Subject Guides

While we do hold a lot of social and spiritual events, everyone at university does have their own degree work to do too! With such a wide variety of timetables and experiences, we decided to compile some of them here, so that if you’re a fresher you’ll know what to expect during your first few weeks, or if you’re still applying to university you’ll have a better idea of what your subject would be like.

Below is a selection of subject guides from current students who are active members of ISoc. We’ve asked them to answer four main questions:

  • What is your favourite thing about your course?
  • What is a typical day in your life during term time?
  • What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?
  • Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Architecture – Bushra Tellisi (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

I really enjoy how varied the course is in that you’re exploring architecture through so many different lenses: historical, structural, construction-based, environmental and creative. The course relates architecture to culture, urban planning, politics, psychology (etc.), and so I think it’s a good choice for finding specific interests. You can also really tailor the studio aspect of the course to what you like, and design towards functions and spaces that interest you. 

The best part of it for me is that you have a reasonably small course number (usually around 30-50), and so you become super friendly with the other architecture students across years. With this, it’s nice to be able to learn from other people and constantly have inspiration from them- which you otherwise wouldn’t see in most other larger architecture courses.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

As there is such a wide range of course content and type, there is no typical day in architecture. In general (on the more academic side), we have around 2 lectures a day for three days of the week. On the other two days, we have studio days- where the whole day is dedicated to the current design project, and is much more practical and centred around design ideas. 

Alongside this, there are up to 2 supervisions a week to go over lecture content and supported reading- as well as to cover any further questions we may have on the content from that week. Supervisions tend to be centred on reading, but closer to exam term you get set more essays for practice. 

Architecture

Personally, the majority of my time is spent in the department’s studio space to work on design projects for the year and occasionally go to the library to revise reading and course content. Aside from that, I like to keep my nights free and spend time in college or at arts events to make sure I don’t get burnt out creatively.

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Plan your days and get the work done! Portfolio and studio work can pile up insanely, so it’s super important to pace it out and make sure to do what you can per day. All-nighters are sadly common in architecture students but in the long run, I would not recommend …

Don’t trash your “bad”/ initial ideas! A big learning curve for me this year was realising the importance of showing alternative ideas (rather than settling on just a final outcome). Design is all about showing your ideas and the only way to progress is by showing your vulnerability creatively.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Read what you like about architecture! Say for me, I’m interested in the overlap of architecture with urban design and politics, and so the reading I do is not necessarily architectural but allows me to think about my subject within a wider context. 

I also really enjoy podcasts and would recommend ‘99% invisible’ and ‘About buildings + cities’ if (like me) you’re not much of a reader. 

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Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (AMES) – Asma Ibrahim (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

The most rewarding thing for me about the course has been seeing the results – being able to have basic conversations with native speakers and communicate. It took quite a lot of work and time to get there but seeing my progress make me more motivated to continue working hard

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

Chinese Studies specifically has more contact hours than your average AMES student, and definitely more than your typical humanities student. 

In Michaelmas term, I had around 3 lectures a day, 5 days a week and 1 Modern Chinese supervision a week. In Lent you start a new paper – Classical Chinese – so you have 2 more lectures and 1 more supervision a week. In Lent + Easter Term expect 3/ 4 lectures a day, 5 days a week in addition to 2 supervisions a week

AMES

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Don’t get stressed trying to learn everything – it just isn’t possible considering how quickly we progress and how much content we cover (took me a while to realise this and would have saved me a lot of stress!) Remember that this isn’t like your A-Levels where you need to have mastered everything on the syllabus. During First Year – focus on the essentials because you’ll be fed a lot of extra things that you don’t need to worry about when it comes to exams. 

To be entirely honest, your language lectures can get quite repetitive so you might not find yourself feeling very engaged or interested but it pays off in the end as your language skills will improve so much faster compared to students at other universities.

Get the necessary work done, but then definitely have a few hours of relaxation/fun/socials. Because of the intense nature of the course, it is so so important to have a good work-life balance. Get involved with societies, meet up regularly with friends and do some regular exercise! Work is important but your first year exams don’t count anyway so don’t miss out on great opportunities because you’re worried about getting work done.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

For ab initio students – don’t worry about language since you’ll learn everything from scratch when you arrive. Having some familiarity with East Asian (China and Japan) history and politics would be useful background knowledge.

