Being a student -- some general advice

These notes are aimed primarily at Cambridge University students, although much of it will apply to others too.

Get on the right side of the Porters
The porters do the day-to-day running of much of the College; being on the right side of them can be very handy.
Get on the right side of the College Cat
Most colleges have at least one cat; these are generally a calming influence, and a little time spent with them is well-spent.
Talk to older students, including postgrads
You can learn a lot from people who've done your course recently.
Talk to younger students.
This helps them with the previous item in this list, and also refreshes your memory.
Keep fit
You'll be able to concentrate better if you get some exercise, even if it's just rushing around getting to lectures, etc.
Pace yourself
Try to make an early start on things, and all that stuff.
Keep all topics fresh in your mind
This way, revision won't be a horrible ordeal. Ideally, it shouldn't really be necessary at all! As the year progresses, look regularly at your notes from earlier in the year.
Read more advanced material than you need for your coursework
Get hold of research papers, advanced books, conference proceedings, etc, to find what people are really doing in your subject now. This will probably make your subject seem more interesting than it does from lectures and lecture notes.
Attend lectures, even the useless ones (first-year only).
Most lecturers are at least reasonable; there are a few dreadful ones, and it won't seem worth attending their lectures. However, even if the lectures are no good for learning from, you can use them to get an idea of what exam questions the lecturer is likely to set this year. By your second year, you should have enough experience to decide about what to drop. In the first year, it's best not to drop anything.

For when you've graduated and got a research place (thanks to the advice above ;-) see also my advice on being a research student.

Handling problems

If something's not going right with your studies, do something about it, preferably sooner rather than later. This will usually mean talking to someone about it. Here's a table of who to see about various things:

For problems with... talk to...
Understanding a lecture topic: If it's just a few points, go up and ask the lecturer at the end of the lecture; or, if it will take more time than that, ask your supervisor (or demonstrator, or Teaching Assistant, or whatever) to explain it. The sooner you do this, the better. Fellow students may be able to help here; or, read it up in a book. Try hard to understand it before the next lecture on the same topic, as successive lectures build on their predecessors.
Quality or style of supervision: Either push the supervisor directly for the kind of supervision you feel would help more; or ask your Director of Studies to have a word with them about it.
Mismatch with supervision partners: If you're much faster or slower than other people in your group, ask your supervisor or Director of Studies about swapping between supervision groups.
Director of Studies being unhelpful: This is very rare... supervisors may be inexperienced, but Directors of Studies are generally well-selected. Your Tutor would be the person to ask.
Unhelpful Tutor: It's not normal to see your Tutor enough to notice whether they're being helpful or unhelpful; if you do need more help, either the Senior Tutor, or the Dean or Chaplain, should be able to help.
Heretical Chaplain or Dean (of Chapel): This is fairly normal. You can put up with them, or robustly debate doctrine with them (this is often welcomed), or try going to another chapel or church. Colleges do not necesarily approve of burning at the stake (even if not mentioned explicitly in statutes); some have suffered regrettable losses from it in the past.

John C. G. Sturdy
[John's home] Last modified: Sun Jun 10 21:39:56 GMT Daylight Time 2007