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Cambridge is a great city and university to live and work. However it is also quite unique, and there are a lot of interesting traditions and customs you may not be used to. Here, based on our experiences, group members have compiled a list of all the information you might need when moving to Cambridge for the first time. From academic questions, to life in the group, Cambridge and the UK to general Cambridge jargon, we hope you find this a useful resource!

MPhil & PhD: What reading can I do for fun before my MPhil/PhD?

Reading through the ICE Group’s publications is a great place to start to familiarise yourself with the type of work we do in the group. If you want to learn more about what you read in any of these papers, feel free to email the first author to get recommendations for textbooks, lecture notes, or more papers on the subject area. Some useful textbooks to start with include; 

  • Introduction to Modern Statistical Mechanics by David Chandler
  • Materials Modelling using Density Functional Theory by Feliciano Giustino 
  • Understanding Molecular Simulation: From Algorithms to Applications by Daan Frenkel and Berend Smit.

We also recommend you take a nice break or holiday before you start your PhD - there is plenty of time for work once you arrive in Cambridge!

MPhil & PhD: Do I have to take courses?

During the PhD and MPhil you do not have to take academic courses or exams. However you are free to attend any lecture you would like. In addition, during the first year there are some mandatory lectures on various skills that will be relevant to your research and future career. These are typically one or two hours and not very time consuming overall. Postgraduate compulsory courses

MPhil & PhD: When do I need to submit my first year report?

Typically the deadline for submission is around the end of June. First year probationary report.

MPhil & PhD: How do I submit my thesis?

You must submit an electronic copy of your thesis for examination, and any required accompanying documents, to your Degree Committee by your submission deadline (which can be found under 'Thesis Submission details' on the Academic tile in your CamSIS self-service).
When you submit your thesis for examination the Degree Committee will check the submission, acknowledge receipt, and inform the Student Registry you have made your submission. The Student Registry will update your CamSIS record.

The Degree Committee will then forward your thesis on to your examiners. If you have not received confirmation of the date of your oral examination within six weeks of submitting your thesis, or if you have any questions with regard to your thesis at this stage, you should contact your Degree Committee. Thesis guidelines

MPhil & PhD: Do I have to teach?

All first and second year PhD students will do demonstrating for the computer practicals in Part 1B and Part II. This typically involves helping a group of roughly 10 students follow computer based exercises for 3 hours. Questions are primarily syntax based, and occasionally they may ask about concepts from their courses. 

Supervisions are small group teaching used in Cambridge, akin to tutorials in other universities however with only one to three students. These are not compulsory and it is up to you whether you would like to spend time teaching as part of your PhD

MPhil & PhD: Where do I find courses?

You have the opportunity to attend any lecture courses provided by the University you may be interested in. If you wish to study  something related to your research, ask your supervisors or fellow group members for suggestions. Once decided you can enrol yourself or get enrolled for access to view the content on moodle. If its not compulsory for you to attend the courses, you will not have to take exams.

MPhil & PhD: How do I attend courses I’m interested in?

Regarding lecture courses, departments often have their course handbooks with details of the course, timetables etc. For example, the chemistry department has a website for this. Paper copies of the lecture notes are available during the first one or two lectures. Otherwise, it may still be possible to find spare copies in the prep room in the basement just outside Pfizer lecture theatre. To get access to the chemistry department moodle pages with electronic material and lecture recordings, you may need to get in contact with the course administrator or teaching staff. Engineering department moodle courses are easy to access, as the self-enrolment key is available online (last time I checked it was cued_moodle_access).

MPhil & PhD: What type of seminars can/should I go to?

We are very lucky in Cambridge with the many seminars and lectures we can attend relevant to our field across several departments. The main seminars most group members attend each week include:

  • Lennard Jones Centre discussion group: Monday 2pm-3pm: LJC talk schedule
  • Theory RIG seminar: Wednesday 2:30pm 
  • Stat. mech. Discussion group: Thursday 2pm

Post-Doc: How do I get accommodation in Eddington?

Eddington is a ‘new’ community on the western outskirts of Cambridge, where many university employees including post-docs live. There is great support by the University Accommodation service. Out of the provided options, Eddington is the place with nicest living standards as it’s very new, but it is a bit further away from the city centre. You can sign up to the waiting list before coming to Cambridge and the flats are all furnished.

Post-Doc: What is a college affiliation and how do I get one?

College affiliations are nice to have, but a lottery. Keep an eye on the Postdoc Acadamy website and apply to many, if you are after a more prestigious affiliation. There are also easier ways to get an affiliation, but it usually entails some teaching duty.

Cambridge Jargon Explained: What is Michaelmas/ Lent/ Easter term?