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Biological Natural Sciences – Sakinah Merali (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

I like that you don’t just do a single subject per year, you get a nice variety and you also get to try different subjects before deciding what to specialise in and by narrowing down slowly you get to make sure that the subject you pick for third year is one that you’re really interested in, whilst also having a broad base of knowledge in other subjects before going into more depth in later years.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

In first year you take four modules, one of which is Maths. For each module you have three lectures a week spread over 6 days, one supervision a week and a lab. For the science subjects this is usually an afternoon per subject then for maths it’s a 1.5 hour computer based session. So it’s quite a high contact hour course! You usually have a piece of supervision work for each supervision, sometimes every other week but mostly every week – for biology subjects this tends to be an essay or short answer questions and for chemistry and maths it’s a set of questions on the lectures from that week. In second year the contact time goes down as you’re only doing three modules, each with the same amount of hours and supervision work per module.

BioNatSci Image

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions – you might think your supervisors are really smart and that they won’t want to hear your ‘dumb’ questions but supervisors are the best way of clarifying something you don’t understand and it’ll save you a lot of hours of stressing. Plus the other people in your supervision will probably be confused too! Also don’t feel like you have to answer every question or write every essay perfectly – there will be questions you just don’t understand and it’s not worth spending hours trying to figure out, supervisors don’t expect you to know the answer to everything. Essay writing will also be weird/difficult at first, especially if you did all science A Levels (or equivalent) but try not to stress about it too much – I remember spending hours trying to figure out what exactly was supposed to be in a science essay and how to structure it etc. but supervisors know it’s a new format and will give you good feedback so wherever you start from you’ll improve quickly!

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Don’t worry about doing any work before you start – the first couple of weeks go over fairly familiar stuff so you actually don’t get thrown straight in at the deep end! You don’t really need any textbooks but if you do want to use them when you don’t understand things or for extra information for essays, Molecular Biology of the Cell (Alberts) is a good one for Cells and for Physiology the medical physiology textbooks tend to be slightly better than the general ones (Guyton and Hall is quite good). Youtube videos are also really good for when you don’t understand something. And ask your friends – in my first year I lived with two other bio natscis and we’d always knock on each other’s doors when we were stuck, help each other with things we didn’t understand and talk through questions we were all stuck on.

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Chemical Engineering – Jamaal Khan (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

The thing I love most about ChemEng is the strong sense of community within the course. Since it is a relatively small course (usually around 60-70 people per year group), you get to know almost everyone in your year. The brand-new department building in West Cambridge has a lobby on the ground floor where everyone can relax and drink FREE tea during lecture breaks (see below) and in the afternoon. The department is open 24 hours a day and offers free printing, a computer suite, a well-stocked library, a canteen with halal food and much more. Expect lots of visits from friends doing other courses!

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

Lectures start at 10am (meaning you have an extra hour of sleep in the morning) and usually end at 12 or 1pm. We also get a 20-minute break between lectures, which is great for catching up with friends over free tea. The afternoon is then dependent on your timetable; we have one lab, one computing class and two to three supervisions per week. I usually aim to spend the remaining free time working on supervision work, lab reports and exercises (mini-projects designed to simulate the work that real chemical engineers do using content you have covered). This ensures that some of my evenings are free for me to spend time with friends and perhaps go to different societal events.

Chemical Engineering

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Given that  Chemical Engineering is a course that starts in 2nd year, there isn’t much course-specific advice I can give other than to focus on your 1st year course (either Natural Sciences or Engineering) and remember that there is no obligation to switch if you find that you are enjoying it more than you expected. Likewise, if you are doing one of these courses and feel that ChemEng may be for you, you can easily switch even if you did not apply for it originally. 

To applicants I would also stress that choosing your 1st year course is very important; Engineering and Natural Sciences are very different courses and so you should research them both thoroughly. You will go through the relevant admissions process for either course, spend an entire year on it and possibly even graduate with a degree in that subject if you choose to stay on!

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Aside from reading an introductory book such as  K. A. Solen and J. N. Harb (2010) “Introduction to Chemical Engineering: tools for today and tomorrow” (don’t be put off by the American units), incoming freshers and applicants should focus on resources for their 1st year course:

Applying for Engineering, I found websites such as https://isaacphysics.org/ and https://i-want-to-study-engineering.org/ particularly helpful in preparing for both the pre-interview assessment and the interviews themselves. Try attempting the open-ended problems without any help at first, then slowly reveal parts of the solution and try again until you can solve it – this is great practise for interviews.

