Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction
An international team of scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.
The gravitational waves were detected on 14 September 2015 by both LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) detectors in Louisiana and Washington State in the US. They originated from two black holes, each around 30 times the mass of the Sun and located more than 1.3 billion light years from Earth, coalescing to form a single, even more massive black hole.
You can read the full article here.
These findings will be discussed at next month's Cambridge Science Festival during the open afternoon at the Institute of Astronomy.
What's a Language, Anyway?
In a recent article for The Atlantic, John McWhorter considers the differences between a language and a dialect, and how linguists might distinguish between them.
"It turns out that it’s impossible to determine precisely where one “language” leaves off and another begins."
"The serendipities of history chose one “dialect” as a standard and enshrined it on the page."
"Is a dialect, on some level, unsophisticated, as if it doesn’t have a literature because it is unsuited to extended thought and abstraction?"
Read the full article online here. If you're curious about Linguistics, you might also be interested in:
Life and Times of Michael K
The first thing the midwife noticed about Michael K when she helped him out of his mother into the world was that he had a hare lip. The lip curled like a snail's foot, the left nostril gaped. Obscuring the child for a moment from its mother, she prodded open the tiny bud of a mouth and was thankful to find the palate whole.
To the mother, she said: 'You should be happy, they bring luck to the household.' But from the first Anna K did not like the mouth that would not close and the living pink flesh it bared to her. She shivered to think of what had been growing in her all these months. The child could not suck from the breast and cried with hunger. She tried a bottle; when it could not suck from the bottle she fed it with a teaspoon, fretting with impatience when it coughed and spluttered and cried.
These are the first two paragraphs from Life and Times of Michael K by J.M.Coetzee, the novel which won the 1983 Man Booker Prize for fiction. It's a great book to read, and if you get into it, you may like to think about how Coetzee portrays his 'outsider' - can you compare Michael K with outsiders in other books, plays or poetry that you may have read?
21st Century Challenges
If you are interested in current environmental, social and economic issues, do look at the Royal Geography Society's 21st Century Challenges website, which brings together expert opinion, facts, videos and interviews and shows the importance of geographical research and approaches to key issues.
See, for example, this section on plastic pollution in the ocean - were you aware of the facts included in this page? What do you think of David de Rothschild's approach? What questions do you think are the most important when discussing plastic pollution?
What does it look like? Virtual tours!
A supervision in an academic's room in King's - lots of books!
Increasingly, UK universities are offering virtual tours so that prospective students who can't visit have the opportunity to look around.
If you are thinking about studying at Cambridge University, you may have read about the Cambridge Colleges where students live, socialise and have subject supervisions in small groups with an academic, but sometimes we know that it can be hard to imagine what they look like if you've not had a chance to visit.
At King's, we have virtual tours so that you can look around the grounds, the College library and our Chapel. In each case, you can use the 'navigate' button in the top left of the screen to move from place to place. You may also find our map and facilities section useful.
You may also want to look inside some of the other Cambridge Colleges. Thanks to Google Streetview, you can look inside: Trinity Hall, Newnham College, Queens' College, Gonville & Caius College, and St John's College. In each case once you are on Googlemaps, you need to look out for the yellow man in the bottom right corner of the screen, and drag and drop him onto the map where the College is in order to look inside.
Other Colleges have tours more like the King's ones, such as Selwyn College, Pembroke College, Fitzwilliam College, and Sidney Sussex College. Although there is much more to a College community than the buildings and gardens, sometimes liking how a College looks can be the thing that inspires you to find out more on the College websites.
As well as belonging one of the Colleges, all students at Cambridge also go to the relevant faculty for their course (there's a building for each subject), where you are taught in lectures and can use any labs, studios or equipment that is needed, as well as the specialist faculty library. In your faculty, you are taught with students from all of the Colleges who study the same subject as you, so it's also a good chance to meet more people who share your academic interests.
Foyer in the Music Faculty
For example, in the Music Faculty
, as well as lecture theatres and classrooms, the spaces and facilities include the entrance foyer, Music library and Concert Hall
, which you can look at (click on the pictures at the bottom to change place).
7 Things you need to know about prime numbers (filmed lecture)
Prime numbers are fundamentally important in mathematics. In this Year 12 talk by Dr Vicky Neale (Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford), discover some of the beautiful properties of prime numbers, and learn about some of the unsolved problems that mathematicians are working on today.
For more maths talks and other online resources, see the Millenium Maths Project website.
Thomas Campion English Prize
Peterhouse is setting some more interesting questions for Year 12 students to discuss for its Thomas Campion English Prize.
Students are asked to write an essay on one of nine given questions, focussing on one or two literary texts that they haven't studied at school before.
Here are just a few of the questions:
“The novel, which is a work of art, exists, not by its resemblances to life, which are forced and material, as a shoe must still consist of leather, but by its immeasurable difference from life, which is designed and significant, and is both the method and the meaning of the work”. (Robert Louis Stevenson).
Do you agree?
“Nothing is funnier than unhappiness”. (Beckett). Discuss.
“There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all”. (Wilde).
Do you agree?
'The poet's voice is not the voice of the person who happens to be the poet.' What is it then?
The full list of questions and details of the competition are available on the Peterhouse website in the Thomas Campion English Prize pdf, and please also read the details of eligibility of the Peterhouse essay prizes. The deadline is 14 March 2016. Best of luck to those who choose to explore these questions, whether just for curiosity or to enter the competition!
How did you choose your subject or course?
I wouldn't say that I really chose to study Maths at any point. It was simply my best subject and the one I most enjoyed all through school, so naturally if I was going to go to university, I would apply to do maths.
- Josh, Mathematics (more from Josh)
I was ready to commit to science after enjoying it at school but wasn't ready to commit completely to physics, making the Natural Sciences Tripos perfect for me with its breadth.
- Jonny, Natural Sciences (more from Jonny)
I have been interested in people and how they think and behave since I was a small child. I had always seen it as an innate interest, and it wasn’t until I was in sixth form that I began to consider studying social sciences at university. I had never studied Psychology or any similar discipline as an academic subject before, but I realised that a lot of what I was reading, the things I chose to watch on television, and lectures, museums and events I went to had this common theme.
- Lucy, Psychological and Behavioural Sciences (more from Lucy)
Having decided that I wanted to take further the skills I enjoyed learning in the sciences and maths at school,I decided that Engineering was for me as it provides a more practical and real-world approach to learning than perhaps a ‘pure’ science would. [....] What attracted me to the Cambridge Engineering course was the relatively unique course structure, allowing me to study a wide range of engineering subjects in the first two years before choosing to specialise in the final two years.
- Mark, Engineering (more from Mark)
I didn’t always want to do medicine, like many people claim. [...] But I somehow started to look into [brain surgery] in Year 11. At first, I had no idea what was involved - I thought that I could take a course in neuroscience at university and then (with some training) be allowed to be a brain surgeon! But, the more I dug into the details, the more I realised that actually, things aren’t that simple. You need a medical degree, and have years of specialist training in hospitals afterwards before you can cut up someone’s skull and probe it with various instruments. And so that’s what inspired me to study medicine. Interestingly, I no longer want to be a brain surgeon as I’ve become interested in other areas of medicine, but brain surgery is important because it is what got me into medicine to begin with.
- Shedeh, Medicine (more from Shedeh)
The idea of being able to concentrate on my studies for three years like any other undergraduate immediately appealed. Firstly I would get to further my scientific curiosity before I became a “real” medic, which I hoped would teach me to think critically about every clinical procedure I would have to do, by evaluating its relevance and importance to the scientific community. Secondly, it could also lead to a much swifter entry into research, an alternative field I had been entertaining, if I decided that this was for me.
- Anne, Medicine (more from Anne)
How did you choose your course?
In a panel session with undergraduates from Leeds and Sheffield universities, one of you asked about how they chose their course. This is a very good question to ask when you meet current students! Here are some responses from Cambridge undergraduates who enjoyed History at school....though you'll notice that not all of them chose the course called History!
At school, I always enjoyed and did well at essay subjects like History and English. I was just never that excited about maths or science lessons, and I never imagined studying those subjects for longer than I had to.[...] I went to lots of Open Days at various universities around the UK when I was in Year 12. It was the talks about studying History that I found really exciting and which made me want to learn more.[...] I thought that Cambridge was a beautiful place and also small enough that I wouldn’t get lost! When I came for a Cambridge Open Day, I went to a talk about studying History here. Several lecturers spoke to us about the course and the material we could study here, and I was surprised at the different kinds of things I could choose to study. Some areas didn’t interest me at all at first, but some lecturers were so enthusiastic about their specialist areas that I couldn’t help but be interested. Apart from anything else, the talk was really useful in terms of practical information, helping me to understand how the course would be structured, what kind of options were available, and even how to go about studying History at university level. I definitely recommend going to these sorts of talks on Open Days, because even simple information like how many lectures you’d expect to be given, and how you’ll be assessed, can help you decide whether it’s the right subject or university for you.
- Fiona, History (more from Fiona)
I discovered Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic (ASNC) while flicking through the Cambridge prospectus. It’s one of the University’s lesser-known degrees, so I hadn’t seen it online before. The wonderful images of artefacts and the obscure topics in the prospectus entry had me instantly hooked, and I immediately wanted to find out more about the course. I had originally intended to study History at Cambridge, and to specialise in this period, but as soon as I saw ASNC I knew straight away that it was for me! After some further research, it was the small size of the faculty and the total freedom that the course offers from the first year that drew me to it.
- Tom, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic (more from Tom)
I chose to study History because it is a subject which I really enjoyed. I definitely think studying something at university that you enjoy is the best idea; you will be spending a lot of time on it!
- Marie, History (more from Marie)
The breadth of my degree is what first drew me to it; the opportunity to continue to explore history and literature and languages all together. Learning ancient languages has always felt a little bit magical for me, like you’re accessing some arcane wisdom, and breaking a code at the same time. Being able to study a culture in its entirety, to track its changes, to read its language, to explore its philosophy, just opens up a whole world of exploration of big ideas about human history and identity, whilst also allowing you to really get to grips with the nitty-gritty textual analysis and specific ideas.
- Qasim, Classics (more from Qasim)
In lower sixth I realised that the one thing that united my A level subjects was the theme of 'religion' and I realised that a Theology degree at Cambridge would enable me to pursue my interest in literature and History while focusing on a core interest of mine, namely religion.
- Eliot, Theology, Religion, and Philosophy of Religion (more from Eliot)
At college I took A-levels in History, English Literature and French. I originally thought that I wanted to study English at university, but as I went through my AS year I realised that History was really where my interest lay, and as I researched university courses I saw how appealing the breadth of material to study as part of a History degree was. Not only did I like the course at Cambridge, but I also knew that I would be being taught by the leading historians in the field.
- Sarah, History (more from Sarah)
Reith Lectures on Black Holes (Stephen Hawking)
Each year the BBC invites leading speakers in different fields to deliver the Reith lectures, which are broadcast on Radio 4. The subject of this year's Reith Lectures is Black Holes and the speaker is Stephen Hawking. If you have not already caught them, you might enjoy the following Radio 4 broadcasts:
..and if you'd like to test your knowledge, do have a look at this quiz on black holes.
Information about accessing BBC iplayer content outside the UK: See this information and see the podcast download page.
NB. This is an example of a resource that can be accessed from lots of different places. We tag such posts with 'all locations'. If you live some way from Cambridge, clicking on the all locations page can be useful so that you filter out events in Cambridge and events in specific areas of the UK.
Adlestrop by Edward Thomas
Yes, I remember Adlestrop --
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop -- only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
What makes a good poem about a place in your opinion?
Can you describe the tone of this poem and which parts of it (words, garmmar, topic etc) play the most important role in creating this for you? Once you have gathered your own thoughts, you might enjoy this brief discussion from Matthew Hollis.
Can you find another poem that mentions a specific place?
Vellacott Essay Prize (Year 12)
Peterhouse is setting some interesting questions for Year 12 students to discuss (with reference to any academic discipline or area of interest) for its annual Vellacott Essay Prize.
Students are asked to choose a topic that you have not previously studied at school from the 41 questions, which include a wide range of historical topics, also touching on a number of other subject areas, such as Classics, Theology, Art, Literature, Music, Politics, Architecture and Sociology. Here are some examples of the questions set:
Should Classical Sparta be described as a totalitarian state?
Was there a 'Third-Century Crisis' in the Roman Empire?
When did the Middle Ages begin and end?
What were the public functions of art in the Italian Renaissance?
Why was Machiavelli's book The Prince so controversial?
How and to what effect did the political ideology and practice of Islam change after 1750?
What music was popular in nineteenth-century Europe?
What did the revolutions of 1848 achieve?
To what extent did the First World War signal the rise of a new politcs accross the MIddle East?
Discuss the historical significance of one of the following places or buildings: Route 66; The IBM Watson Research Center; the MCG; Reading gaol; The "walkie-talkie".
The full list of questions and details of the competition are available on the Peterhouse website in the Vellacott Prize information pdf, and please also read the details of eligibility and the history of the Peterhouse essay prizes. The deadline is 14 March 2016.Good luck to those who choose to explore some of these topics, whether just for curiosity or to develop an essay and enter the competition!
Competition: Communicating the Ancient World through film
The Faculty of Classics at Cambridge is well known for putting the Ancient World on screen. With Mary Beard, Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, and others on the staff, Cambridge’s Classics academics are some of the most familiar faces on TV documentaries.
