Mathematics

What makes the Cambridge Mathematics course so special?

Cambridge is an exciting place to study Mathematics. Current research in Cambridge produces internationally leading work right across the traditional subdivisions of the subject, while also applying it to understand problems at the heart of the physical, and, increasingly, biological sciences. The breadth and quality of our research filters through to our undergraduate teaching in many ways: you will be taught how to think mathematically, and also how to use this knowledge to solve problems from other disciplines.

The course takes topics introduced at A level as starting points to develop fundamental mathematical ideas and shows how they are applied to a range of scientific problems, notably in theoretical physics. It suits those who have a deep interest in the subject, whether or not they are planning a career in mathematical research. The course leads to a BA degree after three years, and about a quarter of the students stay on for an optional fourth year (known as Part III).

Why choose Newnham for Mathematics?

Newnham provides a distinctive environment, giving students considerable opportunities to pursue their particular interests (either academic or not!) and has a teaching staff who will encourage and strongly support your mathematical study.

How many students take Mathematics at Newnham and what options can they choose?

Newnham aims to admit between four and six students in Mathematics each year.

Essentially no distinction is made at the application stage between those applying to read (a) Pure and Applied Mathematics, or (b) Mathematics with Physics. Option (b) allows students to transfer easily to read Natural Sciences (Physical) in the second and subsequent years. It is therefore especially suitable for those who are undecided between mathematics and physics when they apply. Taking option (b) means replacing two of the first year mathematics courses with physics courses (including practical classes). The number of students taking option (b) in the first year is small (roughly 5% of the Cambridge mathematics intake). Even for those who have particularly enjoyed physics at school, option (a) is often the more natural and appropriate: the Mathematical Tripos contains a great deal of theoretical physics for those who wish to do it.

How will I be taught at Newnham?

The normal intake of four to six students means that the college is able to offer a level of support and encouragement appropriate to each individual. In common with all other colleges, Newnham operates the Cambridge ‘supervision’ (tutorial) system of teaching in pairs. The majority of first and second year supervising (college teaching) is done by the Newnham teaching staff. The courses on offer in the third year are many and varied (there are thirty-five courses, from which you would choose about eight) and your supervisors will be specialists drawn from across the university. In addition to this, members of the teaching staff arrange small-group classes, and offer ‘surgery hours’ to discuss particular topics. This results in an overall level of attention to each student that would be hard to beat.

Can you tell me more about the Mathematics Fellows?
  • Director of Studies: Dr Julia Goedecke (Sheila Edmonds Lecturer in Mathematics)
    Dr Goedecke has a blog about teaching and learning at: juliagoedecke.wordpress.com
  • Junior Research Fellow in Mathematics: Ms Tamara von Glehn
  • Special Supervisors: Mrs Katy Edgcombe, Dr John Sherwood
What jobs do Newnham Mathematics students go on to do?

In the last few years, some of our Mathematics graduates have gone on to do further degrees, either at Cambridge or elsewhere; others have opted for careers in economics, finance or financial administration (in City firms, publishing, charities); still others have become teachers or research scientists.

Are there any A-level subjects that are particularly useful?

The only formal requirement for the Mathematical Tripos, as the Cambridge Mathematics course is officially called, is a knowledge of mathematics equivalent to one and a half A-levels (i.e. A2 Mathematics + AS-level Further Mathematics). However, the majority of applicants have more preparation than this, and if your school can offer the full Further Mathematics A-level then you should study it. A-level Physics also provides useful preparation. If you have not been able to take A2-level Further Mathematics, or its equivalent, we will need to be very sure that you have the necessary ability and commitment to tackle the course.

Our conditional offers include grades in Sixth Term Examination Papers (STEP), an examination held just after A-level. We believe it is in your best interests to take STEP; it serves as a good indicator of whether the course is the right one for you, and it also provides excellent preparation. Don’t be discouraged if your school is unable to help with STEP; the Guide to Admissions in Mathematics contains information and guidance for STEP preparation.

Can I take a gap year?

Unlike many other colleges, Newnham is happy to accept applications for deferred entry in Mathematics. The Guide to Admissions in Mathematics gives a full list of colleges and their views on gap years for Mathematics applicants.

How should I prepare for interview at Newnham?

The mathematics course builds very quickly on material introduced at A-level. It is therefore demanding, and indeed widely regarded as the most challenging undergraduate mathematics course in the country. Before we make you an offer we therefore want to be sure that it is the right course for you. We do this by reviewing your references, module marks and application details, and additionally by means of the interview process.

Interviewing usually takes place in the first half of December. You will have two subject-based interviews with members of the mathematical staff. Before one of the interviews you will be given some short mathematical problems which will be used to start off the interview. If you are applying to read Mathematics with Physics, you will have a third interview with members of the teaching staff in Natural Sciences.

Where can I find out more?

You can find admissions information about the Cambridge Maths course from the Faculty web site. Read the Director of Studies’ blog at: juliagoedecke.wordpress.com

Useful STEP-related links:

STEP info: http://www.maths.cam.ac.uk/undergrad/admissions/step/
STEP papers: http://www.admissionstestingservice.org/our-services/subject-specific/step/preparing-for-step/
STEP preparation modules: nrich.maths.org/step
The Further Mathematics Network: http://www.fmnetwork.org.uk

Interesting mathematics online:

nrich.maths.org – monthly problems and articles, also STEP help
plus.maths.org – plus magazine
and many many more…

What books should I read?

Faculty reading list: this is a list of suggested books to read if you’re thinking of studying mathematics at university. Pick one or two books which look interesting. If you can’t decide, here are some of our favourites:

Paul Hoffman: The man who loved only numbers
T. Gowers: Mathematics: a very short introduction
T.W. Körner: The Pleasures of Counting
Ian Stewart: Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities
Kevin Houston’s book “How to Think Like a Mathematician” might also be helpful to you at this point, and there are two sample chapters online on writing mathematics (very useful for STEP preparation).

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