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Computer Science – Sumaiyah Kola (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

In first year, all modules are compulsory which gives you a breadth of knowledge and allows you to see early on which bits of the course you’d like to focus on in the future and which you know you don’t enjoy. There is such a variety of abilities amongst students starting out and there’s so much to learn from everyone around you.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

During the first year, a typical day would involve around 2-3 50 minute long lectures either in town or at the Computer Science department. Around 2 times a week we would have practical sessions in the lab that would last around 2 hours working with physical hardware.. There are also weekly practical coding exercises that you can complete in your own time at home.

During a typical week I would have around 3-4 supervisions which would involve me and another student along with an academic for an hour discussing the work they had set for us and going over any issues we had that week with the course materials. 

After lectures I would usually spend my afternoons in the library completing supervision work and spending time with friends or societies in the evenings!

Computer Science

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

You don’t need to be an amazing programmer before you get here. A lot of this course is very theory heavy. You just need to know why you want to study this, what you want to get out of it and other ways you can show your interest in it. Computer Science is very broad and you won’t love all of it but show that you have in interest in certain parts and why!

If you’re nervous to apply, just know you get 5 UCAS options so if you think you’re grades are good and you like the sound of Cambridge, just give it a go! The only way to guarantee you won’t get in is to not apply.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Read around the subject, knowing what is currently going on in the field. Computer science is more prevalent than ever.

If you do have time, going over the foundations of computer science e.g. algorithms and complexity theory will help you massively!

Also brush up on A-level maths and further maths, you will need it 🙂

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Economics – Fahd Omar (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

For me it’d have to be the variety of content that gets covered – for example in first year there’s five papers including Economic History and Political Economics which really helps broaden your horizons and see that the scope of the subject is virtually unlimited. 

There’s also the fact that it’s helped me understand current events and the world in general on a much deeper level, from Trump’s trade policy to the decisions we (as human beings) make day to day.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

Obviously it varies, but I have up to four lectures in a day (two on average) and about 10-12 per week, with a supervision for each paper once a fortnight (you do five papers in first year, then four in both second and third year). That means you have a lot of non-contact time – it’s important to make efficient use of that time and manage it effectively, working out when to chill/go to events etc and when to get on with work.

Lectures are all at Sidgwick Site which is also where the main ISoc prayer room is located, while supervisions can either be in the Econ faculty at Sidgwick Site, or in your supervisor’s college office.

Economics

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

For incoming freshers, I would say to try and go to as many different events as possible in the first few weeks (both in and out of college) and see what you enjoy to try and find people you get on well with. That’s the best time to meet new people and also when every society will have the most events on. From an academic perspective it might seem really obvious but it’s important to remember that everyone coming to Cambridge is very smart! Adjusting to the fact that I was no longer the smartest person in the room was something that took a while, but the best way to think about it is you have the privilege of studying with some of the brightest minds in the country – use that to your advantage!

For applicants, make sure you are able to demonstrate your passion for the subject, be that through wider reading, competitions you’ve entered or talks you’ve been to. If you mention any of these in your application, emphasise any interesting things you learnt and what your opinion on that topic was (it might be a point of view you hadn’t previously considered, or a point you had a different opinion on) and make sure you can back that up. Also be confident in your mathematical ability as you will likely get asked about that at interview (I was asked to draw a weird graph!)

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

For incoming freshers I wouldn’t stress too much (if you’re career focused already, start looking at Spring Weeks and Insight Days for investment banks and consultancies that take place in Easter of first year). In terms of buying books, the Marshall Library has everything you need (as do most college libraries), but don’t worry about starting any reading – there’s a reason Economics A Level isn’t required!

As an applicant I read things like ‘The Undercover Economist’ (Harford) and ‘The Return of Depression Economics’ (Krugman) to broaden my background knowledge of the subject – these are by no means compulsory reads but I would recommend picking up anything that looks interesting. If you plan on spending at least three years of your life studying economics, you should have some interest in reading books like these. Others might be ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ (Picketty) and ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ (Diamond), but make your own judgement.

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Engineering – Mohamed Malem (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

There’s a great luxury in being able to study many branches of engineering that means you get to explore what each engineering entails before a specialism is decided. This means there is a whole range of experiments that you get to do ranging from structures to digital circuits.

The coursework involved in the first 2 years of the course is built around a standard credit system which means as long as you put a decent amount of effort in and complete your reports, you are awarded 100% (which makes up 1/9 of your grade for free).

