Institute of Astronomy

Researcher Development

All students in the University are encouraged to engage in personal development planning. The astrophysics courses are designed to provide all students with opportunities to develop a wide range of transferable skills. The University also offers plenty of opportunities to acquire skills outside the curriculum particularly in College-based activities and in numerous specialist interest clubs and societies.

The Institute of Astronomy has identified the following set of skills and attributes which all undergraduates can reasonably expect to acquire during their university career. These skills enhance students academic performance, can be used beyond university, and are valued by employers.

This note sets out the ways in which transferable skills are acquired through the teaching programme offered by the Institute. The Part II and Part III Astrophysics courses overlap with courses provided by the Departments of Physics and Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics and so the transferable skills policy statements of those departments are also relevant.

Intellectual skills

The most important intellectual skills which our students learn are abilities at quantitative and qualitative reasoning in the exact physical sciences and the application of this understanding to problem-solving. Examples include: development of models of phenomena; mathematical analysis of models; appropriate approximation; statistical analysis. These skills are developed in: Department: through lectures, examples classes, seminars, projects and examinations; College: supervisions involving discussion, reasoning, problem solving, and critical analysis.

Communication skills

All students develop their communication skills as part of the teaching and assessment programme. In Part II essays and Part III projects credit is given for the quality of the student's communication skills. The principal elements of the training involve:


Department: Guidance notes provided by the Department on the preparation and presentation of Part II essays. Individual guidance by supervisors of Part III research projects, encouraging a critical attitude and an innovative approach to problem solving.

College: Supervisions involving the discussion and written solution of problems.


Department: Oral presentations of project work in Part III (also including software presentation packages and visual aids).

College: Supervisions involving oral explanations and discussion with supervisors and other students. Non-verbal (development of an argument using mathematical concepts or symbolic language):

Department: Computational projects, essays and examples sheets. College: Supervisions involving problem solving. Organisational and interpersonal skills

Students develop self-discipline in the management of a complex work programme of lectures, supervisions, examples classes, projects, literature reviews and examinations with strict deadlines. Interpersonal skills and self expression are developed through constant interaction with peers, supervisors, lecturers and working within a research group as part of a Part III project.

Department: Provision of a framework within which the students carry out their work programme with clear deadlines. Advice on organising the programme of work in the Course Guide.

College and University societies: Oversight of the students' programmes is maintained by Directors of Study and Tutors. Advice on organisation of the work programme through supervisions. Living, working and socialising in a diverse community; taking positions of responsibility.

Research skills

Students develop information-acquisition skills from the selection and use of appropriate text books to the sourcing and assimilation of scientific literature particularly for essays and projects.

Department: Development of all aspects of research skills involving the application of understanding of concepts to new problems. Use of library, electronic and Internet resources to supplement information given in lectures and supervisions; critical analysis of published papers in preparation for Part II essay; Part III research project. Appreciating how to access the experience and knowledge of expert scientists.

Numeracy and Computing

Success in astrophysics is dependent on a high level of numeracy and computing skills, all of which are highly transferable to other spheres.

Department: In earlier years of the Natural Sciences Tripos students will have followed courses in mathematics. All astrophysics courses contain mathematical elements. Lectures and examples classes are provided in mathematical methods and statistical astrophysics; daily use of mathematics and computational methods for study and problem solving; data analysis in essays and projects. CATAM courses are specifically focussed on programming skills, many at a very advanced level.

College: Supervisions in all courses. Computing resources for the above; e-mail and Internet access. Word processing is used for all aspects of written communication.

Foreign Language Skills

Students have access to the University's Language Centre and extensive opportunities for self-teaching in foreign languages.

Page last updated: 26 March 2018 at 11:09