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Natural Sciences

www.natsci.tripos.cam.ac.uk

Natural Sciences, or “NatSci”, is one of the largest and most flexible courses. It is split broadly into biological and physical, “Bio NatSci” and “Phys NatSci”, but in first year at least you can select subjects from both camps and you don’t need to decide what to specialise in until the start of second year.

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Jordan Norris
Queens' College
Natural Science, 2nd year
Cumbria

In first year you have to do a maths option, which ranges from fairly advanced maths to Quantitative Biology. You also choose three modules out of: Biology of Cells, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Sciences, Evolution and Behaviour , Material Sciences, Physics and Physiology of Organisms. You can choose to do all physical or all biological subjects, or a mix which may be appropriate if you hope to do, for example, biochemisty, or simply want to keep your options open.

“ There’s something to suit everyone’s interests and ways of learning. ”

In second year you choose three subjects. By third year you can focus sharply on one subject, from Astrophysics to Zoology, or can choose to study more subjects in less depth. Some subjects, mainly physical sciences, offer a fourth year leading to an M.Sci degree.
All subjects are taught with a mixture of lectures and supervisions and most have practicals as well, so there’s something to suit everyone’s way of learning.

Best thing? Exceptionally flexible course

Supervisions are the most striking part of the Cambridge teaching system – an hour with a specialist and one or two other undergraduates. These small groups mean the teaching can be tailored to your needs – if you understand one topic you needn’t spend an hour discussing it, but if you’re stuck you can work on it and talk through it until it makes sense.
Each department has its own library but you’re unlikely to need to spend much time there unless you’re doing a specialised project. I’m not sure I even knew where my department library was in first year! Lecturers tend to give out comprehensive notes and the nature of the courses means that books are mainly to read around the subject, or have a particularly obscure point explained in a different way. Many journals can be accessed online from within the University, and paper copies of most things are available in at least one library.

Worst thing? Split priorities between modules in your first year

In first year you’ll spend quite a bit of time running across the centre of town as lectures are held in three fairly central sites. After that you’ll spend more time in your own department, which is fine unless that means trekking to the Physics Dept, though we do have a large pond and lawns, good for building snowmen and currently inhabited by a family of geese.
In the first year you have three lectures and one supervision a week in each of your four subjects, and around eight hours of practical work a week, although this varies depending on your subject choices. The number of structured hours decreases in later years but you’ll find you spend more time working on your own.