Struggling with work

If you are experiencing serious problems with any aspect of your course, or think you are falling behind, you must talk to your Director of Studies and/or your Tutor as soon as possible so that any major problems can be prevented.

If you are finding the work load, or level of work difficult, the first thing to remember is that everyone else is too, whether they show it or not. Here is some general advice to minimise work-related panic:

  • Don’t compare the amount of work you do to that of others. This might sound difficult, and in some ways stupid as many tripos marks are dependent on how well others are doing, but Cambridge students have a tendency to give a slightly false impression of how much work they are actually doing. You will soon get an idea of how much work you need to do.
  • Work how you work best, irrespective of other students.
  • Know your limits. If you know that you are not going to benefit from several hours of non–stop study, then don’t do it. Try to optimise the time you have, rather than simply filling every second you can with “learning”.
  • Relax. Everyone needs time off from their studies, so allow yourself time to relax and recharge.
  • Talk to someone. You can talk informally to the JCR Academic and Access Officer, the Chaplain or even just friends. Supervisors and Tutors are also very understanding.

Balancing work with fun

A night out at the expense of going over that lecture series you didn’t really get the first time round may seem like a good idea at the time, but leave you in a panic the morning after.

In a perfect world, it would be easy to prioritise, timetable and balance your life so that you could get all the work you intended to do completed leaving a nice little time slot for a night out, but we all know that doesn’t really happen. Firstly, Cambridge students almost always intend to do more work than is really possible. Secondly, social activities are rarely planned and are often spur of the moment.

It is important to have a little fun sometimes, and if you do get that pang of regret in the morning, there is no point in dwelling on how much work you could have done.


  • Prioritise as much as possible. That essay that simply must be in by midnight should probably take priority over a football match, a night out, or sitting in the bar, but a bit of extra reading, or an optional practice essay at the expense of some much needed relaxation time is not always a good idea. You simply cannot work all of the time, so if you are feeling completely exhausted, put a little bit of fun higher on your priority list. If there are a couple of sports, a few nights out and a bunch of swaps higher on your list than the essay that was due in yesterday, then you’ve probably gone too far!
  • Be organised. Be as organised as you can, but if it all goes pear–shaped, don’t panic, just re–organise! Panicking and telling yourself you should have read that book 3 days ago will just waste more time.
  • Stay fit and healthy. Feeling ill and drained all the time is not good for constructive learning.
  • Sleep. Staying up until 4am reading over last week’s notes isn’t beneficial when you then end up sleeping your way through the next day’s lecture. Lack of sleep will most likely reduce your concentration and could leave you feeling ill and exhausted.
  • Stay in time. Constantly chasing the current lecture series or essay title can make you feel stressed and end up leaving you even further behind. If you fall behind, talk to your supervisor and, if necessary, your DoS and/or Tutor, for advice and help. It is important that your DoS knows of any problems so that they aren’t left to get worse.
  • Keep on track with current material. It may be better to miss out one lecture series than to be in a constant state of catch–up. The short vacations may be a better time to catch up on what was missed.