Clare College Cambridge

Studying Natural Sciences at Clare

 

Studying Natural Sciences at Clare

 

The College has a strong tradition of excellence in Natural Sciences with a large number of teaching Fellows, between them covering most areas of science. Dr Matthew Kenzie and Dr Andrew Carter are overall Directors of Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences respectively.  They will discuss your choice of subjects with you when you arrive and help you navigate your way through the course.  In each individual science, there is a Director of Studies. Almost all of these are Fellows of Clare, who will supervise you or arrange for supervision from an appropriate specialist.

There is a College Natural Science Society - The Whiston Society. This organises social events and scientific talks of general interest. Natural Scientists at Clare are eligible to apply for places on summer placement schemes organised by the college currently including the Watson Scholarship at Cold Spring Harbor in the USA, a summer placement in Dr Mark Poznansky's lab at Harvard university and a Tsinghua-Cambridge Summer Studentship Exchange scheme in China. See here.

 natural sciences dinner 
First and second year Natural Science students after a college dinner

 

Explore familiar subjects, experience new ones

Natural Sciences (NST) offers a wide range of physical and biological science subjects from 16 departments in a unique and demanding course. A broad first year is combined with increasing specialisation in the second year and the possibility of total specialisation in the third year.

The breadth of the course reflects the blurring of boundaries between the different sciences and before committing yourself to one department you study a variety of subjects, some of which may be new to you. This means you can change your mind about which subject to specialise in.

Visit the Departments' websites for in-depth subject information, details about current research and suggested reading for prospective students.

Science subjects offered within Natural Sciences

Year 1 (Part IA)

You choose three science subjects from:

  • Biology of Cells
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Sciences
  • Evolution and Behaviour
  • Materials Science
  • Physics
  • Physiology of Organisms

Plus one Mathematics option from:

  • Mathematics
  • Mathematical Biology

Year 2 (Part IB)

You choose three subjects from:

  • Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Biology of Disease
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Chemistry (two options, A and B)
  • Earth Sciences (two options, A and B)
  • Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
  • Evolution and Animal Diversity
  • Experimental Psychology
  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Materials Science
  • Mathematics
  • Neurobiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics (two options, A and B)
  • Physiology
  • Plant and Microbial Sciences

Years 3 and 4 (Parts II and III)

Follow a broad curriculum:

  • Biological and Biomedical Sciences
  • Physical Sciences

Or specialise:

  • Astrophysics*
  • Biochemistry*
  • Chemistry*
  • Earth Sciences*
  • Genetics
  • History and Philosophy of Science*
  • Materials Science*
  • Pathology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics*
  • Physiology, Development and Neuroscience
  • Plant Sciences**
  • Psychology
  • Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour
  • Systems Biology (Part III only)
  • Zoology**

* These subjects offer a fourth year/Part III option, leading to an MSci degree.

** In Year 3, it is possible to focus on Ecology through either Part II Plant Sciences or Part II Zoology.

Flexibility and choice

The flexibility of the course makes it possible to take purely biological sciences, purely physical sciences or a combination of both, according to your interests.

You choose your subjects at the start of the first term in discussion with your Director of Studies but you should indicate in your Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ) whether your interests lie broadly in biological or physical sciences. The choice isn't absolute, and many students change direction before they start or as they progress.

In Year 1 (Part IA), you study three experimental science subjects (from a choice of seven, see above), plus one mathematics subject (Mathematics or Mathematical Biology), chosen at the start of the first term. 

Many students discover a passion for the new subjects that they start in the first year, such as Earth Sciences or Materials Science, and continue with these in subsequent years.

In Year 2 (Part IB), you choose three subjects from 19 options available. Some build directly on Part IA subjects and some introduce what are essentially new areas.

Some Part I subjects have a competitive entry due to limited space.

Most students pursue a single advanced subject in Year 3 (Part II), concentrating on specific areas and undertaking a research project or dissertation in that field. Alternatively, in Year 3 you can take the broader Biological and Biomedical Sciences option or the Physical Sciences option.

Some Part II options have a competitive entry due to restrictions on laboratory space, meaning you’re not guaranteed your Part II subject choice. However, around 80 per cent of students are typically able to study their first choice of subject.

Specialising in Part II is appropriate for continuation to a fourth year (Part III, offered in some subjects) and progression to Part III is dependent on a satisfactory level of performance. Successful completion of Part III leads to an MSci degree.

Biological Sciences options

If you're interested in biological sciences, three of the first year (Part IA) options cover biological subjects: Biology of CellsEvolution and Behaviour; and Physiology of Organisms. Therefore, possible biological sciences combinations include:

You also take a mathematics paper; usually Mathematical Biology.

In the second year (Part IB), 10 biological subjects are offered. Some of these develop topics covered in Part IA and others introduce new material. The flexibility of the course again means it's possible to take purely biological sciences or to combine biological sciences with, for example, organic chemistry (Chemistry B)Earth Sciences A or History and Philosophy of Science.

Most students focus on a single subject in their third year (Part II), concentrating on specific areas of the discipline and undertaking a research project or dissertation. Alternatively, you can take the broader Biological and Biomedical Sciences option.

It's possible to take a Part III in BiochemistryHistory and Philosophy of Science or Systems Biology, leading to an MSci degree.

Physical Sciences options

In the first year (Part IA), those more interested in the physical sciences might choose:

A Level (or equivalent) Mathematics and the Part IA Mathematics option of the NST are essential for some physical sciences subjects.

In the second year (Part IB), eight physical science subjects are offered. Students who think of themselves as physicists usually choose Physics A and B, plus another science or Mathematics. Potential chemists generally take Chemistry A and B with a further physical or biological subject, or even Experimental Psychology or History and Philosophy of Science.

Many physical scientists discover a real enthusiasm for the new subjects that they start in the first year - such as Earth SciencesMaterials Science or a biological subject - and continue with these in subsequent years.

Most students focus on a single subject in their third year (Part II) and concentrate on specific areas of the discipline. Alternatively, you can take the broader Physical Sciences option.

It's possible to take a Part III in AstrophysicsChemistryEarth SciencesHistory and Philosophy of ScienceMaterials SciencePhysics or Systems Biology, leading to an MSci degree.

 

Reading lists

Click here for a list of recommended books.