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3. Support and Advice


The University of Cambridge is unusual in being one of a handful of collegiate universities in the United Kingdom – Selwyn College is one of the constituent colleges. The atypical structure of the University can seem strange and forbidding to newly arrived students. The majority of our postgraduates have not previously studied in Cambridge and approximately half are from outside the United Kingdom. Not only must new postgraduates engage intensively with their studies, but they must also settle into this unusual academic environment within which almost everyone else seems to be at home! Fortunately, most postgraduates do settle in well and this is partly because Colleges are small and welcoming and there are many people and places to turn for helpful support and advice.

Cambridge offers many exciting opportunities, but also substantial challenges, both academic and personal, and these can bring stress and strain to our students. Most postgraduates cope admirably through their own efforts and with the support of family and friends. However, in Selwyn there are several important sources of support and advice for our graduate students and these are explained in more detail below.

3.1 Postgraduate Tutors

3.2 The Chaplain

3.3 The Porters

3.4 The College Nurse

3.5 The MCR

3.6 Life after Cambridge 

3.7 Other Sources of Support and Advice

Academic support is usually provided by a named Departmental or subject-specific Supervisor. The role of the Supervisor varies between subjects and will not be covered here, although it is clear that a healthy relationship between postgraduates and their Supervisors is essential for the success of our students. However, your relationship with others, in particular your College Postgraduate Tutor, is also very important. Your Tutor is there to help you in any way and will often be a first port of call for any queries.

3.1 Postgraduate Tutors

The Postgraduate Tutors are: Dr Ronita Bardhan, Dr Jörg Haustein, Dr David Smith, Rev Canon Hugh Shilson-Thomas and Professor Robert Tasker, who collectively have a wide range of experience of most aspects of University and College life. On admission to the College, postgraduate students are allocated to one of these Postgraduate Tutors. Postgraduates typically retain the same Tutor during their studies at Selwyn.

Your Tutor is your official link with the University and is responsible for sorting out problems you encounter with the College’s formal requirements, your course, examinations or dissertations. They do not have day-to-day responsibility for your academic progress: that lies with your Supervisor. They will, however, receive copies of reports written by Supervisors and will certainly take an interest in your overall academic progress. Most of the time, however, your Tutor’s function will be pastoral and advisory.

Postgraduate Tutors are available to see you as you require. Generally, it is best to email them and make an appointment during normal working hours. In an emergency or outside normal hours, you may contact your Tutor via the Porters who will usually be able to put you in touch by telephone.

As a new postgraduate student you will be invited to meet your Tutor simply to say hello and introduce yourself. We strongly encourage you to accept this invitation, especially if you are new to Selwyn. However, there are also social events, particularly at the start of the academic year, which will give you an opportunity to meet in person. This contributes to building up a personal rapport between you. This helps if you subsequently wish to meet your Tutor to discuss academic work, or personal, financial or health issues that may arise.

Students studying for Master’s degrees are required to meet with their Tutor at least three times during the academic year (two years for part-time students); once at the start of the academic year and once around the time of the break between the first two Terms (i.e., Michaelmas and Lent Terms). Whether you meet before or after the Christmas break may depend on coursework deadlines and examination dates. Students who have progressed into their doctoral studies are encouraged to stay in contact with their Tutors. Of course, Tutors remain available to support and advise their students at other times.

The Postgraduate Tutors are an important part of the pastoral team at Selwyn. They work alongside the Senior Tutor, Chaplain, the College Nurse and MCR Officers to help students make the most of the academic and social opportunities that Cambridge offers. Our pastoral system is deliberately designed to provide a number of people and routes by which students can access support and advice. Specifically, if there is a matter which a student would rather discuss with a Tutor other than their own, they are welcome to consult another Tutor or member of the pastoral team. If a student is dissatisfied with their Tutor, then the matter should be raised, in confidence, with the Senior Tutor. The Senior Tutor, the Chaplain and the College Nurse assist Tutors in both their formal and pastoral roles as well as being available to students. A Tutor’s duties and responsibilities can be summarized as follows:

3.1.1 Roles of the Tutor

Postgraduate Tutors have both formal and pastoral roles.

