Name: Joseph Hooton
Subject: Natural Sciences (Physical)
A-levels taken: Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Further Maths, French
The Natural Sciences Tripos is very broad, what have you actually studied?
In first year there is a choice of 8 experimental subjects, of which you choose three, plus one of three maths options. In second year, the courses get more specialised and go into more depth: there are 19 courses of which you choose three. Personally, I took Physics, Chemistry and Biology of Cells (with no Biology A Level – it was fine) in first year to keep my options open (along with Maths B, which is for people confident with maths and moves quite fast), and in second year, I have chosen two Physics options (Physics A and B) along with one of two Chemistry options (Chemistry B).
What does a standard working week consist of?
Natural Scientists have one of the more structured timetables, for the first couple of years at least. In first year, I had two lectures a day from Monday to Saturday, plus a practical two afternoons a week, although it depends a bit on what modules you have chosen. Christ’s is well located, so most of these aren’t too far away. However, some of the remaining time has to be dedicated to work outside lectures, mostly preparing for supervisions (which you have four per week – one for each of module). During supervisions you can go through any problems you had in the lectures, one on one with a fellow or postgraduate student, and they help prepare you for the type of questions you’ll be facing come the end of the year.
Second year so far has had slightly fewer lectures (still 3 per module per week, but with one less module), but the work gets steadily more involved, so I haven’t found myself with much more free time. It is busy, but definitely manageable.
What was the step-up in first year like?
For me, the change wasn’t so bad: the first year has quite a lot of contact hours, so in some ways it’d not that different at sixth form, but the emphasis does start to shift from structured lessons (or lectures) to self-driven work, and that gets more and more important for future years. So you do need to be motivated and work efficiently, but if you’re an enthusiastic scientist, that shouldn’t be a problem! I guess having lectures rather than lessons takes a bit of getting used to, but it was fairly easy to adapt to that.
What was your interview like?
I had two interviews: one for maths and general questions, and one for physics and chemistry. They were both challenging, but the interviewers were helpful, not horrible like people seem to think they are. They generally give you a problem or two, and keep going into more detail, or take a step back if it’s something you’re not familiar with. It might be something you’ve never heard of, but they want to see how you think, not what you know, so it’s not something to worry about. I did get asked to talk about an article I’d read, because I’d mentioned reading science magazines/journals in my personal statement, so be prepared for that.
How do extra-curricular activities fit into your schedule?
Natural Scientists are less flexible than a lot of other students, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fit loads in. I basically try to cram in as much as I can, so in first year I did college rowing (great fun but takes up a lot of time!) and football as main sports, and other bits of sport and music (and even a bit of drama) when I could fit them in. There’s so many things going on, it’s difficult to restrain yourself from doing everything, but for your own sanity, its best to be sensible, and just choose a few things you enjoy. That should even leave you with time to socialise in the evenings!