This new competition invites you to take part in this mission of communicating the Ancient World through film (YouTube, not BBC1 just yet!). We are looking for creative and interesting films which explore a classical object or topic in less than 4 minutes. There will be a prize fund of £500 for the best entries and the winning videos will be put on our unique website – The Greeks, The Romans & Us – which features a range of videos of Cambridge’s well-known and up-and-coming Classicists.
How to take part
For full details, please see the Video Competition page on The Greeks, The Romans & Us website. The deadline for entries is 15 March 2016. Do send any questions about the competition to the Classics Faculty Schools Liaison Officer.
Good Luck and we look forward to watching your film!
Cambridge interviews are very similar to the supervisions that you have every week as a student here (see how you are taught).
If you apply to Cambridge, you send your UCAS application by the 15 October deadline (Cambridge and Oxford have an earlier deadline than for most UK universities), and most (though not all) applicants are invited for interviews, which take place in early December.
We don't suggest that you worry too much about the details of the application process when you're in Year 10, Year 11 or at this stage of Year 12, but it is useful to get a sense of what interviews are about (they are academic interviews). The important point to understand when looking at interviews, is that if you would like to study at Cambridge in the future, you may already be thinking about whether you can achieve the grades we require (see our entrance requirements), but it is equally important to enjoy your studies and explore and develop your academic interests.
When you come for interview, we will be looking for intellectual ability, aptitude for the subject, curiosity and commitment. So the interviewers (specialists in the subejct you have applied for) ask a range of questions relating to the work or reading you have done, both at school and outside it. We we will encourage you to talk about your academic interests and ideas. We encourage you to watch this film about Cambridge interviews.
Isaac Physics website
Many universities have admissions tests and interviews that involve solving problems.
In the area of physics and mathematics the Isaac Physics website provides an opportunity to practise the skills needed for such problems, and will be particularly helpful for students who are interested in studying Natural Sciences (Physical) or Chemical Engineering via Natural Sciences. You may find the Core Maths for All Scientists section particularly useful.*
Of course , if you're invited for interviews at Cambridge, do remember that you may be asked questions on a wider range of science than is presented on the Isaac Physics website. The interview film on this page provides a good introduction to Cambridge interviews.
*in A level terms, this section focuses on the material from modules C1, C2 and M1.
Nautilus – Science, connected
The online and print journal Nautilus is not just for scientists. In fact, there are articles and blog posts on everything from ‘The Cello Music of the Spheres’ to ‘Why Red Means Red in Almost Every Language’.
“We are here to tell you about science and its endless connections to our lives. Each month we choose a single topic. And each Thursday we publish a new chapter on that topic online. Each issue combines the sciences, culture and philosophy into a single story told by the world’s leading thinkers and writers. We follow the story wherever it leads us. Read our essays, investigative reports, and blogs. Fiction, too. Take in our games, videos, and graphic stories. Stop in for a minute, or an hour. Nautilus lets science spill over its usual borders. We are science, connected.”
Here are just a few links to articles in different subjects:
You can find articles on many more subjects through the links on the right of this page.
Social Science Bites
In this series of illuminating podcasts, you can hear leading social scientists present their perspectives on how our social world is created, and how social science can help us understand people and how they behave. Each podcast includes a downloadable written transcript of the conversation.
Here are just a few suggestions by subject:
There are also Philosophy bites arranged by theme, on everything from Plato’s Cave to Free Will and Morality without God.
Essay Writing - Where To Begin?
Getting those first words on the page when you’ve got an essay to write can seem daunting. There are a few useful tools and guides online that can help you get started and even develop your essay writing skills.
Essay Map is a very straightforward tool for mapping out your key ideas before you begin writing and helps you to create a structured plan from introduction to conclusion.
And if you find graphic plans useful when it comes to mapping out essays, there are lots of different designs online that you can use to organise your ideas.
For something more advanced, Harvard College Writing Centre provides various guides to essay writing. Their guides to writing in different academic disciplines are especially useful if you’re starting to study a subject in greater depth than you ever have before (History? Philosophy? English Literature?).
Posted: 25 September 2015
Word of the Day
There are a few online dictionaries that post a 'word of the day' to help broaden your vocabulary with less common words as well as suggesting some more familiar words whose meanings you might not be so sure on. You can even sign-up to have these emailed to you daily. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster are just two of the websites that offer these free subscriptions.
And if you're studying a modern language you might want to sign-up for the French, Spanish, Italian or German word of the day. You can find even more languages here.
Posted: 18 September 2015
What has research in space done for life on Earth? Credit: Sweetie187
If you are interested in Biology and Medicine, take a moment to think about Space Biology. It may well be something that you've not thought about before, but do you think that Space can and should be studied from a biological persepctive? How and why? What sorts of things might you study if you were looking at Space in this way?
Big Picture is a free Wellcome Trust magazine for sixth form students interested in Biology and Medicine - do have a look at this issue on Space Biology:
For more issues and resources, or to subscribe to Big Picture, see www.bigpictureeducation.com
Posted: 17 September 2015
What does an Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic dissertation look like?
Lucinda, an Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic student at Christ’s College, Cambridge, shares her thoughts on her undergraduate dissertation which asks: To what extent did the Anglo-Saxon Church condemn contemporary medical practices, and for what reasons?
She writes that “Although very niche, the Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic degree (or Tripos as it’s known in Cambridge) allows very flexible study in the range of papers it offers. Students can choose to focus on purely literature and language or on history, or as is most popular, they can mix the two together. Students have two opportunities to write a dissertation: it is optional in Second Year (Part I of the Tripos), and compulsory in Third (Part II). The beauty of the dissertation is that it allows you to either expand on an area you've already studied or to tackle something new which isn't covered in lectures or supervisions. For my Part II dissertation I chose the route of challenging myself with something I knew nothing about: Anglo-Saxon medicine.”
You can read more about Lucinda’s dissertation here.
Image: Tim Ellis
Posted: 17 September 2015
Here at Cambridge, we have a degree in Architecture that brings together both the cultural and technological aspects of the subject. You would work on practical design in the department's studios, and also attend lectures and supervisions on everything from the history and theory of Architecture to issues of construction, environmental design and structure. It's a great degree if you enjoy both essay and sciences subjects at school, and if you are good at drawing and have an interest in the history of art and architecture. Do watch the course film!
If you want to study Architecture in the future, you will need to create a portfolio of your work. We ask students who are invited for interviews to bring a portfolio to discuss with the interviewers. Some of the King's students have very kindly let us share their portfolio work as an example:
As you can see, there's a range of material here - the choice of material included in your portfolio is up to you. Successful candidates have brought paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and constructions of all kinds, and we particularly like to see material that conveys a spatial and three dimensional interest. We would not, however, expect to see designs for buildings – that is what you come to Cambridge to learn! The Director of Studies has provided further advice on portfolios.
Posted: 16 September 2015
Considering Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 8
In many of the courses taught at Cambridge, the Faculty lectures you attend are designed to open up and expand your critical perspective on the topics you are studying, as well as furthering your factual knowledge. You can then explore ideas and specific examples further in your reading and thinking, and through writing your weekly essays, then discussing them with your supervisors (see how you are taught).
As an example, three Cambridge lecturers in Music have written about one of the most famous twentieth-century chamber works from three very different angles.
Why not listen to Dmitri Shostakovich's Eighth Quartet (1960) and read:
- A historical perspective
by Prof Marina Frolova-Walker
- An analytical perspective
by Prof Nick Marston
- A performance-related perspective
by Prof John Rink
These can be found in the Music Faculty's Music@Cambridge Magazine Schools Edition (Michaelams 2015), pages 35-37.
Posted: 12 September 2015
Good books for computer scientists
If you are interested in studying Computer Science at university, it is good to build up a broad background understanding of issues in computer science. There's nothing specific that you have to read (a range of useful books are available so do browse your local library), but if you're looking for a suggestion, this is an excellent collection of accessible and relevant articles:
- A Kee Dewdney, The (new) Turing Omnibus (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003)
You can have a quick look inside the book on the Amazon website if that helps, and some useful exercises are included at the end of chapters. Do try them!
As soon as you start reading about the Cambridge Computer Science course, you will notice that mathematics is a required subject to be studying at school (and Further Maths is recommended if you have the opportunity to take it). Fluency in maths is essential for computer scientists, not only for formal proofs, but also because maths is the language used to describe almost every aspect of the subject. A second good book is therefore:
Posted: 11 September 2015
Whether you are starting A Levels, Highers, the International Baccalaureate, Pre-U or another higher maths qualification, it might take a while to find your feet. NRICH Mathematics can help! Do look at the finding your feet resources and also explore the website to get a sense of what is there.
Posted: 10 September 2015
European Day of Languages (26 Sept)
Credit: Council of Europe
The European Day of Languages on 26 September is fast approaching, and offers a good opportunity to think about linguistic diversity and the advantages of learning to communicate in other languages and gain more direct access to and understanding of different cultures.
Amongst the website resources there are some fun and interesting facts and lists:
Language skills are in demand and can lead to a wide range of careers. They also allow you to persue a range of interets in your university degree - depending on your course choices, you may study linguistics, literature, film, history, politics, philosophy, sociology, art criticism, and religion, as you will be able to read and study texts of all kinds in the original form.
Inspired? Why not watch some of the films about languages courses at Cambridge: Modern and Medieval Languages; Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; Linguistics, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Classics, Theology and Religious Studies.
For quite a few of the essay courses at Cambridge, there are opportunities to work on a dissertation. This would normally be in the later years, and sometimes you can choose to write a dissertation to replace one of your exam papers (see the structure of your chosen course). As Fiona, one of our History students says, 'it’s a good way to spend time studying something that you’re particularly interested in, and to research material which has hardly been studied before'. Many students enjoy researching and writing their dissertation so much that they decide to go on to further research after their degree, and they apply for Masters and PhD courses.
Christ's College has produced a very interesting resource with accounts of what some current undergraduates are studying for their dissertations. Do visit their website to find out more:
King's students write about a typical day
Do you want to know what it's like to be a student at King's? King's College Student Union (KCSU) is keen to help you out - they are collecting short accounts written by current students of what it is like to study here. Do look at A Day In The Life Of.... and click on the subject you're most interested in, or start with Scott's general description of life as a fresher.
Did you find this useful? Then do also look a our King's Student Perspectives section for more student writing.
A level or IB Subject Choices
Pete - Thinking about your options?
If you’ve just received your GCSE results – congratulations! If you haven't started thinking seriously about what subjects to take at A level or IB, now is a good time to look at your options.
Some courses at university require certain subjects at A level or IB (or an equivalent qualification) and so it’s worth thinking about what kinds of course you might apply to, and even just whether you’re more interested in the sciences, humanities or the arts – or a combination of these!
Maybe you’re not sure at this stage what broader area you might want to study, or even what kinds of courses are on offer? King’s has put together some advice on choosing your subjects.
We also offer advice for students taking the International Baccalaureate on choosing subjects.
What else might be waiting to be discovered?
Toni Bray - Robin and his Bow
You might have read recently about a discovery by a PhD student at Leeds Trinity University which reveals a darker side to Robin Hood’s reputation in the eighteenth-century. Stephen Basdeo found the long forgotten work, Little John's Answer to Robin Hood and the Duke of Lancaster (1727), in the Special Collections of the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds after reading a footnote referring to the ballad, which had previously been assumed to be a plagiarism of a known work. The ballad is a satire of the first Prime Minister, Robert Walpole (1676-1745), in which the Duke of Lancaster attempts to expose Robin Hood’s corruption to King John. Stephen puts his discovery in context: “our favourite outlaw hero really emerges with a tarnished reputation in the text. He is not noble or gallant but simply a 'thief,' a 'vast cunning man,' who 'abuses his good king.'” This discovery shows that the famous outlaw was not always as popular with people in the past as he is today – and it has remained unchecked and unanalysed all these years!
There may well be Special Collections near you, either in your town library, a nearby university library, or connected to a local museum or heritage site.
King’s College Library has its own Special Collections, as well as the Archive Centre which offers an online introduction to archival research.
What next? A Year in Industry, perhaps?
The Year in Industry (YINI) team helps post-A Level / Higher / Advanced Higher and undergraduate students to find work placements in the UK in all areas of engineering, science, IT, e-commerce, business, marketing, finance, logistics and more.
Have you received AS Level results today?
If you're receiving your AS level results today - congratulations! If you haven't started thinking seriously about applying to university this year, now is a good time to look at your options.
If you're thinking of applying to Cambridge for the first time today, don't worry - there's still time! The application deadline for UK students applying through UCAS is the 15th of October, and the King's website offers lots of advice to students thinking of applying. Whether it's what courses Cambridge offers, choosing a subject and what subjects to pursue to full A-level, or how to apply to Cambridge with limited support and advice from your school, we're here to help.
As there are a couple of weeks of the summer holiday left, you might want to check out our page on developing your academic interests. We hope you'll take some well-earned rest, but now is a great opportunity to spend some time thinking around and outside of your subject. Browsing some of the other posts on this page might give you some ideas.
If you have any questions please don't hesitate to contact us.
NB: Students taking the International Baccalaureate, Pre-U, or other linear qualifications won’t have any public examination results in Year 12 or equivalent. That’s absolutely fine; we can assess your application without them. Please do submit a high school transcript so that we can take all your academic achievements to date into account, including any internal assessments. See the King’s advice on compiling and submitting your transcript.
The Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford currently holds 11,746,808 printed items, 25,314 miles of archives and manuscripts, and 1,250,000 maps. The newly launched Digital.Bodleian aims to open some of this extraordinary collection to users from around the world for learning, teaching, and research.
You can now browse...
... among many other collections.
The Cambridge University Library has its own Cambridge Digital Library. Most recently, a first selection of items from the Royal Commonwealth Society Library and the entire Lewis-Gibson collection of medieval Jewish manuscripts has been added to the online collection.
Inside the Ethics Committee
To study Medicine at Cambridge, you not only need to be a keen scientist, with a sound scientific understanding, but also have the potential to become a good doctor. The Clinical School believes that one of the key qualities of a Medical student is 'a sound appreciation of ethical, legal and community issues.' BBC Radio 4's Inside the Ethics Committee gives you an insight into some of these issues. In each programme, the presenter Joan Bakewell is joined by a panel of experts to wrestle with the ethics arising from a real-life medical case. In recent weeks, they've asked:
- should a surgeon agree to a young woman's request to amputate her leg? (Thursday 16 July)
- how far should a medical team go to prevent a young woman from ending her life? (Thursday 23 July)
- is it ever ethical to withhold food and water in a child who is not dying? (Thursday 30 July)
- should a medical team accept a teenager's choice to refuse chemo? (Thursday 6 August)
How would you wrestle with these dilemmas?
What maths and physics is needed for Engineering?
We've tried to be as clear as possible about the material you need to be familiar with to make a strong application. Credit: Dean Hochman
To thrive on the Engineering or Chemical Engineering via Engineering course, it is essential to have a very strong foundation in Mathematics and Physics (both are required school subjects).
We know that sometimes it can feel a bit difficult to know exactly what is needed and how to prepare as an applicant for a course that you start new at university. Depending on your school qualifications, you may also be concerned about differences in maths and physics syllabuses. We've provided some detailed advice at the link below - we hope that you will find it useful:
Do you live too far away to visit Cambridge?
Different people need different facilities. This is one of the treadmills in the King's Vaults gym.
It is not unusual to make a successful application without ever having set foot in Cambridge. Don't worry if it is not practical for you to visit as there is no requirement to do so.
Since we welcome applicants who live a long way from Cambridge, we do our best to ensure that all the infomation that you need to make a strong application is on our website (see the relevant subject page and how to apply in particular), as well as virtual tours and the life and facilities sections so that you can get a sense of King's as a place:
We also have a dedicated page for if you don't feel very well supported for your application, and the student perspectives are particularly useful (if you read five or six of these, you'll have a very good sense of what studying at King's is like).
The University has made some films which you may also find useful:
Robinson college is setting some interesting questions for Year 12 students to discuss (with reference to any academic discipline or area of interest) for its annual Essay Prize:
- 'Science has made us Gods even before we are worthy of being men.'
- 'Poetry is the art of uniting pleasure with truth.'
- 'The real purpose of books is to trap the mind into doing its own thinking.'
- 'Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagingation.'
- 'It's in literature that true life can be found. It's under the mask of fiction that you can tell the truth.'
If you would like to write an essay for this competition, the deadline is 1 August 2015. Do read the full information on Robinson College's website.
Extract from Sartre's 'La nausée'
Here's an extract from Sartre's La nausée for those who are studying French at an advanced level - see how you get on with it. Can you describe the ideas that the narrator conveys? Can you pick out a few key sentences? Which words, phrases or grammatical constructions are new to you?
Quand on vit, il n'arrive rien. Les décors changent, les gens entrent et sortent, voilà tout. Il n'y a jamais de commencements. Les jours s'ajoutent aux jours sans rime ni raison, c'est une addition interminable et monotone. De temps en temps, on fait un total partiel : on dit : voilà trois ans que je voyage, trois ans que je suis à Bouville. Il n'y a pas de fin non plus : on ne quitte jamais une femme, un ami, une ville en une fois. Et puis tout se ressemble : Shanghaï, Moscou, Alger, au bout d'une quinzaine, c'est tout pareil. Par moments — rarement — on fait le point, on s'aperçoit qu'on s'est collé avec une femme, engagé dans une sale histoire. Le temps d'un éclair. Après ça le défilé recommence, on se remet à faire l'addition des heures et des jours. Lundi, mardi, mercredi. Avril, mai, juin. 1924, 1925, 1926.
Ça, c'est vivre. Mais quand on raconte la vie, tout change; seulement c'est un changement que personne ne remarque : la preuve c'est qu'on parle d'histoires vraies. Comme s'il pouvait y avoir des histoires vraies ; les événements se produisent dans un sens et nous les racontons en sens inverse. On a l'air de débuter par le commencement : « C'était par un beau soir de l'automne de 1922. J'étais clerc de notaire à Marommes. » Et en réalité c'est par la fin qu'on a commencé. Elle est là, invisible et présente, c'est elle qui donne à ces quelques mots la pompe et la valeur d'un commencement. « Je me promenais, j'étais sorti du village sans m'en apercevoir, je pensais à mes ennuis d'argent. » Cette phrase, prise simplement pour ce qu'elle est, veut dire que le type était absorbé, morose, à cent lieues d'une aventure, précisément dans ce genre d'humeur où on laisse passer les événements sans les voir. Mais la fin est là, qui transforme tout. Pour nous, le type est déjà le héros de l'histoire. Sa morosité, ses ennuis d'argent sont bien plus précieux que les nôtres, ils sont tout dorés par la lumière des passions futures. Et le récit se poursuit à l'envers : les instants ont cessé de s'empiler au petit bonheur les uns sur les autres, ils sont happés par la fin de l'histoire qui les attire et chacun d'eux attire à son tour l'instant qui le précède : « Il faisait nuit, la rue était déserte. » La phrase est jeté négligemment, elle a l'air superflue; mais nous ne nous y laissons pas prendre et nous la mettons de côte : c'est un renseignement dont nous comprendrons la valeur par la suite. Et nous avons le sentiment que le héros a vécu tous les détails de cette nuit comme les annonciations, comme les promesses, ou même qu'il vivait seulement ceux qui étaient des promesses, aveugle et sourd pour tout ce qui n'annonçait pas l'aventure. Nous n'oublions que l'avenir n'était pas encore là; le type se promenait dans une nuit sans présages, qui lui offrait pêle-mêle ses richesses monotones et il ne choisissait pas.
J'ai voulu que les moments de ma vie se suivent et s'ordonnent comme ceux d'une vie qu'on rappelle. Autant vaudrait tenter d'attraper le temps par la queue.
Jean-Paul Sartre, La nausée (Gallimard, 1938) pp. 62-64.
What do Cambridge scientists read?
Do you enjoy literature and science? Are these interests compatible? Do you think that fictional works can be useful and interesting to scientists? Or is fiction too different to science?
As you think about these questions, here's a series of films in which Cambridge scientists talk about fictional texts that have inspired or helped them in various ways.
Article on the Novel Thoughts series.
Basic Science: understanding numbers from the Open University is a four week course beginning on 6 July. The course explains how you can use numbers to describe the natural world and make sense of everything from atoms to oceans.
Here's an opportunity to explore and develop your academic interests this Summer, whatever your subject, wherever you live.
FutureLearn offers free online courses, developed by leading universities and cultural institutions. For example, beginning next week (29 June) you could explore Literature of the English Country House with the University of Sheffield, or deploy Real World Calculus with the University of Sheffield.
We're sometimes asked for advice about what prospective students should read.
If you are looking for reading suggestions (particularly as you approach the summer, when you may have a bit more time), you may find the reading lists for all subjects in the offer-holders' section useful. Depending on your subject, you will find useful book sugestions or problem-solving websites and other advice. These 'lists' can be particularly useful if you don't know where to start, or if you'll be studying a subject at Cambridge that you don't already study at school, such as Human, Social and Political Sciences, Law, Philosophy, Engineering, Linguistics, Medicine or Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic.
- Be yourself and follow your interests
None of the Cambridge courses have books that you have to read before you apply, so if you've already found some material that you're finding interesting and engaging, and is developing your academic interests, don't stop!
- Make a few brief notes
Making a list of the points that interest you, or any thoughts on the arguments you encounter, is a good thing to do as you read if you can (even if you keep them very brief). This will help you to remember the most important points, and also to notice where your interests lie.
- Explain to somebody else
Are you taking it in? A good way to ensure that you've understood something is to try to explain it to somebody else. Do you have any friends or relatives who might be interested in what you're reading? If you can explain the main points in an idea to somebody who does not know about the subject, that is normally a good sign that you've got it clear in your own head!
Try to avoid:
- Being daunted
The lists we provide are meant to be helpful for those looking for suggestions. We're not trying to overwhelm you. Just like the kinds of suggestions you get from supervisors and lecturers when you're studying at Cambridge, some of the subject lists are quite long so that you can pick and choose according to your interests. Don't be put off by this!
- The tick-box approach
The important point about your reading is not which books you've read but what you get out of them. So our advice is: don't rush to read as many books as possible in order to tick them off a reading list. It is much more important that you take time to enjoy the material and think about it. Remember that the best things to mention on the personal statement or your UCAS application form are the things that genuinely interest you.
Isaac Physics Partnership - resources and events
The Isaac Physics Partnership provides resources to offer support and activities in physics problem-solving to students (and teachers) working from GCSE (Year 11), through sixth form (Years 12 & 13), and to university.
The partnership also runs free UK events (funded by the Department for Education) for AS and A2 Physics and Maths education. Here is a list of forthcoming events - do click on the links below for details and booking.
- SOUTH GLOUCESTERSHIRE: Problem Solving with Vectors
4pm - 6.15pm Monday 22 June
Winterbourne International Academy, The High Street, Winterbourne, BS36 1JL
- LINCOLNSHIRE: Problem Solving with Vectors
1pm - 3.30pm Wednesday 24th June
King Edward VI Grammar School, Edward Street, Louth, LN11 9LL
- KENT: Problem Solving with Vectors
11.30am - 3.15pm Tuesday 7th July
Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Abbey Place, Faversham, ME13 7QB
SURREY: Problem Solving with Vectors
9.15am - 12.30pm Monday 6th July
Royal Grammar School, High Street, Guildford, GU1 3BB
- LONDON: Problem Solving with Vectors
9am - 12 midday Thursday 2nd July
St Paul's School, Lonsdale Road, London, SW13 9JT
- CAMBRIDGESHIRE: Problem Solving with Exponentials
4pm - 5.45pm, Thursday 18 June
The Perse School, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 8QF
Introduction to Archives
Rupert Brooke in uniform, at Blandford, Dorset. 1914. Archive Centre, King’s College, Cambridge. RCB/Ph/262
Why not access and use primary sources to explore and develop your academic interests this Summer?
King's College Archive Centre has developed an Introduction to Archives, using the papers of King's student and First World War poet Rupert Brooke as a case study.
The website is divided into two parts:
- Introduction to archives: What archives are, the key principles of archival research and how to access primary sources (sections 1-6).
- Rupert Brooke case study: How these ideas apply to the papers of Rupert Brooke, through interpretation activities focussing on different aspects of his life and a few of his most famous poems (sections 7-10).
Once you've worked through the online resources, you'll be ready to visit an archive near you to do some research of your own.
Year 12 STEP Correspondence Course
The University's STEP Correspondence Course is recruiting a new intake to start in September 2015.
You are eligible to apply if you are:
- currently in year 12
- attending a state-maintained school, college or academy in the UK
- studying (this year or next year) Further Mathematics A-level, or something equivalent
- intending to study Mathematics at a university that requires or recommends STEP
The deadline for applications is Friday 3 July 2015.
If selected, you will be expected to complete fortnightly assignments and will receive personalised feedback on each assignment.
Click here for more info and to sign up.
Economics: Maths is important!
Mathematical techniques are an essential tool for Economics. Credit: Horia Varlan
To thrive on the Cambridge Economics course, you need to enjoy (and be good at!) Mathematics at school and have an interest in applying mathematical and statistical tools to economic problems. The first year at Cambridge includes a compulsory course in Quantative Mathods that covers Maths and Statistics (you can read the paper description if you'd like to).
When you look at the course requirements for the Cambridge Economics course, you will notice that Mathematics is a required subject (you can't apply without it). Depending on what qualifications you are applying with, this may be A level Mathematics (there are multiple exam boards), IB Higher Level Mathematics, an Advanced Higher in Mathematics from the Scottish system, Pre-U Mathematics, Advanced Placement Calculus BC if you're taking US qualifications, or Mathematics up to your final year in one of the many other qualifications that we can admit you with.
In A level terms, you are presumed to have mastered the material in modules C1 - C4 by the end of your school maths course, and you will find it easier to tackle the Quantitative Methods course if you have taken module S1. If you don't know what we're talking about, the topics are set out at the top of page 2 in the paper description, or you could always have a look at an A level syllabus specification to compare the content with the maths you've been doing.
If you have the opportunity to take Further Mathematics, that would be very helpful once you start the course, especially the Pure and Statistical options (rather than Mechanics or Decisions Maths).
Sample questions resource
We know that it can be tricky (especially if you're not studying for A levels) to work out if your mathematical skills will give you a good preparation for Economics at Cambridge. The Director of Studies at King's has prepared some sample mathematical and analytical questions for you to look at. If you work through these questions, we hope that this will give you a good sense of the kind of mathematical and analytical skills that we will be looking for when we consider you for a place.
For more information, do read the Economics course information and the reading, resources and events section on the page about studying Economics here at King's College!
