Ever wonder what life would be like studying Maths at Cambridge university?
In this series, we asked current and past students what a day in their student life is like. This particular article is all about life as a Cambridge Maths student, courtesy of Beth!
My name is Beth, I’m a 2nd-year maths student at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge.
I think there are a lot of misconceptions about Cambridge, especially about Maths, so hopefully, I can clear up some of these about studying it at uni!
Commons misconceptions: Studying at Cambridge
For example, I expected everyone to be from private school, and although some colleges and subjects do have a significant amount, my college and my course don’t.
I was also told everyone doing maths would be quite anti-social, which is so far from the truth! They are some of the most outgoing people I’ve ever met.
The only true perception is how predominantly male the course is. In my year on intake there were 32 women and 200 men, personally this was a massive shock and completely off putting. Luckily, I chose to apply to Murray Edwards which is a non-cis male college, so a lot of my friends there are women.
a typical morning: life as a cambridge maths student
Most of my mornings start with an alarm at 6am. I get up, grab a cereal bar and banana as my first breakfast. I then meet a couple of friends to cycle to the boathouse. We usually meet at 6:30, when we then take the boat and oars out and get in. The first half of the session will be spent on technique and after that we’ll increase the speed and tempo. Our sessions end around 8:30 so that those with a 9:00 lecture have time to cycle/walk there.
When I have a 9:00 lecture I will have another quick breakfast on my way. Maths lectures, like most subjects, have extremely usual lectures. A lot of lecturers don’t publish their notes online, there are of course ways to access older notes, but this isn’t as useful as being there in person to take notes. In second year, you get some choice on modules but not a massive amount. You can usually start to specialise in either pure or applied courses, depending on your preference. Fortunately, Maths is a subject where the lectures are all in the morning and straight after each other in the same location. As well as this, 2nd year Maths students get the weekends free of lectures (which is rare for sciences).
The afternoon: life as a cambridge maths student
All of my lectures for the day will have finished by either 11:00 or 12:00 and hence depending on my schedule for the rest of the day, I will either head back to college to have lunch and afterwards go to the library, or I will go to a coffee shop and order a sandwich and work there. If I have work I need to hand in or supervisions in town I will choose to go to a coffee shop, as my college is a 20-minute walk from town and this gives me 40 more minutes to work on the problem sheet.
For each module we do, we get given a problem sheet with around a dozen questions to answer every other week. As a maths student, this is what will take up the majority of your time, aside from reviewing lecture notes. For each problem sheet we get a supervision, this means we get around 2 supervisions a week, however we don’t have any in the first 2 weeks of each term as we won’t have learnt enough content.
On a day I have a supervision, I’ll look over the questions as I will have already handed in my answers. Each supervisor tries to pair you up with someone in college with similar strengths and abilities, this means that you will want to cover similar questions in the supervision. It is expected to attempt all the questions, but not expected to get complete solutions to them all. These supervisions usually last an hour but can sometimes overrun depending on the supervisor.
The Experience: Life as a Cambridge Maths Student
The Cambridge experience is very different depending on who you ask, and people hence have a variety of ways to thrive. I would primarily suggest that you don’t overlook lecture notes. At A Level, notes aren’t usually the primary source of learning, it is instead questions. However here you’ll need to have a theoretical understanding before you can really attempt the questions as they aren’t easy.
I would also suggest that if you’re stuck on a problem and have been for a while, take a step back and go and do something that calms you, for example, sport, reading or seeing friends. Your brain will still be thinking about the problem and when you come back to it you may have a new perspective, and you’ve taken a probably much needed break.
Final advice: Life as a Cambridge Maths Student
A day at Cambridge is busy, all days are busy here, however that is why the terms as so short, so that when you have the longer holidays you get a good portion off to relax and do other things. More importantly, I love my long days and busy days, because I love everything I choose to do, my subject, my activities and my social life.
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