Oxford Physics vs. Cambridge Natural Sciences Watch

disco1000
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The other day, whilst I looked over my epic two years worth of applications. I came across a document from Cambridge Natural Sciences in which they claimed that with their degree, you would end up with a Physics degree as good as any other university, because they take in the best and work them really hard. Is that still true compared to Oxford (which similarly for better or for worse, work you like dogs)

Would any of you who are in the middle towards the end of your courses at either universities and have friends contacts at the other institution, be able to compare whether someone at Oxford does more/deeper physics than someone doing NatSci who eds up with a Physics degree from Cambridge?
would be good to hear any thoughts if anyone has any. It seems unlikely to me, that someone spending the first year or two really broadly studying science is going to have as deep an insight into physics as someone spending the entire 4 year course powering through the material.
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Nichrome
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(Original post by disco1000)
The other day, whilst I looked over my epic two years worth of applications. I came across a document from Cambridge Natural Sciences in which they claimed that with their degree, you would end up with a Physics degree as good as any other university, because they take in the best and work them really hard. Is that still true compared to Oxford (which similarly for better or for worse, work you like dogs)

Would any of you who are in the middle towards the end of your courses at either universities and have friends contacts at the other institution, be able to compare whether someone at Oxford does more/deeper physics than someone doing NatSci who eds up with a Physics degree from Cambridge?
would be good to hear any thoughts if anyone has any. It seems unlikely to me, that someone spending the first year or two really broadly studying science is going to have as deep an insight into physics as someone spending the entire 4 year course powering through the material.
Yes they end up with the same knowledge. You might do slightly less in the first year compared to elsewhere, but you more than catch up in the second year. By third year the Ox and Cam courses are pretty much on par.

The Cambridge NatSci course moves at a very fast rate in first year (well all years really) to give you a good grounding in every subject you take. To give an estimate, I cover as much material in 3 hours of lectures here at UCL as I did in 1 hour at Cam, so there you go.
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disco1000
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(Original post by Nichrome)
Yes they end up with the same knowledge. You might do slightly less in the first year compared to elsewhere, but you more than catch up in the second year. By third year the Ox and Cam courses are pretty much on par.

The Cambridge NatSci course moves at a very fast rate in first year (well all years really) to give you a good grounding in every subject you take. To give an estimate, I cover as much material in 3 hours of lectures here at UCL as I did in 1 hour at Cam, so there you go.
Wait a second, so your telling me the Cambridge Physicists do all the Physics that the Oxford Physicists do and on top of that Chemistry, Materials Science, Geology etc...?
So your implying that the physics course at oxford is a **** load more of a doss than cambridge natsci? sounds like good news to me.

Are you comparing Cambridge and UCL on the undergraduate level? what made you choose to move? how did that work out for you?
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Nichrome
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(Original post by disco1000)
Wait a second, so your telling me the Cambridge Physicists do all the Physics that the Oxford Physicists do and on top of that Chemistry, Materials Science, Geology etc...?
So your implying that the physics course at oxford is a **** load more of a doss than cambridge natsci? sounds like good news to me.

Are you comparing Cambridge and UCL on the undergraduate level? what made you choose to move? how did that work out for you?
Cambridge Physicists do all the physics that Oxford Physicists do, but that's not to say the Oxford course is a doss compared to NatSci at all. Obviously the Cambridge course won't cover everything the Oxford one does in the first year, but as I said it catches up by second year by moving material very quickly. It's not necessarily a harder way of doing things, just different, it would suit some people better than others. I think recently they took a lot of content out of the first year physics course anyway (thermodynamics it looks like).

I chose to move because I thought the content moved too fast and I didn't really enjoy having to constantly blast through material. At UCL I feel I have much more time to go through the material and consequently am doing much better.
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disco1000
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(Original post by Nichrome)
Cambridge Physicists do all the physics that Oxford Physicists do, but that's not to say the Oxford course is a doss compared to NatSci at all. Obviously the Cambridge course won't cover everything the Oxford one does in the first year, but as I said it catches up by second year by moving material very quickly. It's not necessarily a harder way of doing things, just different, it would suit some people better than others. I think recently they took a lot of content out of the first year physics course anyway (thermodynamics it looks like).