In the formal role the Tutor is an official point of contact between the student, the University and the College. For example, requests to intermit, for extensions to formal deadlines, to sit examinations under special conditions, or appeals or complaints about the conduct of examinations may be initiated via a student’s Tutor. At the College level, a student’s Tutor would be expected to represent them in any disciplinary hearings. Requests to the College for financial support or for other grants are normally passed via the Tutor. Finally, some applications for employment or scholarships will require a reference from a Tutor.

In the pastoral role Tutors offer support and guidance to help students make the most of their time in Cambridge. Their role is to listen, discuss and, if appropriate, suggest courses of action on all matters to do with a student’s welfare. Tutors have a wide experience of both the College and University, and are able to recommend other sources of help for students (for example the University Counselling Service or the Disability Resource Centre). They can also advise in cases of financial difficulty. Postgraduate Tutors are always separate from a student’s academic Supervisor, and can provide an alternative source of advice on difficulties that might be interfering with a student’s academic work.

Tutors are not trained counsellors or mental health professionals: they are therefore neither qualified nor able to take on a therapeutic role. However, they can help students to find appropriate help, for example by accessing services provided by the University or the Health Service.

Mutual Expectations 

A postgraduate student can expect their Tutor to:

⦁ be ready to listen, to discuss and to offer advice, all from an informed and sympathetic view point;

⦁ take a general interest in their academic work and other activities, and in the process get to know them better;

⦁ offer hospitality and arrange social events;

⦁ make themselves available, responding within two working days to a request for a meeting;

⦁ respond within two working days to emails or other messages;

⦁ provide references (provided reasonable notice is given*), and follow up on any enquiries or requests for help. (Sometimes, the Tutor may not be the best person to provide a reference. For academic and some job applications a Supervisor may be better. However, your Tutor will be happy to advise you on this.)

⦁ be well-informed about University and College procedures, sources of advice and information, and how to access these services;

⦁ in an emergency to make themselves available at short notice, either to speak on the telephone or meet face-to-face.

It is important to understand that Tutors are busy academics with many demands on their time. There are thus limits on the times that they can be available and the amount of time that they can spend with particular students.

A Tutor can expect their Tutorial pupils to:

⦁ respond to email or other messages within two working days;

⦁ attend a face-to-face meeting requested with reasonable notice, and in an emergency without delay.

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

3.1.2 Confidentiality

A postgraduate student can speak to their Tutor in confidence. However, for a Tutor to provide the best help or advice, it may be necessary for them to discuss issues with others within the pastoral team (e.g. the Chaplain, the Senior Tutor, the Nurse, a professional from the Counselling Service). Often this can be done without revealing the name of the student, although if this is not possible, the Tutor will seek permission to reveal particular confidences solely for that purpose. For very serious matters, e.g. where a student or others may be at serious risk, the Tutor may need to take others into his or her confidence even without explicit permission.

Postgraduate students with pre-existing conditions that may affect them during their time in Cambridge, are recommended to reveal this, in confidence, to their Tutor, so that these may be taken into account should the need subsequently arise.

3.1.3 The Tutorial Office

Most Postgraduate Students will already have met Mrs Samantha Carr, who is responsible for many of the day-to-day administrative matters that concern our postgraduate students. Sam is based in the Tutorial Office in Ann’s Court provides administrative and moral support to the Postgraduate Tutors in their role. Sam has many years of experience assisting Selwyn postgraduates, is unfailingly helpful and usually a very good place to start for help on administrative matters.

3.2 The Chaplain

The Chaplain is the Reverend Canon Hugh Shilson-Thomas. His pastoral care extends to the whole college community, including Fellows, students and members of staff. As Dean of Chapel, he is responsible for all aspects of College Chapel life, including liturgical services, study groups for those interested in exploring issues of faith, and the musical life of the Chapel.

Although the Chapel is formally part of the Church of England, the Chaplain is available to all members of college, irrespective of religious belief or denomination. He can lend a listening ear, provide support at difficult times, or simply be available to engage with those exploring their spiritual lives. The Chaplain’s rooms are on D staircase in Old Court. If ever you need to contact the Chaplain urgently, the Porters will endeavour to contact him on your behalf. He also serves as Chaplain at Newnham College. (A list of other religious bodies in Cambridge is available in the section on “Other Sources of Support and advice”. Students may wish to approach these institutions for support and advice.)

Although the Chaplain works in close collaboration with the Tutors, the College Nurse and other colleagues, you may be assured that appropriate boundaries of confidentiality will be observed, so feel free to speak with him in confidence.

