Some things you may want to ask about the MCR:

You may also be interested in our Transportation Guide for questions about travelling to or around Cambridge.

Q: What is the MCR?
A: The Middle Common Room (MCR) is the name given to the advanced students of College as a collective body, and (according to Cambridge tradition) to the room set aside for their use. The MCR committee is elected every year, and its job is to represent MCR members in the governing of College, organise social and academic events for the MCR members, run the Bar, and so on. The common room itself is properly called the Sandy Ashmore Room.

The JCR is the Junior Common Room of which all the undergraduates are members, and the SCR is the Senior Combination Room, which is the body of fellows within College.

Q: What are colleges?
A: Cambridge is a collegiate university. It is made up of 31 colleges, and every student is a associated with a college. Colleges look after their students, providing accommodation (guaranteed in Churchill for first year students), a place to eat, and a place to socialise. They are central to undergraduate life, as they organise much of the teaching. At graduate level, they are less crucial, but can still play a significant role. Within each college, staff and students of all disciplines are brought together. This provides an engaging academic atmosphere, and an environment where ideas can be shared easily. This has been central to much of Cambridge’s success as a research institution.

How involved you are in college life is up to you. For some, their college is just a place they pick up their post. For many, it seeds friendships that last a lifetime. There are many aspects of college life – sports teams, societies, formal dinners, and just sitting around in the MCR – hopefully there is something for everything. You don’t need to live in College to be involved, and you don’t have to turn up to everything to be included.

Colleges can also give a wide range of support, from the academic, such as providing a library or study skills sessions, to welfare, such as offering counselling (counsellor@chu.cam.ac.uk) or health advice (nurse@chu.cam.ac.uk). College can also provide some financial assistance. Your college acts much like a family: if you would like any help, just ask!

Q: What is the Sandy Ashmore Room?
A: The common room, reserved for MCR members of College and their guests, is properly known as the Sandy Ashmore Room. It’s an ideal place to relax, read the papers, and, most importantly, meet people! It is also home to our well-stocked and exceptionally good value student-run bar. The Sandy Ashmore Room is available at any time (except for the occasional times College uses it during the day for a summer school). The Bar is open most evenings.

The Sandy Ashmore Room is named for the chemist Philip “Sandy” Ashmore, who was the first Tutor for Advanced Students in College.

In addition the the Sandy Ashmore Room, the MCR also makes use of the TV Room just outside.

Q: Why ‘The Vicious Penguin’?
A: The student-run bar located in the Sandy Ashmore Room is known as The Vicious Penguin. This follows the long running tradition of British pubs having interesting names. The Bar is named for the enigmatic penguin with a vicious streak a mile wide kept behind the Bar. For safety, he is always secured underneath two glasses. The origin of the Penguin remains shrouded in mystery.

Q: What is an Advanced Student?
A: Advanced Student is Churchill College’s name for its graduate students and fourth year undergraduates. Hence, the Tutor for Advanced Students (TAS) and Advanced Students’ Dinners. Fourth year undergraduates, since they are studying for Masters’ degrees like many graduate students, are given the option of whether they wish to be in the MCR or the JCR.

Q: What is a Hostel?
A: A hostel in Cambridge is a form of student accommodation. At Churchill at least, hostels refer to a number of private houses that the College owns and which have been converted into shared student housing, in which each student has their own room and shares common facilities such as a kitchen, washing machines and bathrooms. Kitchens in hostels tend to be much nicer than those in the College staircases and students who like to cook often choose to live in hostels. A selection of pictures can be found on the room photos page.

Inner hostels are those located on Storey’s Way very near to College, outer hostels are slightly further away (just across the road, and some close to Addenbrooke’s Hospital).

Q: What is Hall?
A: Hall is the name given to the dining hall in College (located up the stairs on the main corridor) and people will often say that they are “going to Hall”, when they are going to eat in College. Lunch and dinner are served all year through on a canteen basis. More formal dinners are also served during term time and breakfast is available from the downstairs bar (the Buttery).

Q: What are formals?
A: Formal Halls, often simply called formals, are formal dinners held in College. Typically three courses, the food is of better quality than in regular Hall. Formals are an excellent way to meet people, and a popular social event.