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

Most days of the week we have lectures from 9-11. 1-2 days a week there are labs which can range from 45 mins to 2 hours. Within the first two terms there are also computing and drawing courseworks you have to schedule in your own time and lab reports to write up. The majority of the workload is made up of example papers that you receive in batches once a week after being lectured on the subject. You will bring your worked example sheet answers to supervisions up to 3 times a week.

Engineering

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Stay on top of your work, completing example paper questions as soon as the topic is lectured (lecturers tell you how far you can go). Cribs (worked answers) exist but DO NOT RELY ON THEM. If possible, don’t even open cribs ever because you stop learning.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Lecture notes are provided (and are sometimes filled in for you). Lectures are also recorded for reviewing your work. This means by and large, if you are stuck on something not explained in either of these mediums well enough, the best option is to talk to your supervisor. YOU DON’T NEED TO BUY BOOKS FOR ENGINEERING.

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English – Jabin Ali (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

The breadth of Part I was particularly important to me. It’s made up of compulsory period papers (some of which you’ll enjoy more than others!), but it’s really nice to be able to go off and find your own material for weekly essays and write on things which interest you. Our essays can incorporate history, philosophy, geography, theology, visual arts (and sometimes even science-related matter!) as we see fit, so the interdisciplinary aspect of the subject is really nice.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

English is notorious amongst other subjects as a contactless degree, but this has both perks and disadvantages. You will technically have more ‘free’ time for extracurriculars (and sleep!) but you have to structure each day and motivate yourself to work. There’s a lot of independent study, mainly consisting of reading alone, which can sometimes be demoralising. It’s best to work around what suits you, so you can fit in social time as well!

Lectures aren’t actually compulsory, as what students choose to write on each week varies between colleges and supervisors. You’ll generally write on 1-2 new texts/authors per week. It’s useful to look at the Notes on Courses ahead of each term and highlight lectures which may be of interest to the work you’ll do. Don’t worry about going to tons of lectures, unless you really want to! (They were most useful in Medieval and Shakespeare term, in which we have set texts.) Supervisions are the most important and valuable aspect of your teaching, and you’ll generally have 2 of these a week. 

You’ll also have Prac Crit supervisions, for which you might have to do some preparatory reading/a timed essay. I personally think Prac Crit is really fun! It’s very different from weekly essay work and introduces you to lots of different ways of thinking and writing.

English

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

To incoming freshers: Read ahead in the holidays! I know this sounds kinda irritating but preparing/annotating the primary texts you’ll write on during term is expected by supervisors. They generally email reading lists ahead, with suggested editions. Basically, don’t do what I did and turn up to your first Cambridge supervision with your David Copperfield essay, having only read 3 chapters of David Copperfield. However, I (and plenty of others) survived this tact, so don’t feel like you need to work all the time either! 

Fair warning that you likely won’t get numerical marks on your essays, just written feedback. In prelim term we received hints at class ranges, but it was only in exam term of second year that supervisors offered marks. This is different to other subjects, including other humanities, and it felt really strange, but you just have to roll with it!

Most importantly, enjoy yourself! English students love reading, and it sometimes feels like a term at Cambridge can ruin this pleasure for you – but don’t let it! Remember that it is impossible to read everything, especially with the amount you cover in a term. Prioritise primary texts and criticism which interests you, and stop reading when you feel it’s necessary to do so; writing the essay is most important! 

To applicants: Read around and outside of your course at school. Try and find a personal stance on each text and be prepared to defend your opinions! Never list a book on your personal statement that you’ve not actually read. Also try not to start your PS talking about how much you’ve always loved to read from a young age – you’ll find every Engling is a nerdy bookworm :’(

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

To incoming freshers: iDiscover, the OED and JSTOR are all things I use very frequently, so it’s a good idea to be comfortable navigating them. You can filter options on iDiscover to be online-access only, which is nice for lazy days when you don’t want to carry books. Cambridge Companions are especially useful introductions to periods and authors, with short essays which are all online. Definitely have a look at the English Faculty website and Moodle (the student system Cambridge uses, you will need your login), as they have a lot of resources and links which I didn’t discover until much later in Part I. LION (Literature Online) can also be very useful, as can EEBO and TEAMS Middle English Texts (for Medieval). Digital Theatre and Drama Online are great for plays (the faculty has a subscription). 

To applicants: Cambridge Companions are genuinely so great, for super-curricular reading and personal statement research. Theatre trips, academic lectures, exhibitions etc. are all useful, but if access to these things is difficult, don’t worry! It definitely isn’t a disadvantage, and you can find things elsewhere – I recommend podcasts, Gresham College online lectures and NT live screenings of plays!

