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3.1 Tutors


All students are allocated to a particular Tutor and can usually expect to continue with that person throughout their time as an undergraduate at Selwyn. If an undergraduate stays on for a higher degree they normally transfer to one of the Graduate Tutors.

Your Tutor will be a Fellow in a subject other than the one you are studying and therefore usually not someone who teaches you. Tutors provide advice and pastoral support. Your Tutor is your official link with the University and, as such, is the person who can best advise you regarding any problem you encounter with the College’s formal requirements, your course or in relation to the examination process. It is your Tutor who has to negotiate on your behalf any change of subject for which you wish to be considered. Most of the time your Tutor’s function will be pastoral, they do not have day-to-day responsibility for your academic progress. That lies with your Director of Studies. Your Tutor will, however, receive copies of the reports written by those who teach you and will certainly take an interest in your overall academic progress.

Your Tutor will be available to see you by appointment, and some also make themselves available for regular office hours in term time. See /current-members/information-students/tutorial-hours/ for details. Generally it is best to email them or leave a message at the Porters’ Lodge or the Tutorial Office to arrange a meeting. In an emergency, you should not hesitate to contact your Tutor at other times; outside the normal working day, in such circumstances the Porters will be able to help put you in touch with your Tutor.

You are required to attend beginning and end of term interviews with your Tutor. This contributes to building up a personal rapport between you. It also allows you to discuss work, personal or health issues that you may be experiencing. In addition, it is an opportunity to conduct routine business and allows your Tutor to find out if there is anything that needs to be done on your behalf before certain deadlines (certain University or external deadlines are absolutely rigid). These can relate to examination entries, financial affairs, applications of various sorts, internal or external to the College, or your dealings with University/public bureaucracy. You will be invited by email to sign up for a meeting. Since Tutors, who may well also be Directors of Studies, have to conduct a large number of such interviews in a short space of time, it causes considerable inconvenience if their pupils fail to attend their beginning or end of term interview. This is why failure to comply leads to a mandatory fine.

The Tutors are a crucial part of the pastoral team at Selwyn. The Chaplain, the Senior Tutor, the Nurse and the JCR and MCR Welfare Officers work alongside them to support students and help them make the best of the academic and social opportunities that Cambridge offers. The Senior Tutor, the Chaplain and the College Nurse support and advise Tutors in both their formal and pastoral roles as well as being available to students. . The pastoral system is deliberately designed to provide a number of people and routes by which students can access the advice and support they need. Tutors are not trained counsellors or mental health professionals: they are therefore neither qualified nor able to take on a therapeutic role. On the other hand, they can help a student to find appropriate expert help, for example by accessing services provided either by the University or others.

If there is a matter which a student would rather discuss with a Tutor other than their own, any student is welcome to consult another Tutor. If a student is dissatisfied with their Tutor, then the matter should be raised, in confidence, with the Senior Tutor. Changing Tutors is not entirely unknown but but would only be considered after a student has raised their concerns with the Senior Tutor and if the Senior Tutor considers there to be a compelling case for a change. Changing of Tutors is discouraged for numerous reasons but especially because the continuity of a tutorial relationship is important to the provision of appropriate support to students. This would especially apply where a Tutor has previously supported the student through such processes as intermission, Fitness to Study procedures, requests for an Alternative Mode of Assessment and other such very important pastoral matters where continuity is particularly valuable.  It should also be noted that the College is committed to the principle of limiting the size of tutorial 'sides' so as not to undermine the quality of support by overburdening any individual Tutor. 

A Tutor’s duties and responsibilities can be summarized as follows:

3.1.1 Role of the Tutor

There are two aspects of the role of the Tutor: a formal role and a pastoral role.

