My first year at Cambridge
Sae Koyama (2019) tells us about life at Cambridge and how to make your first year at uni really count.
To sum up Cambridge term time in one word, it's busy. There are only eight weeks per term and there’s a lot to fit in.
Short and sweet
Studying is the main thing, of course, and there’s plenty of material to keep you challenged, but also society events, formal dinners, or just hanging out with friends… it’s a rush to pile every aspect of life into the time available. I like this aspect of Cambridge life – it’s short and sweet, with plenty of big breaks in-between so you can recuperate and think about your life more carefully.
On the academic side, I was surprised with just how tailored everything was to individual needs. Contact time is relatively short, with only two lectures a day for the first year (although Saturdays are weekdays here) and on average, two supervisions a week. Most of the work goes into independently reviewing lecture notes and doing questions. However, the supervisors are there to clarify, support and supplement exactly where you need it; I found this was incredibly helpful for progressing through challenging courses.
Adapting to remote learning
More recently, we’ve moved to remote learning. It’s been surprisingly effective, since a lot of the work is independent anyway. A minor inconvenience is not being able to point out typos as they happen or to nudge your neighbour for a quick ‘what does this say’ but there’s a group chat for that. All the teaching staff have been very supportive in this busy time.
The style of learning is similar to Curriculum X and I’m grateful I got this experience at KCLMS beforehand. It’s not just the sneaky peak at some of the content that was useful (since the pace is quite fast, you can run out of pre-learnt content very quickly!) but the practice you get being responsible for your own learning, knowing that it’s okay to get stuck and ask questions.
Why KCLMS was so special
I think the atmosphere of enthusiasm towards maths at KCLMS is unique. Cambridge has a lot of enthusiastic mathematicians but the people you get to know are enthusiastic philosophers, chemists, historians, medics and so much more, so it’s a little different in flavour from the bubble of mathematical passion you get at KCLMS. My memories of KCLMS, a supportive environment made possible by all the excellent staff and friendly peers, where I nurtured my curiosity and excitement for this subject, have been invaluable.
Finally, some advice. I think Cambridge life is really what you make of it. Whether you’re the type to go out every day and have fun, or to spend all day in your room on the next exciting set of problems, or anywhere in between, Cambridge life can give you that. So be a little brave, explore and make the best of your time there.