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History and Politics – Miske Ali (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course

HisPol (History and Politics) is a new degree to Cambridge so has a brilliant and eclectic mix of supervisors and lecturers, so be prepared to meet some very interesting people along the way. During first year, the politics papers are compulsory and rightly so. These papers set the foundational knowledge necessary to understand much of the political jargon and historical background needed for the next two years. British and European history is the main focus in first year but the course definitely diversifies in second year with options to do World History, African and Asian comparative politics and other global papers.  My favourite thing is the breadth and depth of HisPol; it gives you an abundance of knowledge to successfully critique modern political events like Brexit (I know, boring) with strong historical evidence and a method to do it incredibly well. HisPol will make you think, write and speak smarter and you’ll have fun while doing it!

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

As lectures are not compulsory, everyday is different for HisPol students. These extra hours are there for independent study however, so most mornings are for reading set texts in preparation for the lectures you do choose to attend. Lectures tend to be content heavy and without background reading you will be slightly out of your depth so reading is key. Every day is either spent reading for or writing an essay; there are approximately one or two 2000-2500 word essays to be completed every week so there’s always something to do. 

I personally aim to do a 9-5 work day so I have evenings off to myself, although the occasional evening supervision does tend to disturb this routine. Generally however, the mornings and afternoons are jam-packed with work with quieter evenings to do what you like. 

History and Politics

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

You will be fine; that essay WILL be written, that book WILL be read, that presentation WILL go well so be optimistic and keep your head up. 

I wish I knew that I could read outside the recommended texts; always try to read wider and around your topic it will always give your supervisor an interesting read and something to talk about that you’re actually passionate about.

Yes, history lectures are not compulsory but try to attend the ones that interest you (and not necessarily for your essay) so you can grasp a more holistic idea of your topic.

For first year especially, it can be quite busy with classes alongside lectures and supervisions but I recommend you to again do the set reading and ask questions if you need any help at all.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

The obvious nod to JSTOR and iDiscover but also feel free to read niche and specific (fiction and non-fiction) pieces of political and historical texts if you’re interested in that. If you are doing British social histories for example, might be bizarre but go ahead and watch Downton Abbey, historical period dramas is always a good place to start. I also suggest to read the classics, Hobbes’ Leviathan/Constant’s Political Writings/Marx’s Communist Manifesto. Also look at ‘Cambridge Companions’ too – they will provide you with succinct and interesting takes on all the big names. Enjoy reading, books will become your best friend very quickly. 

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Human, Social and Political Sciences – Tasneem Ali (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

With HSPS, you get to study very broad range of subjects to begin with, and then specialise later (ie, once you’ve already had the chance to experience what studying various different fields is like at university!). For example, in my first year I took papers in Politics, International Relations, Social Anthropology, and Psychology. I personally feel that this made me more equipped to make an informed decision on what to specialise in later in my degree and spend the bulk of my time at university learning about.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

To be honest, I’m not convinced that there is such a thing as a truly “typical” day in my life during term time; the workload for HSPS can be quite inconsistent and I’ve found that my timetable is rarely ever the same thing twice. This can be both a blessing and a curse, and whilst sometimes you may revel in your newfound freedom, at other times you may crave consistency. 

That said, a new student should probably expect one or two lectures each day (Monday to Friday), usually beginning at 10am. After lectures, I tend to have an essay to work on, or more general reading to do for lectures or supervisions. I tend to do this in my room, but as an HSPS student I’m really spoilt for choice for libraries – including ones which are associated with HSPS, and all the ones within easy reach of my lecture sites. Trust me, there’s a LOT. 

After dinner, I prefer to try and keep most of my evenings free of work, so I’m often found in the ISoc Prayer Room (PR) at one of our weekly events. During my second year I also joined the British Sign Language and the Mixed Martial Arts societies to keep myself busy in the evenings and have a bit of fun!

HSPS

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

You do not have to read everything; reading lists are really more like guides/suggestions than mandatory lists of work to get through.

Control F is about to be your best friend, so see if you can get hold of PDF copies of texts you need/want to read so that you can quickly and easily zoom in on the most relevant parts and save yourself heaps of time.

Asda isn’t actually that far, especially on a bike… And the route there along the river from John’s is really quite something.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

JSTOR is useful. If you can’t find something by searching it on the online library search engine, try typing it directly into JSTOR (or even straight into Google) and you might just find what you’re after. 

