Graduates in Cambridge: The Forgotten 20%?

Grad writer TAN WESTON-STREHLER gives us an exclusive insight into postgraduate student life in Cambridge…

Cambridge graduates cambridge postgraduates Grad Graduates MCR postgrad postgraduates Robinson College seminar supervision tan weston strehler topshop

We all remember it – that first drive to Uni. Stuffed into the back of dad’s car, buried under a mountain of duvets, leavers’ hoodies and ‘good luck’ memorabilia, you’re left with just enough oxygen to ponder the following questions: Will I make any friends? Am I clever enough for Cambridge? Why did I think all this was such a good idea?!

The Tab can now exclusively reveal what goes through the mind of an average graduate student on his or her way to University: Will I make any friends? Am I clever enough for Uni? Why did I think all this was such a good idea…AGAIN?!

To me, it really does seem like yesterday that I was an 18-year-old scouring the shelves in Topshop and heading to the gym every evening, trying to burn myself a new look. The worrying thing is, I felt the need to do it all again this year for my Graduate studies at Cambridge. My first-term behaviour and expectations have been surprisingly similar to what they were at my first university.

Despite these similarities, it seems that graduates at Cambridge (and at other universities too, no doubt) experience a somewhat different student life to undergrads.

The main issue I’ve found is that I will only be here for a maximum of 9 months. That’s not long if I really want to get a sense of the ‘Cambridge experience’ and contribute to the university’s student community. By being here for only one academic cycle, Master’s students (of which there are now well over 2700 in a year, i.e. 20% of the total student body) often miss out on the opportunity to run for society and MCR committee positions, and have very little time to excel in their fields of expertise, be they sport, music or drama.

While the university and its societies can’t really be blamed for this, I would urge Master’s students to make the most of their time at Cambridge by diving straight into extra-curriculars. Similarly, it’d be nice if clubs and societies did their best to elect Master’s students into their leadership structures – after all, they will be instrumental in appealing to this ‘forgotten 20%’ of students in the future.

This does not mean that examples of good practice do not exist. The MCR at my own Robinson College was excellent at organising a multitude of events introducing us to Cambridge life very early on in term.

Strangely, though, it seems that sometimes the university and its student groups can be too good at catering to grads. The excellent and numerous grad events at both my college and my department have meant that I have met almost no undergrads at all. It’s wrong to assume that postgraduates don’t want to mix with younger students – they’re the people who have often been here for several years and are in the perfect position to pass on the traditions, legends and myths associated with our ancient institution.

Another issue lies in academia. Oxbridge’s unique selling point to students, as I perceive it, revolves around quality, small-group education delivered to its students, i.e. supervisions. I presume that this is made possible thanks to high budgets at both Oxford and Cambridge, which enable an above-average staff/student ratio.

NEWSFLASH: Master’s students at Cambridge DO NOT receive supervisions. My education here consists solely of lectures and group seminars, which usually consist of more than ten students.

To the best of my knowledge, this is no different to Master’s courses at other prestigious universities. Of course we still benefit from the collegiate system and well-renowned academics, but one still wonders whether we are cash cows relative to our undergraduate counterparts. All of this seriously begs the question: Is Cambridge really any better than other universities when it comes to postgraduate study? I’ll get back to you on that one.