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Transkills: supporting transition to University


Supervisions are the only compulsory part of your schedule. You must go to them.

The emphasis in Part I here at Cambridge in the Faculty of History is on the conversations that take place between you (as an apprentice historian) and an expert (your supervisor). It is in these conversations that you will come to understand the subject better, gain an insight into how a professional historian works and the processes by which they research history. In Part II and beyond, this emphasis will change slightly with the introduction of more seminars and classes, but for now supervisions are your chance to ask questions and develop your understanding of the subject. When you first arrive, it is hard to have the confidence to sustain a point of view in discussion with a supervisor, but do try to work towards supervisions being conversations rather than question and answer sessions.

Supervisions are something of an expensive use of staff resources. You need to make sure from the outset that they work for you. The relationship between student and supervisor usually works well, but if it doesn't then don't hesitate to speak to your Director of Studies or tutor; it is never right that you should feel belittled or undermined. You can also consider telling us if a supervision goes really well - teaching staff are always delighted to hear good news as well as bad.

As mentioned before, be deliberate about having your own agenda of questions for your supervisor, e.g., questions about books you have read, lectures you have attended or how to find archival information. If you really want to get your supervisor on-side, try asking them about their research!

So what can I expect from my supervision?

You can expect your supervisor to give you:

  • essay titles that reflect Tripos exam topics
  • reading lists - though these may be the Faculty-wide standard lists
  • a scheduled supervision time - so you know when to turn up, and so that time is a protected space for you both to talk
  • extensive written and oral feedback on your work - so that you know what to improve and how to do so
  • coverage of topics important for the exams
  • availability later in the exam term for revision supervisions (provided your supervisor is still around in Cambridge)

In return, there are some expectations on you. Your supervisor will expect you to:

  • turn up to your supervisions at the right time, to the right place, (sober) and ready to work
  • to have done the work they expected (and to have handed work in if your supervisor asked for it ahead of the supervision, which they probably will)
  • to ask questions and engage in discussion (don't forget that a supervision is a teaching and learning opportunity, so ask questions if there is something you want clarified or expanded on)
  • be self-critical - have an idea of things you need to improve on and ask for their advice on how to go about doing so. Learn not to mind criticism of your 'apprentice' work, and learn to recognise the difference between criticism of the work and criticism of you personally.