In terms of books to read, if you’re really keen to get something done before term starts, I’d recommend checking the paper guides online (eg POL1, etc) and selecting the heavier texts you think you will want to write essays on once term commences. A popular starting point for POL1 is Hobbes’ Leviathan, for example. However, unless you’re informed that you need to do/read something in particular before term commences, there’s really no need to stress over preparatory work – enjoy what’s left of your holidays!

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Law – Rihab El-Hussain (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course

There’s structure in Law, that is quite unique in the social sciences. It can be a lot of work, but generally you know what you need to do – it’s just a case of getting it done.

I think the study of Law makes you think smarter, but in a different way to other subjects. You learn to question rigorously, think a lot more critically and naturally your ability to reason and come to sound conclusions because of this hugely improves. And alongside this, you’re taught to articulate your thoughts effectively both verbally and in writing (so you basically sound smart too 😉 )

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

2-3 Lectures per day, for four days a week. These will be at the Law Faculty on Sidgwick Site and with all the Law students in your year across the university.

You’ll have about 2 supervisions, an hour each, per week. In first year you do four modules so in a two week cycle, you’ll have had a supervision for each module. Each module sets 2 essays/problem questions a term – and they can be spread out quite randomly.

After lectures we tend to go for lunch, have a little break, and then ideally you should spend the rest of your afternoon/early evening in the library/working. I’ve found that this is the best way to keep your evenings free to meet with friends or go to society events. 

Law

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

There’s a lot of non-contact time, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is free time (YOU HAVE TO DO READING – THERE IS A LOT OF IT – YOU WILL NOT GET IT DONE THE NIGHT BEFORE). Once you start missing out on sleep and doing the whole all-nighter thing, it’s a slippery slope and unfortunately it doesn’t end well. Plan your work day around your sleep and make sure both are effective. 

Law students DO have lives, it just tends to be quite a busy one. Be wary of too many textbooks, all it does it confuse and overwhelm you, focus on one and try and get onto the further reading. Do your notes as we go through the year, there is no time around exams.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Tort: It took me a whole year to find this but Mcbride and Bagshaw’s Tort Law book is AMAZING. 

Constitutional: https://publiclawforeveryone.com This blog has a really sound analysis of a lot of what you’ll cover in consti and they can be light reads. 

Civil: you either love or hate this one. Only God can get you through if like me, it’s not your favourite.

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Medicine – Qamil Pajaziti (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

My favourite thing about the course is how comprehensively we cover all the topics. When it came to anatomy in my first year, we learnt about everything from the neck down to a level on par with anatomy specialists. This obviously made the course quite challenging but with the support of people at my college and at ISoc we were able to get through it alhamdulillah.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

Most weekdays I will have a lecture or two and sometimes a practical which can take from 2 to 4 hours, I will also sometimes have a supervision in college. All of this will dominate my day from 9-to-5. After that I usually spend some time with friends either chilling in one of our rooms, night punting or attending society events. It’s important to find a balance and depending on the type of person you are you can overdo it either way.

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Don’t waste your time. Something I really struggle with is using my time effectively, it’s easy to fall into bad habits but it’s important to make sure that you stay disciplined. Dedicating time to something other than your course can also help with structuring your day and delay any course fatigue.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Most people will do no preparatory work before starting and that’s completely fine. I was required to write an essay before I started, and I think it was successful in introducing me to the type of work that I would be receiving from my supervisors in the year to come. If you decide to do anything before you start I think it’s important that you enjoy it, for example you may found out about some of the topics you’ll learn about in the course and you decide to read some articles or research papers on that topic rather than finding a textbook and skipping to the chapter you need. Depending on your approach to learning you may of course prefer to be as prepared as possible and if you do then you should be able to find resources online or get into contact with current students such as myself in order to get more specific resources.

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Physical Natural Sciences – Maisam Merali (4th Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course

The variety of options in your first two years – you don’t get to do such a range of different subjects at most other universities. I came to Cambridge intending to do Chemistry, tried out physics after not having touched it since GCSE and landed on Materials, which I’d never seen before university. The sciences seem quite different to the way they were at school and this way you can find what you enjoy and pursue that.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

  • 1st year – Chemistry, Materials Science, Physics, Maths

2 hours of lectures a day 6 days a week, 4 hours of supervisions a week and 2 afternoons of labs a week.

  • 2nd year – Chemistry A, Chemistry B, Materials Science

3 hours of lectures a day 3 days a week, 3 hours of supervisions a week, 3 afternoons of labs a week.

