Mathematics

Everything you are about to read has been written by current and recently graduated students at the University of Cambridge, to give you honest information about what it’s like to be a student at Cambridge.

The Cambridge mathematical course called the Mathematical Tripos is counted as one of the best in the world. Together with Engineering, Law, and Economics, it is one of the most international ones, with about 70% of the students being British. The first year gives you foundations of both pure (i.e. more abstract and seemingly disconnected from the “real world”) and applied mathematics, and you begin specialising in what really interests you during the second year. There is also the option of studying Mathematics with Physics, which involves taking some courses from the Natural Sciences Tripos.

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What about the Mathematics course at Cambridge appealed to you?

Aranka, Mathematics, peterhouse College, 2nd Year
Aranka
Peterhouse, 2nd year
Muhammad
Peterhouse, 2nd year

Aranka: Every maths-offer-holder has to sit the STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) exam in June, which means students come to Cambridge well-prepared, and the courses can kick off rather quickly without the need of repeating high-school material and making sure everybody is on the same page. I really liked this, because it means that at the end of the day, you can get your master’s degree in four years, which is the time your US mates need for a bachelor’s degree.

Muhammad: The amazing mathematics faculty of Cambridge makes it stand out. It is home to some of the best mathematicians in the world, which means that you might find yourself being taught by people who have made some invaluable contribution to their areas of research. Supervisors are usually specialists in their respective fields. Not only does this make supervisions an incredibly effective learning process but it also inspires the undergraduate students to be mathematically curious and to think beyond the course boundaries.

How have you found the structure of the course?

Aranka, Mathematics, peterhouse College, 2nd Year
Aranka
Peterhouse, 2nd year

The first year of the Mathematical Tripos is essentially given – there are four compulsory courses in each of the first two terms, and the third-term courses are only examinable in our second year. The funny thing is that we’ve gone straight to differential equations in the very first term, but only properly developed the theory behind them in the second term. In the second term of your second year you start specialising by taking only some of the 8 courses which are on offer. In the second and third year there are also optional (but strongly advised) computational projects, which broaden your knowledge nicely by forcing you to learn a programming language (if you don’t know one already).

What is your faculty/department like?

Aranka, Mathematics, peterhouse College, 2nd Year
Aranka
Peterhouse, 2nd year
The Department

The first-year lectures take place in the New Museum Site in a big lecture theatre which you can see in the gallery. Most of the lecturers go classy and use chalks and blackboards, but some use overhead projectors. Quite a few supervisions take place in the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS), which is also where Archimedeans, the university mathematical society, host their events or where you can accidentally bump into Stephen Hawking. The architecture of CMS is remarkable in many ways. People say it resembles a space station, but I guess there is not so much of grass at space stations. There is a blackboard in nearly every room in the building (including lifts but excluding toilets), and generally everybody loves it!

What types of work do you have to do?

Aranka, Mathematics, peterhouse College, 2nd Year
Aranka
Peterhouse, 2nd year
Types of work

At every sixth lecture (approximately) we get an example sheet with problems you are supposed to solve. Usually you don’t need anything for this but your lecture notes and brain, but you can still find a college library to be a nice calm working place. When you are done (or more commonly when the deadline arrives) you submit your (partial) solutions to your supervisors who check them and discuss them with you during a supervision explaining what could have been done more elegantly and giving hints on problems with which you should have another go. If you are doing Mathematics with Physics, you also have practical classes.

Do you have career plans?

Aranka, Mathematics, peterhouse College, 2nd Year
Aranka
Peterhouse, 2nd year
Muhammad
Peterhouse, 2nd year

Aranka: I would like to continue to the fourth year of Mathematical Tripos, which is called Part III (just in the case there has not been enough confusion already), and which would give me the MMath degree. I want to do PhD afterwards, but probably not in Cambridge – change is healthy. As most of the people who are interested in doing Part III, I would like to become a researcher. Pure mathematics is the desired goal, but who knows what the future will bring; I might as well sneak into some natural sciences.

Muhammad: Choosing a career path is a crucial decision and I am still exploring different options to make a well-informed decision. I will be working at a technology company over the next summer, and I hope that experiences like this will help me pick the right career.

What about your course would you change?

Aranka, Mathematics, peterhouse College, 2nd Year
Aranka
Peterhouse, 2nd year
Muhammad
Peterhouse, 2nd year

Aranka: More time for the exams! Is it supposed to be a steeplechase that we get only four hours for so many problems?

Muhammad: I would increase the term duration. I feel that due to 8 week long terms, the lecturers have to strictly adhere to the course structure, and sometimes they even have to rush to finish the courses within the specified number of lectures. That might make it difficult for some to follow the lectures and the interest level declines.

Typical timetable of a 1st year Mathematics student

- Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
9am - - - - - -
10am Lecture:Numbers and Sets Lecture:Differential Equations Lecture:Numbers and Sets Lecture:Cifferential Equations Lecture:Numbers and Sets Lecture:Differential Equations
11am Lecture:Vectors and Matrices Lecture:Groups Lecture:Vectors and Matrices Lecture:Groups Lecture:Vectors and Matrices Lecture:Groups
12am - - - - - -
1pm - - - - - -
2pm - - Supervision - - -
3pm Supervision - - - - -
4pm - - - - - -

What has been going on at Mathematics?

- Recent Events -

Annual Symposium

The Trinity Mathematical Society held its Annual Symposium on Sunday 21st February. Both PhD students and professional mathematicians at a later stage of their careers were giving talks on their areas of interest.

Annual General Meeting

Archimedeans, the university mathematical society founded in 1935, held their Annual General Meeting on Thursday 3rd March at Christ's College electing Matei Mandache (Trinity) as the new president.

Archimedeans

the university mathematical society, held their annual Problems Drive on Saturday 5th March in CMS. It was written by the previous winners Daan van de Weem and Edward Kirkby.

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