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Physics, Cambridge and the inexperienced...

(37 Posts)
Changebagsandgladrags Mon 03-Mar-14 20:45:18

I've joined a schools mentoring programme.

The student I've been paired with is thinking Cambridge for Nat Sci and is leaning to physics. State school, non-selective.

She has A* and A at GCSE (about fifty million of them) but is finding AS harder, currently averaging A/B borders.

Firstly, I'd like to help her with Cambridge. Private tuition is not an option financially. I can help her academically to a point, in Maths and Physics only though. Can't help with Chemistry. But I'm going to stress that it's not an impossibility if she knuckles down. I can't help that much with the actual process, I can proof read her application, but I have no experience of this at all. School can help, and have sent others in the past.

But where else is good to apply? She can only think of Warwick and I can only suggest Manchester. I chose my university based on football and bands and distance from parents.

I fear she's a bit clueless and is relying on the school for all the information.

Auntimatter Mon 03-Mar-14 20:54:18

What is your role as mentor? Is it to help her find the answers (research, phrase questions, think beyond the immediate) or is it to do stuff for her?

I think you may need to go back to the people running the scheme if you're unclear about this.

It's your mentee's life, and mentors are normally there to offer direction not grab the steering wheel.

idlevice Mon 03-Mar-14 21:09:11

Does she know of the Institute of Physics? I'm pretty sure it would have some advice about uni applications on its website.

AuntieBulgaria Mon 03-Mar-14 21:15:42

You could have a look together at bestcourse4me.com on the basis of UCAS/HESA data, you can search by A Levels to see which courses people got on to, by degree course to see which A levels people did and by career to see which courses people did, etc etc.

I don't have anything to do with the site but I was at a presentation where it was referenced and thought it looked useful.

MoreBeta Mon 03-Mar-14 21:23:49

I think your role is really there to help her with thinking about interview questions, applications, what she wants to do with her degree - not be her teacher.

You need to go back to her school and explain the areas/decisions she is struggling with. Act as a go between. Help her articulate what she wants and work with her to help her reach her own decisions.

Changebagsandgladrags Mon 03-Mar-14 21:29:24

My role is more helping her find the answers herself. But she seems like she needs a bit of prodding. So for example, I asked her about her plan B if Cambridge doesn't work out. There is no plan B.

I'm not trying to grab the steering wheel, but to suggest other routes on top of the one she has chosen.

This is only part of the mentoring I've asked about. Mostly we've been focusing on the workplace which has been easier. I've been able to show how certain degrees could be applied and how we select candidates. Also looked at styles of writing etc.

But Cambridge is a massive part of her life I can't ignore and brush over.

LurcioLovesFrankie Mon 03-Mar-14 21:46:20

Manchester is a good choice, as are Imperial, Leeds (did my PhD there), Birmingham, Edinburgh... I know Warwick is very good for maths, but off the top of my head I'm not sure what their physics department is like.

She definitely needs to pull her grades up from A/B to A* for Cambridge - presumably you, she and her teacher can form some sort of picture of whether this is possible with hard work. But intensive tutoring does get pupils into Cambridge - albeit usually from private school backgrounds (my experience of doing some tutoring there - admittedly a long, long time ago- was that there were some students who had been very efficiently crammed by private schools and had "performed beyond their ability" to get in - they struggled when they were there; almost without exception, the ones who'd made the grade from state schools were very, very bright, as were the majority from private schools).

breatheslowly Mon 03-Mar-14 21:46:25

If she is interested in Nat Sci for the opportunity to do more than one science then she should consider other universities which offer Nat Sci or courses which combine sciences. When I applied for Nat Sci, I also applied to Durham and Bath which offered Nat Sci. It appears that other universities offer Nat Sci now (e.g. UCL, Nottingham, Lancaster, Leicester). I used the UCAS course search to find them, but I didn't come up with Bath or Durham which do still offer Nat Sci, I'm not sure why. I also applied to Bristol for Physics & Philosophy and Physics & Chemistry at Southampton.

However if she wants to study Physics and only Physics, then it might not be the right direction for her at all.

I did a Women into Physics residential course while in the 6th form which I would recommend.