  • 3rd year – Materials Science

2-3 hours of lectures a day, 2 hours of supervisions a week, 1 lab every other week, additional option – language, computing or education (~4 hours per week average)

3rd year timetables vary quite a bit more depending on what you decide to specialise in, but first and second year are pretty standard

PhysNatSci

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

You might be quite used to aiming for 90% to get the top grades – it’s odd at first that you hand in work where you can’t answer some of the questions! But that’s okay, because supervisions are where you learn a lot. There’s a wide range of abilities so don’t compare yourself to anyone else! Do spend some time going over your notes before a supervision so you know what’s going on, rather than handing the work in a few days before and then just forgetting about it.

There are 2 options to take for Maths – Maths A and Maths B, with the difference being you learn a few extra modules in Maths B so the learning is accelerated. You’re at no disadvantage by doing Maths A (I did it and it was all good) so don’t feel pressured to take the harder option! On the other hand, there’s no harm in trying it out if you think you’ll be okay – Maths B does give you a wider choice of questions in the exams at the end of the year.

You will have lectures on Saturday mornings so be prepared for this! I had them both in first year and second year and it wasn’t the best but you might get a free day during the week if your schedule is nice.

You might feel like first year is pretty full on – it is an intense course with a lot of contact hours, but it gets easier in later years. Part of it is settling into university and adjusting to a new style of working, but it’s not as big a step up as people say it is in terms of actual material.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

There’s probably not a lot you need to do before starting the course, first term is very much bringing everyone up to the same level because pre-university people will have learned different things in different school/exam systems. In later years you might have some pre-reading to do when you have project work.

The lecture courses each have question sheets that go with them that you’ll do for supervisions. In many cases the lecture questions are just to consolidate your understanding of the core material; make sure to do some tripos questions (exam questions) throughout the year and go through them with your supervisors – this will be really useful preparation for the exams.

For Chemistry – “Chemical Structure and Reactivity: an Integrated Approach” (Keeler & Wothers) is a great book for the first 2 years but there’s definitely no need to buy it as college libraries will have several copies

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Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (PBS) – Zainab Haider (3rd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course

I love how broad the course is. PBS allows you to study so many things relating to behavioural science outside of straight psychology. You can take optional papers in computer science, economics, philosophy, politics and natural sciences (just to name a few) so there is definitely something for everyone. It also allows you to specialise as you go through your degree into exactly what it is you want to study.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

It varies day-to-day and also on the optional modules you take. I went the natural sciences route so I tend to have a 6 day week with usually 2-3 lectures a day. I also have 2 practicals/data analysis classes and 3 supervision a week. In first year, I had 2 essays a week, in 2nd it was 3-4. I try to spend a couple of hours each day to complete reading, write my essays and prepare for supervisions. I always give myself a couple hours downtime or do something else outside of my degree so the workload (with a lot of organisation) is definitely manageable.

PBS

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

You don’t need to do the recommended reading! In fact, it’s probably better to search for resources outside of the list in order to make your essays stand out/more relevant.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

I wouldn’t recommend reading any textbooks, but some easy to read books that can help you start thinking about behavioural science and can give you a foundation for some of the options in first and second year include:

‘What’s Your Bias?’ – Lee-De-Wit

‘The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat’ – Oliver Sacks

‘Thinking Fast and Slow’ – Daniel Kahneman

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Theology – Saadadden Monajed (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course?

The breadth. From first year you only have two compulsory modules of out of the five you take. This means three of the modules you take are decided by you. You can make your course slightly more philosophical or sociological or historical, or a mix! 

Theology has a really small intake of around 40 so you get to know at least a handful of your course mates really well. Whether you consider yourself a social person or an introvert this really helps contribute to your self-development in a way that a perhaps larger cohort might not.

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

1 hour lecture on “How to talk about God” followed by 1.5 hour “Quaranic Arabic” grammar class then a lunch break then bang out the library until 6pm so I can complete reading needed for the one or two 2,500 word essays due that are due that week – all this with intermittent breaks throughout.

Theology

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Have a strong grasp of the New and Old Testament. This course is very Christian heavy. Know the stories, parables, names etc of the bible. This will put you in good stead.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

Watch Youtube videos on the Bible  summaries of the Gospels and the Old Testament.

Read Ian McFarland’s From Nothing: A Theology Of Creation -it’s a really good book and  it scopes out the course well , especially if you are doing the ‘Question of God’ module – which I highly recommend.

Don’t just get your theological knowledge from this course keep developing your Islamic knowledge and understanding of the deen, by attending classes and finding people of knowledge you trust to learn from.

