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The_Gina
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Hi,

I am stuck between applying for NatSci or Engineering at Cambridge.
I am doing Maths, Further Maths, Physics & Chemistry A Levels and am predicted 3/4 A*s. I like Maths the best, especially the core and mechanic modules. I also like the materials and quantum aspects of physics, aswell as physical and inorganic aspects of chemistry. I am not overly keen on electronics though however, nor the organic parts of chemistry.

I am drawn towards Natural Sciences as it keeps my options open, so I can do Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Materials, and specialise in one of them, or even switch to Chemical Engineering in the 2nd year. My only issue is with the career prospects, as it seems to be that you would go into teaching, research or finance.

Engineering interests me due to the maths involved, but I am not a very 'hands-on' person, preferring to design things on a computer, rather than make and build things. I have heard that alot of what you do in an engineering degree is hands-on making things, rather than calculations and designing on a computer (which is what I would like to do).

In terms of the maths involved in engineering, and in physics, what is the difference? I really like calculus and applying it to solve problems, but don;t want to be learning useless things like proving that 1=/=0 (in a maths degree).

I would very much appreciate help as I am stuck as to which degree to do.
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Smack
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(Original post by The_Gina)
Hi,

I am stuck between applying for NatSci or Engineering at Cambridge.
I am doing Maths, Further Maths, Physics & Chemistry A Levels and am predicted 3/4 A*s. I like Maths the best, especially the core and mechanic modules. I also like the materials and quantum aspects of physics, aswell as physical and inorganic aspects of chemistry. I am not overly keen on electronics though however, nor the organic parts of chemistry.

I am drawn towards Natural Sciences as it keeps my options open, so I can do Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Materials, and specialise in one of them, or even switch to Chemical Engineering in the 2nd year. My only issue is with the career prospects, as it seems to be that you would go into teaching, research or finance.

Engineering interests me due to the maths involved, but I am not a very 'hands-on' person, preferring to design things on a computer, rather than make and build things. I have heard that alot of what you do in an engineering degree is hands-on making things, rather than calculations and designing on a computer (which is what I would like to do).

In terms of the maths involved in engineering, and in physics, what is the difference? I really like calculus and applying it to solve problems, but don;t want to be learning useless things like why proving that 1=0 (in a maths degree).

I would very much appreciate help as I am stuck as to which degree to do.
Engineers primarily design things on a computer rather than do the actual hands on work - that's what technicians do. And engineering degrees have lots of maths, but not as much as physics.

However, saying that, the best engineers I've worked with have all been good hands on people and I firmly believe from my experience that having a hands on background is massively beneficial for a career in engineering, even if you never have to get your hands dirty in your professional life (although there's plenty of opportunity for that!). The hands on background will help you understand how systems actually work, and how to actually design something that can be made in the real world and not just on a computer programme.

In terms of the maths involved as I said there is a lot in an engineering degree, and it also varies a bit depending on the university, but in the professional world there are a hell of a lot of engineers that don't use any maths whatsoever.
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Slumpy
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I'd look at doing maths or maths and physics if I were you. There's plenty of applied maths available.
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The_Gina
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(Original post by Slumpy)
I'd look at doing maths or maths and physics if I were you. There's plenty of applied maths available.
I'm not interested in pure maths, eg proofs and the like, but like using maths for appliacations, so physics or engineering seem more appropriate.
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Slumpy
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(Original post by The_Gina)
I'm not interested in pure maths, eg proofs and the like, but like using maths for appliacations, so physics or engineering seem more appropriate.
You said you liked core modules of maths? Obvious continuation of those is pure maths. But that aside, I did say maths and physics too, which allows for pretty much no pure after 1st year I think.
As for your worries on natsci though, I don't think career prospects are a problem.

Edit-wrt what you've said though, I think you're not quite right about what goes on in a maths degree.
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The_Gina
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(Original post by Slumpy)
You said you liked core modules of maths? Obvious continuation of those is pure maths. But that aside, I did say maths and physics too, which allows for pretty much no pure after 1st year I think.
As for your worries on natsci though, I don't think career prospects are a problem.

