Information for Students

While the University is responsible for lectures, seminars and practical classes, the College is responsible for providing teaching in small groups of undergraduates.  These are called supervisions.

Directors of Studies are responsible for the arrangement of supervisions for their students and appoint supervisors to lead them. These may be Fellows, senior members of another College or graduate students.

Supervisions are a unique, highly effective form of teaching due to small group sizes which range from one-to-one or from two to five students per supervision.  Occasionally, groups may be larger in size, for example six students or more, in the event of a revision supervision.  Arrangements and practices for supervision vary from subject to subject with regard to frequency and group size; some subjects devote one hour each week to informal discussion, others to several hours of supervision each week or fortnight.

Restrictions in group size provide ample opportunity for students to participate fully.  Supervisions are not intended to be another lecture, but a two-way process of interaction.  Supervisors will respond better to someone who demonstrates enthusiasm for the subject by actively contributing to the supervision and making opinions known.

At the start of each Term Directors of Studies explain the practices followed in their own subject, how best to prepare for supervisions and advise on academic matters generally throughout the year.  A clear indication of the number of supervisions students will have during the Term and the broad areas they will cover will be provided.  It is possible in some subjects for an undergraduate to remain with a supervisor for the whole of the academic year, in others for one Term only.  Directors of Studies should always be consulted before extra supervisions are arranged.

The supervision system is an invaluable part of a student's academic studies in Cambridge as it provides an opportunity to raise questions and clarify problems encountered during the course of reading, lectures or practical work through small group discussion.  Teaching is relevant to the course being studied and will help the student's understanding of the subject.  They are not intended to be a formal test of abilities.  Students are set reasonable amounts of work in the form of set essays or problems and should expect to receive constructive feedback at their next supervision, provided that work is handed in by the agreed deadline. 

Rearranging missed supervisions

In the event that students are unable to attend a supervision due to illness, the supervisor must be informed immediately as the College considers failure to attend a supervision as a very serious matter.

In the event that a supervision is missed, a full explanation will be required and, if the explanation is not satisfactory, the student will be required to pay for the missed supervision.

Students are expected to be well prepared for all supervisions, having completed the work set and to arrive on time.  If students find themselves unable to attend a supervision or complete the work set, supervisors must be contacted and given due notice.  It is the student's responsibility to re-arrange a missed supervision directly with the supervisor, except in exceptional circumstances such as illness.

Reporting and self-assessment

Throughout the academic year, Supervisors submit supervision reports with an estimate of each student's work on the Cambridge Colleges' Online Reporting System for Supervisions (CamCORS).  Students are able to monitor progression by viewing supervision reports online by using their RAVEN password to login to CamCORS.

Each year, students are asked to complete self-assessment questionnaires on CamSIS.  These provide students with an opportunity to comment on College teaching and academic progress.

Responses will normally be seen by the Senior Tutor, Tutor and Director of Studies and will be discussed with students at end of Term interviews.  Questionnaire responses are used by the College to monitor the overall quality of the teaching it provides and student response to it.

We encourage all students to complete the online questionnaires in order to achieve an accurate reflection of student opinion.  Therefore, it is essential that students take time to complete these questionnaires.

Students should expect supervisors to provide opportunities to discuss in privacy and in full confidence any problems students perceive in the quality, relevance or dynamics of the supervisions they are receiving.

The majority of supervisions run smoothly and provide a stimulating environment for learning, but things do occasionally go wrong, and they are not always the fault of either the supervisor or the student.

Whatever the problem, there is almost always a way of putting it right, so long as the student talks to the supervisor as soon as a problem becomes apparent.  If for any reason students are unable to discuss an issue with their supervisor, or no response is received, students should talk to their Director of Studies in the first instance.  Alternatively, their Tutor or Senior Tutor can be contacted.

Information for Supervisors


All postgraduate students with supervisory or teaching responsibilities should be appropriately trained before undertaking undergraduate supervisions.

All supervisors must work through one of the following online training packages which provide foundation information about the Cambridge supervision system.  Postgraduate students may find it helpful to refer to these resources throughout the academic year.

The online resources address the following:

  • the Cambridge undergraduate teaching system
  • the role and responsibilities of the supervisor in small group teaching
  • understanding students' previous learning experiences
  • planning supervisions
  • principles of effective feedback.

The Centre for Personal and Professional Development (CPPD) also provides generic training sessions to complement the above online resources within their Graduate Development Programme.  For current availability, please visit the CPPD website and enter 'supervising' into the search function.  The workshops provide information on topics such as:

For further information, please contact the CPPD.

In addition to the training identified above, the Director of Studies (or Course Organiser) might also brief their new postgraduate student supervisors on a one-to-one basis.  This briefing might include more specific information about the elements of the course to be supervised, tips and suggestions for how specialist topics might be approached, and to answer any remaining questions.

The Director of Studies will have access to feedback from students on the supervisor's performance, and the DoS should provide appropriate feedback to the supervisor.

CamCORS supervisor account

The College will check with all new supervisors that supervision training has been carried out or that arrangements are in place to receive such training before creating a CamCORS supervisor account.  To set up an account or for further information please contact the Tutorial and Admissions Office.

College teaching rooms

The following teaching rooms are available for supervisions during Term time only.  Supervisors are only permitted to book these rooms if one or more Downing students are in attendance.

Please note, booking restrictions are in place at certain times of the year, such as during the admissions interviews (November and December) and examination period (May to June).

Teaching room

Maximum capacity

Equipped with

1: T9

10 people

2: T10

5 people

3: T11

12 people

Whiteboards x2, flip chart, stand

4: R4

12 people

Flip chart and stand

5: Leavis Room

5 people

Whiteboard, flip chart and stand, Wi-Fi

Rooms 1 to 4 are situated on the top floors of T and R staircases.  Due to the location of these rooms, physical access is limited.  Supervisors who have students with mobility or visual impairments are advised to book the Leavis Room which has level access by lift.

To book a teaching room in College, please contact the Tutorial and Admissions Office.  When booking, please bear in mind the maximum room capacity with regard to how many students will be in attendance at any one time.

If a room needs to be configured in a certain way or if supervisors require audio visual equipment or other facilities for a supervision, these must be requested at the time of booking.  Please note, one week's notice is required for equipment requests.