At Cambridge, you will be required to communicate your ideas verbally, as well as in writing. The format will vary from course to course but at a minimum most students will be required to talk about their work in a supervision setting. This means feeding back on a problem, exercise, reading or piece of writing to a member of academic staff, possibly in front of other students too. Some courses will also require you to deliver a presentation, which you'll be expected to plan and practise and possibly provide slides and/or a handout.
In this section we'll focus on presenting your ideas in a supervision. In particular, we will look at the two forms of verbal communication.
The way you respond to them may be quite different but in all cases you will be having a discussion in a safe environment to try out new ideas or explain your method. It may seem daunting at first, but having the confidence to communicate your ideas out-loud will soon be a very natural part of your learning experience.
Verbal communication works best when the presenter has good speaking skills and the receiver has good listening skills. You'll need to develop both of these for lectures and supervisions.
For more information about these modes of learning, see the How will I learn in Cambridge? section.
With thanks to:
Dhruv (Human, Social, and Political Sciences)
While part of the supervision is spontaneous, responding to questions from your supervisor, you will know the topic in advance so it makes sense to spend a little time thinking about it.
If you have written an essay, you may be asked to summarise it for the supervisor and your supervision partner(s). It is a skill in itself to be able to distill a 2000 word essay into a few sentences.
Select a publication with some short articles such as the University of Cambridge's research magazine Research Horizons. Read an article, make notes if you would like to, and then speak aloud (either on your own or to a friend or relative), for a minute or so, conveying the main argument or findings of the research.
If you are with someone, ask them if you got the main points across. If you are on your own, you could record what you say on your phone and listen back to see if your summary was a true reflection of the content.
As the supervision is usually unassessed, you can be bold and experiment with new ideas. All this work is preparing you for an exam situation, where you will have to respond to an unseen question that will require you to apply your knowledge to an unfamiliar scenario.
In preparation for a supervision, it is therefore helpful to think about mistakes you made in your workings or reconsider alternative perspectives; if you discounted them from your final response then be prepared to say why.
Supervisions are usually unassessed and so they are a safe environment for you to share your findings in a generous spirit and learn from others. It can seem uncomfortable at first but it is important to have confidence in these situations so that you really benefit from them.
One way to prepare for a supervision, is to meet or get in touch with your supervision partner(s) before hand. Discuss how you found the task so that it gives you some time to think about their approach and how you might respond to it in the supervision itself.
It takes confidence to ask a question and will be a skill that you need to develop over time but it is a good habit to get into when reading. When you take notes, you should always identify what else you need to find out after reading an article or hearing a lecture.
Go back to the research article which you read for the task above. Make a list of questions raised by the text, anything which you don't understand or you feel doesn't quite sit with the rest of the argument. Write as many as you like; don't worry, you won't have to answer them!
Now consider what else do you need to know to help you understand this text. You may want to know how it fits into wider debates, the background of the author, alternative perspectives, or what a technical term means. All these are valid questions and in a supervision, your peers or supervisor may be able to help you answer them or point you to resources to help you find out the answer yourself.
Asking questions of everything you read and do is a good habit to get into at university.
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