Director of Studies
Dr Charlotte Lemanski, Robinson College
What is a Director of Studies? It's one of those bizarre Cambridge labels that means little to those at other universities, but which is central to the unique Cambridge environment, providing students with a close and supportive relationship with their academic lecturers.
I am Director of Studies (commonly referred to as DOS) for Geography at Robinson College, and this effectively means that I am responsible for the academic welfare of the geography students at my college. This is a level of academic support not routinely provided by other universities. But what does it mean at a practical level?
Well, I meet with each Robinson geography student one-to-one at least twice per term to discuss their academic progress, as well as organising (and often giving) their supervisions (the small-group teaching which is another central aspect of the Cambridge experience), and providing academic advice (for example on course selection, dissertation topic). I also monitor my students' academic progress throughout the term via online feedback from supervisors. This ensures that any academic concerns that a student or supervisor might raise can be addressed immediately, and additional support provided. For example, a supervisor might mention that a first-year student is struggling to write supervision essays at the required university standard, and I can quickly organise a session with the college's academic writing skills tutor to help them. Consequently, it is impossible for a student to 'fall through the net' or for concerns about a student's progress only to be identified at their end-of-year examinations. Of course, being a DOS also means that I can rapidly identify and praise a student's academic success, encouraging them that their hard work has been recognised.
On a social level, I also organise regular geography gatherings, including a formal hall subject dinner once per term with invited academic guests (selected by the students). This provides an opportunity for students to socialise with their lecturers, as well as providing the foundations for friendship and a support network across the three year-groups. There is also always a special celebration for the final year geographers just before they graduate. I am also currently supporting the students in establishing the first Robinson Geography Society, which will provide further scope for geography-based events within college.
To conclude, a Director of Studies plays a unique role in monitoring and supporting students' academic progress from admissions through to graduation, thus providing the foundations for a fantastically supportive environment, and for a relationship that often lasts well beyond the completion of your studies.