These are just the names Cambridge gives for the 3 academic terms. The official dates can be found here.

Cambridge Jargon Explained: What is a college? Which college should I choose?

Cambridge is quite unique in that the university does not have a centralised campus and instead is divided among many (31) colleges and departments throughout the town. A good way to think of the colleges is like houses in Harry Potter! For postgraduates, these are primarily where you (may) live, but also they are a great place to make friends, since there are many social activities based there.

There is no ‘right’ college - and group members have picked theirs for a variety of reasons, but some things to consider include:

  • Accommodation: Do they offer housing for all of your PhD/ what is their provision of family housing if you are bringing dependants?
  • Location: Everywhere in Cambridge is perfectly accessible by bike, however you may have a preference to be closer to the department / town centre etc.
  • Funding: Some colleges can offer funding for PhD/ masters programmes.

All group members are happy to talk about their college to help you decide!


Cambridge Jargon Explained: What is a formal?

A formal is another unique Cambridge tradition. It is essentially a 3 course meal at a college where you dress up in formal clothing (and may or may not wear a gown, depending on the college.) These are also a nice way to see other colleges. We also attend college formals together as a group throughout the year.

Cambridge Jargon Explained: What is my matriculation?

Matriculation is a formal event that might differ from College to College, and from undergraduate to PhD. Every new student will be invited to the matriculation dinner, which is like a normal formal except fellows and the master of the college also usually participates. This gives you a good chance to get to know people from College. Before the formal you might have to sign/add your name to the list of students who ever matriculated in the College. In Trinity for example they also show famous students who also signed the book such as Sir Isaac Newton.

Cambridge Jargon Explained: What is a college tutor? What is a department academic mentor?

Your college tutor is concerned for your general well being. Depending on your College you will be required to meet with him/her for a brief 5-15 mins session every term or half a year. The tutor can help you with problems about living situations and academic problems. If unable to help, they usually recommend resources that may be available for you to help solve your issues. 

The department academic mentor is available for consultation about your academic projects. You will have to meet your academic mentor once a year to discuss your progress in your research.

Cambridge Jargon Explained: How do I apply for holidays?

There are no strict rules for when you can take holidays. You should check with Angelos and add your dates to the group google calendar.

Conferences: How do I know what type of conference to go to?

Good places to look about different conference/ workshops/ summer schools include CecamPsi-k, Royal Society of Chemistry among others. Group members and Angelos can also give advice about conferences they have previously attended and so are also a valuable source of information.

Conferences: Where can I get travel money?

Unfortunately there is not one central place to look for funding for travel. Some resources to explore include: your college (the amount and frequency for which you can apply varies by college), chemistry department, your funding body, external organisations e.g. Royal Society of Chemistry. Typically to receive funding from any funding body to attend a conference, a requirement is that you will present your work (normally in the form of a poster or oral presentation).

Conferences: Do I need to get a visa to go to conferences?

Visa requirements depend on the nationality of anyone. However, here we list info for international students: who do not hold the nationality of the UK, European countries and USA. If a conference/school is taking place in Europe or USA, international students need to apply for a visa to go to conferences. For example if someone wants to attend a conference in Germany or summer school at Cecam Lausanne, they need to apply for a visa. UK residence permit (BRP) is valid for travelling within the UK only. An important note is that visa applications are commonly handled by third party agencies for example TLS, VFS etc. And it can take 2-3 months to even make an appointment at these agencies to submit a visa application. Therefore, we advise to aim to complete visa applications at least 3 months before the conference/school dates. Once the documents are submitted to these agencies it takes 2-3 weeks to hear from the respective embassy in the UK.

Conferences: How do I print a poster?

Posters for conferences etc can be sent to the reprographics and printing team in the department From experience, we recommend getting your poster printed on cloth, since they are very convenient for travel and can be folded inside your luggage.

General Life in Cambridge: Do I need to get a bike? Where do I get it?

A bike is not required for living in Cambridge. However, with a bike you can easily reach just about any place in Cambridge reasonably quickly. It’s not a city built for cars or public transport particularly well, so a bike is helpful. You can normally get a bike cheap on facebook marketplace, or buy from one of many bike shops around town. Remember to buy a lock as well! Lights are mandatory and a helmet is also strongly recommended!

General Life in Cambridge: What is the weather like in Cambridge?

For England, Cambridge is actually pretty dry, but if you’re coming from abroad expect the stereotypical British weather (overcast, rainy). Winters tend to be around 0 C but can dip as low as -10, summers sit at 25 - 30 but can soar at times.
Check out weatherspark to get some nice overview.

General Life in Cambridge: Who do I talk to if I’m having a hard time?

