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Pip, first year, Natural Sciences, Churchill College

I was always very interested in applied physics and chemistry at school, but had really no idea which university courses would let me keep studying these subjects from a real-world perspective. I initially considered Chemical Engineering, but am now very glad that I’ve ended up doing Natural Sciences - and discovering Materials Science this year. For me, it’s felt like the most intuitive course of those I currently study (Materials, Chemistry, Physics and Maths). It’s so exciting to grasp at a molecular or atomic level the physical interactions giving rise to novel materials’ properties, like those in a liquid crystal display.

The department is incredibly friendly. We do weekly or fortnightly lab sessions in all our subjects (with Maths, this is coding) and the lab technicians and demonstrators are always on hand to answer questions and teach you new practical techniques. I loved D.T. in school, so the practical aspect of Materials Science, especially exciting metallography, has been great fun this year. Our main ‘mini-project’ involved taking apart a calculator and testing the components to gain insight into the materials they were made from, how they were made, and how they function together to make a working calculator. 

Labs complement 12 lectures and 4 supervisions a week – all in all a packed timetable! I really like it that way though; lots of contact hours gives you a good structure to each week, and help you to get work for supervisions done in a sensible amount of time. This idea of a ‘good enough’ piece of work wasn’t something I’d really encountered in school, where I’d always had enough time for everything to be basically perfect. But it’s very liberating, because you can just put in the right amount of time to the work, then stop and that’s perfectly okay. Supervisors are either PhD students, who have done the undergraduate course recently, or very experienced fellows, so they know that you don’t have endless time. Their job is to clarify your understanding and to encourage you to question. Since you are always surrounded by equally enthusiastic people, you never need to be worried about asking more questions. 

Starting out at Cambridge seemed like an intimidating prospect, especially since I only knew one person before coming. But everyone is so keen to be friendly and you quickly meet a huge number of new faces both within your college, and in labs, lectures and societies. Cambridge has such a broad array of personalities and interests that I don’t think it’s particularly hard for most people to settle in if you go in with an open mind. Having friends from lots of different subjects and backgrounds is so nice because they always have interesting things to chat about! I’ve done lots of societies in first year, from life-drawing to jazz band, and have made really awesome friends. I’m really looking forward to next year!

(Course-specific content correct at time of writing – April 2020)