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The supervision system of personal tuition is one of the unique aspects of a Cambridge education.

Supervisions provide the opportunity for students to explore their subject more deeply, discuss their work and ideas, and receive regular feedback. As they aren’t assessed, supervisions provide the ideal environment for students to test ideas and interests as well as developing their thinking.

Students will receive six supervisions for each paper they take. Usually, students will write an essay to prepare for each supervision, but individual supervisors can decide to use up to two of the six sessions to read and discuss an article, ask students to present on a topic, or find other ways to address the topic in ways that are stimulating and provide a learning experience for students.

What are supervisions?

Supervisions are small-group sessions, most often for two to four students, with a supervisor who is an academic or PhD student. Supervisors are specialists in particular subject areas and so they will differ from paper to paper. In the first year of HSPS, they are organised by the Director of Studies (DoS) at each college.

How often do they take place?

Typically, students will have two to three supervisions each week. Students are expected to prepare for each supervision – most often this will involve completing assigned readings and writing an essay. In the supervision session, students will then receive feedback on their work and talk through their ideas. Each supervisor will also give written feedback on assigned essays.

Are there alternatives to essays?

After your DoS assigns you a supervisor, it’s that supervisor’s responsibility to discuss with you and your fellow supervisees what will work best in terms of use of supervision time. Some students, instead of writing an essay, prefer to do presentations or extra reading with notes for a discussion (this is permitted for up to two of the six supervisions per paper). These alternative approaches allow students to explore the topics at hand in different ways.

What are the expectations on students and supervisors?

The supervision system relies on commitment from the students and the supervisor. Students can expect supervisors to schedule supervisions promptly, to run the supervision well, and to give useful feedback, both in the supervision and in written form with regards to the essays. Supervisors are very busy not only with teaching a number of students but also with their own research, so students can support them by adhering to the supervision schedule once set and by keeping to deadlines (usually 24-48 hours before the supervision to give supervisors time to mark) and to wordcount limits. Students themselves are expected to:

  • complete the work set to the very best of their ability
  • hand in work on time (and to ensure that they have agreed a deadline with the supervisor)
  • turn up on time to every supervision (some Colleges charge students who are absent without reason)
  • contribute actively to the supervision and make their opinions known
  • contact the supervisor in plenty of time if they are unable to make the supervision or complete the work set
What if I have questions?

If questions arise for you in the course of doing your essay, it is best to take note of them and to ask them in supervision rather than by email in between supervisions. Of course, life happens for both supervisors and students, and if you should experience any difficulties with your supervision work, the most important thing is to communicate with your supervisor so they can support you.