I chose to move because I thought the content moved too fast and I didn't really enjoy having to constantly blast through material. At UCL I feel I have much more time to go through the material and consequently am doing much better.
That still implies that in the second (or third) year Oxford does significantly less Physics on their straight Physics course than Cambridge.
How did you get by this information? and how have you been able to compare.

Ah, how did you manage to arrange the transfer to UCL? Was it all a relatively straightforward matter of ringing up the admissions?
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RK92
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http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/unde...ci/part1b.html
thermodynamics is now covered in the second year of the physics and if you look at the course content, youl see that cambridge physicists do cover everything that other physics degrees contain.

useful to note that cambridge physnatscis work work monday-saturday (http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki...tural_Sciences)

the impression that cambridge's natsci doesnt cover much physics is a weird one.

first year - maths, physics and 2 others

the maths is pretty much for physical scientists and all physics degrees include maths lessons whilst the physics is obviously relevant. you can also choose materials and chemistry which are both physical sciences and quite useful to have a background in

the second year:
maths, physics A, physics B

this is all covered in other degrees and youre a specialist physicist at cambridge form here onwards.

so with the fast pace, the saturday lectures, and the fact that cambridge is pretty damn good at teaching physics, if you can keep up with the course, then youl do fine there.
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7589200
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natsci physics is hardcore. you need to be very good at maths.

there is something a bit spooky about oxford physics
my school has sent about 20 people there in the last 5 years and at least 3 of them left the course suffering either failure of some kind of breakdown
i thought it was anecdotal...
then i went to the unistats website and found that the 6% of students leave in the first year as opposed to just 1% for Physical Natural Sciences - so may be there is some weight to this spookyness after all!
I dont think this is because the course is harder, because the physical natural sciences course actually has slightly more demanding entrance requirements - perhaps there is, dare i say, poor pastoral care?
I don't know, I would love someone to clear this up...
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disco1000
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(Original post by Vazzyb)
natsci physics is hardcore. you need to be very good at maths.

there is something a bit spooky about oxford physics
my school has sent about 20 people there in the last 5 years and at least 3 of them left the course suffering either failure of some kind of breakdown
i thought it was anecdotal...
then i went to the unistats website and found that the 6% of students leave in the first year as opposed to just 1% for Physical Natural Sciences - so may be there is some weight to this spookyness after all!
I dont think this is because the course is harder, because the physical natural sciences course actually has slightly more demanding entrance requirements - perhaps there is, dare i say, poor pastoral care?
I don't know, I would love someone to clear this up...
Your mention of the entrance requirements is rendered completely irrelevant as almost all the applicants vastly overshoot both requirements. A*AA is still a very easy offer for any good physical science applicant, they're not exactly asking you to do STEP are they?
I remember hearing the average grades at oxford physics were 3 A*s.
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7589200
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(Original post by disco1000)
Your mention of the entrance requirements is rendered completely irrelevant as almost all the applicants vastly overshoot both requirements. A*AA is still a very easy offer for any good physical science applicant, they're not exactly asking you to do STEP are they?
I remember hearing the average grades at oxford physics were 3 A*s.
573 vs 560 to cambridge if you want to look at it that way

alevel is generally a pointless way to look at it anyway

my point is that the differences in course difficulty don't explain, in my opinion, the difference in drop out rates
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Nichrome
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(Original post by RK92)
http://www.cam.ac.uk/admissions/unde...ci/part1b.html
thermodynamics is now covered in the second year of the physics and if you look at the course content, youl see that cambridge physicists do cover everything that other physics degrees contain.

useful to note that cambridge physnatscis work work monday-saturday (http://www.thestudentroom.co.uk/wiki...tural_Sciences)

the impression that cambridge's natsci doesnt cover much physics is a weird one.

