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Natural Sciences Student @ Cambridge

We know every university experience is different, but also it is always useful to hear from former and current students studying your ideal course, or at your top-choice university. To this end, we have pooled ideas from our current Elite IB office team, who have provided their best recollections of a day in the first-year life of…

After completing the International Baccalaureate DP in Leicester, Abby studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, followed by an MSc here in the History and Philosophy of Science. Here’s her memory of her first year at university…

07:30 or 08:30 – I wake up at each of these times on alternating days, depending on whether my lectures start at 09:00 or 10:00. Luckily I live no more than ten minutes walk from any of my lecture theatres, so I can get away without having a bike.

09:00 or 10:00 – Lectures begin. I have two a day, six days a week (including Saturdays!), and these take place either one after the other, or with a one-hour break in between. If the latter, I try to go to a nearby library to catch up on work.

Afternoon – I generally have two to three practicals a week, spread over the term across my four papers (Chemistry, Biology of Cells, Physiology of Organisms, and Mathematical Biology, where the practicals are computer-based). These could take anywhere from a couple of hours to the whole afternoon to complete, so I may not leave the lab until 17:00 on certain days. On days without practicals, I tend to have supervisions, where I have the chance to discuss my lectures and work in greater depth with an academic in the relevant field. Supervisions are generally organised by your college in groups of two or three, and you have a unique opportunity to speak with a specialist in the field and solidify your knowledge, as well as think more critically about the material. We have one supervision per paper per week, so all in all, it ends up being quite a full timetable.

18:00 – I go to eat in ‘upper hall’, or the college canteen, with friends. It can be tempting to linger, but I try not to stay chatting for too long as there is almost certainly work to be done! On other days, I might instead dine in ‘formal hall’, a fun (and reasonably priced) way to dress up in your gown and have a three-course meal with friends.

18:30-21:30 – I complete my supervision work. You are expected to submit a piece of work in advance of your supervisions, which might be a question sheet or essay, depending on your subject and the specific paper. This is designed to be challenging, and to stretch your knowledge beyond the lecture material to encourage you to explore the subject more widely. We are advised that each piece of supervision work should take three hours, though I would always recommend starting well in advance of this just in case!

21:30 onwards – It is so important to have some free time, so I try to use this part of the day to socialise with friends (perhaps in the college bar or common room), go see a play, get involved in an extra-curricular activity, or go out to a club. The first year of Natural Sciences is an undeniably busy one, but a work-life balance is certainly possible!