The Natural Science Tripos at Cambridge is a course unlike any other in the UK. What makes it so special?
Cambridge Natural Sciences is special, a course unlike any other the UK has to offer. Coming out of school there are so many science degree options.
Zoology or Chemistry? Materials Science or Astrophysics? Maybe Psychology or Microbiology…?
Every university boasts a wide range of courses leading to specialised scientific degrees, but how is a sixth form student with no real experience of scientific research or literature meant to make an informed decision?
If you’re like me, you will struggle with this decision.
At A-level I did ‘Science’ – Physics, Biology, Chemistry and Maths, all of the courses science has to offer. But ‘Science’ isn’t a degree subject, so when getting ready to apply, I had no idea how to choose a degree.
So I didn’t. I applied to Astrophysics at St Andrews, Biology at Edinburgh, Zoology and Psychology at Bristol, not knowing what I would choose if I was accepted. I clearly had no idea what I was doing.
And then I discovered why natural sciences at Cambridge is special, fundamentally different course, from even Oxford.
At Cambridge you don’t choose. Instead, you enroll in the Natural Sciences Tripos. This means that when you start, you don’t need to have a clue what specialty you want to pursue in the end. All you need is a passion for science.
In your first year, you get to sample three different scientific research fields and take a maths course to supplement the natural sciences.
The eight courses – Physiology of Organisms, Physics, Materials Science, Evolution and Behavior, Chemistry, Biology of Cells, Computer Science and Geology – offer a varied mix of topics to choose from. I went with Physiology of Organisms, Physics and Geology to get the biggest spread of topics and to get a feel for a range of scientific disciplines.
And I am very grateful to have had the chance. It turns out, although physics was my favourite subject at school and I was seriously considering being an astrophysicist, that I actually don’t like physics. Once the school learning was gone and I was actually doing ‘real physics’, I just didn’t like it.
And that’s what the Cambridge system is about.
While you are developing all of your scientific skills into a well-rounded core understanding, you are getting a chance to engage with all the sciences and learn what kind of scientist you really want to be.
In the end, it turned out that geology was the natural science for me. Though I had never previously considered the subject at all, and had never taken any geology in school, learning about the processes that formed the solar system and Earth, the climate and oceans, and especially about all the crazy creatures that lived in the past, was what really interested me.
Don’t worry about not being able to pursue your new and old interests. After the first year there are 18 courses available to natural science students, of which you will choose three. Still here there is a wide scope to be creative. I pursued my budding geological interests, and also took Animal Biology. But many do Physics and Chemistry and Math, or Pharmacology and Psychology and Neuroscience, or any number of other exciting combinations. While it’s always a challenge to juggle so many disparate courses, it’s worth it for the freedom it gives.
This is why natural science at Cambridge is special; at a time when you are getting ready to open your mind to the world of natural science at university, instead of boxing you in to a narrow degree, Cambridge lets you explore all that world has to offer.