Everyone in the group is very friendly, and will always be willing to talk. However, if you want something more serious, Cambridge University runs a completely free counselling service ( For students, your college tutor is also a good person to start with - they themselves can often help or will know the best person for you to talk to. Mental health is a huge deal, and the more people you talk to about it the easier it is to tackle.

General Life in Cambridge: How do I get to Cambridge?

Cambridge is well-served by trains to London (approximately 1 hour to King’s Cross Station). The most convenient airport is Stansted (approximately 30 mins by train).

General Life in Cambridge: Should I get a rail-card?

If you plan on making multiple train journeys a year (e.g. to London, airport etc) then we would recommend getting a railcard. The type you get depends on your age etc, but it is a good way to save money on rail travel UK Rail Card.

General Life in Cambridge: What type of activities does the group do together?

We are a very friendly group! We usually have lunch together in the Cybercafe in the department every day at noon (and sometimes go to the market in town during the summer months). A group also meet up every Saturday morning for the Eddington Parkrun (a fun non-competitive 5km run).

General Life in Cambridge: Where can I find books?

There are many different places you can find books. Every college has a library, along with the department library and the university library. There is also of course the ‘library’ in Angelos’ office! The iDiscover website is the best database to search all libraries in Cambridge.

General Life in Cambridge: How can I meet people?

Cambridge can be an extremely social place, especially during term time. If you are a member of a college, the MCR (Middle Combination Room) or SCR (Senior Combination Room) would be a good place to start. They often organise social events like special formals or swaps with other colleges!
Joining sport teams and societies is also extremely useful.

General Life in Cambridge: Where do I find societies?

There are many societies in Cambridge and in each college. Usually students find out about societies at the University Freshers fair ( which happens during the first week of Michaelmas and Lent term. Don’t worry if you miss out on this event, you can usually find most of the societies at, and join them just by sending an email!

General Life in Cambridge: How do I receive reimbursements?

You can request reimbursements by emailing Lisa with the following information: (1) the purpose of the claim, (2) the relevant tickets (keep the receipts and scan them), (3) the names of the people involved (e.g., list the people having dinner at a group dinner). In the case of an individual not in the Payroll system, Lisa will provide you with a form that needs to be filled out with other details (e.g., the claimant's signature). 

General Life in Cambridge: How early do I need to make my visa application?

Try to start the visa application process as soon as you know you will be coming to Cambridge. Depending on the type of visa (Student, Skilled Worker, etc.), the full application process can take up to 3 months. For postdocs, the departmental administrator Dr. Howard Jones is a good point of contact for visa assistance. Cambridge’s Visa & Immigration office ( is also very helpful in providing individualised guidance on which type of visa you will need and when to apply.

General Life in Cambridge: How do I set up a bank account?

The necessary details can be filled out online, and a consultation can be scheduled in person to further discuss the process e.g., HSBC UK, Barclays, and Santander all have branches in Cambridge. To open a bank account on these, you might need a proof of residence (license agreement with your college should suffice) and/or an academic verification letter (can be obtained in CamSIS Student Self Service > Academic > Request a verification letter).

Alternatively, if you prefer a fully featured online bank instead of in-person processes, you may find Monzo to be a better choice.

If you are traveling abroad (e.g., to attend a conference), you might find it convenient to use Revolut. You might find Wise more convenient if you need to send money abroad quickly and easily in larger quantities.

General Life in Cambridge: What mobile phone network should I get?

The mobile service at Cambridge is quite average, and you will likely be using eduroam (university Wi-Fi) most of the time so you will not need much data. Both Vodafone and Three Mobile have physical stores in Grand Arcade (shopping centre in St Andrew's Street, Cambridge) which you might find quite convenient as you could go there in person to arrange a contract with them.

General Life in Cambridge: What type of accommodation is there? Where should I get my accommodation?

Colleges offer postgraduate accommodation. To learn more see the accommodation section in the website of your college. Also, the college accommodation staff will be able to give information about the rooms and ballot dates. The Accommodation Service is also a worth looking at. Private accommodation is mostly advertised on websites like Rightmove and Spareroom.

General Life in Cambridge: How do I sort out childcare?

Applying early for a nursery place with the university childcare office could be a good way to go (check out the application process here). However, due to high demand, applying does not guarantee a place as there are always long waiting lists . Depending on individual preference, other possible options  outside the university that  could be explored can be found here. Among many others, things to consider when choosing a nursery place include: Ofsted reports/ratings, cost and availability, and proximity to residence. The university and colleges provide financial support towards childcare costs, more information about this can be found here. Early application for this financial childcare support is highly recommended.

General Life in Cambridge: Dependants?

Dependants are allowed to accompany you to the University and could be accommodated in colleges with family accommodation. More information about bringing dependants could be found here.