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Why chemistry?

We like to think of chemistry as the "central science" as a knowledge of molecular structures and properties is crucial in our understanding a large parts of science, from semiconductors to proteins and from the composition of interstellar clouds to the human genome. By studying chemistry you will acquire a wide range of skills and learn about ideas and concepts which address all the important questions in modern science. A degree in chemistry is also an excellent preparation for moving out into the world — not just into the very successful chemical and pharmaceutical industry — but also into business and the professions.

How do I get a chemistry degree at Cambridge?

There is no single-discipline chemistry course at Cambridge: you study chemistry as part of the Natural Sciences Tripos (NST - always known as Nat Sci). You can make chemistry one of your subjects in the first and second years, and in the third and fourth year you can study 100% chemistry.

If not all of the time is spent on studying chemistry, surely I will come out knowing less than chemistry graduates from other universities?

We don't believe that our course is lacking in content or breadth — and the excellent careers that our graduates subsequently go on to proves this. Our course is also accredited by the Royal Society of Chemistry. We believe very strongly that our graduates benefit greatly from studying other subjects in the first and second years.

What A levels are needed to study chemistry?

We will assume that you have taken A level chemistry through to A2 (i.e. two years study), or an equivalent course.

Do you prefer a particular A level syllabus?

In short, no!

Is mathematics needed to study chemistry?

If you plan to take chemistry through to the second year and beyond, we recommend strongly that you have A level maths (or an equivalent) — AS is not sufficient. However, you can take the first year course without A level maths.

Is the course different at different Colleges?

No. Everybody, regardless of which College they belong to, goes to the same lectures and practical classes and takes the same examinations. By the third and fourth years, most of the small-group teaching is organised by the Department as well. One of the nice things about the Cambridge system is that when you come to the Department you get to meet people from other Colleges who are doing your subject.

Do I need to study for three or four years?

We offer three- and four-year courses. The four-year course is intended for those people who plan to go on to be professional chemists — for example by doing research in a university or company. The three-year course is intended for people who wish to move on to other careers which are not necessarily directly related to chemistry. In practice, about 75% of the third year carry on for a fourth year, but not all of these carry on with a chemistry-based career.

When do I have to decide whether to do the three- or four-year course?

You can delay your decision until half way through the third year. There's no hurry!

Are there opportunities for doing research projects?

A major part of the fourth year is a research project. You would choose one of the 50 or so research group leaders in the Department and do a project under their direction. There is a huge range to choose from and the facilities in Cambridge are second to none, so you will have an excellent experience. It is not uncommon for the work done by project students to be published.

Are there opportunities for gaining industrial experience?

This is not a formal part of our course, but a lot of students find work in industrial or academic labs during the summer holidays. This is especially so for the holidays at the end of the second and third years. Quite a lot of students also take advantage of the ERASMUS scheme and spend their summer working in laboratories in Europe, and even further afield.

Can I learn a language?

Yes! In the third year we have a language option — you can study Chinese, French, German , Japanese or Spanish; different starting levels are accommodated, including from scratch. The course is very popular and is tailored towards practical communication. There are some very popular (but optional) trips associated with these courses.

What do chemists do after graduating?

Just about anything you can think of, in fact. Employers who are recruiting graduates tend to regard chemists in a good light as they are numerate, flexible and broad minded. About 50% of our graduates go on to do research, typically a PhD, either in Cambridge or elsewhere. The rest go off into the City, accountancy, the law, management consultancy, teaching, journalism — you name it, chemists do it! The career opportunities open to you as a chemist are emphatically not restricted to the chemical industry.

Can I specialise in, say, Organic or Biological Chemistry?

The first and second year courses have no options in them — at this stage you are learning the foundations of the subject. In the third year, and especially in the fourth year, you have the opportunity to begin to specialise more and more. For example, in the fourth year, there are so many options on offer that you could choose to specialise in one particular area — such as Biological Chemistry, Theoretical Chemistry or Chemical Physics.

What are the facilities like?

We are very proud of our teaching facilities and have recently been upgrading them, at a cost of several million pounds, to the highest standard. For example, the laboratories where you would do your synthetic chemistry are of the same standard as you would find in a top-rate research laboratory. The equipment and computing facilties are excellent too.

…and the teaching staff?

Our lecturers and professors are all top-rate scientists who are keen to pass on to you their own fascination with the subject. We also have two members of staff — called Teaching Fellows — whose primary role is teaching and who take particular responsibility for the practical classes. We take our teaching very seriously and aim to give our the students the very best experience that we can.