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.
If 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.
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.
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.