Mathematics for Biologists and Chemists
Undergraduate Biologists and Chemists will find they need some mathematics in order to access and make the most of their science. Natural Scientists at Cambridge can choose between three first year Mathematics courses: Mathematics (usually taken by those specialising in Physical Sciences), Mathematical Biology (usually taken by those specialising in Biological Sciences), and Elementary Mathematics for Biologists (designed for Biological Scientists who did not take A Level Mathematics or equivalent).
Our Natural Scientists explain that 'knowledge of mathematics is essential for all scientists; it is the language with which we formulate theories and natural laws and express our ideas.' But what can you do to gain fluency in mathematics? They advise you to 'practise thinking mathematically in non-routine contexts.'
Luminarium - a website for students with a curiosity for English Literature
If you're interested in studying English at Cambridge, we recommend that you try to read material from a number of different periods if you can, as the course will introduce you to the full range of literature from the Middle Ages to the present day.
If you want to explore what you could read from some of the earlier periods and are wondering what you might enjoy, why not spend some time browsing the Luminarium website? It's an anthology of English Literature with particularly well-developed sections for Medieval Middle English Literature (1350-1485), Renaissance Literature (1485-1603), Early 17th Century Literature (1603-1660), and Restoration & 18th Century Literature (1660-1785).
Here's a poem by Henry Vaughan (1621-1695) to get you started:
False life! a foil and no more, when
Wilt thou be gone?
Thou foul deception of all men,
That would not have the true come on!
Thou art a moon-like toil ; a blind
Self-posing state ;
A dark contest of waves and wind ;
A mere tempestuous debate.
Life is a fix'd, discerning light,
A knowing joy ;
No chance, or fit : but ever bright,
And calm, and full, yet doth not cloy.
'Tis such a blissful thing, that still
And shine and smile, and hath the skill
To please without eternity.
Thou art a toilsome mole, or less,
A moving mist.
But life is, what none can express,
A quickness, which my God hath kiss'd.
For poem and source, see Luminarium. The poet page has further resources including book recommendations.
Language-learning: Essay Competition
Are you interested in how language works? If so, you might like to consider working on an entry for Trinity College's Essay Competition, which invites students in Year 12* to think about the following topic:
‘A child exposed to two languages from birth and an adult moving into a country where another language is dominant will both be faced with the challenge and opportunity of becoming bilingual. Discuss the similarities and differences in the processes and outcomes of language learning for these two types of learner.’
You don't have to be studying any particular subjects to enter, but it's a good chance to see if you enjoy working on topics in the broad area of Linguistics. Full details of the competition and how to enter are available on the Trinity College website, and the deadline for entries is 1 August 2015.
*Year 12 is the academic year before students sit A level exams, the International Baccalaureate or equivalent qualifications.
History of Art with the Tate
Tate galleries host the national collection of British art from 1500 to the present day, along with international modern and contemporary art.
If you'd like an introduction to the History of Art, or an opportunity to explore and develop your existing interests in the field, try their free online courses.
If you have the opportunity, visit the Tate:
The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art offer similar free online resources.
City Health Check: How design can save lives and money
How can the design of a city impact on public health?
1. Write a few ideas of your own down first of all!
2. Compare your ideas with what the researchers found when they investigated this question in nine cities in England. What link did they find between city design and health in Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield?
The information is in the City Health Check RIBA article (the report itself is available to download at the end).
3. What about other cities? If you live near a different city or know one well, what would you say about it's design and the health of the people who live there? What changes would you make, if any?
Problem-solving: Moon orbit around the earth
Do you want to be really good at problem-solving? The key is to get plenty of practice.
Here is one of the problems from i-want-to-study-engineering.org, a practice website designed for students who plan to apply for Engineering at top universities:
- the average distance between the earth and the moon is 3.8 x 108 m,
- on average, it takes the moon 29 days to go round the earth,
- the approximate value of the universal gravitational constant
G= 6.7 x 10-11m3kg-1s-2.
estimate the mass of the earth.
Is the answer:
- approximately 5 x 1023kg?
- approximately 6 x 1024kg?
- approximately 7 x 1025kg?
- approximately 42kg?
- None of the above?
For hints, topic information and answers, see the problem page itself, or for more problems (there are more than 200 available), see the problem index.
Spotlight on HSPS: Archaeology
Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge offers a unique range of related disciplines, which can be studied in many combinations, or with a concentration on a single discipline: you can work on Politics and International Relations, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology and / or Sociology. Many (or all) of these subjects will be new to you, so how do you know what's involved?
As the course website explains, Archaeology is the study of the human past. Archaeologists investigate the origins of our species, document the diversity of ancient cultures, and explore the emergence of the first cities and empires. Archaeologists study material remains (from stone tools to monuments) and settlements (from villages to cities) to answer questions including: How did tool use affect evolution of the modern human brain? What can the earliest art tell us about interaction and cognition of early humans? How did daily life change with domestication of plants and animals? What are the sources of social inequality? When - and why - did leadership emerge? How did early empires encompass such vast territories, and why were their rulers so powerful?
Specialist courses in Ayssyriology (the study of Mesopotamia) and Egpytology are also available as part of the HSPS degree.
Find out more:
New Stone Circle Discovered on Dartmoor
The newly discovered stone circle dates from the same Neolithic Age as Stonehenge, and may be even older. Image credit: Howard Ignatius
The discovery of the first stone circle on Dartmoor in more than a century has been confirmed. A preliminary excavation by volunteers from the Dartmoor Preservation Association has revealed a ring of 30 stones, each 1.5 metres tall, with a diameter of 34 metres, near Sittaford Tor. The stones are believed to complete a chain of eight stone circles that forms a ten-mile crescent across the northeast of the moor. The stones have lain undisturbed since they fell about 4,000 years ago during the Neolithic period. This will give archaeologists the first chance to excavate a stone circle on Dartmoor since the Victorian era, using the newest techniques and technology. The newly recorded 'Sittaford Circle' has already been added to this Guide to Dartmoor Stone Circles.
If you live in or near Devon...
... if you live further afield:
You can study Archaeology at Cambridge within our Human Social and Political Sciences degree course, whether you choose to focus on Archaeology from the beginning, or study it alongside related disciplines such as Social Anthropology and Biological Anthropology.
Bite the Ballot? Voting Age and Youth Political Participation
Would voting online increase youth participation? Image credit: Martin Bamford
Today is polling day in the United Kingdom General Election 2015.
The Electoral Commission will fill you in on who is eligible to vote. For those who are registered to vote, they advise on how to vote today.
How old should you be to vote? 18, as in UK General Elections, or 16, as in the Scottish Independence Referendum?
Younger people remain less likely to vote than older people. Does it matter? How can youth political participation be boosted? Should we even try?
UK Supreme Court: see justice done
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United Kingdom; it is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases and in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland for criminal cases:
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) is housed in the same building and formed in part by the Supreme Court Justices. It is the highest court of appeal for many current and former Commonwealth countries, as well as the United Kingdom’s overseas territories, crown dependencies, and military sovereign base areas:
The Supreme Court and the JCPC have been live streaming their hearings for some time. Today, they have launched an on-demand archive of past hearings, which is expected to hold as many as 150 courtroom hearings and 900 hours of recordings at any one time.
You can also:
STEP Online Resources
Six-pointed star. Credit: Ken
A pilot correspondence course started in January 2015 for Year 12 students who plan to take STEP Mathematics papers in Year 13. It is intended for students who would not otherwise receive much help with STEP.
The assignments (and their 'postmortems') are being published online as the course progresses. Each assignment starts with some warm-up exercises. Then there is some preparatory work leading to a STEP question. Finally, there is an unrelated warm-down exercise.
If you will apply for Mathematics or Computer Science with Maths (STEP is only set for the 'with Maths' option), do have a look at the STEP Correspondence Resources website.
Further STEP resources including information about the popular NRICH STEP preparation course online are available in this previous post.
Spotlight on HSPS: Biological and Social Anthropology
Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge offers a unique range of related disciplines, which can be studied in many combinations, or with a concentration on a single discipline: you can work on Politics and International Relations, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology and / or Sociology. Many (or all) of these subjects will be new to you, so how do you know what's involved?
Biological Anthropology is a field which explores human biology and evolution. With an emphasis on the interaction between biology and culture, it sits firmly between the social and biological sciences. Biological anthropologists study human origins and diversity in present and past populations in the context of their culture, behaviour, life-style, morphological and molecular variation. What aspects of our biology and behaviour are uniquely human and what do we share with other species? Why is there so little genetic variation among humans across the world? Are we still evolving and why has natural selection not eradicated disease? Can a statistical test save lives?
Social Anthropology addresses the really big question – what does it mean to be human? – by taking as its subject matter the full range of human social and cultural diversity: the amazingly varied ways that people live, think and relate to each other in every part of the world. What does this diversity tell us about the fundamental bases and possibilities of human social and political life? Can it help us to comprehend the sheer unpredictability of how contemporary global changes manifest themselves in people's lives across the world?
Find out more:
Explore the History of Science
At Cambridge, you can study the History and Philosophy of Science as an optional paper in the second year of Natural Sciences, Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, or Human, Social and Political Sciences if you choose to. If you choose this option, you will benefit from the world-class collection of scientific instruments and models at the Whipple Museum of the History of Science, one of the university's teaching collections.
Use the Whipple Explore website to delve into the collection:
If you have chance to visit Cambridge (perhaps in the summer?) and would like to see some of these items and much more in person, remember that admission to the Whipple Museum is free of charge. See the opening times and location (it's just a couple of minutes from King's!).
Spotlight on HSPS: Sociology
Human, Social, and Political Sciences (HSPS) at Cambridge offers a unique range of related disciplines, which can be studied in many combinations, or with a concentration on a single discipline: you can work on Politics and International Relations, Social Anthropology, Biological Anthropology, Archaeology and / or Sociology. Many (or all) of these subjects will be new to you, so how do you know what's involved?
Sociology is the study of modern societies and how they are changing today. Ever wonder why nationalism is such a powerful force in the modern world? Why there are protests, riots, and uprisings? Why Europe is in crisis? Why politicians are not trusted? Why Africa is so poor? Why racism persists? Why same-sex marriage causes such controversy? How globalization is changing our lives? Whether societies could ever be more just? Then Sociology is the subject for you.
- Do some introductory reading:
ELECTION - The Cambridge Politics Podcast
Spot the First Minister?! Nicola Sturgeon campaigning in Edinburgh on 3 April 2015. Image credit: hockadilly
Can democracy adapt to our strained political system? Who (if anyone) will ‘win’ in 2015? What can the lessons of the past teach us about the future?
David Runciman, Head of the Department of Politics and International Studies here in Cambridge, puts these questions and more to philosophers, historians, scientists, and political thinkers in a weekly podcast in the run-up to the general election.
In recent weeks, he's talked to:
The ELECTION team publish a new episode every Wednesday.
#CambTweet Q&A: Saturday 21 March
A message from Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) to all prospective students:
Interested in a quick, easy way to find out what life is really like as a student at the universities of Oxford or Cambridge? Here's one that won't even involve you leaving your computer - it's on Twitter! #CambTweet and #OxTweet are student-run Twitter-based schemes: student volunteers tweet daily about their lives at the universities - everything from what and how they’re studying to getting involved with clubs/societies and hanging out with friends. This Saturday (21 March) from 9-10pm, we are running a joint online Question and Answer session: many of our volunteers will be online especially to answer your questions about becoming and being a university student, so if something is on your mind that you want answered, tweet us with it!
CUSU also publish an Alternative Prospectus.
Cambridge Chemistry Challenge Online
Are you a Year 12 (or equivalent) student interested in stretching your Chemistry skills? Then have a look at the monthly challenges in the Cambridge Chemistry Challenge!
In addition, if you live in the UK and want to take the annual challenge paper (a 90 minute written paper which you take at your school or college in June), there is information about this on the UK lower 6th (Year 12) competition page.
Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Architecture
Scottish Architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh is one of the leading figures of late 19th and early 20th Century architecture. The majority of his buildings are located in Glasgow (Scotland) and the surrounding area.
Hwæt! We Gar-Dena in gear-dagum, þeod-cyninga, þrym gefrunon, hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon!
(Arguably translated into modern English as "Listen! We have heard of the might of the Kings.")
Are you interested in early languages? Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English, the language spoken in Anglo-Saxon England before the Norman Conquest. More than 3,000 lines long, Beowulf relates the exploits of its eponymous hero, and his successive battles with monsters.
You can study Beowulf, among other Old English texts, as part of our Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic degree course, which centres on early and Medieval languges and history.
Bookings are now open for the Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic Year 12 masterclass on 21 March. The next Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic departmental Open Day will take place on 24 June 2015.
Converse: the literature website
Chaucher's The Canterbury Tales in a modern age. Image credit: david_jones
Would you like to broaden and deepen your experience of literature, perhaps with the thought of studying English at university?
Try the Converse website, which is packed full of resources developed by the University of Cambridge's English Faculty in collaboration with teachers and schools.
You'll find resources to support you in your GCSE studies, your A Level studies, or in researching and making an application to study English or a related discipline at university.
What is infinity?
Have you ever wondered about infinity? What it is? If it really exists? If it's countable?
If so, you might be interested to read this article on infinity by Marianne Freiberger from Plus Magazine, and if you enjoy that, there's more material on the subject in this infinity package.
Economics essay competition
The Royal Economic Society runs an annual competition for students studying Economics at school, with questions based on key elements of your syllabus.
