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Teaching and learning

“Supervisions are a great way to consolidate knowledge and the experience of discussing topics in small groups is amazing and something that I have found incredibly useful during my time at Cambridge.” — Part IA student.

Studying for a degree in Geography, whether at Cambridge or elsewhere, is quite different from the way you were probably taught at school or college. This section aims to give you an overview of the different ways you will learn here but, rest assured, you will be given more information and guidance on how to engage with these on arrival and throughout your time with Cambridge Geography Department.


Lectures are usually large teaching sessions which last about an hour during which an academic will give you a broad outline of a topic. You can think of lectures as a ‘spring boards’ for further reading and developing your own ideas through independent study and supervision. Both the Geography Department and the University provide plenty of resources and support to help you find a method of notetaking in lectures that works for you. Lectures are organised by the Department.


Supervisions are organised by your Director of Studies . These small group sessions allow you to dig deep into a subject. Often in groups of 3 or 4 you can discuss new ideas, ask questions and discuss topics from your lectures with your supervisor. Work for supervisions often includes writing an essay or book review or giving a presentation. These are the starting point for further discussion. Work for supervisions does not count towards your final examinations. This means that you can afford to be more adventurous than might otherwise be the case. You can read beyond the syllabus, try out your own ideas, and reach your own conclusions. Supervisions are led by experts in the field, and you can expect to be supervised by people from many different Colleges while you are here. Supervisions may take place in your college, or at supervisor’s college or in the Department.

“Supervisions are a great opportunity to ask any questions you may have and clarify any parts of the course you are unsure about. Don’t worry about looking stupid, the supervisors don’t mind – they are there to help.” – Part II student.


Alongside your theoretical knowledge of Geography, you’ll receive valuable ‘hands on’ experience and training in Geographical methods. Practical classes include working in the Physical Geography labs (e.g. for soil and sediment analysis, microscope work for tree-rings, pollen and tephra) and computer-based classes for GIS, statistics, cartography (mapping), environmental modelling and analysis of remotely sensed imagery.


In the first year fieldwork is included as part of teaching for Geographical Skills and Methods. In the second year, all students participate in residential or multi-day field classes. In addition, some second and third year papers including fieldwork, usually as day-trips in and around Cambridge and East Anglia. The Department has endorsed the Royal Geographical Society’s statement on undergraduate fieldwork.

Independent study

Reading for lectures/supervisions and working on essays and assignments makes up a large part of university study. Working independently and managing your time effectively are core skills for university and beyond. We hold regular study skills sessions to support you in this. Our library staff are also an excellent source knowledge on accessing course materials.

For more information on the above, visit the University’s CamGuides: How will I learn at Cambridge?

Contact hours

You can expect to have 7- 8 lectures per week as well as and three one-hour supervisions per fortnight. For at least the first two years you’ll also have practical classes or workshops most weeks. Remember contact hours are in addition to time spent studying independently, the time spent working towards your degree is similar to having a full-time job which means you should have plenty of time to have a healthy work-life balance.