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2.1 Your Work: Directors of Studies


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 to attend. Your DoS will help you to find the most effective ways of working.

A few key points deserve particular emphasis:

  • Cambridge courses are challenging. All undergraduates will have moments when they despair of mastering some part(s) of their course. With help and advice, these moments can quickly pass.
  • Always be prepared to discuss with your DoS any difficulties you are having with your work.
  • Don’t assume that you alone have difficulties or that previous students have not encountered similar issues.
  • Your DoS will have experience and expertise in supporting students that can be helpful to you.
  • Your DoS be the person best placed to offer invaluable advice on how best to prepare for exams.
  • You are required to see your DoS twice a term at least, but should not hesitate to seek them out more often if necessary.

Your DoS is responsible for overseeing your entry for the examinations. In many subjects, the DoS will organize progress tests and/or mock examination papers at an appropriate point in the year. Take them seriously.

You are required to see your DoS for a one-to-one meeting to review your academic progress and for you to receive feedback at the start and end of each term. Your DoS will discuss your supervisors’ reports on your work. The DoS’s advice will reflect what supervisors have said and your response. That is a major reason why we attach so much importance to these discussions. Many of the practical arrangements concerning supervisions are made at these meetings. Failure to attend causes a disproportionate amount of extra work for the DoS and inconveniences potential supervisors. It therefore attracts an automatic fine.

Supervision reports are submitted on-line through the CamCORS system. You should read them yourself prior to your feedback sessions with your DoS and keep them in mind.

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. Details can be found in the list of Fellows of Selwyn.

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 and recommendations concerning reasonable adjustments
  • 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 students arriving for their first year of study, the Director of Studies also supplies introductory material, reading lists etc. in advance of arrival; meets new students at the beginning of the year to explain the teaching and learning at the Collegiate University in detail; and advises 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 into 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 them
  • 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

The more effort you put into establishing a rapport with your DoS, the better will be the communication between you and the easier it will be for you to raise matters with them.

* A DoS’s definition of 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.

Your DoS may not always be the best placed person to provide a reference. Sometimes (for summer employment or for rented accommodation for example) your Tutor may be in a better position. Sometimes (perhaps applications for further study) a dissertation supervisor or project leader may be the ideal choice. So 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 they feel it would be inappropriate to write on someone’s behalf as 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.