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for Undergraduates

UG CamGuides: What skills will I develop as an undergraduate?

Generic academic skills useful to all students


Cambridge has its own lingo and everyone is really helpful in deciphering it, so you can just ask the other students if you don't know what a word means. I think it took me about two weeks to pick it up.

- Jesse (Medicine)


What do these words mean?

All universities will have terms in common and terms that are unique to them. Here we try to define a few of the more academic words that you may not have come across before. Your College may provide you with some of the more colloquial terms. If you would like to see a more in-depth list before you arrive, Queens' College provides one on their website.

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Academic skills

these will help you perform to the best of your ability at university and include: note making, critical thinking, academic writing, analytical reading, time management, verbal communication and self-directed learning.

For more information see: What skills will I need as an undergraduate?


a list of all the sources that have been cited in a piece of written work. Some papers may be accompanied by a bibliography which will guide your reading throughout the course.

For more information see: How do I reference and avoid plagiarism?

Cambridge University Libraries

the collective name given to all the libraries in Cambridge, whether in a college, department or faculty and also including the University Library (UL). For a complete directory of all libraries along with their subject and location, look at the libraries directory.


Classmark/shelfmark/call number

this is a set of numbers and/or letters that help you find a book in a library. The systems used are different across Cambridge Libraries. Books are shelved in numerical or alphabetical order within this system. Often, books on a similar topic are shelved together so that you can browse for related titles. You will find the classmark/shelf mark on the spine of the book and on item record in iDiscover.

For more information see: How do I find books and articles from a reading list?


the laws protecting intellectual property such as books, journals, images, films, music and databases.


this is your unique identifier; a combination of your initials and some random numbers. You use it as your username when you login to online services via Raven and it is the basis of your University email address. You should only ever log in using your CRSid on websites run by the University. You will get your CRSid when you have completed student registration around mid-September.

Disability Resource Centre (DRC)

provides advice and guidance for prospective & current disabled students to enable them to access a wide range of services. Implements support programmes for disabled students to ensure equal opportunity and attainment allowing disabled students to achieve to the best of their abilities.


Director of Studies; the member of staff who will oversee your academic progress throughout your degree programme

DS Print

a website used for topping up and checking printer credit. This credit can be spent by printing on most of the University's printers


an electronic or online version of a printed book. 

                                                                         For more information see: How do I find books and articles from a reading list?


an electronic or online version of a printed journal. 

                                                                          For more information see: How do I find books and articles from a reading list? 

Easter Term

the third term of the academic year, comprising 8 weeks, from April to June.


a wireless service that provides a seamless connection to the web in most University buildings. Once you download the Eduroam profile your device will automatically give you access to the web.

Electronic legal deposit/Non-print legal deposit

some material can only be read on designated terminals in certain libraries. This is because they are electronic legal deposit resources which have restrictions on how they can be viewed. 


this is how the university and college will communicate with you on the vast majority of matters. Make sure that you check it regularly. You will be given an email address by the University. It is formed of your CRSid followed by You should send emails to staff from this email address, rather than a personal account, as it will help them identify you.


Formative work

a piece of work which is marked and may be graded for informal, constructive and personalised feedback but which does not count towards your overall degree mark.


students new to the University. May also refer to Freshers' Week, the week at the start of the academic year when a number of extra-curricular activities are laid on for new students to help them to get to know one another, their college, the University, and the wider city; or Freshers' Fair, at a university or college level, where clubs and societies set up stalls to talk to you, put on demonstrations and encourage you to join as a member.


the University of Cambridge's library catalogue. It contains details of almost all the resources (e.g. books, journal articles, newspapers, etc.) held in the physical libraries and also online.


a publication on a specific academic or professional subject. It is published regularly (at least once a year, but often multiple times per year). Each time it is published it is referred to as an issue and issues are usually grouped into volumes (often corresponding to a year). Some journals are peer-reviewed, meaning that other specialists comment on, question and review articles before they are published. A paper in a journal usually takes less time to publish than the research that appears in books, so it is a good way of spreading current and new information.

For more information see: What makes a resource academic?


typically a talk given by a specialist. Generally they are imparting information, although some will be more interactive than others. The scale varies hugely depending on how many people are taking a paper; the number of students ranges from single figures up to several hundred.  They may take place in a traditional lecture theatre, with seats facing forward, or in a more relaxed seminar-style environment, seated around a table.

For more information see: How will I learn at Cambridge?

Lent Term

the second term of the academic year, comprising 8 weeks, from January to March.

