Teaching FAQ

FAQ for new instructors in the UCSB Physics Department




Who are the advisors and what do they do?

JD Dill and E. Cooper are the Department’s staff undergraduate advisors.  

Jennifer Farrar is the staff graduate advisor.  In addition to advising the students they are also the best persons to answer many of your questions.  The Department also has one or two peer advisors (senior undergraduates that help with student advising) and six faculty advisors, one each for Freshmen - Sophomore - Junior - Senior - Transfer - Graduate.


Courses and Course Mechanics


How do I find out what is supposed to be taught in Physics XX or Math YY?

UCSB Catalog: https://my.sa.ucsb.edu/catalog/Current/Index.aspx 

Then pick “Courses by Subject Area” in the search drop-down menu, and pick a department

For more details, ask the instructor that taught the class last.

Another option to search for courses: Curriculum Search.


What courses does a Physics Major take?


Freshmen/Sophomores https://www.physics.ucsb.edu/education/undergrad/recommended-courses-fs 




What are Service Courses?

They are courses for non-majors. 

Astro 1: mostly for non-science majors

Physics 6A-6B-6C: basic physics for life science majors, algebra based

Physics 1-2-3-4-5: basic physics for physical sciences and engineers, calculus based.  Some of our majors are in this series.

The department has a standing Service Course Committee.  If you are teaching such a course you will be contacted by the chair of that committee before the beginning of the quarter to discuss various issues.  If you don't hear from this committee, reach out to them!


I am supposed to teach Physics XX.  Can I have an old syllabus?  Old exams? What book should I use?

Ask the person that taught it last or the Service Course Committee. If you are teaching in a sequence (eg, 2nd quarter of Quantum Mechanics) it is highly recommended to not switch textbooks.


How do I find out who is teaching or has recently taught a class in the Physics Department?



How can I get a copy of the textbook?

The staff advisors have copies for you to use.


What is Egrades?

eGrades is where you can access your classlist, waiting list, add-codes, and submit grades.


What is a waiting list?

When your course has filled to capacity, the advisers will enable a waiting list. A waiting list will let you know who and how many would like to take your course that quarter. Prioritizing policy:

PHYS 1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Engineering and Chem majors, then all others

PHYS 6A, 6B, 6C: first come basis

PHYS 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25: Physics majors, then Undeclared freshmen, all others


What is an add-code and why are students asking me for one?

An add or approval code is a special four digit code to allow a student to register for your class when the student was prevented from enrolling due to missing prerequisites or because the class is full.  


A student that does not meet the prerequisites for the class is asking me to register.  What should I do?

The decision to let the student into the class is entirely up to you. If an exception for an undergraduate course is made, then forward the email to advisors@physics.ucsb.edu and an adviser will either clear prerequisites or give the student an add code.


What is Gaucho Space?

https://gauchospace.ucsb.edu/courses/ is the website that can host your course.


Can I do demonstrations during lecture?

Yes.  Contact Louis Grace to arrange demonstrations for your class.  In practice demonstrations are limited to Broida 1610 and 1640.


What other resources can I use in lecture?

Many faculty like  i<clickers: 


(not clear if all the information in this page is up-to-date, check with Louis Grace).

For flipping the lectures, a good source of advice is Roger Freedman


What is CLAS?

CLAS = Campus Learning Assistance Services. CLAS runs tutorial groups for our service courses (as well as other large-enrollment classes at UCSB). Remarkably, their Physics operation is completely disconnected from the Department.


What are the online homework systems?

There are online homework systems associated for example with the Physics 1 and 6 series.  If you are teaching one of these classes you should familiarize yourself with these.  Contact the Service Courses Committee for more information.


Can I connect my computer to a projector during lecture?

Many campus classrooms and lecture halls have built-in systems that include data projectors, DVD players, laptop hook-ups & lectern computers with internet access, for details see


In most cases in order to use the systems you will need an A126 key from Media Equipment at Kerr Hall, room 1160. If you will be using your own laptop, this is all you will need. If you would like to use the lectern computer, you must set up an account at Kerr Hall, room 1160.  (Check with Louis Grace to make sure that these information are up to date).


Should I have office hours for students to come talk to me?

Yes.  A couple of hours a week is typical.


How do I email all students in the class?

There is a dedicated tool in Gaucho Space (PeachMail).


Teaching Assistants, Readers, Learning Assistants


How many TAs do I get for my class?

This is somewhat of a sore point, in that the department is resource-limited (there are not enough graduate students that work as TAs to support the large undergraduate population).  The department has a policy on the TA support for each class based on the class-type and the anticipated enrollment.  Since this is somewhat of a moving target, ask the Vice Chair for the current policy document.


What is a 50% TA?  What is a 25% TA?

A 50% TA is committed to 20 hour/week.  A 25% TA is committed to 10 hour/week.


What can I expect from my TAs?

TAs are unionized, so you effectively sign a contract with them at the beginning of the quarter.  You will be emailed a standard contract that you can fine-tune as needed.  In a lecture class TA duties include some combination of running discussion sections, holding office hours, grading homeworks and/or exams, writing up solutions to the homeworks, managing readers (see below).  You should get advice from the Chair/ViceChair or other colleagues if you are not sure.


What is a Reader?

Readers are usually undergraduates who have taken the class in the past and can now help grade homeworks.  Note that even with the help of Readers, in many classes we do not have enough resources to fully grade every problem on the homeworks.  You should plan accordingly, e,g., grade carefully only a fraction of the problems?


What is a Learning Assistant (LA)?

LAs are undergraduates that assist TAs in discussion sections.  For more information on the LA program contact Sathya Guruswamy.


Exams and Grading


When/how do I schedule exams?

Schedule midterms during regular class time.  Finals are scheduled by the registrar, see https://registrar.sa.ucsb.edu/calendars/calendars-deadlines/final-examinations


What is DSP?

Disabled Student Program.  Students in the program typically get extra time for exams.  The staff advisors coordinate the scheduling of these exams, and you need not make any arrangements yourself.  But it is still a good idea to talk to them to understand what is going on, particularly on how to give your exam questions to the DSP proctor and how to get the text back to be graded.  Note: the DSP organization is in flux, with the goal of further centralizing the management of the program.  Check with the staff advisors. 


How do I make copies of the exams to distribute to the student?

Department staff (currently Susan Schiferl and Debbie Ceder) can help you with that, usually by sending it out for copying. This means that you need to plan ahead.  If the number of copies is not too large, printing them directly on a department printer may be more efficient.


How do I turn in my grades and when are they due?

Grades are typically due about one week after the end of the quarter.  To turn them in you go to eGrades: https://egrades.sa.ucsb.edu.  


Should I grade on a curve?

It is entirely up to you


How do I weigh midterm, exams, homework?

This is also up to you.  A reasonable scheme could be 15% homework, 40% midterm, 45% final. 


Who proctors the exams?

You can get help from your TAs with proctoring.


Who grades the exams?

You can get help from your TAs with grading. 

If you have many multiple-choice questions, e.g., in a large service course, you can ask the students to bring a scantron to the exam.   Students can buy scantrons at the Arbor.  Since there are a few different scantron formats, make sure you specify the format and that you have a way to score it.  Your TA or one of the faculty assistants can machine-score the scantrons for you.

For exams that require long-form answers, I recommend requiring students to purchase and bring “blue books” to the exam.  That will save you from requests for extra paper, staplers, etc.




What are evaluations?

Students evaluate instructors at the end of the quarter. Please contact E. Cooper with any questions.