for History at Cambridge, how important are college fellows’ specialised interests?

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elaina.ough
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I want to apply for History and Modern Languages at Cambridge University, and am currently trying to pick a college. I’ve been told by school that it’s important to look at the fellows/teachers at each college to help my decision. As history is a very wide subject, I did come across some colleges that appeal a lot in terms of size, location, etc, but the history fellows did not share my interests (eg. they specialised in Economic or Scientific History)

Do you think it’s important to apply to a college where the fellows have the same historical interests as you? If they don’t, will this put you at a disadvantage in the interview? And is it the case that the modules taught by fellows at your college are the only ones you can take? Or can you go somewhere else to study modules that appeal more if the fellows don’t share your interests? I’m not sure how it works!! Thanks so much for any advice
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Paralove
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Daft advice. If the specialist you need is at another college - particularly for the likes of your dissertation in final year - your director of studies will help you find the best person to supervise you for it.

I did French and Spanish and in final year was supervised at like 8 different colleges, none at my own.
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threeportdrift
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(Original post by elaina.ough)
I want to apply for History and Modern Languages at Cambridge University, and am currently trying to pick a college. I’ve been told by school that it’s important to look at the fellows/teachers at each college to help my decision. As history is a very wide subject, I did come across some colleges that appeal a lot in terms of size, location, etc, but the history fellows did not share my interests (eg. they specialised in Economic or Scientific History)

Do you think it’s important to apply to a college where the fellows have the same historical interests as you? If they don’t, will this put you at a disadvantage in the interview? And is it the case that the modules taught by fellows at your college are the only ones you can take? Or can you go somewhere else to study modules that appeal more if the fellows don’t share your interests? I’m not sure how it works!! Thanks so much for any advice
It's really not important at all, I'm surprised your staff are saying that. First of all, Cambridge is a small city, your 'expert' is likely to be less than a 20 minute walk away in most cases.

Second, Colleges are home communities - would you like to live in the same street/housing complex as your teachers? Meet them over breakfast, lunch and dinner? Have them walk past while you are in the gardens, in the library, staggering home late at night after a bop?

Third, the whole point of University is to explore, very few people finish university with the same interests they started with.

Plus of course, academics are allowed to take sabbaticals and move jobs. So what if they don't stay?

All in all, it's a pretty poor way to select a College.

The modules are decided by your department, nothing to do with your College. They are taught in the department - so you will go to the History building to take history classes (unless they are timetabled in another University building for space reasons). You just have supervisions in College, and even there, you might be supervised in another College on occasions.
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Gregorius
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(Original post by threeportdrift)

Second, Colleges are home communities - would you like to live in the same street/housing complex as your teachers? Meet them over breakfast, lunch and dinner? Have them walk past while you are in the gardens, in the library, staggering home late at night after a bop?
I wonder if I might voice a slight dissent? As has been pointed out already, from a formal teaching point of view, student need will be met from the inter-collegiate supervision system.

But, as @threeportdrift has pointed out, colleges are your home community while in Cambridge; and it's the informal opportunities for interaction with academics that can be formative experiences here. I well remember(*) occasions, after college dinners especially, where junior and senior academics sat down in the bar late into the night chewing the cud on all sorts of interesting topics - including their specialities.

So, maybe not the "staggering home" bit (but remember academics were undergraduates once upon a time!), but yes, living in the same community as them has decided positive benefits.


(*) ever so slightly hazily...
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Reality Check
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(Original post by elaina.ough)
I want to apply for History and Modern Languages at Cambridge University, and am currently trying to pick a college. I’ve been told by school that it’s important to look at the fellows/teachers at each college to help my decision. As history is a very wide subject, I did come across some colleges that appeal a lot in terms of size, location, etc, but the history fellows did not share my interests (eg. they specialised in Economic or Scientific History)

Do you think it’s important to apply to a college where the fellows have the same historical interests as you? If they don’t, will this put you at a disadvantage in the interview? And is it the case that the modules taught by fellows at your college are the only ones you can take? Or can you go somewhere else to study modules that appeal more if the fellows don’t share your interests? I’m not sure how it works!! Thanks so much for any advice
'School' is a bit off the mark then. As the others have said, you'll be supervised out of college quite regularly - and certainly once you get more specialised in your studies. Don't pick a college on the basis of it having specific fellows with exactly the same interests - it's quite unnecessary. More generally, there is no need to stress about which college to pick - they have more similarities than differences, and most people are very happy where they end up regardless.

As a fairly irrelevant side note, we don't have 'modules'. We have Papers. I'd never actually heard of the word 'module' until after Cambridge, and it still sounds to me like something you put into a computer to make it work
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by Paralove)
Daft advice. If the specialist you need is at another college - particularly for the likes of your dissertation in final year - your director of studies will help you find the best person to supervise you for it.

I did French and Spanish and in final year was supervised at like 8 different colleges, none at my own.
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threeportdrift
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(Original post by Gregorius)
I wonder if I might voice a slight dissent? As has been pointed out already, from a formal teaching point of view, student need will be met from the inter-collegiate supervision system.

But, as @threeportdrift has pointed out, colleges are your home community while in Cambridge; and it's the informal opportunities for interaction with academics that can be formative experiences here. I well remember(*) occasions, after college dinners especially, where junior and senior academics sat down in the bar late into the night chewing the cud on all sorts of interesting topics - including their specialities.

So, maybe not the "staggering home" bit (but remember academics were undergraduates once upon a time!), but yes, living in the same community as them has decided positive benefits.


