Downing has always had a strong tradition in Natural Sciences. The College admits about 22–28 Natural Scientists each year, for a total of around 80 Natural Sciences undergraduates in the College at any time.
Places are split roughly 50:50 between the Physical and Biological sciences, but there is much overlap between the two. For example, physical natural scientists often choose one of the biological course options in their first year, and vice versa. Occasionally, students swap over during their time at Cambridge.
Almost one third of the Fellowship is concerned with the teaching of Natural Sciences. The Fellows directly involved, along with their subject areas are:
- Professor Zoe Barber (Materials Science)
- Dr Mike Housden (Chemistry)
- Dr Paul Barker (Biochemistry)
- Dr Ken McNamara (Geology)
- Professor Bill Clyne (Materials Science)
- Dr Amy Milton (Experimental Psychology)
- Dr Marta Correia (Mathematical Biology)
- Professor John Richer (Physics)
- Dr Peter Evans (Physiology)
- Professor Trevor Robbins (Cognitive Neuroscience)
- Professor Chris Haniff (Physics)
- Professor David Wales (Chemistry)
- Dr Robert Harle (Computer Science)
- Dr Kamran Yunus (Chemistry)
- Dr Harriet Groom (Biology)
- Dr Ellen Nisbet (Biochemistry)
- Dr Andrew Holding (Biochemistry)
Professor Zoe Barber is Director of Studies for all first–year Physical Natural Scientists. Zoe is here to help new students choose their options, to guide them and ensure they are happy with their choices and are making good progress.
After the 1st year, people focus on their particular areas of interest, until deciding on their final subject for years 3 and, usually, 4. As they move on, they are assigned a Director of Studies closest to their own field.
Dr Amy Milton, Dr Marta Correia and Dr Ellen Nisbet look after the Biological Natural Scientists. Amy, Marta and Ellen provide academic support for the biologists and arrange their supervisions during Part I, the first two years of the Natural Sciences degree, in addition to conducting some of the supervisions themselves.
They also meet regularly with students, in groups and individually, throughout the year to monitor progress, check that the students are happy with their chosen subjects, and to advise on what to do after the degree, whether that means graduate study or employment.
Depending on what subjects students choose as they move on with their studies they may, in addition to the list above, be allocated another Director of Studies; this might be Dr Richard Jennings for History and Philosophy of Science, or Dr Kamran Yunus for those going into Chemical Engineering. In the case of the latter, this is actually treated as a change of course so students are no longer counted as Natural Scientists.
Natural Science teaching at Downing
Supervisions are the small group teachings for which Cambridge is famous. At Downing you will generally find yourself being supervised weekly in groups of two or three students for each of the subjects you are taking.
Supervisions usually last for an hour, and your supervisor may be a fellow of the college, an academic staff member from the relevant department, a post–doctoral research worker, or a post graduate student.
Whilst it is a fantastic opportunity to be taught on this basis by an eminent professor, students often enjoy being supervised by graduate students who sometimes become good friends and, being closer in age and experience, can empathise and relate closely to specific issues.
Whoever your supervisors are, they will be in close contact with your director of studies, to ensure that things are going well, and to be able to make any required changes to your course choices or teaching requirements.
As with all subjects at Downing, there’s plenty of mixing between students in different years. So, those in later years can report on their own experiences and offer advice on subject choices to the newer students. And, of course, there’s plenty of advice on offer from fellows and others associated with the college.
Students run the Downing Science Society, The Danby Society. It holds regular meetings, and dinners, often with invited speakers from various walks of life. The club is run on very informal and friendly lines and anyone is welcome to join, at whatever level of involvement they prefer. Science thrives in Downing and the enthusiasm shown for the Danby Society reflects the excitement the subject generates in the College.
The standard conditional offer for candidates in Natural Sciences at Downing is A*A*A at A2 Level, preferably all in scientific or mathematical subjects. Offers may be made to candidates offering only two scientific or mathematical subjects, but it should be understood that this background may prove something of a handicap when tackling the first year of the course.
In the case that a candidate only offers two science or maths A-Levels, a conditional offer might specify an A* grade in either one or both of such subjects.
For Natural Sciences (Biological), Chemistry is highly desirable, but not essential, for some subject combinations. It is preferable for the other subjects offered to be drawn from Biology, Physics and Maths. If more than three A-Level subjects are being taken, then it is made clear at the time the offer is made which of them can be counted as the required A*A*A grades.
For Natural Sciences (Physical), Mathematics at A-Level is essential, and it is preferable, but not essential, for the other two subjects offered to be from Physics, Chemistry and Further Maths. Other scientific subjects, such as Biology, Electronics or Geology are also usually acceptable. If more than three scientific or mathematical subjects are being taken at A-Level, then, normally, A*A*A grades in any three of them will be taken as satisfying the offer.
AEA is not required, although a good performance might be taken into account when deciding whether to accept a candidate who has narrowly failed to satisfy an offer.
The interview process
At present, Natural Sciences applicants receive two 25 minute interviews on the same day, each with two interviewers. All interviews are largely subject-based, although more general questions may also be asked.
The conduct of the interview itself is informal, and the types of topic covered are flexible. Background scientific knowledge will be useful, but questions may range outside the material covered in the A-Level syllabus
Applicants for Natural Sciences will be required to take a pre-interview assessment. Further information about this can be found here: http://www.undergraduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying/admissions-assessments
Those candidates indicating that they intend to change to the Chemical Engineering Tripos after one year of Natural Sciences will be treated no differently from other candidates in terms of the type of questions asked. There is no requirement to bring any material along to the interviews, nor is written work requested prior to interviews.
Further advice about entry requirements and interviews for all subjects can be found in the Applying to Downing section of this site.
Introductory reading for students
The reading list on the Faculty website is given as a guide to help applicants gain a better understanding of the subject matter. They are not intended as preparatory reading and interviewers will not expect candidates necessarily to have read any of these titles.
Further details about the Natural Sciences course can be found at the University of Cambridge site.