Your Director of Studies (DoS) has specific responsibility for your academic progress and development, will provide guidance with regard to the papers you may take and will advise you on the lectures and classes you should attend. He or she will also help you to discover the most effective ways of working. You should always be prepared to discuss with your DoS any difficulties you are having with your work. Don’t assume the other students in your subject are finding it and that you alone have difficulties. All Cambridge courses are designed to be challenging. All undergraduates will have moments when they despair of mastering some part or other of their course. With help and advice, these moments can be readily overcome.

Your DoS is responsible for overseeing your entry for the examinations and for giving advice on how best to prepare for them. In some subjects, he or she will organize progress tests and/or mock examination papers at an appropriate point in the year. Take them seriously.

Just as you are required to see your Tutor at the beginning and end of each term, you must also sign up to see your DoS for a one-to-one meeting to review your academic progress and for you to receive feedback. Many of the practical arrangements concerning supervisions are made at these meetings. Since failure to attend can lead to a disproportionate amount of extra work for the DoS and inconvenience potential supervisors, it attracts an automatic fine.

Your DoS will discuss with you the reports on your work the College has received from your supervisors. Much of the advice given will depend on what your supervisors have said and on what you have to say in turn, which is another reason why we attach so much importance to these occasions. Virtually all supervision reports are submitted on-line through the CamCORS system. You should read them yourself prior to your end of term interview.

In most subjects, the DoS will be a Fellow of the College. Like all Cambridge colleges, the Selwyn DoS in certain of the smaller subjects is a member of the relevant University Department or a Fellow of another college. In the list of Fellows of Selwyn those who act as DoS are marked with an asterisk. The current external Directors of Studies are also to be found there.

The duties of a Director of Studies towards their students are summarized as follows:

  • meet students at the beginning and end of each Term to advise on a programme of work and to monitor progress
  • advise students on University courses and examinations
  • liaise with the College Librarian to ensure that stocks of books are kept up to date
  • be familiar with the range of learning facilities and materials available in the College and University and advise students on their use
  • be aware of and ensure compliance with any specific academic requirements in students’ Disability Support Assessments
  • arrange supervisions or, in some cases, ensure that Departments have done so and that such provision is satisfactory
  • be available to meet and advise students on subject-related matters, particularly if the student is experiencing academic difficulties
  • warn students if they are neglecting their studies or if their supervision reports give cause for concern
  • liaise with tutors where students appear to having problems
  • read supervision reports submitted by supervisors
  • explain supervision reports to students and give feedback and guidance
  • seek feedback from students on supervisors and, where appropriate, act on feedback received
  • be available to meet any student who is considering a change of subject, be aware within reason of the options available in related Triposes and the regulations governing progression from year to year
  • whenever possible, give advice on possible postgraduate courses
  • where appointed as DoS to higher level courses (Part III, MASt, LLM, MCL, MPhil etc), ensure they are aware of the issues associated with these one-year courses and be prepared to offer appropriate levels of support, especially to students arriving for a one-year course from out side the U.K.
  • write references as reasonably requested by students
  • check examination entries using CamSIS
  • arrange College exams and progress tests as appropriate
  • explain to students the detailed information available concerning their examination results
  • make recommendations on Scholarships and Prizes

For new students arriving for their first year of study, the Director of Studies is also responsible for supplying introductory material, reading lists etc. in advance of students' arrival; meeting new students at the beginning of the year to explain the teaching and learning at the Collegiate University in detail; and advising students on how to get the most out of supervisions, lectures, seminars and practicals, and from available learning facilities and materials.

The system is based on a set of reciprocal assumptions. Just as students may expect the above from their Directors of Studies so there are mutual expectations. In return for their efforts on the students’ behalf, Directors of Studies can reasonably expect students to:

  • book up for and attend a meeting at the start and end of every term
  • attend promptly other scheduled meetings with their Director of Studies, unless there is a compelling reason why they cannot, and in such cases give as much notice as advice and guidance received on academic matters possible of unavoidable absence or delay. In an emergency they should attend without delay
  • respond to email or other messages within two working days;
  • keep up with their work commitments as their top priority
  • discuss their interests and plans with their Director of Studies, and take note of the
  • attend relevant University lectures, seminars and practicals, and make use of the available learning facilities and materials
  • attend supervisions arranged for them and give as much notice as possible to both the supervisor and the Director of Studies of any unavoidable absence due to illness or other grave cause
  • pro-actively discuss with their Director of Studies any concerns they may have about their supervisions, in particular when they seem not to be working satisfactorily or there is a problem
  • respond to requests for feedback on supervisions and supervisors
  • deal promptly with all academic correspondence (especially email) and with College and University administrative requests, such as enrolling for examinations, completing teaching questionnaires, etc
  • give the maximum possible notice when requesting a reference from their Director of Studies, or when seeking other advice and support; also make the request in such a way that the DoS is able to provide appropriate support*
  • provide feedback on the outcome of applications, the better to inform future references or guidance
  • keep their DoS informed of any issues that may affect their work

Students will find that it is worthwhile to put some effort into establishing a rapport with their DoS so as to facilitate communication and understanding between both parties.

* A DoS’s definition of an appropriate notice may vary according to the time of year (e.g. if they are interviewing or examining they may need longer than usual, for example) and to the nature of the request. As a rule of thumb, however, one might expect at least a week’s notice to be given, and preferably longer. It is as well to secure an in principle agreement to provide support well in advance. Then if a shorter notice is required it does not come as a complete surprise to busy people.

In some cases the DoS may not always be the best placed person to provide a reference. Sometimes (for summer employment or for rented accommodation for example) the Tutor may be in a better position. Sometimes (perhaps applications for further study) a dissertation supervisor or project leader may be the ideal choice. Thus whilst discussing references with your DoS is always a good idea, you should not assume that the DoS is necessarily always going to say they will write for you. One circumstance in which they may decline occurs when a student has neglected their studies and has placed the DoS in a position where the latter feels it would be inappropriate to write on someone’s behalf when they would feel there was little positive to be said. The College’s reputation would be put at risk were we to adopt a policy of always providing unqualified support if it then transpired that we had misled others about a student’s diligence and good conduct.