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UG CamGuides: How will I learn at Cambridge?

Different learning environments, both physical and online

 

With thanks to undergraduates:

Cheryl (Music)

Sean (Computer Science)

Anna (Human, Social, and Political Sciences)

Somewhere to work

Some Cambridge students will have to work more independently than others. But everyone will be expected to make time to read, write and/or complete problems at some point. 

Finding a productive working environment is important for your success at university but we all work in different ways.

  • Some people prefer absolute silence in a space that they can make their own.
  • Others are happy to work in a busy atmosphere, and some prefer to move between work spaces to have a change of scene.
  • You may only need access to a book and notepad or you may require specific resources that are only available in one location.

There is a suitable place to work for everyone in Cambridge, whether in the University or part of the wider city. It is a good idea to think now about the type of workspace which suits you, so that you know where to head to once you arrive in Cambridge.

the spacefinder logoYou have so many options across the University and city. Spacefinder enables you to input your preferences for a place to study and then it will highlight some spaces in Cambridge that meet your requirements.

Which space do you prefer? - click on the arrows to move the slides

messy desk

Your room

All rooms will have a desk space for you to work at.

Advantages

You can:

  • have everything you need to do your work around you, all the time
  • spread out your work across multiple surfaces
  • stop and start when you want
  • get refreshments easily
  • listen to lecturers, podcasts or music out loud

Disadvantages 

  • it is easy to get distracted in your own space
  • there isn't the communal sense of studying that can be motivating or help to keep you focused 
  • it doesn't enable you to have a quiet space to unwind away from work
  • may not have all the print resources you need

woman in cafe window reading

Cafes

A busy environment works well for some people.

Advantages:

  • good for meeting with peers to discuss your work
  • being on show in public can help keep you focused if you find that you are easily distracted in your own room
  • access to different refreshments can make studying feel more like a treat
  • you have to stay seated, otherwise someone will take your place

Disadvantages:

  • noise can be very distracting if you need to read complex ideas or come up with original writing
  • it is easy to end up people watching
  • you might bump into friends who are there to socialise, not get on with work
  • may have limited internet access
  • small study space
  • can be costly

working in Wolfson libary

Libraries

Set up for studying, many students prefer this work environment.

Advantages:

  • silent rooms to enable you to focus
  • access to print and e-resources
  • staff on hand to help with queries relating to resources and academic skills such as interpreting your reading list and reference management
  • collective atmosphere of work to help motivate you

Disadvantages:

  • you often can't leave your belongings on the same desk for longer than a day
  • may prohibit food and drink in reading rooms
  • silence may not suit your working practices

flowers in a garden

Outside

Give yourself permission to work somewhere completely different from time-to-time. Just because it doesn't look like an office doesn't meant that it can't be productive.

Advantages:

  • fresh air and sunlight is good for your health
  • it can be invigorating compared to centrally heated/air conditioned rooms
  • plants, birds and cattle (yes, there are quite a few cows in the centre of Cambridge!) make it stimulating 
  • you can get away from the distractions of your room or working with others
  • if you are in college you should still be able to get access to wi-fi

Disadvantages:

  • similar to cafes, you can find yourself watching the world go by
  • you may forget to take the right resources with you 
  • you may need access to a plug or wi-fi (if going further afield)
  • it may be difficult to get comfortable
  • weather dependent; it definitely isn't an option all year round

Look at the section on Where will I learn at Cambridge? for more information about where your learning will take place, including libraries.

lightbulb iconFind your perfect desk

Go to Spacefinder and use the limiting options to find somewhere that you might enjoy working.

Look at the location and use the map of the university to see how you would get there from college or your department. 

If you haven't already looked at the section Where will I learn?, now might be a good time to find out more about the different library spaces available to you.

Note that these links open in this tab and you'll need to click the back button on your browser to return to this section.

Motivation

Working independently is a great opportunity to follow your interests and balance your work and extra-curricular activities. It can, however, be a challenge if you are used to being given lots of guidance and tasks by teachers at school or college.

The amount you are given at university will vary depending on your course. You may be given a list of core texts to read or have the opportunity to decide what to read and when. Even if you have a heavy timetable, there will be times that you carry out work on your own.

Our Time Management page in the Skills section will give you ideas about how to balance contact hours, independent study and social time.

Image credits

Garden - CC0 by Erda Estremera via Unsplash, Cafe - CC0 by Reinhart Julian via Unsplash, Desk - CC0 by Jesus Hilario H. via Unsplash, Library - Wolfson College. All Rights Reserved.

Film credits

We asked our students ...© Cambridge University Libraries. All rights reserved.