The aim of this document is to help ensure that you get the most out of the teaching and learning opportunities that the Cambridge supervision system provides. Some of it has been adapted from a similar set of guidelines produced by the Cambridge University Student Union.
We are aware from our undergraduate questionnaires in College that some students can find the supervision system a little intimidating at first, or simply do not know what to expect from it. This document aims to lay out clearly what your rights as a supervisee are, but it is also intended to inform you of your responsibilities.
Supervisions are a unique and highly effective form of teaching. You will usually see a supervisor on a fortnightly or weekly basis in small groups. In some subjects supervising is one-to-one (one teacher, one student), but in most subjects there will be between two and four students in each supervision (occasionally more, in which case the supervision is more like a seminar).
Please remember that supervisions are there to help you in your studies, and are not intended to be a formal test of your abilities. If you do feel intimidated in supervisions then something is wrong, whether it is the group dynamics, the teacher's expectations of you, or perhaps your own lack of confidence in your abilities. Whatever the problem, there will almost always be a way of putting it right, so long as you talk to someone about it (see below for specific ways of addressing problems). Supervisions can be, and should be, one of the most rewarding forms of teaching for most subjects, and you should not allow the opportunities they provide to be wasted!
What can I expect from supervisions?
You have the right to expect:
What is expected of me in supervisions?
You will be expected to:
What kind of problems might I encounter?
The majority of supervisions run smoothly and provide a stimulating environment for learning. Things do occasionally go wrong, and they are not always the fault of either the supervisor or the student. Apart from obvious breaches of any of the points listed above, you may occasionally encounter one or more of the following:
solution: talk to your supervisor privately at the end of a supervision, explain that you have things to say but that you do not feel you are being given an opportunity to say them; tell the other student(s) to be less pushy and to give you a chance to talk; if the problem persists, ask if it may be possible for groups to be rearranged so that you are supervised with someone else
solution: you are very probably undervaluing your own abilities, so explain what you are feeling to your supervisor. If you are finding the subject confusing or too difficult, then the supervisor needs to know this so that s/he can help you; if it is just a question of confidence, then equally the supervisor should be able to provide ways of encouraging you. Needless to say, careful preparation of the material to be discussed in the supervision can go a long way towards dispelling lack of confidence. Your supervisor is not there to judge you, but to help you
solution: ask your supervisor to give you a clear indication of how your work is progressing before the end-of-term report, and preferably in relation to each piece of work that you hand in. If the supervisor is not referring directly to the work you have done for the supervision, then ask him or her to do so, and ask him or her to provide suggestions for improving your work
solution: unless you have been remiss in doing work required of you (in which case the supervisor has every right to point out that you will not do well in the subject), then it is possible that your supervisor is not providing you with enough constructive suggestions for improvement, so ask him/her to provide such suggestions.
What should I so if I encounter serious problems?
Last but not least...
Supervisions exist to provide flexibility of teaching, adapted to your own needs and requirements: once you are familiar with the system and the course you will find, especially in later years, that they provide the opportunity for you to set the agenda of your own studies. Make the most of this unique opportunity!
Last modified 27th August 2010