University of Cambridge


City of Cambridge


The Cambridge train station is relatively far off the city centre. It is possible to get there by foot in 30 minutes. Alternatively, one could cycle or take the bus. Unlike Singapore, bus frequencies are quite low, with intervals of about 20-30 min. Unless one is travelling somewhere quite far off (like Addenbrooke’s Hospital for medics or the train station, there really isn’t a need to take a bus.

With a 16-25 Railcard, a train ticket (without travel daycard) to London’s King Cross cost about 10 pounds and it takes about 45min-1hour. So it is quite easy to catch a train to London for a daytrip or to visit your friends.

Activities and Attractions

The primary attraction is Cambridge will probably have to be punting. The punt is a small flat-bottomed boat which is manoeuvred along River Cam by using a stick and pushing it against the river bed. Some colleges do own their own punts, so you and your friends could rent them for a fee (much lower than what is charged by the private setups). It is quite an enjoyable experience especially when the weather is good (that is if you don’t lose the pole or fall into the river….)

Visiting other colleges is the other attraction. Each student is given a University Card, which should entitle you entry to all colleges. Some of the things to look out for could be King’s College Chapel, the Backs, and the beautiful college gardens. There are also many other green spaces which is a good way to unwind and relax.

There are also many Departmental Museums (Zoology Museum, Archaeology and Anthropology Museum, Sedgewick Museum of Geology to name just a few) and public museums (Fitzwilliam Museum, Kettle’s Yard). Many of these museums are free to the public. There are playhouses and theatres where you can go to catch student-led plays or musicals.

Of course, there are the various clubbing hangouts dominated by students (and you may sometimes spot a lecturer here and there…).

University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is located in the heart of of Cambridge. Cambridge is a compact city. Most students choose to cycle, which will definitely be faster and more convenient (but beware of cars and pedestrians!). For non-cyclists like myself, travelling by foot to lectures and the city centre is definitely feasible.

School life

Term dates

The University has three 8-week terms. As a guide,  Michaelmas term lasts from early October to late November. Lent terms lasts from mid-January  to mid march. Easter term is relatively short. Lectures lasts for four weeks, followed by a one week break and the final exams. The upsides to a busy term are the long six-week breaks, which could be used for travelling and/or revision.


N.B I apologise to those who are interested in the Arts and Humanities. The lecture timetable described here is mostly applicable to people interested in natural sciences/medicine/engineering.

For first-year natural sciences (we call them NatScis), we choose four modules (example: Chemistry, Mathematics (sadly, it is compulsory, but there are variants such as Mathematical Biology), Biology of Cells and Physiology of Organisms). Each module has three lectures + 1 supervision a week. For subjects other than maths, there is one practical (4-5 hours) per week. More information can be found in the following website:

So to summarise, in one week:

– 12 hours of lecture

– 8-15 hours of practical (depending on the number of practicals. Eg. On even weeks, one might have 3. On odd weeks, one might have 2. )

– 4 hours of supervision.

Most lectures are interesting, informative, and sometimes, inspiring. The lecturers are often very experienced in the particular field they are giving the lecture; they may even be the ones who authored the recommended textbooks. Some of them enthusiastically share some of the cutting-edge research they are currently working on.  Overall, I would say the learning atmosphere is conducive and motivating.

Supervisions are a great way to clarify any doubts (for me, this is especially important for maths!) or explore an area one is particularly interested in greater details. Most supervision groups have a 1/2/3: 1 student: supervisor ratio. Supervisions are arranged by the college. Supervisors are mostly research scientists, post-doctoral fellows or PhD graduate students. Majority of them are very friendly and patient. The small student:supervisor ratio means that one receives a lot of attention (not so good for those who didn’t do their supervision work thoroughly though…). Nevertheless, this is one aspect that makes the university’s learning system unique. The supervision system applies across all subjects.

Extra-curricular activities

There are plenty of activities available for everyone. The most well-known would arguably be rowing (this is taken VERY seriously by most colleges). But there are many sports, musical societies and interest groups. To cite how varied these activities are, I’ve heard there is even a pirates society which actually go for treasure hunts (!!) and converse in ‘pirate talk’. So yes, you’ll definitely be able to find something you’ll enjoy. Otherwise, one could just go hopping around from one society to another and never settle into anything permanently.

There are also many public lectures available. Most of them are free, but some may require a small entry free of around 2pounds. For instance, recently there was a talk by Sir John Gurdon, who received the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine. Thaksin Shinawatra also gave a lecture on leadership in developing countries in 2012.

Settling In

College & Accommodation

The college is responsible for arranging your supervisions, accommodation, provide academic and pastoral support. Lectures are university wide, so for example, all NatScis will give for the same lectures, regardless of the colleges they are from. Some colleges are closer to the city centre and various Departments. For example, Downing and Emmanuel are close to the main lecture sites for the sciences. But there are many factors one might take into consideration when choosing your college. This may include distance, reputation of college for a particular subject (though I don’t think there is really much of a difference), size  of college (no. of students), accommodation facilities etc. Most undergraduate students are assured of accommodation for 3-4 years, though they may not be at the same site. Rents vary between colleges, but should be in the range of 900-1200 pounds.


Most colleges will have their own canteens. Some colleges serve better-tasting food than others. The accommodation will most likely be equipped with a kitchen, which is also referred to as a Gyp room. However, depending on your college, some of these gyp rooms tend to be quite ill-equipped, with very few stoves (if they even have one) and probably just a microwave.

Dinner formals are also a tradition of the university. These takes place during weekdays and one will have to book a ticket in advance. For a fee of about 6-11 pounds, one gets a 3-course meal (served to you) and you can bring your own wine. Those going for formals are expected to wear a college gown (something like batman’s cape).

Beverly Mok
Natural Science (First Year Undergraduate) ’12/13

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