Zoom vs Room: Comparing in-person vs online supervisions

The ultimate decider!


While some supervisions are still in person, many of us are becoming accustomed to the delights of online supos, and horrors of breakout rooms. They’re proving to be a bit like Marmite: some people love the luxury of supervisions from their bed, whilst others dread hearing the Microsoft Teams ringtone.

Whichever camp you’re in, or if you’re yet to decide (honestly you’re worse than those people who claim to be from the Midlands), here is a faultless set of criteria to decide once and for all which is better:

Category One: Clothes

Unsurprisingly, clothes are a big part of the supervision experience. Whilst we no longer have the opportunity to be crowned the Best dressed on Sidge, how well I will survive my supo very much depends on what I can get away with wearing, and in this field, there’s a very clear winner:

In-person 3/10

In-person supervisions are terrible when you what to be wearing your pyjamas. You have to venture out of your room, so wearing shoes, not slippers, is critical. Unfortunately, that gives them a low score. However, irl supos do get you out of the room and looking presentable, thus multiplying your chances of getting a crushbridge.

What do you mean you don’t wear your gown to supos?

Online 9/10

This is definitely the number one benefit of not seeing my supervisor face-to-face. Only having to appear from my shoulders up means I can roll out of bed into a supo without any dodgy looks. The low Zoom quality has its bonuses in that no one can tell I’m wearing spot treatment and haven’t washed my hair in about two weeks.

My worst T-shirt and pyjama bottom combo

Category Two: Academic Rigour™

Though this might not be the top priority for some of us in these unprecedented times, we do go to Cambridge, and I suppose getting a good degree at the end of it is somewhat important. Here’s what the scores have to say:

In-person: 8/10

While some supervisors are better than others; you definitely get more out of in-person supervisions. You might hate having to actually answer questions, and you don’t get to pretend that your Wi-Fi is down every time you’re stuck (if my supervisor is reading this, I promise I’m not speaking from experience) but in the long run, it’s great being in the room with someone and talking things through.

Avoiding eye contact with the supervisor at all costs so they don’t pick on you is a skill that I don’t possess

Online: 4/10

There are still some elements of online supervisions that are better for academic life. For starters, you can look things up discretely, so you actually know what the supervisor is talking about. You can also take much better notes with online supos because you don’t have to look up at the supervisor every few seconds politely. However, the horrors of Eduroam and the many awkward silences, followed by everyone attempting to speak at the same time are definitely something I’ll be glad to see the back of.

Category Four: Socialising

We all know that making friends and memories is what university is all about; how many times has your gran reminded you that these are the best years of your life? Let’s discuss:

In-person: 9/10

This is the one thing I really miss about in-person supos. The chats in the corridor with your supo partners. Whether you are anxiously asking who did the reading or laughing about the strange quantity of china cats in the supervisor’s office, it is really great for bonding. It makes supervisions so much more enjoyable when you know and like the people in there with you.

Post supervision celebration!

Online: 0/10

No matter how hard your supervisor tries to make small talk, it just isn’t the same on Microsoft Teams. Trying to subtly text your friend while in the supo just isn’t the same as sitting next to them, and don’t even get me started on the horror that is break-out rooms.

Category Four: Getting there

As much as I would love to say academic rigour is the most important thing about uni, in reality, we all know this is the crucial category. The stereotype that students are lazy has never been more accurate in lockdown.

In-person: 1/10

It is such a trek getting to person supervisions. You have to cycle, or walk if you’re lucky, and work up a sweat before having to find your way around an unknown college. You have to work up the courage to ask a slightly fed up porter the directions to a poorly signposted room. Then you run because the room is on the other side of the college and it starts in three minutes. When you get there, you don’t know whether to knock and go in or just wait outside. It’s exhausting, and all of that is before you get roasted by your supervisor for the waffle you handed in.

I’m late. I’m late for a very important date!

Online: 10/10

Truly, the best thing about online supos is the lack of effort. You can wake up just before and open your laptop in bed (if you position it right, no one will ever know!). There is no commute so there’s always time to make yourself a cup of tea – in an actual mug and not a keep cup! Forgotten your pen? No problem. Everything you need is right in front of you. Online supervisions are well deserving of this high score.

THE RESULTS ARE IN! – the winner is…(drumroll) Online Supervisons!

Despite being very close, my laziness and love for comfy clothing has won over my desire for academic rigour and social interaction – which is probably a good thing, given they are likely to be around for a while given the new lockdown.

All images are the author’s own.