You may find the questions set for this year's competition interesting to think about:
- "Countries like Greece caused the Eurozone crisis by running up too much debt, so it is only fair that they should bear most of the burden of fixing it." Discuss.
- Should the Government support manufacturing? If so, how?
- Should raising GDP be the primary objective of economic policy?
- "The rising gap between rich and poor is not just bad for society, it is bad for growth." Discuss.
- Should "fracking" be allowed? If so, who should benefit?
- "It is immoral for the drug companies to charge large sums for drugs that are cheap to manufacture." Discuss.
- "High saving promotes faster growth. So having more savers in the global economy should be good for our long term prosperity."
- "Does the economic case favour a new airport runway at Heathrow, Gatwick or elsewhere?"
You may also find it useful to look at the essay titles and winning entries from previous years (bottom of the page).
If you are studying Economics and are interested in entering an essay for this competition, do ensure that you read the full details and entry criteria on the Royal Economic Society website before you start work. The deadline for entry is Monday 30 June 2015.
AntarcticGlaciers.org is a very useful and interesting website on the the science of Antarctic glaciology written by Dr Bethan Davies from Royal Holloway, University of London. Here is the introduction:
Antarctic glaciers are beautiful and awe-inspiring. They affect us through their connections with the ocean and sea level, and environmental change is having rapid consequences in Antarctica.
Antarctica is the world’s largest ice sheet, covering ~14,000,000 km2. Much of the ice sheet surface lies above 3000 m above sea level. This massive thickness of ice drowns whole mountain ranges, and numerous volcanoes exist underneath the icey exterior. It’s the world’s fifth largest continent, and it is, on average, the highest and coldest continent. Antarctica also provides a unique record of the Earth’s past climate, through the geomorphological record of glacier moraines, through ice cores, through deep sea sediment cores, and through past records of sea level rise.
If you would like to find out more about this fascinating topic, do explore the AntarcticGlaciers.org website, which includes information about different types of glacier, ice shelves, and ice streams as well as the section on glaciers and climate. There is a lot of material that you'll enjoy browsing, and if you are taking A level Geography, this section helps you to find the relevant material for different parts of your course. You can also ask questions here.
GeomLab resource for Computer Science
If you are interested in studying Computer Science at university, do have a look at the University of Oxford's GeomLab resource.
Through guided activities, GeomLab will introduce you to some of the most important ideas in computer programming.
Legal History: 1215 and all that
Magna Carta, 1215. Image credit: anselor
"To no one will we sell, to no one deny, or delay right or justice."
This week, the British Library marked the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta by bringing together the four remaining original documents for the first time. Radio 4's Law in Action recorded a special programme at the exhibition. Presenter Joshua Rosenberg asked a former Lord Chief Justice, a current lawyer, and the Head of Mediaeval Manuscripts at the British Library:
- how much of our current law actually comes from the Magna Carta?
- how much of its legacy is little more than myth?
- to what extent are the protections attributed to Magna Carta under threat?
How can legal history enrich our knowledge and understanding of the law? Roman Law has been taught at Cambridge for over seven hundred years. Indeed, Civil (Roman) Law I is a compulsory paper for all our first years. Dr. Matthew Dyson explains why it remains important and offers a sample supervision sheet. Second and third years can choose to take a further paper in legal history.
A Good Read?
How do you make the reading you do in your own time count? One way to help yourself think independently and engage critically with your reading is to start or join a reading group. Take your inspiration from Radio 4's A Good Read, where the presenter and her two guests each choose a book they've enjoyed reading, introducing it to and discussing it with the others. Why not swap recommendations with a friend and meet to discuss your responses to each other's choice?
Law Essay Competition
Trinity College has an annual Robert Walker essay competition open to students in Year 12 or Year 13 (the final two years of school).
The title set for this year's competition is:
"Should people be able to sell their bodily organs (e.g., their kidney(s) or liver)?"
If working on this question appeals to you, do ensure that you read the competition details on the Trinity College website. The deadline for entries is Monday 20 April 2015.
Essay competitions can be a good opportunity to get your teeth into an interesting and relevant question and to develop your research and argument skills. You will see in the competition details that the assessors will be looking at a range of factors, including how well your argument is sustained, the quality of your language, and how well you have used appropriate supporting material and facts in evidence for your arguments. Of course, these are questions it is worth asking yourself about all of your written work, whether for a competition or not!
Holocaust Memorial Day 2015: Keeping the Memory Alive
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, which remembers the victims of genocide across time and countries. 27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps. 2015 is especially significant, since it is the 70th anniversary since the liberation of Auschwitz and the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Srebenica, Bosnia. This year's theme, Keeping the Memory Alive, asks us to reflect on the relationship between history and memory: how does one alter the other? What does it mean to memorialise the past and how shall we do it?
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust defines genocide and documents and commemorates the following cases:
Young Hartlepudlians will be Keeping the Memory Alive with a memorial at Avenue Ballroom in Lauder Street from 6.30pm to 8.30pm on Tuesday 27 January. The event is free and open to all, but booking is required, so please contact Beth Storey on 01429 523900.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust's Youth Champion Programme allows you to further research and reflect on the Holocaust and subsequent genocides and supports you in organising an event of your own.
The Anne Frank Trust UK remembers the Holocaust, and challenges prejudice and reduces hatred today, by drawing on Anne Frank's life and diary. You can visit the Trust's History for Today exhibition in York Minster from 26 January to 1 February.
BBC Taking Liberties Season
The Houses of Parliament, Westminster. Image credit: Treye Rice
2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The BBC is leading commemorations with its Taking Liberties season of programmes on Britain's democracy: past, present, and future.
Ask yourself: are the democratic freedoms manifest in the Magna Carta or the de Montfort Parliament real or imagined, either then or now?
Cambridge GCSE Computing Online
The OCR Exam Board, the Raspberry Pi Foundation, and Cambridge University Press offer a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) based on the Cambridge GCSE Computing curriculum. The course is free, open to all, and offers an introduction to how computers work, how they are used, and develops computer programming and problem-solving skills. Whilst completion of the course does not lead to a GCSE qualification, you will receive a 'Statement of Participation' to record your achievement. Find out more on the Cambridge GCSE Computing Online website, beginning with their FAQs.
Going deeper into Mathematics
If you like (or dislike!) mathematics, what is it about the subject that makes you feel this way? What does studying mathematics at unviersity level involve, and how can you work out if you will enjoy it?
We advise students who are curious about maths (and subjects related to maths) to read the following explanation of rich mathematics:
If the kind of maths that makes you think and encourages you to go deeper inside the subject appeals to you, make sure you explore the NRICH Mathematics website:
- Stage 5 material is for students in the last two years of school (normally aged 16-18).
- Stage 4 material is for students in Year 10 and Year 11 (normally aged 14-16)
- If you have a particular interest, you may also find the curriculum content section helpful
- Or have a go at some of the live problems and see if you can get your solution published!
Year 12 Science / Medicine Essay Competition
- How has astronomy benefited society?
- Suppose you could create a new checmical element. What physical and chemical properties would you ascribe to it, and what uses could this element be put to?
- If you could take one item, which must fit in your pocket, back to the year 1800 with the goal of advancing science or medicine, what would it be and what would you do with it?
- Is it more important to save tropical forests or the world's oceans? Why?
- How far is it to the moon?
- "Free health care at the point of delivery trivialises the service." Discuss.
These are the questions that Peterhouse College is asking Year 12 students to think about for this year's Kelvin Science Prize. If you are interested in researching and writing one of these essays, please read the information carefully on the Peterhouse College website (see especially the Kelvin Science Prize pdf here, which contains full details of the questions and how to enter). The deadline is 20 March 2015.
History Virtual Classroom
What role can a historical novel play in the study of History?
Credit: Martha Garvey
If you enjoy studying History and want to know more about what it is like at university level, make sure that you have a look at the History Faculty's virtual classroom:
The French Revolution: Tearing up History
The death of Marat. Credit: paukrus (cropped)
There's an interesting documentary on BBC iplayer, which explores the history of the French Revoution through the story of its art.
The programme is presented by Dr Richard Clay, Senior Lecturer in History of Art at the University of Birmingham.
What is the Earth made of? What processes shape and change it? What's happened to it in the past 4.5 billion years, and how do we know? What will happen to the Earth's climate in the future? The Cambridge Department of Earth Sciences has released a very useful introductory film:
If you'd like to find out more about physical and biological aspects of the Earth, here are two books that provide a good way into the subject:
Earth Sciences is just one of the many options available in the Cambridge Natural Sciences course, and no previous knowledge in geology or geography is required. You can combine it with your interests in other sciences, and you can specialise in it if you later choose to. Do explore the Department of Earth Sciences website for more detail.
Year 12 Politics and International Relations Essay Competition
Here is some food for thought from an essay competition set by Corpus Christi College:
- Is economic globalisation helping or hurting democracy in the world?
- Are most citizens knowledgeable enough to vote in their own interest at the ballot box?
- Should democracies try to promote regional stability in their foreign policies even if that means supporting authorotarian regimes?
- Is it desirable to limit the effects of money on politics even if doing so inhibits freedom of political expression?
- Would eliminating all nuclear weapons make the world a safer or more dangerous place?
Which question do you find most interesting? What approach would you take? Can you think of /research some examples to draw on?
If you are in Year 12 (the penultimate year of school in the UK) and would like to enter the competition itself, please see the details (the deadline is 15 February 2015). Further essay competitions are available in Law, English, Theology and Computer Science.
Preparing for interviews
We recommend that you explore topics that interest you further (there are a lot of ways to do this).
We interview most (but not all) students who apply for a place at Cambridge. The interviews are with subject specialists who ask you academic questions to explore your potential for the course you have applied for.
How do you prepare for a Cambridge interview? Here are some tips:
Long-term preparation (before you apply)
- If you enjoy learning, the good news is that you shouldn't need to change anything significant to prepare for interviews at Cambridge. The most important thing you can do is to develop your academic interests (which you're likely to find that you've already been doing!)
- Find a Cambridge course that genuinely interests you so that you have natural curiosity and enjoy developing your skills and finding out more.
- Look at the resources section on the relevant subject page for specific suggestions (e.g. Engineering), but also feel free to follow your own interests or use other resources and books that you find helpful.
- Understand that Cambridge interviewers will be interested in your academic interests and how you think and work, not only what you know. The interviews are academic interviews, designed to test this. This film shows what Cambridge interviews are about.
Short-term preparation (after you have applied)
- See this advice and our interview guidelines.
- Watch Film 1 and Film 2 to get a sense of what will happen if you are invited for interview.
- Carry on developing your academic interests. Use the resources section on the relevant subject page if you are looking for suggestions.
- Don't neglect your normal school work - if you are currently at school, we know how busy you are, and you can develop your interests within your school curriculum by putting your best into your homework assignments. Remember that most of your interview preparation has already been done at this stage.
- Don't worry excessively about the interview itself. Know that the interviews are not a test of how good you are at being interviewed (we're not looking for polish or perfection). They are about your subject(s), so the only way you can improve your chances is to carry on focusing on your academic work and interests.
- Try to trust your interviewers if you can! They are all teachers and they want you to achieve. They will know how to ask further questions to tease what they need out of you, and they know that interviewees are nervous so they are looking for raw ability and academic commitment, not perfection.
Cambridge Subject Films
Are you exploring the courses available at Cambridge? One way to get a quick overview is to look at some of the subject films.
The films are only short, but they explain the structure and opportunities in each course, show you some of the faculty facilities, and have current students giving their views and reasons for choosing each subject, tips for applying from the lecturers, and information about what students go on to do when they graduate.
You may also find the advice about choosing a subject useful, and there are lists of transferable skills for most courses (or options within courses). These lists set out the advantages that each subject gives you for your future career.
The most important question to ask yourself, is what would you enjoy studying in depth?
Competition: Engineering in Sport
Have you thought carefully about the role of Engineering in sports that you enjoy?
EngineerGirl (a US National Academy of Engineering website) is running a competition asking you to describe the technology used in a sport of your choice. The competition is open to male and female school students both in the US / Canada and beyond.
You may also enjoy reading the rest of the EngineerGirl website.
Why Study Economics?
Are you considering university courses in Economics? If so, do explore the Economics Network's website:
The website has a useful blog too!
Hot air balloon problem
A hot air balloon of mass 350 kg is carrying 5 people each of mass 70kg. The total volume of the baloon is 2800m3.
The balloon flies horizontally in dry air 1km above sea level. The atmopheric pressure at this altitude is 89.9kPa and the surrounding temperature is 9ºC. Given that the molar mass of dry air is 28.97g/mol, work out the temperature of the heated air inside the balloon. (You can take gas constant R=8.31J/mol K and you may assume that air behaves as an ideal gas).
General and problem-specific hints are available.
This is one of the problems on I-want-to-study-engineering.org, a resource from Cambridge University Engineering Department with more than 200 problems to help you to practice problem solving skills relevant to Engineering. The website also provides general advice such as how to get onto a good Engineering course (whether at Cambridge or elsewhere).
Dylan Thomas poetry
If you enjoy language and thinking about how it can be used and the effects it can create, you might like to explore some of Dylan Thomas's work. It's a particularly good time to do this, as 2014 is the centenary of his birth.
Do you like one or more of these? Why? How would you describe Dylan Thomas's writing to someone who has never read any? Can you see any connections with other poets & poems that you have read?