There are some rules regarding behaviour at formals, but these are nothing too strenuous. Don’t be put off by the name: formals are quite relaxed and good fun! The main points of etiquette are to be considerate of others (don’t drink too much), and dress appropriately. Gentlemen are expected to wear a suit and ladies something equivalent (black tie may be specified for some special dinners). In Churchill, gowns are not usually worn by students.

You can sign up for formals from the College catering page.

Many people like to visit other colleges to sample their formals. If you have a friend at another college they can usually take you as a guest. There are also frequent swaps where a party from Churchill is invited to another college, and we host a party for a return formal. These are a good way of mixing with people from outside of Churchill. Swaps are organised by the External Social Secretary. Other colleges may request that you wear gowns; this is encouraged, but need not prevent you from attending if you cannot find one (there are usually gowns available in the MCR equipment cupboard, so don’t panic).


Q: What are gowns?
A: Gowns are part of academic dress in Cambridge. They are worn at various formal occasions like graduation and some formal dinners. In Churchill, gowns are required at only a few, very formal feasts in the year; if you attend a normal formal hall at another College you may be expected to wear one, but this is only very exceptionally mandatory.

You will not need a gown the majority of the time at Churchill, and most people do not have one. The MCR has a limited number of gowns that can be borrowed, they are kept in the Sports Equipment Cupboard. To borrow one, ask for the the key from the Porters, and sign it out from the sheet in the cupboard. Please make sure to return the gown promptly: they are used frequently.

If you would like to buy a gown, they are availably cheaply second hand from the Graduate Union, who also hire gowns. They may also be bought (or hired) from Ede & Ravenscroft, Ryder & Amies, or A. E. Clothier.

There are a number of different gowns. Undergraduate gowns vary between colleges, but graduate gowns are the same. Most MCR members will need either an MA or BA gown. The flow chart below should explain which gown is right for you. The status gowns are identical to their respective gowns except you don’t display the strings (ribbons) hanging from inside the shoulders.

Which gown to wear

Cambridge academic dress flowchart

Q: Are there any items that I definitely need to bring or buy when I arrive?
A: Many people find that having a bike is essential for getting around, especially those working at Addenbrooke’s. Whilst you can survive OK without a bike, most current members of the MCR would probably recommend that you consider having one whilst in Cambridge, particularly because Churchill is a little way out of the city centre. It is quite easy to buy second-hand bikes in Cambridge, so don’t worry if you don’t have one when you arrive, although it’s best to look for one quite early in the term.

You may need smart clothing for formal occasions. A few events require a suit, and most men will have one.

All College rooms are provided with a duvet, under-sheet and pillow; you will need your own duvet cover, sheets and pillowcases. These can be bought from Housekeeping for a small fee on arrival.

Q: What is a Bedder?
A: A Bedder is a person responsible for tidying the communal areas and emptying bins in College staircases and inner hostels. Outer hostels do not have a bedder service, this is reflected in the cost of the rooms.

Q: What is a Porter?
A: In Cambridge, Porters perform a variety of tasks. Porters are in charge of College security; visitors should report to the Porters’ Lodge (or P’Lodge), which serves as a reception. Porters hold keys to the various parts of College, including the Chapel, the Bar, the art studio and the greenhouse. They are responsible for fire safety and are useful for first aid. They also sort College mail. In general, they are an excellent first point of contact for any problems or enquires, just head over to the Porters Lodge, at the entrance to College. Just know though, that they don’t carry your bags.

Q: Whom should I contact about problems with my College accommodation?
A: If there is something seriously wrong, for example you need an emergency plumber, go to the Porters. They can also sort out blown fuses and give you replacement light-bulbs. In general, the best thing to do is contact Maintenance or Housekeeping. There is an online job reporting form (requires your Raven password), which should be used for almost all problems. Most issues should be dealt within one working day. For cleaning issues, you can also try speaking to your Bedder.

Q: What is a Fresher?
A: Fresher is the name given to all new students at Cambridge. If this is your first year at Churchill College then you are a Fresher!

Freshers’ Week is a week of activities put together to help ease new students into the College way of life and allow them to meet other new and existing students. This is the ideal way to get to know your way around, find out who’s who and sort out any problems. Every college JCR and MCR has an independent Freshers’ Week.