Further information about the Chapel and its role in the life of the College may be found here: /ughandbook/facilities/chapel/.

3.3 The Porters

The College Porters provide a unique, essential, 24 hour service to the college. For many enquiries they are often the best and most rapid source of information and advice.

More details about the Porters and their role in College life may be found here: /ughandbook/facilities/porters-lodge/.

3.4 The College Nurse

The College Nurse is Mrs Carolyn Taylor. She is available to all members of college for advice on medical matters and is able to treat minor ailments where appropriate. She is available in the Surgery on B staircase in Old Court.

Further information about the College Nurse may be found here: /ughandbook/health-welfare-safety/health/

3.5 The MCR

Selwyn MCR (Middle Combination Room) is the body which represents the postgraduates in Selwyn and the University. It is like a Students’ Union for postgraduates in Selwyn. All postgraduate students of Selwyn are members of the MCR. The MCR has its own room (in Cripps Court) where postgraduates can meet and socialize. Members of the MCR are an excellent source of support and advice, not least because many will have immediate experience of matters that are relevant to graduates. The MCR committee also has Welfare Officers who are available to provide support and advice on any welfare matters for postgraduates.

Further information about the MCR may be found here:

3.6 Life after Cambridge

Most graduates leave Cambridge eventually. The Tutors hope that life in Selwyn will help to prepare graduates for what comes immediately after their studies and indeed beyond. If graduates wish to discuss their plans for the future, they may contact their Tutors. However, within college there is also a Fellow responsible for Career Development: Professor Bill Clegg is available to discuss careers and maybe contacted directly for this purpose (

The University Careers Service ( is also available to all members of the University including graduate students. Staff and resources at the Careers Service are able to help you think about your future and provide specific advice about job applications, careers, CVs, interviews and much else besides.

3.7 Other Sources of Support and Advice

Although it is hoped you will feel there is someone sympathetic to turn to in Selwyn if you require advice or have a problem, we recognize that there are occasions when a student might prefer to talk to someone without any connection to the College. There are many more sources of Support and Advice both within and outside the University and the Postgraduate Tutors encourage you to make as much use of them as you need. They exist to help you. Some of these are:

3.7.1 The University Counselling Service

( is available to all students and provides the services of trained counsellors and a clinical psychologist.

3.7.2 NHS GP Services

All resident postgraduate students are required to register with a local GP (General Practitioner) practice ( GPs in central Cambridge have plenty of experience in the kinds of problem that affect students. They are particularly good at helping anyone who is suffering from depression or who is simply overwhelmed by the pressures of university life. They know all about academic work stress and the various ways of minimizing it. If you feel you need to see your GP urgently and the surgery is unable to offer you an early appointment, it is often worth seeing whether the Nurse or your Tutor can get them to see you sooner.

3.7.3 The Students’ Unions’ Advice Service

As members of the University, all students are entitled to use the Students’ Unions’ Advice Service. The SUAS provides free, confidential support to all students. If you ever need advice, information, support or representation on any issue (academic or personal), it is worth consulting the SUAS. It consists of two professional Student Advisors, as well as three student representatives. They are all trained to provide support and SUAS is accredited by Advice UK.

SUAS is happy to work with you over the phone, via Skype or via email or in person. If you prefer to meet in person, there is a form to complete to organise an appointment or you can just drop in!  Advice drop-in sessions, (12-2pm every Tuesday and Thursday) allow you to see an advisor without having to make an appointment. SUAS is committed to responding to all emails within twenty-four working hours. You can contact the SUAS by email:, or phone: 01223 746999.

3.7.4 Nightline

Nightline is night-time listening support and information service for Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin Universities, run by students for students. It used to be called Linkline. More information about Nightline is available on their website:

3.7.5 The Disability Resource Centre

( provides support and advice to students with any impairment/disability, medical matter, or injury. Students may contact the DRC directly or they may wish to discuss any issues with their Tutors first.

3.7.6 Other Religious Institutions and Chaplaincies

Students with a particular faith background may wish to seek support and advice from institutions with a specific religious outlook. There are many organizations, institutions and chaplaincies within the University that may be approached. A list of chaplaincies for diverse faiths and denominations may be found on the website of Great St Mary’s, the University Church (