All Cambridge students, regardless of which College they belong to, attend the same lectures, seminars and classes provided by their faculty or department. The Colleges provide the small-group tutorial style teaching, known as ‘supervisions’, which is such a special feature of study at Cambridge.
In a supervision, a small group of students – not more than four, and most often just two – meet for an hour or more with a member of the academic staff. You will have prepared some work in advance of the supervision and this will have been marked by the supervisor and will be discussed during the supervision. There will also be the opportunity for you to ask questions and to seek clarification about things you are having difficulty understanding. The supervisor will also want to ask you questions and will probe your knowledge of the subject to make sure that you are developing a good understanding. Above all, the supervision is a time for the joint exploration of the subject between yourself, your fellow students and the supervisor. In arts subjects it is normal to have one or two supervisions per week, whereas in science subjects three or four supervisions per week are more common.
The supervision system is an exceptionally important part of education in Cambridge. It is through the supervisions that students receive continuous feedback on their work, are able to clarify and extend their understanding, and begin to hone the important life skills of presenting ideas both on paper and orally. Supervisions are undoubtedly challenging and hard work, but they provide a unique opportunity for exploring your chosen subject in depth and under the guidance of a real expert.
At Selwyn we devote considerable resources, time and energy to providing the best possible supervision. Much of this teaching in the first and second years of the courses is done by Fellows of the College or by others who have a close association with us. In the latter years of the courses the topics become rather specialised and so the teaching is provided by the most appropriate people from other Colleges, as is the case in all Cambridge Colleges.
Each student has a Director of Studies, who is a Fellow of the College (or in a few subjects a senior academic from outside of the College). It is your Director of Studies’ role to guide and support your academic work, for example by arranging supervisions, giving study skills advice, advising you on choice of options, or on career paths. Directors of Studies are also experienced in dealing with any academic problems their students might have, and are well placed to offer support and practical advice. Usually the same person will be your Director of Studies throughout your time in Cambridge, so you can expect to build up a personal relationship with them. Since each Director of Studies only has the care of a small number of students, he or she will develop a good knowledge of each student’s particular strengths and interests, and take a real personal interest in their progress.
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