Edit-wrt what you've said though, I think you're not quite right about what goes on in a maths degree.
A Maths degree on its own doesn't have any application is what I'm saying (except stats which doesn't interest me)
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Joinedup
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If you're good at maths and turned on by solving practical problems engineering could be the course for you... But I'm not sure the cambridge course structure is very good, it doesn't make sense to me to create needless work by covering all the disciplines in the first year. Someone who'd just finished the course was quite critical of it a few weeks back.
If it was me I'd go for a 'normal' course at a redbrick with a strong engineering department even if I had oxbridge level grades. (assuming you're interested in an engineering career rather than finance)
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Slumpy
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(Original post by The_Gina)
A Maths degree on its own doesn't have any application is what I'm saying (except stats which doesn't interest me)
Well, besides fun. Or codebreaking. Or modelling fluid dynamics. Or quite a lot of rocket science. Or, admittedly, finance. Oh, or if you'd like to work on theoretical physics. Possibly some other things.
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-G-a-v-
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(Original post by Slumpy)
You said you liked core modules of maths? Obvious continuation of those is pure maths. But that aside, I did say maths and physics too, which allows for pretty much no pure after 1st year I think.
As for your worries on natsci though, I don't think career prospects are a problem.

Edit-wrt what you've said though, I think you're not quite right about what goes on in a maths degree.
Pure maths at A-level is not the same as pure maths at uni. A-level Pure is more about mathematical methods rather than the more abstract style of maths done at university, which is more about proving theorems building up from careful definitions rather than doing lots of questions involving various techniques in calculus.
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Slumpy
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(Original post by -G-a-v-)
Pure maths at A-level is not the same as pure maths at uni. A-level Pure is more about mathematical methods rather than the more abstract style of maths done at university, which is more about proving theorems building up from careful definitions rather than doing lots of questions involving various techniques in calculus.
I admit, it has been some time since I was at school, but to me, the obvious continuation of pure at school was things like group theory and number theory. Admittedly analysis/building the reals/etc less so.
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The_Gina
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(Original post by -G-a-v-)
Pure maths at A-level is not the same as pure maths at uni. A-level Pure is more about mathematical methods rather than the more abstract style of maths done at university, which is more about proving theorems building up from careful definitions rather than doing lots of questions involving various techniques in calculus.
Which degree, physics or engineering, involves more A-Level type maths (obviously extended) such as using the methods for calculus (integration by parts etc)?
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minifridge15
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Hi, I've just finished my first year of engineering at Cambridge and I'll be starting Chemical Engineering in October.

You said you're not keen on electronics. The Cambridge course has an entire paper on electronics (one of the four papers at the end of first year) split into 3 sections: Electromagnetics, Linear Circuits (transisters, amplifiers...) and digital circuits (logic gates, microprocessors) so if you don't like electronics then you won't like a quarter of the Engineering course but the sort of electronics you do at school doesn't resemble university electronics at all I've found, it's been my favourite module really and it does involve a lot of maths, rather than the frustration of trying to put circuits together on a breadboard which was what our GCSE electronics consisted of.

You use an awful lot of A level maths for Engineering - one of our end of year papers is Maths and we need to use Argand Diagrams, trig substitutions and hyperbolic trig, calculus (quite a lot of it), matricies etc... and I found that fun because I also liked A level maths. My favourite modules were the pure ones too (C3, C4, FP2 in particular) and it is that sort of maths that we use a lot.

The other modules are Thermofluids, Mechanics (a lot of graphical methods), Structures, Materials and Computing. Our Materials course goes into a fair amount of detail but if that is your main interest then I believe the Natural Scientists go into more detail than us - with them focusing more on the molecular side of it and the engineers looking more from a macroscopic point of view.

I believe Chemical Engineering has a very large amount of inorganic chemistry (I haven't studied it yet so I don't know) and I chose ChemEng because I could use all 4 of my A-Levels (Further Maths, Physics and Chem).

You said you're not much of a 'hands-on' person. We don't need to use our hands much at all for first year engineering, apart from a couple of pieces of coursework (although as long as you turn up and do a reasonable attempt then everyone gets full marks in the coursework so this isn't an issue). The lab sessions has a lot of CAD and Computing. We need to learn the basics of Matlab and C++ and there are 2 questions on the end of the maths paper in C++ in first year so it does tend to be more theory and computer work than actually building things.

If you're considering doing engineering for 4 years, you can drop electronics after the second year and choose the modules you're most interested in for third year, but judging by what you've said, you'd really enjoy the maths part of our course.

The NatScis also do similar types of maths I believe, although that judgement is just from seeing one sheet of a first year exam paper so its probably better if you ask someone else.
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The_Gina
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(Original post by minifridge15)
Hi, I've just finished my first year of engineering at Cambridge and I'll be starting Chemical Engineering in October.

