Secret Supervisor: How to avoid getting tossed in the toff tank and other helpful hints

Our Secret Supervisor gives some frank advice for this years’ fresh meat.

advice Cambridge Cindies Freshers phd secret supervisor supervision


You’re starting first year at one of the world’s most prestigious universities. Clearly you’re brilliant or you wouldn’t have been accepted, right? So that must mean you know what you’re doing. Wrong. Having observed a decade’s worth of freshers blindly feel their way through first year like sexually frustrated mole rats, I’ve compiled a list of the top three biggest mistakes. Avoid these and you might also avoid security talking you off a ledge during Easter revisions.


Yes, our supervisor really does spend their leisure time reading with a pipe and whisky

Mistake #1: Going broke or being obnoxiously rich. Spend too much on bevvies at Cindy’s, and you’ll be digging sandwiches out of skips come Easter term. Self-respect is priceless, so plan a realistic budget allowing for a little fun (even NatSci’s need a little fun!) and stick to it. Living on a mostly ‘liquid’ diet and one ketchup toastie a day means you’re pissing away your self-respect (and health) as your body tries to evacuate those eight pints of warm Carlsberg. But what if you’re a wealthy scion and dosh is just another word for Mummy and Daddy’s love? If you’re the type who simply can’t go outdoors without your Bottega Veneta trousers or Luis Vuitton bag, you’re faced with a different problem. While buying a few rounds is a great way to make friends, insisting on buying ALL the rounds, or refusing to drink anything but Moët will get you tossed in the toff tank. You might win a loyal following of skints, but who wants Carlsberg drinkers as best mates? Sidenote: if you drink American beer, forget everything I’ve said as you deserve to be marginalized.


Mistake #2: Believing revision is another word for cramming before the exam. A-levels have not prepared you for the high-level lateral thinking and synthesis you’re going to do as a fledgling Cantab. Doing a little reading every day, and summary revision every week is trite but true advice to avoid that trip to crazytown before Easter exams. But the main reason for maintaining a regular revision schedule is not what you think. Habits you create in first year will carry you to a winning first… or a third class with filthy plans to seduce your DoS. Stressed out? Don’t be. Just commit to a reasonable schedule that includes time for boffing that hottie with the scouse brows, as well as training yourself to become a well-oiled thinking machine! Your smartness brings me to mistake #3.

This is NOT our Secret Supervisor, obviously


Mistake #3: Thinking you’ve outsmarted your supervisor. Just because I didn’t know that Spencer Matthews had a sixsome, doesn’t mean I’m clueless when it comes to your antics. Supervisors see a lot more than you think. For instance, I CAN smell that vodka on your breath at 9 am. I CAN see that lipstick smeared on your neck, and your pants zipped through your trousers. I know when you’ve been re-reading the same sentence for the last ten minutes. And I CAN tell when you have no idea what you’re talking about. But here’s the thing. Unless you’ve ended up with the one weird exception of a supervisor who gets off on your misery, you’re in good hands with someone who actually cares about helping you succeed. At almost no other university in the world will you get this kind of quality personal attention, so make good use of it:


Be open to exploring ideas. Supervisors aren’t looking for sycophants, we want to delve deeply into topics with you. And those weird things you say can lead to interesting developments. After all, admitting women to Cambridge was once a ‘weird idea’. *cough Magdalene cough*


Be honest when you don’t understand. I’m getting paid (enough to do laundry once a month – wee!) to HELP you. Supervisors create a safe space where you’re encouraged to raise questions and make mistakes because it’s impossible to learn from being right all the time. Speak up and everyone is rewarded for it.


Be humble and accept feedback. I know you think you’re Daniel Defoe but that three page sentence you wrote could be vastly improved. Learning and personal development is about transcendence of the ego. So let go of the pride and get the best out of every meeting. That doesn’t mean we’re never wrong, and it’s cool to point it out respectfully when we are, but we’re trying to save you time by helping you improve quicker. With all that free time you could start a long-distance relationship with someone at Girton!


Heed my warnings and you may find yourself among the survivors after Suicide Sunday – smiling as you Jackson Pollock your appreciation and stomach contents, and look forward to the year ahead.