A year in the life of a Cambridge Geography first-year

What can you expect in your first year of studying Geography at Cambridge? Although the brochure presents the course structure and a list of modules, this alone can make it difficult to imagine the reality of studying there. Read on for a year in the life of a first year Geography student at Cambridge...

Last Updated: 26th September 2017

Author: Alice Millington

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What can you expect in your first year of studying Geography at Cambridge?

Whilst the prospectus will present the course structure and a list of modules, from this alone, it can be difficult to imagine the reality of studying there! For me, living the first year of Geography at Cambridge was a dream. Read on for a year in the life of a Geography fresher at Cambridge…



For the first term of first year, we were blessed with one 10am lecture daily (the joy of no 9am mornings!) and a practical class once per week.

These classes happen in the computer lab of the Geography department, teaching core skills such as Geographical Information Systems, statistics using the SPSS software package – no numeracy required – and databases on Microsoft Excel. These skills are examined as five short pieces of coursework throughout the year, contributing a small portion towards your first-year grade – known as ‘Part IA’ in “Cambridge-speak”.



The first-year course is fantastically diverse, with 13 lecture series of 4-7 lectures.

Whilst there is a slight skew towards human geography (7 human modules versus 6 physical), assessment in first-year is equally weighted for both human and physical geography: you sit two 3-hour exams, and are expected to answer three questions in each. You don’t have to revise the entire course for exams – picking several of your favourite lecture series from both papers is usually enough. The diversity of the course gives you the excitement of feeling like you’re an expert on a little bit of everything: one minute you’re in a lecture on volcanic processes; the next you’re writing an essay on the historical geographies of globalisation; and the following day you’ll have a supervision on the scale of wealth inequality in the UK! Lectures make up the majority of contact time; however, the bulk of your personal study – which far outweighs staff-guided learning – in your first two terms comprises work set for supervisions.



In my first term, I had ten supervisions: averaging just over one per week.

Each supervision was in a pair, with another Geographer from my college and one of the teaching staff. Usually, you’re asked to prepare an essay (generally 1500-2000 words, though typically there’s no prescribed word limit) in advance, based on a lecture, which is marked before the supervision. Written and verbal feedback are given in the session, but most supervision time revolves around discussion of the key themes in the essay, and further developing our ideas with staff. Not all are essay-based: occasionally, written ‘book review’ tasks are set, reducing our workload. Supervision work doesn’t ‘count’ towards your grade as an exam would; it’s simply about exploring the content, which is an amazing learning opportunity! Although initially, supervisions sounded intimidating, you rapidly become used to the concept, and the vast majority of my supervisions were very relaxed. In some, the supervisor and us students have even ended up roaring with laughter – they can be really enjoyable!



As a first-year geographer at Cambridge, you can expect lots of work, long reading lists, and to quickly become a pro at firing off essays at short notice.

But you can also expect a year of fascinating and varied content, the privilege of interacting with brilliant lecturers, and fantastic social events organised by our Geography society, CUGS! I really couldn’t have enjoyed first-year Geography more – I wouldn’t trade it for the world.



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