Further reading & events
Physics. You work it out.
The Rutherford Physics Partnership runs an online platform for prospective Physicists, Engineers, and Mathematicians called Isaac Physics. It will help you to bridge the gap between your A Level and undergraduate studies by working through problems online.
Our own Chapel at King's is a fascinating mix of religion, politics, history, art and architecture.
Have you ever thought about the relationship between religion and other subjects that you might study?
- History: Consider the impact of religious change on a society prior to 1900;
- Literature: Reflect on whether literary criticism requires a knowledge of sacred texts;
- Philosophy: Comment on the relationship between mortality and religion;
- Politics: Explore the idea of secularism and national politics;
- Science: Address the relationship between religion and a topic from the natural sciences;
- Sociology: Consider how an awareness of religion helps understandings of multiculturalism.
Cambridge Divinity Faculty encourages sixth formers to research and think about one of the topics above in a team of up to four 16-19 year olds. The challenge is to produce a film lasting no more than five minutes in response to your chosen topic. This should be academic in content, but the film could take any form: debates, documentaries or responses with artistic elements are all welcome.
If you are interested, do read the further details on the Divinity Faculty website. The deadline is Friday 14 November 2014.
The X Factor: Multidisciplinary (and Interdisciplinary) Approaches to Classics
Image credit: Ingo Gildenhard
At the recent Classics Faculty Sixth Form Study Days, King's Classicist Ingo Gildenhard explained how multidisciplinary approaches to Classics underpins teaching and learning at Cambridge.
The Classics Faculty is divided into caucuses, each of which brings a different approach to the study of Classics: Caucus A (Literature); Caucus B (Philosophy); Caucus C (History); Caucus D (Art and Archaeology) and Caucus E (Linguistics).
Dr. Gildenhard gave an example of how his colleagues in different caucuses each brought a different approach to the study of Ovid's Ars Amatoria [The Art of Love] in a recent lecture series:
- A: Poetics, or: The (S)expert at Work
- B: Sexual Ethics [gender relations, feminist readings]
- C: The Empire Strikes Back [Ovid and Augustus, the politics of the Ars, Ovid’s banishment to the Black Sea]
- D: Sex and the City [Ovid and the monuments, his rewriting of Rome’s urban topography]
- E: The Language of Love (and Sex) [how can we understand the different range of meanings of Latin words to English dictionary equivalents - does raptor mean ‘rapist’ or ‘seducer’? and how does it relate to rapina and rapio?]
The students and academics gain enormously from exploring these multidisciplinary perspectives. If and when they combine two or more approaches to address a particular topic, thereby transcending any one discipline, their work becomes interdisciplinary.
For this reason, King's Classicist John Henderson and his colleague Geoffrey Lloyd pioneered an X Caucus (Interdisciplinary) in the 1980s, to allow and encourage Cambridge students and academics to cross disciplines in their study of the Classics.
Multidisciplinarity is not restricted to Classics! You will be able to find multidisciplinary (and interdisciplinary) approaches to almost any topic. Have you got the X Factor? Think of a topic that has caught your attention in one of your A Level subjects and ask yourself what your knowledge and skills in your other A Level subjects can bring to it.
Mythologies (Roland Barthes)
In 1957, Roland Barthes published Mythologies, in which he discussed the workings of 'myths' in the society of his time. Drawing on ideas from semiotics (the theory of how signs and symbols work), and in particular the work of Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, Barthes was able to use language-like structures to study the social culture around him.
If you would like to read Mythologies, the most useful part for understanding what Barthes is doing is the second part (The Myth Today), in which he explains how myths form a communication system and what the value is of thinking about them in this way (how does it help us to understand the myths?). It gets a bit technical in places, so if there is more detail than you want, just take from it what you find useful. You might then like to look at some of the examples that Barthes gives in the first part of his book. NB. You will notice that Barthes's analyses are often political - they focus especially on the ways that bourgeois society uses myth to impose values on others.
One difficulty for modern readers of Barthes's work is that his examples are drawn from the fifties - they can be difficult for us to relate to. Radio 4 is currently running a series called 21st Century Modern Mythologies, in which Barthes's techniques are used to dissect contemporary myths. Do listen to some of the programmes and see what you think:
Suggestion for further reading:
If you're aged 14-18 and you enjoy Chemistry, why not join the Royal Society of Chemistry's Chemnet? It offers free support and advice for all Chemistry students including:
The link to join Chemnet is here.
Freshers' reading groups
There's a great atmosphere in College as we help the new students to settle in.
Amongst the many activities that take place in Freshers' Week to settle new students into the College community, there are discussion groups in which tutors and students across all subjects meet to discuss a book that everybody has read in advance. This year's book is:
Monbiot is a journalist and activist who read Zoology at University. He presents his book as a polemic for "positive environmentalism". The book consists of a series of essays designed to promote the cultural and economic change that will be necessary to precede any ecological shift. On some level Feral is a radical book with a radical argument, however the question for the King's freshers is how substantial, how convincing is Monbiot's argument and his evidence, and how much of it is the ideological enchantment of a liberal public intellectual?
If you fancy reading this book for yourself, you may be interested to think about how Monbiot establishes the veracity of his claims. How scientific is his thesis of "rewilding"? Does the book survive the lengthy anecdotal descriptions of his natural encounters, enchanting though they are? And is it telling that Monbiot is male, enjoys risky outdoor activity and has his moment of epiphany when he slings a dead deer over his shoulders and carries it home? Do you think that he would have a different environmentalism if he weren't so enamored by the wild in him? Or should we be cautious about any dismissal of his honesty? He discusses the effects of logging and mining on Yanomami lands at some length (and spent a fair amount of his own time experiencing it) - it is fair to say that his "rewilding" is borne of some knowledge of different cultural ecologies? Finally, do you think that we should be encouraged by this book, or discouraged?
Choosing school subjects
For Cambridge Economics, Maths is required and Further Maths is very helpful where available.
If you have just started Year 11 (15-16 year olds), you will soon need to start thinking about which subjects you will take next year.
If you would like to study at a selective university such as Cambridge or another university in the Russell Group, it is especially important to make sure that you choose subjects that will give you good preparation for courses that you may want to apply for. You may already have a favourite subject that you can research, but don't worry if you don't know yet - the advice about making well-informed choices will help to put you in the best position for when you choose a university course later on.
As well as the subjects you already do at school, it is worth remembering that there are a lot more courses available that you start new at university - the perfect course for you may be something you've not thought of yet!!
To help you with this process:
Posted: 10 September 2014
Beginning New Testament Greek
Theology and Religious Studies students at Cambridge study a scriptural language in first year, choosen from New Testament Greek, Hebrew, Qur'anic Arabic or Sanscrit. You don't need to have studied foreign languages before, and this is a great opportunity to learn one of the original languages in which the texts of a major world religion were written.
If you are interested in New Testament Greek, we hope that you will find the new website launched by Cambridge Divinity Faculty useful:
Law in Action
If you are interested in studying Law at university, it can be helpful to get some feel for the law in action, for example by observing a local court in session. You could visit your local Magistrates' and/or County Courts (or regional equivalent, such as the Sheriff Court in Scotland).
Even the very highest and grandest courts, such as the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand and the Supreme Court (Parliament Square), are open to the public.
Economic Success Drives Language Extinction
Uluru, Northern Territory, Australia, named by the local Pitjantjatjara people. The Pitjantjatjara language is classified as vulnerable by UNESCO. Image credit: Sjoerd van Oosten.
A new study has revealed that economic growth and globalisation are driving the loss of minority languages.
The researchers, including Cambridge Zoologist Tatsuya Amano, used the criteria for defining endangered species (as defined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature) to measure the rate and extent of language loss. They then analysed the geographical distribution of the endangered languages in order to draw conclusions about how and why they have gone into decline. Dr. Amano explained that:
As economies develop, one language often comes to dominate a nation's political and educational spheres. People are forced to adopt the dominant language or risk being left out in the cold - economically and politically.
The researchers argue that conservation efforts should therefore be focused on minority languages in more economically developed regions, such as northwestern North America and northern Australia.
Read the researchers' findings in full in Tatsuya Amano et al, 'Global Distribution and Drivers of Language Extinction Risk,' Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 281 (October 2014).
Consult the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger.
Look into the conservation efforts of the Endangered Language Alliance in New York City and the online Endangered Languages Project. National Geographic's Enduring Voices project has produced eight online talking dictionaries in an effort to conserve minority languages.
- What are the benefits / risks of applying the criteria for defining endangered species to minority languages?
- How best can minority languages be protected? Or should they be protected at all?
As well as the podcasts, there is also a book. Credit: Mark Larson (cropped)
Philosophy Bites is a good source of short interview podcasts with professional philosophers on all kinds of topics.
Recent interviews include:
If there is a particular area that interests you, you may like to look at this list organised by theme.
Language and spatial conceptions of time
In most languages time is talked about in spatial terms, with the future presented as being 'in front' of the person experiencing it. For example, in English we speak about 'looking forward' to doing something.
A recent study in Psychology looked at the conceptualisation of time in Moroccan speakers of Arabic. Although in linguistic terms, the future is 'ahead' in Arabic just as it is in English, Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues found that Moroccan Arabic speakers went against this convention in their hand gestures, with implications for how we understand space-time mappings. (1)
Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues also mention Aymara, a language from the Andean region of western Bolivia. In Aymara, the relation between time and space does not seem to work in the same way. To quote a different article:
In Aymara, the basic word for FRONT (nayra, "eye/front/sight") is also a basic meaning PAST, and the basic word for BACK (qhipa, "back/behind") is a basic expression for FUTURE meaning. [...] Is it in fact an instance of the same mappings as we have seen in other languages, "reversed" in some way, or are there quite different metaphoric mappings involved? How would we know? (2)
How do you think that the differences between English and Aymara would be of interest to researchers in Linguistics and Psychology? Can you think of any research questions or hypotheses? How would you design an experiment to test your ideas?
You may be interested to look at:
(1) This British Psychology research digest post about the research by Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues.
(2) This difficult but interesting article about Aymara: Rafael Nunez and Eve Sweetser, 'With the Future Behind Them: Convergent Evidence from Aymara Language and Gesture in the Crosslinguistic Comparison of Spatial Construsals of Time' in Cognitive Science 30 (2006), pp1-49
If you would like to keep yourself informed about research topics in Psychology, do keep an eye on the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog.
Law Virtual Classroom
If you want to study Law at university and have not studied the subject formally before, you might enjoy Pembroke College's virtual classroom.
Through exercises in the Understanding Law and Legal Skills sections, this resource aims to give you a better understanding of the nature and function of law, as well as some of the debates that surround the law. It will also help you to develop some of the skills involved in studying and practising law.
Young Geographer of the Year Competition
The annual Young Geographer of the Year Competition is run by the Royal Geographical Society in conjunction with Geographical Magazine. There are four categories for different age groups including 14-16 (Years 10 and 11) and 16-18 (Years 12 and 13), as well as younger pupils.
This year's question is: How can Geography help you?
- Students in Years 10 and 11 are asked to produce an annotated diagram or map to answer the question
- Students in Years 12 and 13 are asked for a 1,500 word essay, which can include illustrations, maps or graphs.
The deadline for entries is Friday 24 October 2014.
If you might like to enter, please read the full information on the Royal Geographical Society website.
Have you read George Orwell's Animal Farm (first published in England in 1945)? It is just under 100 pages and is widely available in local libraries - why not read the book (or listen to it) without reading anything about it, and see what you make of it. Can you briefly jot down your impressions of what is important in the book? If you are able to get to a local library, you could then do some research about what other people have written on the themes in it.
- George Orwell, Animal Farm (Penguin, 1996)
Cambridge Centre for Mathematical Sciences
Students who apply to Cambridge for Mathematics or for Computer Science with the 50% Maths option are normally asked to sit STEP Mathematics exams.
Don't be discouraged if STEP material looks very difficult when you first look at it - the style is very different from A level, IB etc. STEP exams normally require plenty of preparation and practice in order to do well, and there are lots of online resources to help you with this. Your work on STEP will help you a lot with the transition to the kinds of mathematical problem-solving you will meet at Cambridge. Once you get into it, we hope that you will enjoy working on the material!
Here are some resources to help you with your work on STEP:
Thames Tideway Tunnel
London City Airport and the Thames. Credit: pencefn
According to King’s Engineer Mark Ainslie, ‘engineers are people who apply Maths and Physics to solve problems … in a creative way.’
So try applying your own Maths and Physics to a real life engineering problem: how to tackle the problem of overflows from London's Victorian sewers. Designed for up to 4 million people 150 years ago, the sewers are not big enough to serve 8 million Londoners today, causing 55 million tonnes of raw sewage to wash into the tidal Thames every year.
Thames Water's proposed solution is the Thames Tideway Tunnel, running for 25 kilometres, at a depth of up to 65 metres below the river. Tunnelworks is an online resource put together by Thames Water, in which you are asked to apply your Mathematics and Physics to the project.
Taking place for the first time throughout September 2014, Totally Thames is an exciting new, month-long celebration of the river across its 42 London miles:
CREST Awards: for project work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
The British Science Association supports, assesses, and awards students undertaking project work in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. You can register and work towards one of their CREST Awards either through your school / college or independently. You could build a pin-hold camera, design a bespoke fitness regime and diet for an athlete, or investigate the effect of natural and chemical additives in bread.
Look at the British Science Association website to find:
Good luck and enjoy!