Q: What is my CRSid?
A: Your Common Registration Service identifier (CRSid) is a login name issued by the University Computing Service. It is made up of your initials and a number, for example abc2. Your email is your CRSid followed by “@cam.ac.uk”. Your CRSid is commonly used as a means of identification within the University: you will often be asked to leave it on sign-up lists.

It is used for any computing system managed by the University Computing Service, including Raven, the University’s web authentication service, as well as Hermes, the email service. It is also your user name for the College computers.

You can find out what your CRSid (and hence your email) will be before you arrive from the Computing Service.

Q: What is my University Card?
A: Your University Card is used as student identification throughout Cambridge. In College it is used as a swipe card when you go to Hall to pay for food; to get books out of the Churchill College library, or to gain entry to the post room, library, squash courts, Music Centre and various other locations. The College computer system updates regularly, updates are downloaded automatically when you open a door, but if you’ve not used your card in the last month you may need to use the updater in the Porters’ Lodge. When you sign keys out from the Porters (for a room in College, the Bar, one of the equipment cupboards, etc.), you shall need to leave your card.

The University Card is also used as student ID for discounts at various shops, and may give you access to your Department.

Q: What sports facilities are available at Churchill?
A: The College has (up to) four squash courts; netball/basketball/tennis courts; football and rugby pitches, and a hockey pitch, which doubles as a cricket pitch in summer. All of these are part of the main College site. College members may use the sports fields for recreational games. There is also a multi-gym in the pavilion, and table tennis tables are located in the squash courts. There are a variety of college sports teams, several with heavy MCR involvement. The MCR also has a selection of sports equipment that members can borrow.

Q: What music facilities are available at Churchill?
A: Churchill’s music facilities were rebuilt in 2007, and are therefore excellent. In the Music Centre there is a rehearsal room with drum kit, a recital room with grand piano and harpsichord, and two practice rooms with upright pianos. Approval of the music sizar (music.sizar@chu.cam.ac.uk) is required to get access to the music rooms and use the grand piano. There is also a grand piano in the Chapel accessible by key from the Porter’s Lodge or by any college room key. The library has a fairly good collection of choral music, chamber music and scores.

As far as non-physical facilities are concerned, there is a very active and well-run music society and also a college choir and end-of-term orchestra (with New Hall), both of which are non-audition. The college also offers an instrumental or vocal bursary programme through which one can get grants of around £200 per year (depending on the number of applicants).

Q: What else goes on in College?
A: Outside of sport and music, College has a range of other societies. These cover a range of interests which interested students can join including drama and visual arts. There is also the Springball which is held in February.

There is an art studio of sorts in the garden of 76 Storey’s Way which the Porters have a key for. The MCR hosts an informal series of talks where MCR members present some of their work to a general audience, which are also uploaded to the official College website under CHUtalks. There is also an annual research conference, at which MCR members are encouraged to present talks and posters.

Of course, there is always the student-run bar in the MCR. If you are interested in playing games (card, board, computer, etc.), you can always try rounding up some players via the facebook page.

Q: What will my address be?
A: Every student has a pigeon hole, either in the Porters’ Lodge or the post room, into which their mail will be placed. If a letter or parcel is especially large, it will be held by the Porters and a note placed in your pigeon hole telling you to pick it up. Your address will be:

Your name,
Churchill College

Q: What is CUSU?
A: CUSU is the Cambridge University Students’ Union. They do lots of more or less useful stuff. As a Cambridge student, you are automatically a member, and a membership card can get you discounts at some local businesses. That said, most places that offer a student discount will be happy to give it on production of your University Card.

Sometime towards the beginning of the year, there are tables outside hall at which you can get your CUSU membership card. You will need to bring a passport-sized photo.

If you missed the table at the beginning of the year, the MCR Secretary has CUSU cards. You can get one by putting a passport-sized photo with your name and date of birth written on the back into their pigeonhole.

Q: Whom should I talk to first when I don’t know who has the answer to my question?
A: 99% of the time either the Porters or Rebecca Sawalmeh, secretary for the Tutor for Advanced Students (tas@chu.cam.ac.uk), will know the answer to your question or whom to talk to to have it answered. The Porters will be able to help with matters such as maintenance or equipment in College, or with finding and contacting people, while the TAS Office will be able to help with administrative matters such as certifying that you are a student or obtaining funding to attend a conference. Furthermore, any member of the MCR committee will be happy to help.