Managed Cluster Service

The University provides students and staff with a Desktop Services (DS) account when they arrive at Cambridge. It provides access to a range of computing services, such as shared computers and licensed software, printing and scanning, file storage and web page hosting. Clusters of shared Windows, Mac and Linux computers are available in various locations around the University. You can log in to any of these Managed Cluster Service (MCS) workstations to access your personal desktop, your DS-Filestore and a wealth of software titles. Log in with your CRSid and password.



when you formally join the University. You will sign a book or document when you matriculate. This may form part of a ceremony in college or be a more administrative occasion in a college office.

Michaelmas Term

the first term of the academic year, comprising 8 weeks, usually from October to November.


the University’s Virtual Learning Environment. This online platform will contain varying amounts of information depending on your course but may include reading lists, timetables, digitised readings, exercises, problem sheets, essay questions and/or sample exam papers.


modules that you choose/have to study on your course.

Peer review

a work which has been reviewed, checked and altered by the academic community to ensure it is accurate.

Pigeon hole

your personal postbox for external and internal mail, usually in the Porters’ Lodge of your college. Any important information from the University or your College in hard copy will be sent here. It is important to check it regularly. 


using the words or ideas of other people and saying they are your own.

For more information see: How do I reference and avoid plagiarism?

Porters' Lodge 

the place where the porters work. This is usually at the entrance of a college and acts as a reception for phone calls and visitors. Post for the college is delivered here and you usually find your pigeon hole there. Also p’lodge (colloquial).


the authentication system used by the University. Web-based services use Raven when they need to know who in the University is using them. You will have a Raven account which comprises your CRSid and a password. You will need to log in with these to use certain services, including online books and journals.


when an item borrowed from a library must be returned as it is needed by someone else at the end of the loan period.


information that helps you find a book, article or other resource that has been recommended by a member of academic staff or you have found in a bibliography. It is also the information that you need to provide at the end of a piece of written work to demonstrate where you have got ideas and/or quotes from so that others can trace your research.

For more information see: How do I find books and articles from a reading list?

Reference management software

this software helps you manage your readings and automatically generate in-text references and bibliographies in Word. We describe two free products: Zotero and Mendeley.

For more information see: How do I reference and avoid plagiarism?

Reference styles

citations and bibliographies can be written in different ways according to discipline and the preference of an academic community. Some faculties/departments might prefer students to use a particular style in their assignments. It is important that you are consistent throughout your assignment, so only use one style.


to borrow books again from a library without having to return them. For most libraries, you can renew books in the library or online.


if you want an item from a library which is currently out on loan you can request that it is returned on its due date. This ensures that the person who currently has this item cannot renew it.


a website produced by Cambridge University Libraries to help you find study space across the city in a range of locations (not just libraries) which match your study preferences, whether in formal learning spaces, such as libraries, or public cafes.

Summative assessment

an assessment that is graded and measures performance.

Supervision or Supo

supervisions are small group teaching sessions, which take place between a supervisor (academic) and a small number of students (usually between one and three). They are organised by your Director of Studies, so often you'll have them with peers from your college, on the basis of the papers that you are taking. You may have them in your department or in the college of the supervisor. 

For more information see: How will I learn at Cambridge?


a specialist in an area, not necessarily based in your college, who conducts a supervision. They will change throughout your course depending on the papers you choose.


the name given to a degree programme at Cambridge.


the member of staff who looks after your pastoral needs in college.


University Information Service, the department responsible for IT across the university. You will probably have an IT office in your college too. Some of the IT infrastructure that UIS manages includes computers on the university network, email, software packages and Moodle.


Cambridge University Library located on West Road, home to millions of modern texts, rare books and archives. You are automatically a member of the UL and can study there as long as you have your Cambridge card. You can borrow some but not all of the books held there. 


a wi-fi provider offered in most University buildings. Unlike Eduroam, you will need to log in with your Raven ID each time you use it.

University Card

the University Card looks like a credit card containing your name and photo, college scarf colours, date of birth plus a barcode that is primarily used for University Library borrowing. The card allows you access to buildings which you are permitted to use. It is your University ID which proves that you are a student here, and also gives you discounts with certain local business.


the break between terms. Many students return home during the vacation and colleges may offer limited services in that time. You can always contact someone by email though, so do get in touch if you have any questions.

In Cambridge we have nicknames for lots of the subjects. If you hear someone talk about NatSci, they're talking about Natural Sciences. Very few things here are called by their real names, so expect that.

- Sean (Computer Science)


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