(*) ever so slightly hazily...
Yes, but the point of the Cambridge collegiate system is not to have those chats with your favourite Fellow in Economic History. The point is to see if the Fellow in Ancient Greek has anything to say about Athenian agronomy, or if there are decision making parallels with the Fellow in Paediatric Medicine. The conversations are absolutely part of the point of Colleges. But do you want to effectively live with your headmaster for 3 years? You probably don't, you have access to that person in office/business hours. You probably want to live your private and expanded academic life with people who aren't waiting on an essay you know is going to disappoint cos it's midnight and you are still in the bar and it's due at noon tomorrow and you've not started it yet?
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by elaina.ough)
I want to apply for History and Modern Languages at Cambridge University, and am currently trying to pick a college. I’ve been told by school that it’s important to look at the fellows/teachers at each college to help my decision. As history is a very wide subject, I did come across some colleges that appeal a lot in terms of size, location, etc, but the history fellows did not share my interests (eg. they specialised in Economic or Scientific History)

Do you think it’s important to apply to a college where the fellows have the same historical interests as you? If they don’t, will this put you at a disadvantage in the interview? And is it the case that the modules taught by fellows at your college are the only ones you can take? Or can you go somewhere else to study modules that appeal more if the fellows don’t share your interests? I’m not sure how it works!! Thanks so much for any advice
It's understandable that you are asking for our advice, as you have never applied to Cambridge, so you don't know.

Please see below a link to the Cambridge Demystified chapter of choosing a Cambridge college.

One of the first things I posted was an excellent video by Dr Scott, of Clare College, Cambridge. He said that the best way to pick a college was "gut feeling". Let's say it's a bit like falling in love (that's my take on it).

I then go on to do a virtual open day, with the website and video of each undergraduate college. I know there are probably going to be no open days this year, but imagine yourself walking round each college, like the makers of each film, and say to yourself "can I imagine myself living there?"

https://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/sho...e%20Demystifie

You are in control of the modules you choose. It is not dictated by the fellows of the college. You will often be sent to study with tutors who specialise in the module you choose. For example, my son lived in Exeter College, Oxford, yet for film studies he used to go to Pembroke College, where the German film studies specialist (who also played the lute!) was an absolute legend. He actually ended up going to no end of different colleges for tutorials.

It's not about the tutors' specialist subjects, it's all about your favourite interests. It's you they are interested in, your keenness, your intellectual curiosity, your teachability.

As Peterhouse Admissions once said, you may not end up at the college you applied to anyway. You are also welcome to make an open application if you don't want to choose a college yourself.

All the colleges are amazing places, with world class tutors (or supervisors at Cambridge), friendly students, and all kinds of networking opportunities. It is a privilege to get into Cambridge, no matter what the college, and once there you will be part of a close knit family. You will still feel part of this caring family, years after you have left.

Please do enjoy watching the videos, and picking a college. It shouldn't be stressful. Just pour all your energies into making your application
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Oxford Mum
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(Original post by threeportdrift)
Yes, but the point of the Cambridge collegiate system is not to have those chats with your favourite Fellow in Economic History. The point is to see if the Fellow in Ancient Greek has anything to say about Athenian agronomy, or if there are decision making parallels with the Fellow in Paediatric Medicine. The conversations are absolutely part of the point of Colleges. But do you want to effectively live with your headmaster for 3 years? You probably don't, you have access to that person in office/business hours. You probably want to live your private and expanded academic life with people who aren't waiting on an essay you know is going to disappoint cos it's midnight and you are still in the bar and it's due at noon tomorrow and you've not started it yet?
Spoken like someone with experience. (which you do have!)
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Gregorius
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(Original post by threeportdrift)
Yes, but the point of the Cambridge collegiate system is not to have those chats with your favourite Fellow in Economic History. The point is to see if the Fellow in Ancient Greek has anything to say about Athenian agronomy, or if there are decision making parallels with the Fellow in Paediatric Medicine. The conversations are absolutely part of the point of Colleges.
Oh, I agree to a large extent. But it's also about making the right connections and contacts within your field in an informal setting. I certainly benefited from the cross-disciplinary nature of conversations at my college; but I also missed out because the specialities in my field were quite a way away from what I was becoming interested in.

But do you want to effectively live with your headmaster for 3 years?
I do think this completely misconstrues the relationship between academics and students at university level! There will, of course, be academics who are control freaks, but most of us consider our students to be adults capable of taking vaguely rational choices.
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2500_2
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(Original post by Gregorius)
I wonder if I might voice a slight dissent? As has been pointed out already, from a formal teaching point of view, student need will be met from the inter-collegiate supervision system.

But, as @threeportdrift has pointed out, colleges are your home community while in Cambridge; and it's the informal opportunities for interaction with academics that can be formative experiences here. I well remember(*) occasions, after college dinners especially, where junior and senior academics sat down in the bar late into the night chewing the cud on all sorts of interesting topics - including their specialities.

So, maybe not the "staggering home" bit (but remember academics were undergraduates once upon a time!), but yes, living in the same community as them has decided positive benefits.


(*) ever so slightly hazily...
I'm going to agree with this from my experience. It's an amazing period of your life where you are living close by people undertaking groundbreaking research in a whole variety of areas. It's well worth listening to them, whether or not they are working in your area of interests.

It's probably not the case with history but with history of art, which has minuscule numbers of students in each college, I didn't have a tutor in my college at all (just a pastoral one). The ones I had were pretty idiosyncratic and biased around their own research, but I'd have had no idea who they were going to be when I originally applied.

As far as interview goes, it absolutely is worth looking up the specialisms of the ones who are likely to interview you, but mainly so you can AVOID THOSE LIKE THE PLAGUE!
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elaina.ough
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Thank you all so much! This advice has been really useful and it does seem like my school doesn’t really know what they’re doing. I’ll have a little look at specialities but definitely choose more based on “gut feeling”, rather than worry too much about interests. Thanks again
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Oxford Mum
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I am very pleased we have all been able to help you.

The very best of luck with your application
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