I grew up in south Edinburgh attending a local primary school in Bruntsfield before spending six happy years at Heriot’s. By the time I reached “UCAS time” early in S6, I knew that I wanted to study biology in some form but was having trouble narrowing one course down from the myriad subdisciplines of the subject on offer at most universities. Luckily, Cambridge wasn’t too bothered about that – all they wanted to know was: physical or biological (and you could, of course, change stream later!)?
I have a lot to be grateful for in the flexibility the Natural Sciences Tripos offered covering an immense range of scientific topics. I could be reading about protein chemistry one minute before rushing off to stick some electrodes in an earthworm! Not only is this breadth fun to learn about but I found myself, in my current research work, knowing things – and, more importantly, ways of finding out how to get to know things – that surprised me. To applicants that are perhaps hesitant about shelling out for a Cambridge degree over a free one at home, I can assure that you will get your money’s worth!
Part of this comes from time and energy invested in teaching an undergraduate at Cambridge including in small supervision groups. I remember my first year physiology supervisor telling us she wouldn’t leave the room until everyone understood how kidneys reabsorb fluids. It was already 9pm by this point! Later, when I started lab projects, I found there were more research groups in my department than students in the year where often, at other institutions, the ratio is tipped the other way.
I had tremendous fun during my four years at Cambridge. Though the academic experience was rich and fulfilling, my memories of spending an afternoon getting covered in coloured powder during Holi or attempting to punt will be with me a while yet. I would heartily recommend all school students who know what they want to study (and particularly those that don’t) to find out what Cambridge offers and, if you like the sound of it, to apply!