Natural Sciences (Cambridge)

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The Natural Sciences Tripos (NST) several courses which form the University of Cambridge system of undergraduate teaching (which is called Tripos). It is known for its broad range of study in the first year, in which students cannot study just one discipline, but instead must choose three courses in different areas of the natural sciences and one in mathematics. As is traditional at Cambridge, the degree awarded after Part II is a BA. An MSci is available to those who take the optional Part III.


Teaching is carried out by 16 different departments. Subjects offered in Part IA in 2010 are Biology of Cells, Chemistry, Computer Science, Elementary Mathematics for Biologists, Evolution and Behaviour, Earth Sciences, Materials Science, Mathematics, Physics, Physiology of Organisms and Mathematical Biology; students must take three experimental subjects & mathematics. There are four options for the compulsory mathematics element in IA: "Mathematics A", "Mathematics B" "Mathematical Biology"[1] for those with a strong biological bent, and "Elementary Mathematics for Biologists".

Students specialize further in the second year (Part IB) of their Tripos, taking three subjects from a choice of twenty, and completely in their third year (Part II) in, for example, genetics or astrophysics, although general third year courses do exist - Biomedical and Biological Sciences for biologists and Physical Sciences for chemists, physicists, etc. Fourth year options (Part III) are available in a number of subjects, and usually have an entry requirement of obtaining a 2:1 or a First in second year Tripos Examinations, and is applied for before the commencement of the third year. As of 2008, options with an available Part III option are: Astrophysics; Biochemistry; Chemistry; Geological Sciences; Materials Science and Metallurgy; and Experimental and Theoretical Physics.


The University of Cambridge believes that their course's generalisation, rather than specialisation, gives their students an advantage. First, it allows students to experience subjects at university level before specialising. Second, many modern sciences exist at the boundaries of traditional disciplines, for example, applying methods from a different discipline. Third, this structure allows other scientific subjects, such as Computer Sciences, Mathematics (traditionally a very strong subject at Cambridge), Medicine and the History & Philosophy of Science, to link with the Natural Sciences Tripos so that once, say, the two-year Part I of the Medical Sciences tripos has been completed, one can specialise in another biological science in Part II during one's third year, and still come out with a science degree specialised enough to move into postgraduate studies, such as a PhD.

Student Numbers[edit]

As a result of this structure, the Natural Sciences Tripos has by far the largest number of students of any Tripos. Undergraduates who are reading for the NST in order to gain their degrees are colloquially known in University slang as NatScis (prounced "Nat-Ski"'s), being broadly nicknamed physical ('phys') or biological ('bio') NatScis, according to their course choices. (Of course, many students choose both physical and biological options in first year.) The split tends to be about 50:50 between the physical and biological sciences.

In 2007, 2112 students applied and 639 were admitted to the Natural Sciences Tripos.[2]

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