You said you're not keen on electronics. The Cambridge course has an entire paper on electronics (one of the four papers at the end of first year) split into 3 sections: Electromagnetics, Linear Circuits (transisters, amplifiers...) and digital circuits (logic gates, microprocessors) so if you don't like electronics then you won't like a quarter of the Engineering course but the sort of electronics you do at school doesn't resemble university electronics at all I've found, it's been my favourite module really and it does involve a lot of maths, rather than the frustration of trying to put circuits together on a breadboard which was what our GCSE electronics consisted of.

You use an awful lot of A level maths for Engineering - one of our end of year papers is Maths and we need to use Argand Diagrams, trig substitutions and hyperbolic trig, calculus (quite a lot of it), matricies etc... and I found that fun because I also liked A level maths. My favourite modules were the pure ones too (C3, C4, FP2 in particular) and it is that sort of maths that we use a lot.

The other modules are Thermofluids, Mechanics (a lot of graphical methods), Structures, Materials and Computing. Our Materials course goes into a fair amount of detail but if that is your main interest then I believe the Natural Scientists go into more detail than us - with them focusing more on the molecular side of it and the engineers looking more from a macroscopic point of view.

I believe Chemical Engineering has a very large amount of inorganic chemistry (I haven't studied it yet so I don't know) and I chose ChemEng because I could use all 4 of my A-Levels (Further Maths, Physics and Chem).

You said you're not much of a 'hands-on' person. We don't need to use our hands much at all for first year engineering, apart from a couple of pieces of coursework (although as long as you turn up and do a reasonable attempt then everyone gets full marks in the coursework so this isn't an issue). The lab sessions has a lot of CAD and Computing. We need to learn the basics of Matlab and C++ and there are 2 questions on the end of the maths paper in C++ in first year so it does tend to be more theory and computer work than actually building things.

If you're considering doing engineering for 4 years, you can drop electronics after the second year and choose the modules you're most interested in for third year, but judging by what you've said, you'd really enjoy the maths part of our course.

The NatScis also do similar types of maths I believe, although that judgement is just from seeing one sheet of a first year exam paper so its probably better if you ask someone else.
Thanks for your reply, it was very useful.
Did you apply for chemical engineering or engineering? Are there any ways you can try out chem eng in your first year to see if you want to join it in the 2nd year?


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minifridge15
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I applied for Chem Eng but they are very flexible and accomodating if you change your mind about what you want to do. They said that if we wish to continue with Engineering then we could tell our Director of Studied the day before second year lectures begin and they'll probably let you switch if there is space, and if you have the required 4 weeks of industrial experience. I assume it is the same if you do Natural Sciences. They also let people change their minds halfway through the year, from both subjects. In around February time they have a ChemEng talk in both departments which basically advertises the subject and tries to get people who didn't apply for it to join the subject, so you get the chance to hear what it is about and ask lots of questions so you don't have to commit to one subject or other when you reply. One of my NatSci friends is even switching to Computer Science, and a Historian friend switching to Education!

If you are unsure, try reading 'Chemical Processes'. They will probably have it in all of the college libraries once you arrive and I read it over Christmas to make sure ChemEng was the right choice.
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The_Gina
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(Original post by minifridge15)
I applied for Chem Eng but they are very flexible and accomodating if you change your mind about what you want to do. They said that if we wish to continue with Engineering then we could tell our Director of Studied the day before second year lectures begin and they'll probably let you switch if there is space, and if you have the required 4 weeks of industrial experience. I assume it is the same if you do Natural Sciences. They also let people change their minds halfway through the year, from both subjects. In around February time they have a ChemEng talk in both departments which basically advertises the subject and tries to get people who didn't apply for it to join the subject, so you get the chance to hear what it is about and ask lots of questions so you don't have to commit to one subject or other when you reply. One of my NatSci friends is even switching to Computer Science, and a Historian friend switching to Education!

If you are unsure, try reading 'Chemical Processes'. They will probably have it in all of the college libraries once you arrive and I read it over Christmas to make sure ChemEng was the right choice.
Why made you apply for chem eng as opposed to gen eng or natsci?


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minifridge15
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(Original post by The_Gina)
Why made you apply for chem eng as opposed to gen eng or natsci?


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The Chemistry Olympiad mostly - I took it a year early and didn't get a very good score but I liked the questions about molecule synthesis so that made me look at chemical engineering a little bit more. I wanted to do something that used physics and maths because they were my 2 favourite subjects but out of curiosity I took out a book called 'Elements of Physical Chemistry' and read the first 4 chapters and found it very interesting so I thought ChemEng would be a sensible choice.

