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Maths, 2nd year
Cambridge has one of the world’s leading Maths centres, and its undergraduate Maths course is arguably one of the best, and definitely one of the toughest, courses out there. The first year is broad and ensures strong mathematical foundations, which are then built upon as you specialise later in the course, choosing whatever interests you in the enormous range of options. Almost everyone will have done Further Maths to at least AS level and many will have done Physics too, and the fact that most of the A-level Further Maths syllabus is covered in the first four weeks gives a fair indication of the pace of the course!
“ As well as being at the forefront of academic research, the maths faculty is involved in both the local and wider communities ”
There are eight compulsory courses in the first year, which are a mixture of Pure courses and Applied courses. You have more opportunity to concentrate on your interests and strengths in your second year, when there are sixteen courses to choose from, but the chance to specialise in exactly what you want really comes in the third year, when there are nearly forty. They range from the most Pure and abstract, working in worlds with completely different notions of distance and dimensions, to the most Applied, learning methods to model things like moving fluids and Statistics, and include options to focus on the wonderfully weird area of Theoretical Physics. There are also optional, but strongly advised, computing projects, which are the most technological the course gets; for the rest of the course, it is very unlikely that you’ll ever need a calculator.
For each course you take there will be lectures organised by the department and attended by everyone in the year. The lecturer will give out sheets of questions, misleadingly called example sheets, every six lectures, which you are expected to work through. You then attend a supervision, organised by your College, to go over what you have (and even more what you haven’t) done of the example sheet. You will be supervised with one other student and your supervisor is likely to either be a Doctor or Professor, or a PhD student who is studying something in the same area as you and remembers more clearly what it’s like to be in your position.
Best thing? The faculty building is a glorified version of tellytubby land.
You will (probably) spend much of your time going over the lectures and working on the example sheets. Most people find that everything they need to know is in their lecture notes, but College libraries tend to have all of the recommended books and also offer a change of scene if you don’t feel like working in your room. There are plenty of places to work in Cambridge, including coffee shops, the University Library, and the Maths faculty library and cafeteria, which are on the space-age grass-roofed faculty site.
There is an option in your first year to do Maths with Physics, which must be applied to directly, and involves studying three quarters of the Maths course together with the Physics course from Natural Sciences. At the end of the year you choose which course to carry on, and although there may be a bit of extra catch-up work, the transition into your chosen course is surprisingly smooth.
Worst thing? Saturday morning lectures!
As well as being at the forefront of academic research, the maths faculty is involved in both the local and wider communities, with opportunities for those interested in promoting maths amongst school pupils and helping them with their work. Projects are run both in Cambridge and across the country. There is also a university maths society, who organise regular talks by outside speakers, publish a journal and run a second hand bookshop.