Parul Bhandari was “overwhelmed” when she first arrived at the renowned 800-year-old University of Cambridge. There are a few things that make this British institution what it is, says this PhD student at the university, ranked number 1 in the QS World University Rankings 2011/12.
One is the interaction between Cambridge’s 31 colleges and more than 150 departments and other institutions. The cross-connections are as true for course combinations as for events. The collegiate system means graduate students are members of a college as well as a department, making them interact with a wider and diverse set of people. A doctoral candidate at the sociology department, Bhandari is a member of St Edmund’s College.
“As an undergraduate, you can choose three courses from your department and two from other departments,” says Bhandari, who also teaches and supervises students.
And you get help in your academic work. The essays are supervised by PhD students or members of the faculty in informal sessions while papers are checked by third parties (someone else from the department), she elaborates.
“There are lots of seminars and they are inter-disciplinary. There are lots of discussions across departments…” says the Delhi University postgraduate alumnus, speaking to us during a holiday in India last week.
In a university like this, students get substantial elbow (a graduate student needn’t share his hostel room) and intellectual room to flourish. “There’s a lot of freedom and space given to students,” Bhandari emphasises. That means not taking anything unacceptable from your faculty out of fear of his authority over your scores.
“If you are unhappy with your supervisor, you can demand a change,” says Bhandari who has served in the students’ union where they deal with such cases. But it’s all done in a civilised manner.
“They breed an environment of confidence in the student. The supervisors are very nice. There are deadlines but if you have a reason, they are flexible.”
Every student is paired with a tutor - someone like a “friendly warden” - who takes care of your general well-being. He meets the student for at least 20 minutes every term. While on well-being, “a nurse comes to the college twice a week.”
With about 2000-3000 clubs and societies, the university – and the city – stays abuzz.
The facilities are so “top-notch” that Bhandari cuts short her vacations in India and heads back to the international campus where more than half of all graduate students are from outside Britain.
“There is possibly every journal - online as well as in hard copy - in the library. If you ask for a book not available in the library, they’ll get it for you,” she says.