Working life in Corpus

The transition from school to university can be difficult, as suddenly the way you learn and study is much more up to you. You may feel a little bit like you’ve been chucked in at the deep end, but everyone else will be feeling the same and there are always people to talk to. The important thing is to be organised from the start. If any problems arise, catch them early by talking to one of the following:

Director of Studies, DoS (pronounced “Doss”): You will meet your DoS in the first couple of days. They are responsible for your work and will provide guidance and feedback on your academic progress. You may only see your DoS twice a term, or if he/she also happens to be one of your supervisors, you may see them up to once a week.

Tutors: You will meet your Tutor in your first week. Their job is to provide pastoral care. No problem is too big or too small, and they can often fix things impressively quickly. Anything you tell them is confidential, so the best strategy is to warn your Tutor early if anything is amiss, however minor it may seem.

JCR Academic and Access Officer: The JCR Academic and Access Officer is also available, and can offer advice and support if you are having any problems and would prefer not to talk to College.

Course structure

Work in Cambridge is undoubtedly a step up from school, but looking through some student profiles should help give you a feel for what Cambridge’s working life is like. Otherwise, here’s a rough guide of what to expect from your course:

Supervisions: These are pretty unique to Cambridge (they call them Tutorials in other places). You may have up to four per week depending on your subject. They usually take place in small groups, with one to four students and a fellow or a PhD student. You will be set work beforehand, which you will be expected to ask and answer questions on. Supervisions can be tough but are an amazing way to learn, so try and make the most of them.

Lectures: The thought of lectures may be slightly daunting. Going from relatively small A-level classes with no more than 30 or so people, to large lecture halls with up to 500 pupils can be a shock. It is a very different way of learning, but if it didn’t work, they wouldn’t do it! Most lecturers provide very good handouts, some complete, some with fill-in-the-gaps and some with just basic points. Some subjects are heavily dominated by lectures with 12 per week for NatScis (Natural Scientists), whereas some have only one or two per week. Technically most lectures are non-compulsory, but they are by far the best way to make sure you cover all the basic material in your course. Handouts and lecture slides, as well as other useful materials such as past Tripos papers are available online, which you will have access to once you arrive. See the Cambridge University website, or prospectus for more details on your subject, or email your College parents.

Labs: Practical classes are a major part of the scientific subjects, no matter what modules you choose. Some modules have a 5 hour practical scheduled each week (don’t worry they rarely last the full time, and you get a lunch break), some are on alternate weeks. Some are assessed, for example Chemistry comprises of a 2–4 hour practical on alternate weeks in which you must hand in a write up for assessment. It’s not as scary as it sounds, don’t worry. Some have write ups that if handed in complete gain you a set amount of marks, (standard credit). Some are completely non-assessed and simply for your benefit to enrich your studies and help turn you into a scientist. You may want to look into each module on the Natural Sciences website, or alternatively talk to your DoS when you get here.

Practical work is a major part of engineering and other similar subjects, with assessed projects and such like throughout the year. For example, in the first year there is a project in which you are required to build a model bridge to withstand a certain load. Check out the Cambridge University website or prospectus for more details on engineering, and other subjects.

Written work and essays: Varies hugely between subjects. Some subjects require up to an essay per week plus an additional fortnightly essay. This of course entails a large amount of reading. Science subjects may require problem sheets, and short essays, depending on the module. Be prepared to spend a good few hours working for each of your supervisions. You will be guided though, with information on how much time to spend on things and such like, by your DoS and supervisors.

Other: You may have compulsory or non-compulsory seminars, workshops, presentations etc. from time to time, again depending on subject.