In all honesty, your mentee isn't coming across as quite what I would expect from a Cambridge candidate at this point (I have taught 6th form, so I have some relevant experience, though it is my opinion rather than an expert opinion). It may well be that she just needs good mentoring to bring the best out of her. I would expect a Cambridge candidate to be:

1) not finding AS particularly hard (thought it may depend on what GCSE course she took and the quality of teaching)
2) investigating where else to apply - she should be proactive and interested enough to start researching
3) reading around the subjects she is most interested in - the obvious place to start is with New Scientist, but also some schools provide reading lists (google 6th form physics reading list)
4) finding out whether she would have to take STEP papers for physics and how the school can support her if she does need to
5) considering how she can create a strong UCAS form/personal statement now so that she can fill in any gaps or get more interesting experience. Things like a work placement, helping to run a lower school science club or university taster course might strengthen her application.

She would also benefit from interview practice closer to the time.

Changebagsandgladrags Mon 03-Mar-14 22:14:41

I agree (Morebeta, LLF, breathe etc) which is why I've been quizzing her about a plan B. I'm trying to encourage her to develop that.

The what she can do with her degree I'm more OK with. I've been able to show her what jobs similar graduates have got at my work, but also to use various contacts in other industries. So all the post-university stuff I am more comfortable with.

I'm also getting her to look at straight to work options.

MagratGarlik Tue 04-Mar-14 12:14:43

I saw Imperial was mentioned by a PP, but should point out that an offer from Imperial is likely to be as high as one from Cambridge (I did my PhD there). I heard from an ex-colleague recently that Manchester are also asking for higher grades than Cambridge for physics at the moment (the Brian Cox effect).

Which course is right though depends very much on what she wants to do with her degree. She needs to look not just at the institution, but at the nitty gritty of the course and whether the culture and ethos of the insitution is a good fit for her - certainly not all universities will suit all students.

mummyofteens Tue 04-Mar-14 12:29:32

I heard that offers from Manchester to study physics are A*A*A. Can anyone verify that this is actually true or just hearsay?

Thank you smile

MagratGarlik Tue 04-Mar-14 12:33:29

Ex-colleague (in a competing department) tells me their current offer is A*A*A iirc.

whereswaldo Tue 04-Mar-14 12:35:51

Minor hijack- what is the program you are doing OP? I am keen to get into advising students (my background is undergraduate student recruitment for two Russell Group unis) TIA

whereswaldo Tue 04-Mar-14 12:59:49

I think her options will become a lot clearer when she has her AS results- if she does not get high As (above 90% in her best or most relevant three subjects) Cambridge would be a wasted application.
Better to be aware of this now and either seriously knuckle down to get those result ( which would help her with any application tbh) or start being realistic about where her current grade boundaries could get her.

Also worth bearing in mind the big leap between As and A2 work I the sciences- if students get a B in AS, they are unlikely to leap up to an A* for A2. sounds like she is finding this hard now which might make Year 13 a shock. She might find that as time goes on she fids a stronger affinity with a particular subject rather than the broad natural sciencs route too?

For Physics/Maths courses which are closer to the AAB/ABB level maybe think about Cardiff, Essex, Royal Holloway?

rightsaidfrederick Tue 04-Mar-14 13:29:15

Have you come across www.thestudentroom.co.uk ? There are forums there for both Cambridge and physics, among other things.

Cambridge is, however, very focused on UMS in a way that other unis aren't (Oxford is more fussed about GCSE grades; most others just at AS grades rather than UMS). Ideally she's looking for something above about 90% UMS, though if she's a widening participation-type student there may be more leeway.

Manchester are definitely giving out A*A*A offers and have been for at least a couple of years now.

She might want to look at the Access 2 Leeds programme - if she fits the criteria, any offer will be two grades lower if she firms e.g. ABB instead of AAA. She might also have some joy finding a similar programme at her local universities (anywhere within an hour or so's drive)

rightsaidfrederick Tue 04-Mar-14 13:35:52

Also, it's quite normal for students in Y12 to chop and change their ideas about subjects that they want to do (I'm currently watching one leap from idea to idea after two days of 'long, hard thought' hmm).

Has she thought about engineering at all? It would obviously include a lot of physics, and would suit her if she likes lab work more than theoretical and particle physics.

If mention it because it's very hard for the widening participation cohort not to think about subjects other than those which are either (a) on offer at school, or (b) have a very clear professional outcome which is represented in the media or everyday life (law, medicine, pharmacy etc.) because they simply don't realise all the possibilities out there.