'The words on the page': practical criticism
Practical criticism is a skill required in all three years of the Cambridge English degree. Developed by Cambridge literary critic I. A. Richards in the 1920s, the exercise is designed to make you focus on 'the words on the page.' You are given an unseen text and asked to respond to its form and meaning.
This year, Cambridge students hit the headlines when they were asked to analyse Morrissey's Autobiography (2013) and Andre Letoit's (Koos Kombuis) 'Tipp-Ex Sonate' (1985) (a poem with no words, only punctuation) in their practical criticism papers.
Why not try your hand at practical criticism yourself? The Faculty of English's Virtual Classroom provides a good starting point:
You can also read I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism (1929).
Siegfried Sassoon's war diaries published in the Cambridge Digital Library
Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Credit: Pere Ubu
The Cambridge University Library holds the papers of its former student and First World War poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967). Now, for the first time, Sassoon's journals are freely available online as part of the Cambridge Digital Library.
Amidst the daily minutiae of life in the trenches, Sassoon recorded:
- the first day of the Somme, 'a sunlit picture of Hell,' on July 1916
- the Battle of Arras, during which he was 'fully expecting to get killed,' but was instead shot in the shoulder by a sniper, causing a dramatic deterioration in his handwriting from 15 - 16 April 1917
- draft and fair copies of his 'Soldier's Declaration' against the conduct of the war, written and issued in June-July 1917
- an early version of his poem 'The Dug-Out,' with an additional, excised verse, written in July 1918 and published in Picture-Show (1919)
The Siegfried Sasoon diaries had previously been edited by Rupert Hart-Davies and published in the 1980s. So how does seeing the original manuscript versions change our perceptions of Sassoon's life and poetry? Does seeing the mud and candlewax on their pages add to a historian's understanding of Sassoon's experience in the trenches? How useful is either textual criticism (the effort to establish a text as nearly as possible to its original form) or genetic criticism (the effort to trace and understand the process of writing a text) to a literary scholar?
You can read Sassoon's poetry and browse related primary documents in the University of Oxford's First World War Poetry Digital Archive Sassoon Collection.
Women in Engineering
According to the Institute of Engineering and Technology's latest skills report
"the number of women in engineering remains very low at 6%, which has not significantly changed in all the years this survey has been carried out."
Why are there so few female engineers? Zoe Conway reported from the Crossrail 2 project on why engineering remains a male-dominated industry for Radio 4's Today programme this morning.
The WISE Campaign (Women into Science and Engineering) offers lots of online resources to young women thinking about studying and pursuing a career in Engineering, including:
The Women's Engineering Society was founded in 1919 by women engineers in the First World World War who wished to continue their work in peacetime. They support prospective women engineers in gaining the Advanced Leaders Award for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics).
Here in Cambridge, the Department of Engineering holds an Athena SWAN Bronze Award, in recognition of its commitment to promoting and supporting the careers of women in engineering. Ann Dowling, Head of the Department, offers the following advice to young women engineers:
- try always to respond positively to opportunites that come your way;
- don't wait for the 'perfect time' before applying for things - sometimes you just have to have a go;
- find a field of resarch that really interests you and has scope to expand in the future.
Biologising the Social Sciences
Spoiling for a fight? Credit: driki
Academics have increasingly turned to evolutionary explanations for the human condition, variously arguing that:
- The male human face has evolved to withstand fist fights. See David R. Carrier and Michael H. Morgan, ‘Protective buttressing of the hominin face,’ Biological Reviews (2014).
- Babies cry at night to prevent parents further procreating, resulting in potential sibling rivals. See David Haig, ‘Trouble Sleep: Night waking, breastfeeding and parent-offsprng conflict,’ Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2014 (2014), 32-39.
- Teen boys develop acne on their faces to deter females from fertile but psychologically immature mates. See Dale F. Bloom, ‘Is acne really a disease?’ Medical Hypotheses, 62 (2004), 462-469.
You can find out more about evolutionary psychology and explore more of its theories in Evolutionary Psychology, an open-access, peer-reviewed journal showcasing work across the human sciences.
But are there limits to the explanatory power of evolution? David Canter, Professor of Psychology at the University of Huddersfield, thinks so. He made a trenchant case against biologising the social sciences in David Canter, ‘Challenging neuroscience and evolutionary explanations of social and psychological processes,’ Contemporary Social Science, 7 (2012), 92-115.
You can listen to David Canter debate the issues with Alice Roberts, Professor of Public Engagement in Science at the University of Birmingham, on Radio 4's Inside Science programme (the item begins at 18 minutes).
How far would you take evolutionary explanations of human behaviour?
Languages Summer School at Sidney Sussex College - places available!
Sidney Sussex College is running a residential summer school for Language-based subjects on 18-20 August this year. If you are in Year 12 and considering an application to study languages at Cambridge, please do apply for this opportunity!
This course is suitable for students interested in studying:
Through sample lectures, classes and small group tuition you will have the opportunity to see what it is like studying languages at university level, find out more about languages and cultures themselves, and mix with other students from all over the country who share your interests. You will also experience the College environment, which will be helpful whichever Cambridge College you eventually apply to.
There is no charge for the summer school. If you are eligible for free school meals, Sidney Sussex may be able to help with travel costs.
If you are interested in attending the summer school, please email Carly Walsh at Sidney Sussex College for further details.
Mathematical ways to spend your summer
Here are some suggestions (suitable for students at all stages in maths) from Steve Hewson on the NRICH Mathematics website:
NB the 'stages' mentioned on the NRICH website correspond to UK Key stages. As a guide:
- Stage 3 uses maths you would normally meet before the age of 14
- Stage 4 uses maths you would normally meet before the age of 16
- Stage 5 uses maths you would normally meet post 16.
One of the things that interviewers look for is genuine interest. Image credit: THX0477
We interview most people who apply to Cambridge (more than 80%). It is in interviews that subject specialists are able to work with you directly, see how you think and work, and really explore your academic potential for the course that you've applied for.
We hope that you will find the following new Cambridge University film useful, and we particularly hope that it will put any summer work that you are doing to develop your interests into context!
Navigation at sea in the eighteenth century
Navigation at sea was a real problem in the eighteenth century. Although ships could work out their latitude from the position of the sun, it was difficult to know how far east or west they were. In 1714 a Longitude Act was passed, offering rewards of up to £20,000 for anyone who could solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.
The National Maritime Museum and Cambridge University have put the archives relating to this period of exploration and invention online - do watch the film and explore the website. If you live near enough to visit Greenwich, you may enjoy one of the Longitude Season events.
The Rise, Rise, and Rise of Chemical Engineering
Everyday Plastics. Art Exhibition in Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Credit: Geof Wilson
The Royal Academy of Engineering estimates that the UK needs 100,000 graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) simply to sustain its existing industries. So Geoff Maitland, President of the Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), is right to celebrate the rise in the numbers of applications for Engineering in general, and Chemical Engineering in particular.
Are you thinking of studying Engineering at university? Why not Chemical Engineering? IChemE explains:
Chemical engineering is all about changing raw materials into useful products you use everyday in a safe and cost effective way. For example petrol, plastics and synthetic fibres such as polyester and nylon, all come from oil. Chemical engineers understand how to alter the chemical, biochemical or physical state of a substance, to create everything from face creams to fuels.
Girl Summit 2014
The Girl Summit 2014 was held in London yesterday, focusing on domestic and international efforts to end female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage.
World Health Organisation factsheet on Female Genital Mutilation
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting: A statistical overview and exploration of the dynamics of change
Girl Summit 2014:
How should an anthropologist study female genital mutilation?
- Edward J. Hedican, 'Genital Mutilation: The Relativist Dilema' in Edward J. Hedican, Social Anthropology: Canadian Perspectives on Culture and Society (Canadian Scholars’ Press, 2012), pp. 18-20.
- New World Encyclopedia contributors, 'Ethnography', in New World Encyclopedia (3 April 2008)
- Ellen Gruenbaum, The Female Circumcision Controversy: An Anthropological Perspective (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001)
- Joy Hendry and Simon Underdown, Anthropology: A Beginner's Guide (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2012)
Tony Blair: Twenty Years On
Twenty years ago today Tony Blair was elected leader of the Labour Party. Read his first speech on becoming leader and his latest speech reflecting on the twentieth anniversary of his election.
Key figures and commentators from the Blair years have been reflecting on Blair's legacy in the newspapers:
- John McTernan, 'Tony Blair: his legacy will be debated but not forgotten,' Telegraph, 20 July 2014
- John Rentoul, 'Two decades on, what is Tony Blair's legacy worth,' Independent, 20 July 2014
- Michael White, 'Twenty Years of Tony Blair: totting up the balance sheet,' Guardian, 21 July 2014
You could follow up on these assessments by reading more about Tony Blair in his own words...
... and in the view of political scienitsts:
How have assessments of Tony Blair's leadership and legacy changed over the course of the past twenty years and why?
Edgar Jones Philosophy Essay Competition (Year 12)
If you have just finished Year 12 and are looking for some Philosophy questions to get your teeth into during the summer, you may be interested in the 2014 Edgar Jones Philosophy Essay Competition which is being held by St Peter's College, Oxford.
You are asked to choose one of the following two questions:
- Does the fact that our senses can deceive mean that we can have no perceptual knowledge?
- Could you be a bad person and yet do the right thing all the time?
The closing date for submissions is 12 September 2014, there's a word limit of 2000 words, and you will notice that the judges are looking for clarity of thought and expression and cogency in your arguments in particular. Do read the full details on the St Peter's College website before you start your research!
The Virtual Chopin
The Chopin statue in Deansgate, Manchester. Image credit: Mike Kniec (cropped)
Have you come across any music by Fryderyk Chopin that you can think of? He was a nineteenth century composer and is the subject of The Virtual Chopin presented by Professor John Rink from Cambridge University Faculty of Music.
The Raspberry Pi
The Raspberry Pi is a flexible low-cost computer. It is great for experimenting with programming and electronics.
The Raspberry Pi website includes an introduction, quick start guide, software downloads and lots of other information to help you get started on all kinds of projects.
There are three models:
- Model A (15 British pounds / 25 US dollars)
- Model B (22 British pounds / 35 US dollars)
- Model B+ (22 British pounds / 35 US dollars)
There are lots of resources available online so if you have a particular interest, do search for it. Here are a few useful sites:
Trainers, pumps, plimsolls or daps?
Plimsolls? No, daps. Credit: dave
How do you refer to the appropriate footwear for a PE class? Trainers, pumps, plimsolls, or daps? The word you use almost certainly reflects where you live, or where you grew up.
Researchers in Linguistics can use lexical variation (our choice of words or phrases), phonological variation (the way in which we pronounce certain words), and syntactic variation (the way in which we construct sentences) to draw maps of dialect variation, such as those produced by the Multilingual Manchester project.
King's teacher and researcher Bert Vaux and his colleague Scott Golder created a dialect survey whilst he was at Harvard in 2002 which went viral when it was featured in the New York Times last year. Bert says:
"What's been most exciting about the newest viral episode is the demonstration over a pool of several million test subjects that it is possible to identify the regional origins of English speakers just from subtle lexical 'tells.'"
You can hear Bert discussing the latest success of the survey and the conclusions he drew from it on National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S. in February.
If you'd like to contribute to Bert's ongoing research, you can take the Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes now.
The Euro and Its Impact
What does economics tell us about the operation of single currency areas and currency unions (such as the Eurozone)?
This is one of the questions that the Euro and Its Impact resource asks you to consider. This pdf was produced by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), and is designed for sixth formers with an interest in economic affairs and policy. It provides information on the topic as well as suggestions for further reading.
If you would like to find out more about the Institute of Economic Affairs and what it does, do have a look at its IEA website. If you have a particular area of interest, you may find the policy areas section useful for finding relevant material.
Trinity College's Robson History Prize (Year 12)
What is to be gained by studying the histories of seas or oceans?
Image credit: AvidlyAbide
If you are interested in History (including historical aspects of a wide range of courses from Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic to Economics, Philosophy and Theology) why not think about some of the questions that Trinity College has set for their Robson History Prize? There's a wide choice of 59 titles, so you are bound to find a topic that you would enjoy studying.
Here are just a few of them:
- What was the role and influence of Queens in Anglo-Saxon England?
- Was the Hundred Years War really a single conflict?
- What were the causes of the European ‘witchcraze’ in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries?
- What sort of a revolution was the French revolution?
- How did the Atlantic slave trade affect state formation and economic growth in West Africa?
- Why was the Spanish civil war so bloody?
- ‘The Attlee government’s failure to create a socialist commonwealth was as much due to ideological shortcomings as economic constraints.’ Discuss.
- To what extent do market forces pose a threat to the accuracy of popular history?
- Is the goal of Aristotle’s Politics to arrive at a theory of the best state?
If you would like to work on an essay to enter in the competition, the deadline is 1 August and do make sure that you read the full details (including the full list of titles) on Trinity College's website before you start. If you don't have chance or don't want to do that, do have a look at the titles nonetheless as there's plenty of inspiration for research and thought.
Summer Reading (and Writing)
As you break up for the vacation, you may be resolving to read through the pile of books that has built up on your bedside table during a busy academic year. But how do you make your summer reading count? As the University of Cambridge advises its students:
Reading for a degree requires different reading skills to reading for pleasure. Developing understanding through reading needs to be an active process, whereby you engage with the text, question and develop your ideas in response to it.
