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Postdocs of Cambridge Society


College Affiliation Guide



The 31 colleges play an important role in the University of Cambridge system. Traditionally, they provide housing and support for students as well as arrange small group teaching (supervisions) and social activities.

Unfortunately, despite being the largest single group of staff and essential to the university's research excellence, most postdocs are not affiliated with a college during their time in Cambridge. These unaffiliated postdocs do not have the benefits of access to interdepartmental contacts or college facilities and often remain on the edges of university life. While PdOC and PdA are working together with the university authorities to improve the situation for postdocs, unfortunately, this challenge cannot be solved overnight.

The following guide is intended to shed some light on the various types of positions available for postdocs within the colleges and discusses some of the differences postdocs should be aware of when seeking an affiliation.


What to Expect

While there is only a very limited number of positions available, i.e., only about every 5th postdocs is affiliated with a college, it is worth highlighting that the nature of each affiliation as well as the associated benefits and requirements can vary significantly between each college.

All forms of association enable postdoctoral researchers to connect with people outside their field, providing interdepartmental connections and a thriving atmosphere to develop both academically and personally. The Colleges are self-governed bodies, and the benefits and types of affiliation they offer differ strongly. For example, certain affiliations might offer several free meals, including dining rights at formal dinners, as well as access to the college’s facilities and participation in its social events and societies. Other connections to the colleges might require a yearly fee or charge you for meals at a guest rate. It is therefore important to explore the details of every affiliation.

Finally, it is worth highlighting that your access and status within the College can vary significantly based on the Combination Room your membership is linked to, i.e., JCR, MCR, SCR, or none. While the JCR (Junior Combination Room) is the undergraduate student body and centre of College Life for undergraduate students with their respective activities, the MCR (Middle Combination Room) is the student body for graduate and postgraduate students. In contrast, the SCR (Senior Combination Room) is the College's body reserved for fellows and senior members of the College. Hence, if your membership, in contrast to the SCR, is part of the JCR or MCR, you might only be permitted to join activities for students or on a student level and you would, consequently, only have limited access to the senior members of the College and its fellows; a factor which can affect your College involvement, Cambridge-based career progression, and networking capabilities. Furthermore, depending on the College, some affiliation schemes might completely lack a Combination Room membership, which often means that activities and interactions are restricted to postdocs only (without access to normal engagements or College Life).


Types of Postdoctoral Affiliations

Senior Fellows

Although uncommon, postdocs may become full college fellows ('Senior Research Fellows') on the recommendation of a college member, for example, their departmental supervisor or head of the department. This usually occurs after they have been in Cambridge long enough to settle in and get to know people a bit. As the position carries various obligations, applicants should have a proven record of accomplishment in academia. Fellows, which are often comparable to professors at other universities, are responsible for teaching, college finances, must attend council meetings and fulfil specific roles, e.g., help run college events.

Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships

Junior Research Fellowships (JRFs) are an alternative to a normal postdoc position, last for two or three years, and are paid by the college. The salary is usually considerably lower than for an externally funded postdoc position, but free accommodation and meals can well make up for that. For certain disciplines, the duration of the affiliation may depend on the postdoc being offered a space in the relevant department. Dining rights on High Table (if available) are usually included and the postdoc will be invited to take part in all college activities. Depending on the college, teaching might be required or optional, but usually up to 6 hours of supervision per week may be undertaken with separate payment. While JRFs might also be required to attend council meetings, in general, their obligations are much lower than those of senior fellows.

Non-stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships

This affiliation is often similar to the one above but without a stipend. Nevertheless, some colleges might offer an accommodation or a living-out allowance, a research allowance, or a small office space at the College. This type of affiliation is typically ideal for postdocs who already have funding.

Other postdoctoral affiliations

Most colleges also offer a range of non-stipendiary postdoctoral affiliations, including College Research Associateships, Postdoctoral Research Associateships, and Postdoctoral Memberships. While the specific benefits for each affiliation can differ significantly with some reaching the level of non-stipendiary JRFs, most of them simply include some sort of dining right and provide access to networking and teaching opportunities. These college affiliations can be an especially useful starting point for postdocs that are new to Cambridge.

Finally, it is worth noting that, depending on your position, especially as externally funded postdoctoral fellows, you might not be allowed to apply for a specific type of affiliation, e.g. a stipendiary junior research fellowship. In this case, make sure to check the requirements of your funding body.


Applying for a College Affiliation Opportunity

Depending on the college, the type of affiliation, and the corresponding benefits, applying for a position can often be compared to applying for a job with the requirement of recommendation letters, a possible description and evaluation of your research work, and taking part in an interview. However, one part that should never be underestimated is the motivation letter. The motivation letter is your chance to present yourself to the college, to highlight why you see yourself as a great fit for their team, and to describe how you intend to contribute to the college's social and academic life. While we are not able to provide you with previous applications, we have compiled the below list of resources to help you to stay on track with the currently available affiliation opportunities.

Please note that neither PdOC nor PdA advertise positions for stipendiary JRFs in their newsletters as these, rather than offer a simple addition to your Cambridge experience, can be seen as regular jobs. Accordingly, these posts are only mentioned on PdOC's job opportunity webpage alongside other industry opportunities, if directly requested by a college/employer, or can be found on the University's job page.

Postdocs of Cambridge Society Newsletter (PdOC)

PdOC's weekly newsletter contains short descriptions of the currently advertised position at colleges. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

Postdoc Academy (PdA)

The PdA maintains a list of positions that are currently being advertised by the individual colleges.  Click here to see the current list.

Note that most postdoctoral affiliations are only advertised once a year. Position intended for the start of an academic year are typically advertised any time between late winter to summer. Therefore, make sure to plan in advance and consult past issues of the Reporter (see below).

The University Reporter

The Cambridge University Reporter is printed weekly in term time and is the most reliable source of real-time postdoctoral college-affiliation (and all other university) vacancies.

Cambridge University Reporter: real-time postdoctoral college-affiliation vacancies.

To view current postdoctoral college-affiliation vacancies, open the College Notices/Vacancies section in the current issue (as well as several recent issues) of the Reporter.

The University Jobs Listings

Many Colleges now advertise stipendiary and non-stipendiary postdoc positions on the University jobs pages. Click here to see the current list.