From what I've seen so far, it is about being faced with a problem or challenge and applying your chemistry and maths skills to arrive at the best solution to the problem; for instance finding the most economic and most environmentally friendly way to design a HCl production plant, so you'd have to consider things like whether you could sell the waste products and what the optimum temperature for the reactions to take place at are. I like solving problems so that's the sort of thing that interested me. The book (Chemical Processes) takes you through the above problem from start to finish, so you can see what ChemEng involves from that.

Edit: I chose engineering over NatSci because I thought it would be more suited to my like for problem solving, and I was worried that I might have to focus on things that I don't like such as organic chemistry and particle physics if I did NatSci
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pheonix254
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If you want a job at the end, no offense, but you'll find it easier with an engineering degree than a natural science degree.

Engineering is ALL about applied mathematics, using it to deal with real-world issues. Physics is also, but with more abstract concepts, which are earlier-research and hence less applicable to the world we live in near-term. Mathematics is even further into abstraction. They all share the common language of mathematics. One is the exploration of that language, one is the study of the consequences of the language, and engineering is about using that language to solve problems, keep the world going around, and making money.

Electronics at A-Level is absolutely nothing like electronics at university. I studied the latter. Complex differential equations, Transforms such as Fourier, Laplace, numerical methods - all everyday tools to the electronic engineer. Yes, you might have to understand what a gate is, but when you're learning how mathematics makes them possible to be fabricated at component sizes of 14nm, then its orders of magnitude more interesting than using batteries and lightbulbs in a school lab.

With regard to slumpy - There are just as many engineers as mathematicians working on codebreaking, more engineers model fluid dynamics, do rocket science and again, probably just as many engineers work in finance as mathematical quants. Source - my peers who graduated with me.

It's highly transferable, engineering, and you can go into almost anything with it. Smack has already said that you can do engineering with minimal exposure to maths if you wish. The opposite is also true - there is always maths to be done, though generally using computers.

With regards to hands-on in engineering at university - most students are dissapointed with the lack of it- there are a few labs, but not many. If you like applied maths, then engineering will definitely suit you. Most engineering problems to be solved cannot be solved prototyping something in a lab, they involve hefty computer simulations, analysis of algorithms and a detailed understanding of the mathematics underpinning the problem.

Best of luck,

Stu Haynes MEng
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Slumpy
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(Original post by pheonix254)

With regard to slumpy - There are just as many engineers as mathematicians working on codebreaking, more engineers model fluid dynamics, do rocket science and again, probably just as many engineers work in finance as mathematical quants. Source - my peers who graduated with me.
Wrt this; my (maths) degree, had codebreaking, fluids, rocket science etc available, whereas none of the engineers I know seemed to do much on it. And I'd be astonished if there's as many engineers working as quants as mathmos (general finance I know engineers who've gone into accountancy/actuarial jobs, but the proportion seems less than the mathmos).
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pheonix254
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I didn't say even numbers of engineers and maths students become quant(itative analyst)s - I agree, that would be silly.

Just that an engineering degree doesn't stop you doing it, and if, as an engineering grad, you want as much money as possible, then you work in finance. Hence, you get a lot of engineers going that route. I still reckon that your average investment bank has as many engineers by qualification on the floor as those with maths qual's. Be they traders, analysts, associates, Front/Mid/Back Office.

Apologies if my wording indicated otherwise, and it certainly isn't my intent to belittle a Mathematics degree.

Stu Haynes MEng
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iluvmaths
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i really find peoples view on mathematics in engineering really narrow. the maths involved in engineering, especially in fluids is one of the most complex mathematics involved. what einstein used in his theory of reletvivity i.e tensors, are used to describe fluid flow and their dynamics in any system. hence, saying that maths involved in engineering is less is really an insult. foe example, material engineering find that in the fourth year, they also need to know tensors analysis for discribing certain material deformation.

maybe im saying this becasue i am also a math fanatic and doing aero! but, the truth is, if u really like maths, and its applications, try either theoretical physics or aero engineering. but if u really want to go to cambridge i would recommend their maths with physics or just natural science because a general engineering course will not equip u with the precise skills of other engineering disiplines becasue the first two years at cambridge are divided like this (as far as i know) :

first year:
mech eng=60%
elec. eng= 20%
civil eng= 15%
computer assignements=5%

second year:
mech eng=60%
elec eng= 20%
civil eng=20%
with computing skills equally distributed.

this was the reason why i didnt want to do eng. at cam. you cant specialise what u like most untill 3rd year.

and dont worry about the job prospects. at the uni site, they just tell u about what most of the people do after graduating. but u never know, u may even like research (trust me, nothings better than getting paid for what u love the most). just concentrate on acquiring knowledge, the jobs will come.!
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