In Cambridge, responsibility for undergraduate teaching is shared between the Colleges and the Faculties and Departments of the University. The Faculties and Departments decide and design the courses offered, organise lectures (a lecture list is published at the beginning of the year as a special issue of the University's official periodical the Reporter which details lecture titles and locations), practical sessions and classes, and set, supervise and mark the examinations. Since the courses are offered by the University rather than by the Colleges, all students in each subject take the same course, whatever their College.
The academic role of the College is different, but equally important. It is in and through the College that students receive the small-group teaching, ‘supervisions’, that are a particular characteristic of Cambridge. Thus, students attend the lectures, practicals and classes organised by the University, but then have a chance to explore their content in much greater depth, to make connections with other areas in the field, to have problems discussed and written work marked, in the small group teaching situation. The supervision thus provides a unique opportunity for students to get personal help and feedback, and often to work very closely with supervisors who are themselves leading scholars in the field. It is this aspect of the teaching in Cambridge which attracts many students to the University, and makes students’ time here intellectually memorable. Supervisions also provide an opportunity to get out and visit other Colleges. This is because students in Cambridge are not supervised entirely within their own College, but are rather sent to the best supervisors available in each subject specialism, which often means going out to other Colleges.
Wolfson is committed to making the supervision system work for the best possible benefit of its students. Each student is assigned a Director of Studies in their subject, who is responsible for their overall academic progress and wellbeing. It is the Director of Studies who advises on subject choices, who arranges supervision teaching for each student, who is available to help sort out problems, and who liaises between the College and the University on the student’s behalf. A Director of Studies may also act as a supervisor if a student is studying a subject in which he or she specialises. Many students get to know their Directors of Studies extremely well, and in Wolfson we try hard to make this relationship a rewarding one. We have our own internal Directors of Studies in most subjects, who see all students under their care at the start and end of every term, and are also readily available to give advice and deal with difficulties. It is very rare in a mature College for difficulties to arise of students' lack of commitment to their study, but the College does have a formal process for handling consistent failure, for example, to attend supervisions or submit work. This is known as the Academic Performance Policy.
Directors of Studies
Your Director of Studies (DoS) will see you at the beginning and end of every Term to advise you on your work and course options, arrange supervisions, and generally monitor your progress. When you apply for jobs or grants, your Director of Studies will write your academic reference. If any problems or questions arise in relation to your work, you should discuss them with your Director of Studies. Most Directors of Studies are also Fellows of Wolfson, and are well placed to view problems in context and to liaise with others (eg your Tutor) if appropriate.
Changing course is often possible, and sometimes desirable. The Tripos system allows considerable flexibility, but not absolute freedom. You are admitted to the College to study the course for which you applied. If at any stage you wish to change, you will have to find out:
(i) whether you are eligible for your new course under the University's regulations;
(ii) whether the Director of Studies in your proposed new subject is prepared to accept you;
(iii) whether there are financial implications (as, for example, in a change from a 3-year course to a 4-year course). N.B. In order to qualify for funding for a fourth year, you would need to apply for the change of course before the end of your first year.
If you think you may wish to change course, consult your Tutor in the first instance.
Supervisions are a key and compulsory part of College teaching provision. They are your opportunity to engage in dialogue about your work and to have problems addressed and difficulties clarified. Supervisors are appointed by the Director of Studies (and sometimes centrally, by the smaller Departments) to provide specific supervision for a paper or topic. It is your obligation to take full advantage of this opportunity by taking time to prepare beforehand (e.g. by listing questions you have), by submitting work to the supervisor’s deadline and by participating in discussion during the supervision itself. We recognize that mature students with partners and families often have many calls on their time, and supervisors will make every effort to schedule supervisions at mutually convenient times. Once scheduled, however, supervisions are a professional engagement between yourself and a supervisor. You should never miss a supervision except for very good cause (such as illness or a failure in childcare arrangements), and you should always let the supervisor know in advance if you cannot make the appointment. A student who fails to attend for no good reason will be referred to the Senior Tutor, and the College reserves the right to charge the student for the supervisor’s time.
Undergraduate courses at Cambridge can be extremely rewarding, but they are also demanding. A high level of study skills is required in order to keep up with the pace of the work, and many mature students, particularly those returning to full-time education after a significant break, find that they need to work on these skills. Fortunately, you can expect help from a wide variety of sources. Your Director of Studies and supervisors will give you subject-specific advice (this is also increasingly offered in faculty workshops), and the College runs generic study skills workshops at the beginning of the Michaelmas and Easter terms. CUSU often runs study skill sessions in the Michaelmas term, and their website contains a lot of practical advice.
Undergraduate courses last for three or four years (although affiliated students take one year less), and are examined every summer. The examination (called Tripos) has two parts: a Part I, which lasts for one or two years, followed by a Part II, which can be either for one year or for two: some Triposes also require the taking of a Preliminary Examination. It is possible to change from one course to another after Part I. All degrees are honours degrees, and results for each part of the Tripos is classified into first class, upper and lower second, and third class.
Examinations are arranged by the University, with the entry process overseen by the College. It is essential that you consult your Director of Studies thoroughly about your examination entry and collect any forms promptly when requested to do so by the Tutorial Office.
University examinations are sat in central locations. In exceptional circumstances, the University may allow students to sit papers in College, with, where necessary, an allowance for extra time. Such permission is only granted to students with a serious illness or disability which would make it impossible for them to get to the examination room and/or write their answers in the normal way. In all other cases, candidates are expected to sit examinations under the usual conditions, even if they feel there are factors which could detract from their performance. Candidates with certified mild dyslexia are not allowed additional time, but the Examiners will be instructed to ignore minor errors of spelling (except in language examinations where precision is essential).
If you believe you have good reason to take your examinations in College, you should see your Tutor, who may apply to the University's Board of Examinations on your behalf. Applications must be supported with medical evidence, whether from a doctor or educational psychologist (in the case of dyslexia) or other professional consultant. You should be aware, however, that the provision of such evidence will not automatically ensure that the application will be successful. Permission is granted only for the year of application, and on-going medical conditions must be re-assessed in subsequent years. When the application relates to a pre-existing medical condition, you should normally apply before the end of the Lent Term. Applications relating to unforeseen illness or injury can be made during the Easter Term. Last-minute arrangements can only be made in genuine emergencies,and only – as in all other cases – when the illness or injury is of such severity that it would be out of the question for you to sit the papers under normal conditions.
If you take your examinations in normal conditions, but believe, either in advance or subsequently, that your performance either will be or has been seriously affected by adverse factors, you should consult your Tutor as soon as possible. In acute cases (again, supported by medical evidence) the University may take such factors into account. The University cannot specifically raise a candidate to a higher class, but it can allow a candidate an examination in which the examiners' marks indicate failure, or it can `declare to have deserved honours' a candidate whose class– based on the examiners' marks alone – it considers seriously misleading.