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Veterinary Medicine – Nasar Siddiqui (2nd Year)

What is your favourite thing about your course

Rather than other unis, we’re taught anatomy for several species while using one species as a comparison, so we learn from the differences, which I think does justice to the concept of VetMed. Covering a wide range of animals which is exactly what I wanted when applying for the course. Comparative anatomy is the basis of many lectures, essays and practical exams and is really drilled into us until you’re able to identify an animal using only a liver and flexes like that is another perk of studying VetMed. Part of the course requires us to do placements in various animal settings and are very demanding both physically and mentally, as you might find yourself working 12 hour days of manual labour, sometimes days on end. They are so rewarding when you find yourself protecting and delivering precious life during lambing season, when there might be up to 50 lambs being born per day, to being involved in a very hectic horse riding school where you might be tacking up horses for hours to keep up with an intense schedule. Now when I look back to Lent term, where tipping a single ewe or tacking up one horse seemed so daunting, I can be proud of how much progress I’ve made since and can look forward to my next set of experiences.

Vet Med

What is a typical day in your life during term time?

My week consisted of 9-5 lectures/supervisions every day of the week but sometimes I would get supervisions starting at 7 and I would end at 8. Usually I would have 3 or 4 supervisions per week but maybe more on certain occasions but I only had 2 essays per week as some supervisors weren’t intent on them, some would expect a different kind of preparation to be done before that supervision, but that would change if we were approaching exam season. Most of my supervisions were in different colleges, luckily my 10am Saturday supervision was in college so I could roll out of bed at 9:55 and quickly jog to it in my pyjamas. 4 hours of dissection every week, the formaldehyde burn in your eyes and nose you never get used to but it’s not that bad on the stomach surprisingly. Towards the end of the year there was a full body sheep and a full body horse dissection, which provides a unique experience on dissecting a non-canine species which we don’t get usually. Despite all these contact hours and a very heavy workload, I still had time to go to many society events and really enjoy my first year, even though some of that time probably should have been spent cramming the night before my first mock exam but I regret absolutely nothing.

What advice would you give incoming freshers/applicants that you wished you knew?

Please do not spend a ridiculous amount of money trying to buy books you think are appropriate for the course. Once you get here, you will be told by the lecturers, your supervisors and students in the year above you which books to get and you will most likely be able to find whatever book you want in your college library or buy it second hand off of someone else. Many students also have pdf’s of “necessary” textbooks so ask around/socialise and you will hopefully be rewarded for your efforts. I would also recommend to stay on top of your work as early as possible because first term is really hectic so try and make a schedule and stick to it. I found it really hard staying on top of work for lectures and doing reading for different essays at the same time but during the holidays I found out how easily lecture materials could be summarised and that made revising a lot more efficient so if you can somehow do that in your first 8 weeks then you’ll be off to an amazing start and if not then you will still be fine, just like everyone else. At one point you’ll be able to say that you’re behind on lectures for a module for a week and you’ll hear an echo of “so am I!” all around you and the occasional “I haven’t touched that since last term” so mostly everyone is in the same boat, some are in a more difficult one than others and some are casually breezing through the course. What matters is realising that your pace isn’t the same as others and respecting that on both ends of the spectrum, that you might not be the best in your course anymore like you could have been in A levels but that doesn’t mean you’re an idiot either.

Any resources that you would advise incoming freshers/prospective applicants to use? (e.g. online resources, books to read etc.)

In all honesty there’s not much to prepare you for the course beforehand but once you do get here I would recommend signing up VIN which is a network of vet students/actual vets and that lets you get free access to a really good 3D anatomy programme, all you have to do is just sign up to the network (and then unsubscribe from any mailing lists) and you can access IVLA which lets you see the musculoskeletal anatomy of various species as well as the nervous and digestive systems. There are some good radiographs that they can stimulate as well. (I understand this next part might seem very weird for anyone not doing VetMed, even for the freshers but do bear with me). I would also recommend using the 3D anatomy models with the dog bone set you get because it really helps you figure out what’s what on the bones in terms of the muscle attachments because the hindlimb bones aren’t labelled very well/ everything is just red. ALSO because of how important drawing diagrams are in essays, getting plain flashcards and drawing the diagrams we get in lectures or from textbooks and grouping them based on lecture series was very useful for me, especially in anatomy. I can’t draw for my life so don’t feel stressed about being the next Picasso, you just have to be able to label your diagrams properly and explain them and it’ll be fine.

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