first year - maths, physics and 2 others

the maths is pretty much for physical scientists and all physics degrees include maths lessons whilst the physics is obviously relevant. you can also choose materials and chemistry which are both physical sciences and quite useful to have a background in

the second year:
maths, physics A, physics B

this is all covered in other degrees and youre a specialist physicist at cambridge form here onwards.

so with the fast pace, the saturday lectures, and the fact that cambridge is pretty damn good at teaching physics, if you can keep up with the course, then youl do fine there.
Thermodynamics was in the physics B course anyway. Unless they've changed that as well people must just be doing the second year course with no introduction to it in first year.
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RK92
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(Original post by Nichrome)
Thermodynamics was in the physics B course anyway. Unless they've changed that as well people must just be doing the second year course with no introduction to it in first year.
hm, i had a look at the chem a details and there is an introduction to thermodynamics in that module in the first year, but no thermodynamics being taught from the physics department - could be possible that theyre just going to throw people in at the deep end?



(Original post by Vazzyb)
natsci physics is hardcore. you need to be very good at maths.

there is something a bit spooky about oxford physics
my school has sent about 20 people there in the last 5 years and at least 3 of them left the course suffering either failure of some kind of breakdown
i thought it was anecdotal...
then i went to the unistats website and found that the 6% of students leave in the first year as opposed to just 1% for Physical Natural Sciences - so may be there is some weight to this spookyness after all!
I dont think this is because the course is harder, because the physical natural sciences course actually has slightly more demanding entrance requirements - perhaps there is, dare i say, poor pastoral care?
I don't know, I would love someone to clear this up...
hm, that is weird... i highly doubt that the oxford physics course is harder than the physnatsci course at cambridge - different, maybe, but harder? your suggestion about pastoral care could be true but it is weird
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Topaz_eyes
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I know they've rearranged the course this year... and no, by the looks of it we won't do thermodynamics in Physics lectures (done 4/5 courses so far - Kinetics, Oscillating Systems, Waves and Optics, Relativity and Rotational motion with fields coming in the first half of Easter term.)

We have done a short (2 week) course on thermodynamics in Chemistry, but very chemically based and not particularly rigorous mathematics-wise.
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Nichrome
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(Original post by Vazzyb)
573 vs 560 to cambridge if you want to look at it that way

alevel is generally a pointless way to look at it anyway

my point is that the differences in course difficulty don't explain, in my opinion, the difference in drop out rates
I guess it's to do with the way NatSci is structured in the first year. I think it's probably not a wild assumption that there's a slight majority in the Phys NatScis wanting to specialise in Physics when they arrive at Cam - after all the Cavendish is the most famous of the science departments. However many people find that university level physics isn't what they expected and don't enjoy it/don't want to continue it (I know I found IA Physics much harder than the other IA subjects (including maths!)). That's alright, they can just decide to specialise in Chem/Materials/Bio/Geo instead, no drop out needed. A Physics student at Oxford doesn't really have that option and so will most likely drop out. I guess they could request a transfer to a different subject but I'm guessing it's not nearly as easy...

(Original post by RK92)
hm, i had a look at the chem a details and there is an introduction to thermodynamics in that module in the first year, but no thermodynamics being taught from the physics department - could be possible that theyre just going to throw people in at the deep end?
(Original post by Topaz_eyes)
I know they've rearranged the course this year... and no, by the looks of it we won't do thermodynamics in Physics lectures (done 4/5 courses so far - Kinetics, Oscillating Systems, Waves and Optics, Relativity and Rotational motion with fields coming in the first half of Easter term.)