BeckAndCall Tue 04-Mar-14 14:34:27

A little follow up on the Nat Sci comments. If your mentee does prefer just physics, apply for that. The offers for just physics are lower than for Nat Sci - even at Nottingham and Birmingham the offers are all A and A*. It sounds like your mentee will need at least a couple of offers lower than that to feel comfortable. one option is to apply to 2/3 places for straight physics and 2/3 places for Nat Sci.

YuccanLiederHorticulture Tue 04-Mar-14 14:41:08

Agree with prvious posters that if she's genuine Cambs material she shouldn't be struggling with AS unless she's got a really poor teacher (even then only a bit - Cambridge level students should be perfectly capable of self-teaching from textbooks and eagerly reading beyond the syllabus)

If she does go for Cambridge NatSci course she will do physics, chemistry, biology and maths in year one and specialize later. If she is sure she prefers physics and is less keen on Bio and Chem get her to consider applying to the CompSci course - in year one CompScis and NatScis are studying the same modules and CompScis will often be in the same physics and maths classes but will not have to do Bio and Chem - and it's very easy to then switch to the physics-only stream in years 2 and 3 exactly as she would from a NatSci Y1.

For non Cambs options, get her to look at Bath or UEA which both have a NatSci course including a placement year in industry as part of the study which sets the graduates in a very good position for eventual employment. Typical offers are usually A*AA/AAA or sometimes (rarely) AAB.

BeckAndCall Tue 04-Mar-14 15:31:08

That's just not true, yuccan for the structure of the Cambridge Nat Sci course. In year one you don't have to do all four subjects ( maths, bio, chem, physics ). I think everyone has to do maths but then the rest is up to you - a combination of bio, chem and physics is on offer but you choose your own module make up.

RawCoconutMacaroon Tue 04-Mar-14 15:45:19

Your mentee (if there is such a word), really really needs a plan B.

If she wants a shot a Oxbridge, she needs to be looking closely at the entrance exams she'll have to do (depends on college and course), and think about preparing for that, and the interviews.

Oxford might be a better choice if she might not get A*

Ds1 chose Ox over Cam because the whole application process there looked better to him (as a Scottish, state school kid). He's enjoying is course there immensely, but you know, application to Oxbridge is a "wildcard" for anyone, and she needs to know that - yes, give it a shot, but the competition is huge, they need to have other options lined up. They need to know it's ok not to get in- most applicants don't iykwim.

CinnabarRed Tue 04-Mar-14 15:49:58

I did a degree in Physics & Astronomy at UCL 20 years ago. At the time, they were running a Women In Physics course, including an overnighter in one of the halls of residence. Not sure if they still do, but it's worth a look.

mice Tue 04-Mar-14 15:58:44

My ds is off to uni in Sept to study Physics (providing he gets his grades :-) ) all the unis he applied to interviewed for Physics , which has been unusual to most other subjects. He has been very lucky to get 5 offers the highest are Imperial and Manchester that both want 2 A* and 1 A , then Oxford and Birmingham want 1 A* and 2 A and Exeter want 3 A's.
I would say that being very strong at maths is as important as Physics at A level and doing further maths has proved a big advantage. All of the interviews were very maths focused. Doing science committees, The Space Design Competition, Maths and physics challenges, some robot design competiton etc have all strengthened my sons application and passion for the subject. It sounds like she needs to do a lot more research independently about what she really wants and the subject if she wants to compete with the other really strong candidates out there who will be applying to Cambridge.

MagratGarlik Tue 04-Mar-14 16:25:31

Don't dismiss Nottingham for physics though. Nobel laureate in the dept. in the form of Peter Mansfield (albeit now retired, the MRI research at the university is still world-leading). In the last RAE (2008) they came joint second with Cambridge - though this is less important for undergrads, but important for undergrads is their NSS scores, which place them 5th in the country. Typical offers are AAA-A*AA.

Slipshodsibyl Tue 04-Mar-14 16:56:00

Lancaster is another one currently highly regarded for Physics.

Auntimatter Tue 04-Mar-14 18:40:08

Amazed how high the physics offers are these days. I did physics at Oxford nearly 20 years ago (eek!) and my other offers, including several places mentioned here, were BBC type level.

Is physics much more popular now? Or is grade inflation real, rather than the myth I had always assumed?

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