solutions to past practical examination papers.


If you wish to be added to the Pharmacology Supervisors Moodle site please contact .

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This is the first year that the Part IB Pharmacology Supervisor Community have been established - please send any comments about your experience of using the system to .