We have done a short (2 week) course on thermodynamics in Chemistry, but very chemically based and not particularly rigorous mathematics-wise.
Ahh that sucks, I guess you're going to be thrown in the deep end in second year. It's not too bad though, I think the second year thermo course is a pretty good one and it shouldn't be too much of a bother not having done any in first year. The problem with it when it used to be in the first year course was that it was a very, very heavy course slap bang in easter term, and consequently a lot of people ignored it/performed badly, which is why I guess they ended up dropping it.
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Topaz_eyes
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(Original post by Nichrome)
I think it's probably not a wild assumption that there's a slight majority in the Phys NatScis wanting to specialise in Physics when they arrive at Cam - after all the Cavendish is the most famous of the science departments. However many people find that university level physics isn't what they expected and don't enjoy it/don't want to continue it (I know I found IA Physics much harder than the other IA subjects (including maths!)).
I was told that 60% of people who say they're planning on ultimately doing Physics at the beginning of first year, don't. And that the Part II course doesn't have enough space on it to let all the people do it, so they make the first year so hard that enough people drop out!
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RK92
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(Original post by Nichrome)
I guess it's to do with the way NatSci is structured in the first year. I think it's probably not a wild assumption that there's a slight majority in the Phys NatScis wanting to specialise in Physics when they arrive at Cam - after all the Cavendish is the most famous of the science departments. However many people find that university level physics isn't what they expected and don't enjoy it/don't want to continue it (I know I found IA Physics much harder than the other IA subjects (including maths!)). That's alright, they can just decide to specialise in Chem/Materials/Bio/Geo instead, no drop out needed. A Physics student at Oxford doesn't really have that option and so will most likely drop out. I guess they could request a transfer to a different subject but I'm guessing it's not nearly as easy...
very good point, actually.. would make sense that instead of dropping out, people would just decide to do other modules




(Original post by Nichrome)
Ahh that sucks, I guess you're going to be thrown in the deep end in second year. It's not too bad though, I think the second year thermo course is a pretty good one and it shouldn't be too much of a bother not having done any in first year. The problem with it when it used to be in the first year course was that it was a very, very heavy course slap bang in easter term, and consequently a lot of people ignored it/performed badly, which is why I guess they ended up dropping it.
can i ask whether learning thermodynamics in the first year actually helped much in the second, or was it one of those cases where you learn basic principles only to find out that theyre over-simplified a year later?
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Nichrome
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(Original post by RK92)
can i ask whether learning thermodynamics in the first year actually helped much in the second, or was it one of those cases where you learn basic principles only to find out that theyre over-simplified a year later?
I guess it helped a bit, but the problem was the course itself wasn't very good. It tried teaching you loads of thermodynamics, kinetic theory and statistical mechanics in the final term of first year. It was way, way too much to take in that late in the year, it would have been better just to teach some classical thermo and kinetic theory than all of that. That and the lecturing and notes were very poor, meant it was a pretty bad introduction. The second and third year thermo courses are much better, so it shouldn't be a big deal that you're not doing it in first year anymore.
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RK92
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(Original post by Nichrome)
I guess it helped a bit, but the problem was the course itself wasn't very good. It tried teaching you loads of thermodynamics, kinetic theory and statistical mechanics in the final term of first year. It was way, way too much to take in that late in the year, it would have been better just to teach some classical thermo and kinetic theory than all of that. That and the lecturing and notes were very poor, meant it was a pretty bad introduction. The second and third year thermo courses are much better, so it shouldn't be a big deal that you're not doing it in first year anymore.
wicked, whenever i hear stories about physics missing from the cambridge course, i get a bit worried and start thinking that i shouldve applied for oxford physics instead but im just anxious to start really lol. are you still a student or have you finished now?
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Omio
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I've read somewhere that physics through NatSci route is more mathematically orientated due to Maths lectures' being given by the DAMP. Is Oxford physics less rigorous mathematically?
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disco1000
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(Original post by Omio)
I've read somewhere that physics through NatSci route is more mathematically orientated due to Maths lectures' being given by the DAMP. Is Oxford physics less rigorous mathematically?
I bloody well hope not. I see your off to magdalen college, nicely done. You must have murked the PAT.
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Nichrome
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(Original post by Omio)
I've read somewhere that physics through NatSci route is more mathematically orientated due to Maths lectures' being given by the DAMP. Is Oxford physics less rigorous mathematically?
Hmm, well I'm not sure, but if there was any difference in mathematical content/rigour it would probably be unoticablty small. The Oxford course will teach you all the maths you would need to know to do pretty much any area of thoeretical physics, and if you feel it doesn't that you can always do the part III maths course or something . I would advise you guys to just enjoy your course and not worry about what Cam people might be doing!
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