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Independent Supervision

Why choose independent supervision?

Quite simply, this option represents an extraordinary opportunity. You get to work on your own choice of independent research project, under the guidance of a Cambridge supervisor who’s an expert in that field. For many, it’s the most rewarding part of their PKP experience.

What does this option involve?

The teaching is structured as follows. Over the course of PKP, you'll have six supervision sessions where you work 1-to-1 with your supervisor for an hour.

Before each supervision, you'll submit some written work to discuss during the session. This work equals at least one third of your PKP workload, and usually takes the form of four 1500-word essays.

Depending on your interests and chosen research subject, you and your supervisor might decide to replace these essays with a longer dissertation (5000 words minimum) or an alternate format.

What support do I get?

We offer plenty of guidance to students working on this option. Before you start, we’ll send you information about the practicalities of completing a supervision project. In your first session, you’ll:

  • Agree on a provisional title and plan of work

  • Decide the assessment method

  • Set dates for the remaining sessions

Throughout the summer, the PKP Director will keep in regular contact to check your progress, and you can ask any questions you have during daily academic advising hours.

Who should take the supervision option?

This option is intended for academically driven, self-motivated students who are keen to advance their work. It’s a perfect opportunity to show how far you’ve progressed in a particular field of study. By the end, you’ll have produced an impressive body of high-quality research work.

Do I need to prepare?

We expect you to fully commit to your chosen project, which will demand a lot of hard work. For that reason, our advice would be to make sure your time-management skills are up to scratch.

Get a head start

Doing a supervision is a fantastic way to build your transferable skills. The work you do here can serve as the basis for a senior thesis or area of study you plan to focus on once you’re back at your home university.

How to apply

If you’re interested in this option, please complete and upload the Supervision Proposal Form via the online application system.

On the form please tell us about:

  1. The working title and subject area of your project  

  2. The project’s purpose, main ideas, questions and anticipated results

  3. Any relevant reading or research you’ve done or classes you’ve taken

  4. Any books or other sources which may be relevant to the topic

Choosing a topic

When deciding on your supervision topic, we suggest you aim for something in your major area of study where you already have some background knowledge.

However, if you’d rather research a newer area of interest, make sure you read some relevant publications before completing the proposal form. That way you can demonstrate a sound understanding of the subject area you want to explore.

Be aware that, once you start, the topic may develop and lead you in quite a different direction to the one you first envisaged. So aim to be flexible and follow your supervisor’s guidance.

Supervision option supplement

If you choose the supervision option, you'll pay a supplement of £1,100. To apply, simply specify this option when you select your courses via our online application system. This fee is non-refundable.

You cannot drop this option once you’ve chosen and paid for it, unless we’re unable to find a suitable supervisor for your chosen subject, in which case we may offer a refund.

How am I assessed?

For students writing four essays, the supervision grade is based on your two best essays. If you choose to write a long dissertation, you’ll be assessed on the strength of that paper. Some subjects may require an alternative assessment which will be decided after submission of the proposal. Your supervision grade will be recorded on the PKP transcript.

A word about subjects

Most students choose supervision topics from the Humanities and Social Sciences, in subjects such as English, History, Politics, Linguistics, Religion and Philosophy.

Others have explored topics in the Sciences, Engineering, Law, Economics, Finance and Business. Unfortunately, it’s not usually possible to do lab-based science supervisions.

Recent projects have covered topics as diverse as:

  • The Mechanisms, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Bipolar Disorder

  • The Theatricality of Politics

  • The Influences of Nutrition on the Human Microbiome

  • Immune System Development and Cancer Prevention

  • The Philosophical Implication of Developments in Artificial Intelligence

We do everything we can to help you pursue your chosen supervision topic, but this isn’t always possible. Supervisions work best when there’s a close match between your academic interests and those of your supervisor. So we can only arrange ones where we feel confident that this is the case. 

If we can’t find a suitable supervisor for your chosen topic, you can change your proposed research area. Or we’ll refund the supervision fee and you can register for a third course.

Need more information?

If you have any questions or need some general advice, we can help. Contact the PKP Programme Coordinator at