In the formal role the Tutor provides an official point of contact between the student, the University and the College. For example, requests to intermit, requests for extensions to deadlines, or to sit examinations under special conditions all need to be made to the University by a student’s Tutor. Likewise appeals or complaints about the conduct of examinations need to be passed on by the Tutor. At the College level, requests to change subject would normally be made through the Tutor, and a student’s Tutor would be expected to represent them in any disciplinary, Fitness to Study or academic 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 the Tutor offers support and guidance to help students make the most of their time in Cambridge. Their role is to listen, discuss and, as 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 so are able to recommend other sources of help available to students (for example the University Counselling Service or the Accessibility & Disability Resource Centre), including how to access support in the case of financial difficulties. The Tutor is always separate from a student’s academic advisors (Directors of Studies and supervisors), and so provides an alternative source of advice on difficulties that might be interfering with a student’s ability to work. If a student has a pre-existing medical condition or other issues that are likely to affect them during their time in Cambridge, it is highly advisable that they reveal this, in confidence, to their Tutor to ensure that it can be taken into account should the need subsequently arise.

The Colleges have agreed a set of mutual expectations regarding tutorial matters.

A 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 the student’s academic work and other activities, and the process get to know them to some extent;
  • offer hospitality and arrange social events;
  • meet them individually at the beginning and end of each term;
  • offer them advice and appropriate support in the event of welfare, academic, disciplinary or other problems arising;
  • be well-informed about University and College procedures, sources of advice and information, and about how to access these services;
  • make themselves available in the course of term, responding within two working days to a request for a meeting;
  • respond within two working days to emails or other messages;
  • in an emergency to be available at short notice, either to speak to the student remotely or meet face-to-face;
  • provide references (provided that reasonable notice is given*) and follow up on any enquiries or requests for help.

Note that a Tutor’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, 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.

It is important to understand that Tutors are also 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:

  • book up for and attend a meeting at the start and end of every term;
  • 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.

Sometimes the Tutor may not always be the best placed person to provide a reference. On occasion (for summer placements in a University environment, for example) the Director of Studies may be in a better position. Sometimes (perhaps applications for further study) your Director of Studies and a dissertation supervisor or project leader may be the ideal choices. So whilst discussing references with your Tutor is always a good idea, you should not assume that they will necessarily always write for you.

3.1.2 Confidentiality

Any student can speak to their Tutor in confidence. In the overwhelming majority of cases it is considered best practice to seek the student’s consent to share information about them with another party before doing so, even where a breach of confidentiality without consent would be justified. However, in order for a Tutor to best help or advise a student, it may be necessary for the Tutor to discuss the matter with others (e.g. the Chaplain, the Senior Tutor, the Nurse, a professional from the Counselling Service). Sometimes this can be done without revealing the name of the student, but sometimes this will not be possible, and in such a case the Tutor will ask for permission to share information solely for the purpose of obtaining advice. In the case of very serious matters, e.g. where a student or others may be at serious risk of harm, the Tutor may feel it necessary to take others into their confidence even when explicit permission has not been given. The same principle may apply in relation to speaking to other members of the College's welfare team.

The College’s policy on Confidentiality in a Welfare Context can be found in section 10 of the Student Guide. It forms both a guide for Tutors and others in the welfare team and to make clear the College’s approach to matters of confidentiality in matters of student welfare.

The following fundamental baseline principle applies: College Tutors and Tutorial Office staff cannot promise to maintain absolute confidentiality in all circumstances because, if the wellbeing or safety of students or other individuals are at risk, further help may need to be sought. Nonetheless, confidentiality will normally be maintained by the College welfare team on a strictly need-to-know basis and within the welfare team.

The College’s policy is framed within the context of a commitment to the general principle of privacy and respect for confidentiality. It should be read in conjunction with the College’s Data Protection Policy. The potential complexity and sensitivity of individual student health and welfare matters mean that there is no single, definitive ‘right’ answer about what to share in some cases. Judgment, discretion, justification and sometimes specialist advice may be required before an answer is arrived at, and it will depend upon particular circumstances. However, the policy enshrines guiding principles to which, in line with the Senior Tutors’ Committee’s agreed position, Selwyn College subscribes:

College Tutors and Tutorial Office staff cannot promise to maintain absolute confidentiality because, if students or other individuals are in danger, further help may need to be sought. Nonetheless, confidentiality will normally be maintained within the College Welfare Team on a strictly need-to-know basis.

Any member of College who has concerns over issues of confidentiality, for themselves or in relation to others, should not hesitate to seek advice from a Tutor, the Senior Tutor, the Chaplain, the Bursar, or a member of the College welfare team.