Listen to Hanna Weibye (one of the King's Fellows in History) making a similar point, when she recommends that you read as widely and as critically as possible.
The University of Southampton, the University of Manchester, and the Open University all offer useful advice on how to read in an engaged way.
One way to read effectively is to... write! Once you've read a text, why not write and share a review of it? The Wellcome Trust blog offers advice on how to write a news story from a scientific paper. The Guardian's Blogging Students advise on how to blog.
The Life Scientific
In the Life Scientific on Radio 4, Professor Jim Al-Khalili talks to leading scientists about their life and work, finding out what inspires and motivates them. It is fascinating to hear how their academic interests were sparked and developed as they studied and how this led them to forge a career in science.
This morning's programme featured Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust, Britain's largest medical research funding charity. Farrar reflected on how his undergraduate studies in Medicine at University College London took him away from medical practice and into clinical research:
The degree opened my eyes to the fact that you could dream a little bit beyond facts and you could ask questions and you could design things to try and answer them.
As a result of his experience as a junior doctor treating patients infected with HIV in the early 1980s, Farrar was inspired to take a PhD in immunology. For sixteen years he was Director of Oxford University's Clinical Research Unit in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where he researched the outbreak of SARS and avian influenza in the region.
If you wish to pursue a career in clinical research, like Farrar, there is the possibility of combining your clinical studies with a PhD. You can read about the MB/PhD programme at Cambridge here.
The Wellcome Trust works to make inspiring, high-quality science education available to all young people. It publishes the Big Picture, an online journal exploring the implications of cutting-edge science. Its June issue includes a feature on citizen science and makes suggestions of how to get involved in scientific research yourself over the summer vacation.
World population day
It was World Population Day this week (11 July). Here are some of the articles published:
Pierre Bourdieu: What affects our tastes?
For Bourdieu, cultural consumption is 'an act of deciphering, decoding, which presupposes practical or explicit mastery of a cipher'. Renoir image credit: freeparking
How much is taste shaped by education and social influences? Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher who looked into these questions, most famously in his 1975 book, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste.
In the introduction, Bourdieu writes:
Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make, between the beautiful and the ugly, the distinguished and the vulgar, in which their position in the objective classifications is expressed or betrayed.
Bourdieu collected information through questionnaires which asked people questions about their tastes in art, literature, music etc. For example, he compared preferences for different musical pieces and charted these against information about each particpant's social background:
Bourdieu's text includes diagrams and charts which plot his results and show correlations that he found in the data. A key idea in this book is that of 'cultural capital', that is, 'assets' that people acquire, such as education and cultural experience, which can affect social mobility regardless of financial means.
If you have the opportunity to look at Bourdieu's work, do have a think about this way of looking at taste. Do you agree / disagree / recognise aspects of it? Can you think of any examples in modern culture and society? What do you think of the way that Bourdieu collected and used his data? Does his work have wider implications for questions of taste, sociology and identity?
Engineering - how to prepare for an application
A bulk superconductor over a magnet
King's Electrical Engineer, Mark Ainslie, is looking at how superconductors can make electric motors work better, and is part of a team that has just broken the world record for the strongest trapped magnetic field in a bulk high-temperature superconductor:
Listen to Mark Ainslie giving advice about how to prepare for your application to study Engineering, and what to expect in your interviews.
Finally, do read about the maths and physics that you need to make a competitive application.
Virginia Woolf exhibition (London, 10 July-26 October)
Orlando (1928) is a semi-biographical novel. Credit: crowbot
Virginia Woolf is amongst the most well-known writers of the twentieth century. Do you know what her writing is like?
There is a Virginia Woolf exhibition over the summer (10 July to 26 October) at the National Portrait Gallery in London. It explores Woolf's achievements as a novelist, intellectual, campaigner and public figure.
If you plan to visit the exbibition, you may like to read some of Woolf's work in advance. If you're not sure where to start, here are some suggestions to choose from:
- Novels such as Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), or The Waves (1931)
- Collections of short stories e.g. A Haunted House and Other Short Stories (1944)
Viktor Shklovsky: making things strange
In his 1917 essay, 'Art as Technique', Russian writer Viktor Shklovsky argues that often we don't notice things because they are familiar to us. However, art (a term that Shklovsky uses in a broad sense to include literary writing) can present things in a strange or unfamiliar way, which makes us look at them for longer:
Habitualization devours work, clothes, furniture, one's wife, and the fear of war. "If the whole complex lives of many people go on unconsciously, then such lives are as if they had never been." [Shklovsky is quoting Tolstoy's diary] And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects "unfamiliar," to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object.
You might like to read the full text of 'Art as Technique', which was published in English translation in Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays, ed. by L,T. Lemon and M, J. Reis, pages 3 - 24.
What do you think of Shklovsky's description of the purpose of literary writing? Does his argument apply to all literary texts? Are there genres where you would expect to find this technique more frequently? Can you think of any examples in texts you have read / are reading where something is presented in a strange way that makes you notice it? And can you think of any limitations to Shklovsky's argument?
James Dyson Foundation Challenge: Geodesic Domes
Do you know what a geodesic dome is? It is a structure named in 1949 by an American Engineer called Richard Burkminster Fuller. Amongst the interesting features of geodesic domes is their structural strength and that they are relatively easy to construct.
To build your own geodesic dome out of jelly sweets and cocktail sticks and explore the structure, see this challenge designed by Neil, an electronics engineer at Dyson. Can you describe in as much detail as possible why the geodesic dome is a strong structure?
Precision: the Measure of All Things
Big Ben: accurate to one second an hour, but today we can build clocks that loose one second in 138 million years. Credit: Taz Wake
There was an interesting TV documentary last night telling the history of the science of measurement.
Throughout our history, developments in our ability to measure the world around us have changed our lives. In the documentary, Prof. Marcus du Sautoy explores how seconds and metres came to be as two of the most fundamental units of measure, how distance and time are linked, and the quest for ever greater precision in science.
Catch it on BBC iplayer:
Further documentaries in the same series will be on in the next couple of weeks:
One of the challenges of learning a foreign language is that you're constantly learning new vocabulary and grammar, yet you also need to meet words that you've previously learnt regularly enough for them to stick in your mind and become part of your active vocabulary.
Here are some resources that you may find useful and enjoyable:
Reading in your language is an important habit to get into. It is not easy, but the more you do it, the more enjoyable it becomes. Do ask your teacher to recommend texts that you could try at your current language level, and look at magazines / newspapers as well.
There are a range of ways to approach reading, and it's good to vary what you're doing. Sometimes you might read a short passage and look lots of words up, other times you could read to get the gist, and only interrupt yourself to look occasional words up. You may also like to explore parallel texts, as these have the language you're learning on one side and the text in English on the other, which can be very helpful.
Medicine essay competition (Year 12)
'I have three supervisions every two weeks, requiring me to write an essay for each.' Shedeh (Medicine).
Photo credit: rhodesj
Are you interested in studying Medicine? As well as needing a strong grounding in your sciences/maths subjects (which is likely to need most of your focus), it's worth remembering that the course requires you to write regular short essays for supervisions. Robinson College is holding an essay competition for prospective Medicine students. The deadline for entries is 1 August 2014, and you can choose between three essay titles.
In Our Time
A King's supervision in progress
What do we mean when we say that we're looking for students who can think critically and independently?
Listening to Radio 4's In Our Time programme will give you an insight into what Cambridge is looking for in our students, our methods of teaching and learning, and our interviews. Each week, presenter Melvyn Bragg discusses a topic in depth with three academics. You'll notice how in the course of forty-five minutes the guests identify the key questions to be addressed, examine all sides of the debate, frame clear and confident arguments of their own, and engage enthusiastically and flexibly with each other. Much of the teaching and learning at Cambridge happens in similar small group discussions, known as supervisions. In many respects, our interviews model the format of a supervision, so that we admit the students who will benefit most from this style of teaching.
But most importantly, tuning into In Our Time will give you insight into your subject, whatever it may be! The BBC has an archive of 646 programmes and counting, which cover wide-ranging topics in culture, history, philosophy, religion, and science. Last week, Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed the philosophy of solitude. This week, they'll discuss the medieval writer and mystic Hildegard of Bingen. Whatever your interests, you'll find a relevant programme. You're just as likely to become fascinated by a topic you'd never heard of or thought about before.
Architecture - Exploring spaces
What catches your eye? If you're thinking of studying Architecture at university, the summer is a great time to practice your drawing skills, to have a go at capturing your interests with a camera, and to think about the spaces and effects that you notice around you through explorative work in a range of media.
You can do this very well on your own, following your interests. You might like to read the information about portfolios if you would like some advice about work that you can later use in an application to Cambridge, and there are also some examples of application portfolios available - see Portfolio 1 and Portfolio 2.
If you are looking for events to attend, as well as any websites about what is on in your local area, RIBA (The Royal Institute of British Architects) has a good What's On? page for events up and down the UK, or you can look up events all over the world on the e-architect website.
The 2014 Cambridge Open Days Programme is published!
The large Cambridge Open Days are on Thurs 3 and Fri 4 July. This event is for students who are considering an application in September/October 2014.
Do explore the 2014 Cambridge Open Days programme for details of course presentations and sample lectures in your subject, College opening times and locations. If you are interested in visiting a particular College, their website will normally have more detail. At King's, we're open from 9 until 5.30pm as part of the Cambridge Open Days, and we invite you to join tours of the College, subject meetings (students only for those) and chat with current students and admissions staff. See the details for Thurs 3 July and for Fri 4 July.
Booking is required. Although there are no general places left for the Cambridge Open Days, there are still plenty of places available for students who book to attend a College Open Day (you will also be able to attend Cambridge Open Day events in the afternoon) or a North East Welcome Event (please email us for details if you're from the North East). Please see the information about how to attend the Cambridge Open Days now that registration has closed.
We hope to see you there! If you can't attend, don't worry though, as the information that you need to make a successful application is also available online, and you are welcome to email us with any questions.
English Literature essay competition (Year 12)
It's important not just to read, but to think about the books.
Credit: Robert (cropped)
Essay titles from Trinity College:
- 'Homer and the other poets... composed false stories which they told and still tell to mankind.' (Plato); 'Now, for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth.' (Philip Sidney). Discuss any aspect of the relationship between literature and lying, with detailed reference to at least one work.
- 'The only advice, indeed, that one can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions.' (Virginia Woolf). How much is reading a matter of instinct, how much is it a matter of reason, and does reading ever bring instinct and reason into conflict? Discuss with reference to one or more works.
These are just two of the six possible essay titles that Trinity College, Cambridge has set for students who would like to enter their Gould Prize for essays in English Literature (open to students in Year 12). See the Trinity College website for full details (including the rest of the possible essay titles). The submission deadline is 1 August 2014. Good luck to those who enter!
Fantasy GCSE Set Texts
What set texts did you read for your GCSE English Literature?
In the Guardian this weekend, authors chose the set texts they would like GCSE students to read. Cambridge Classicist Mary Beard took the opportunity to 'bring in the classical world by the back door, via some great works of English literature.' She set William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (1599); Robert Graves, I Claudius (1934); Chrisopher Logue, War Music (1959 - 2011); and Carol Ann Duffy, The World's Wife (1999).
- Which texts would you set GCSE students?
- In making your choice, what is the most important consideration? Introducing students to classic works, or engaging their interests? Representing a range of literary genres and periods, or promoting particular approaches and topics? Capturing the national heritage, or celebrating cultural diversity?
Universities Week: 9 - 15 June 2014
Elvet Bridge on the River Wear, Durham. Credit: Tim Rawle
Next week is Universities Week! From Monday 9 to Sunday 15 June, universities across the UK are inviting us to be inspired, get involved and discover the work that they are doing to improve the way we live our lives.
As part of Universities Week 2014, you can...
- Dive into Durham. Find out about the amazing discoveries made by Gary Bankhead, underwater archaeologist at the University of Durham, in the River Wear. The exhibition opens at Palace Green Library, Durham, on Saturday 7 June
- Try to tell a human from a machine at Turing 2014. King's mathematician Alan Turing famously asked 'Can machines think?' The University of Reading is conducting live Turing tests - pitting man against machine - at the Royal Society in London on Saturday 7 June
- View the Cleveland College of Art and Design's Degree Exhibition 2014. The students' work will be showcased to the public at Church Square, Hartlepool from Friday 6 to Saturday 14 June
Find an event near you.
Vice Chancellor celebrates Britain's 'living languages'
Leszek Borysiewicz, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, yesterday made a persuasive case for learning languages. He was speaking from personal experience; as the Welsh-born son of Polish refugees, he spoke Polish at home and learned English when he began school at the age of five. He has found that bilingualism is an asset, both to the individual and to the nation:
These are real languages: living languages that give people a huge insight into culture and give the children who can speak them additional opportunities.
'I'd love to see more children in Britain having more than one language,' he concluded.
Cambridge offers opportunities to learn and use languages in its Modern and Medieval Languages, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, Classics, and Anglo-Saxon Norse and Celtic courses.
Whether or not you study a language as part of your degree, you can always take a language course alongside your undergraduate studies. The MML Certificate and Diploma is available, both for students starting new languages, or those continuing a language they studied at school. There are also a range of Language Centre Courses, as well as opportunities to study a language independently using the Language Centre's resources. The Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic Department provides free classes in Modern Icelandic and Irish. There are also more informal opportunities to learn and speak a foreign language. Student societies organise conversation meetings, such as the CU German Society's Stammtisch where society members meet in the pub to socialise in German.