skip to content

Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience


If you have not supervised before...

Supervisions are small-group teaching sessions, usually one hour long, which take place each week. Typically, there would be one academic leading the supervisions, and between 2-4 students in each group. The academic could be a PhD student, a post-doc or an established lecturer, with expertise in that general area. In some subjects, two supervisors might share a particular course if this is divided into very different specialities. For example, Colleges often use separate 'animals' and 'plants' supervisors in NST 1A Physiology of Organisms.

The first undergraduate supervisions of the academic year are given in early October and the last are given in June. Each supervision group would normally meet once a week over all eight weeks of the Michaelmas term, all eight weeks of the Lent term and the first three to four weeks of the Easter term (leading up to the exams).

Undergraduate science supervisions in the first and second years (called parts 1A and 1B respectively) are usually organised and paid for by Colleges individually, not by Departments, but the supervisors do not have to be members of that College. The academic in each College responsible for arranging supervisions in a given subject is called the Director of Studies. Most Directors of Studies would be thinking about recruiting new supervisors around early September, but some may start looking for new supervisors at other times in the year. The courses our department gives are contained within the overarching structures of the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST, for science students) and the Medical & Veterinary Sciences Tripos (MVST, for medical and veterinary students).


Administrative details

Many or most Colleges will have regular supervisors in place for most subjects, but openings appear each academic year. Unless they have a way to make their own arrangements, Colleges looking for a supervisor in PDN subjects would normally contact us at the Department of PDN, whereupon we send them a list of potential supervisors - if you are on our list they will thereby obtain your details. To get onto our list of potential supervisors, please e-mail Mel Quy (, telling her which courses you would like to supervise. Should a College be interested in taking you on as a supervisor, they will contact you directly and start negotiations.

Most Colleges prefer supervisors who can supervise a whole course for the entire academic year, but in some cases supervisions may be shared. You should discuss this with the Director of Studies: they will also tell you how many supervisions they would like you to give, and advise you about how they want their students to be divided into groups. The College you supervise for may have supervision rooms which you can book for the purpose; the Department of PDN has a small meeting room which can also be booked but this is often busy.

The College will pay you according to the number of contact hours you teach: you would not normally be paid for time spent in preparation or marking. At the end of term, the College will expect you to submit a “supervision report” on each of the students you have taught using the online CamCORS system. This report is inspected by the Director of Studies and, if approved, released for the students to read, so any criticism should be constructive. The hours that you register there are used by the college to calculate your payment for the term. The Director of Studies will tell you more about this process.


Resources available to PDN supervisors

Course guides, practical handbooks and lecture handouts are available on the Moodle websites for the relevant courses, and can be accessed from outside Cambridge too. You will need to be registered as a PDN course supervisor in order to access Moodle material: please contact Mel Quy in order to be registered. You will also need a Raven password, which you can apply for by clicking here.

The Department of Physiology, Development & Neuroscience has taken the decision that printed handouts will no longer be given out in any of its courses, in any part of any Tripos (with the exceptions of the dissection handbooks, for use in the Dissection Room). Handouts will still be available on the course websites, however. Students and supervisors are encouraged to bring electronic copies to lectures, or alternatively print out their own copies of the handouts at home and bring those. Please remember that recording a lecture in audio or visual format is prohibited, except in cases where this has received prior approval by the Disability Resource Centre.

A number of past exam papers and past-paper questions are available on the Moodle websites for particular courses, and many more are available in College libraries. However, the Department has taken the decision, based on the advice of the Examiners, not to make the answers to multiple-choice questions (MCQs) available either to students or to supervisors, and some of the more recent question papers are also being withheld. This is in large part due to the increasing problem of students revising MCQs in preference to lecture material.

The NST 1A Physiology of Organisms and MVST 1A Homeostasis Moodle sites now have dedicated "Information for Supervisors" sections, which includes detailed information about how to start supervising these particular subjects for the first time.


For more information about supervising

Staff Development run a number of free courses for new and experienced supervisors each year: all new supervisors are expected to have attended the appropriate course prior to starting.

Click here for a website which will lead you to the central supervising courses.

The following offers more general information about supervising in Cambridge:

And here is a brief guide for supervisors in physiological subjects:

Supervising physiology in Cambridge

For more specific advice about supervising, it is often very valuable to talk with experienced supervisors for the subject in question. You can also approach me, in my capacity as Supervision Liaison Officer for the Department of PDN, and I will be happy to meet with you and offer suggestions.


Prof. Matthew J. Mason,, Supervision Liaison Officer, Department of PDN