My most valuable lessons at the University of Cambridge

Oxford and Cambridge are world-renowned for their research prowess. Yet for our Business Development Associate Sarah, it was really the close contact with teachers and other students that made her time studying Chinese at Cambridge so special. Here she shares her thoughts on what she learnt at the University of Cambridge.

Supervisions at the University of Cambridge gave me the confidence to believe in my own voice…

I know it is a cliché, but for me, the supervision system is at the heart of what sets the University of Cambridge apart from other universities – Oxford aside, of course. Supervisions are mostly one hour-long sessions in which you discuss an essay, translation or problem in small groups with your teacher and one or two classmates. 

I found supervisions tremendously stimulating. I have never before (or since!) had the chance to talk about my ideas with world-class experts and ask them about their interpretation of, say, a text or historic event. I found myself surprised that people who live and breathe their subject seemed genuinely interested in my views, which I had thought of as amateurish and immature. That gave me a real sense of confidence in the validity of my own instincts and opinions. 

… and taught me to be clear about what I did not know

At the same time, supervisions have also taught me to use specific, relevant language and be clear about my own presuppositions, which were not always as easily backed up by research as I may have assumed. Being challenged on my assumptions was eye-opening, even liberating, and has fundamentally altered the way I interact with knowledge. Cambridge has trained me to think twice before endorsing information presented as facts, and it has shown me that it is not just acceptable but essential to admit when you are unsure about something. Indeed, I realised over time that, more often than not, the moment where you admit ignorance becomes the starting point for much more exciting questions and debates!

Since leaving, I have missed the people the most

It was not just the professors, lecturers and language teachers who made my time at Cambridge so transformational. It was also the many aspirational students I met in countless events put on by colleges, student societies and the University. These events have proven at least as, if not more, important to my education than time spent at the library. Lockdown has made me realise just how much I enjoyed those chance encounters, which were like little windows into other people’s lives and perspectives. Ideas and knowledge are not relegated to dusty old books – they live within and among us. What better time to seek them out than now?

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