Natural Sciences - any insights welcome

(19 Posts)
jaguar67 Mon 28-Nov-16 09:02:18

Yr 12 DD is starting to research degree courses & narrowed it down to Natural Sciences, Biochemistry & Biomedical Sciences. She's access to current/ past undergrads who can give her the 'low down' on what's really involved with Biochem/ Biomed Sciences (outside of standard course blurb), but we're thin on the ground for contacts reading Natural Sciences. As background, she's taking Biology, Chemistry, Maths & Geography AS and will take the first 3 to A2. Biology/Chemistry are her main interests by far (& spent a week in a genetics lab recently, which she really enjoyed) - however, the breadth of Natural Sciences (options to take Experimental Psychology amongst others), really appeals. We've had a look at the TSR already, which is a great source of info - one theme crops up again & again - namely that the workload is a 'beast' compared with other courses, to the point of feeling unmanageable in some cases.
Would really appreciate perspective of parents with students taking this degree - is the workload really that bad? Has it lived up to expectations in providing breadth of study/ enjoyability?
Welcome all views, thanks in advance!

starchildareyoulistening Mon 28-Nov-16 09:20:53

One of my best friends did Natural Sciences at Cambridge and it was INTENSE, but then I think the same can be said of any Oxbridge degree! She had tutorials and seminars six days a week and anything upwards of 6 hours a day of independent learning/reading/writing essay assignments. She was getting up at 5 and studying all day until falling asleep at about midnight - she really burned herself out. But she was a very driven perfectionist who held herself to very high standards and probably would have overworked herself like that no matter what she studied - I know there was an English student living across the hall from her who had a similarly crazy schedule. They did get time to recuperate during the holidays as Cambridge has quite short semesters and long holidays, so they never had to go too long at that kind of pace before getting a break. I think the most successful students will have an excellent grasp of time management to get all the necessary studying done without completely burning themselves out.

starchildareyoulistening Mon 28-Nov-16 09:23:48

Forgot to say, afaik she was happy with her choice of course and the breadth of opportunities it offered - she wasn't sure what she wanted to do after uni so it gave her the scope to try some different things and in the end she chose to specialise in neurobiology and has since completed a PhD in that field.

NotCitrus Mon 28-Nov-16 09:43:29

If she's doing Chemistry, Biology and Maths A2, with the support of geography, she's in an excellent place to do NatSci, probably Cells, Chemistry, and Physiology/Organisms/Geology in her first year. It's hard work and lots of contact time, but the structure makes it easier in some ways. And looking at exam papers - there's a few tough areas in Chemistry that weren't necessary to master, and other areas would have been better to spend my time on.

bojorojo Mon 28-Nov-16 10:40:46

I cannot see how the workload can be more than medicine, for example. It maybe that the students were not working smart and doing too much. This does not necessarily mean learning more. However I think all these degrees involve a lot of work and the student needs to be prepared for this. A friend's DD is doing Bio Vet Science and feels she works harder than the vets! A friend's Grandson is also doing Nat Scirnce at Cambridge and loves it. He manages his time effectively I understand, as did a friend's DD who did English there. It helps to be prepared for the demands of the course and to understand what is required at university rather than what is required at school.

Trills Mon 28-Nov-16 11:03:35

I did NatSci at Cambridge - it was great to have the flexibility to try a wider range of kinds of science before focusing in the later years.

However, I'd only do natural sciences at a university where that was the way that you study sciences.

If a university offers both natural sciences and also straight Biology/Biochem/Chemistry/etc then students doing "pick and mix" science are often considered to be less serious academically and more likely to "pick the easier subjects".

Needmoresleep Mon 28-Nov-16 11:15:36

Honestly, it depends.

I think other posters seem to be assuming Cambridge, in which case the workload is heavy. DD knows quite a lot of people who are taking NatSci, medicine or engineering there and I also know people whose DC have just started.

Some are thriving. They are balancing the six days a week lectures/lab, with sport, choral, taking up new languages. All sorts of stuff. But then these kids always did lots and lots of stuff alongside A levels. Others are pretty much chained to the desk, but presumably most will be enjoying being stretched in a subject they enjoy, though one or two may be struggling. And one mum was complaining that her DC was having to work far too hard, yet in the same sentence boasted that her DC had come top of the year in a recent test. I refrained from pointing out that moderating ambitions might deliver a better work study balance.

I suspect the same applies to well regarded STEM courses elsewhere. But the same is true of other subjects. Students on highly regarded courses seem to work very very hard, far harder than in my day. I think there is advantage in thinking about what you want from University. DD is dyslexic so decided not to apply to Oxbridge or the more academic London medicine courses. Visiting friends at Cambridge led to a bit of regret, not least because the teaching and the buzz from fellow students seems fab, but this did not last long. Slow processing speeds and a Cambridge workload would not be a great combination.

jaguar67 Mon 28-Nov-16 14:00:34

Thanks everyone for this brilliant input! Lots of helpful food for thought xx

TalkinPeace Mon 28-Nov-16 18:02:38

DD looked at Natsci at Bath and at Exeter
they are incredibly different courses
you really really need to read the specs and choose the one that matches your interests (or at least is not full of stuff you dislike)

goodbyestranger Mon 28-Nov-16 20:21:43

Agree with TP. DS4 looked at NatSci and very few courses matched what he really likes, so he gave them a miss.

Evalina Mon 28-Nov-16 20:40:40

DD is doing NatSci and loves it. She did Maths, Physics, Chemistry at A2, and Further Maths and Geography at AS.

She does have a lot of contact hours - 20+ a week, plus coursework etc, but it's manageable. She's not at Oxbridge but is at a RG Uni. She likes the module choices, and did look carefully at those before deciding which universities to apply to.

She's probably going to stay to do the 4 years (MSc) and is hoping to do a semester abroad in either Australia or the US next year.

Stopyourhavering Mon 28-Nov-16 22:35:10

What about Scottish universities which allow you to take a wide selection of science subjects in first year( out of 4 yrs), only specialising in final 2 yrs ( I did Geology Chemistry, Geography and Psychology in first year ) then Geography and Geology in 2 nd year and finally did Geography for last 2 years....have a look at St Andrews, Aberdeen Glasgow and Edinburgh....out can do Geology, Chemistry, Physicswithout deciding on your final degree until end of 2nd year

EvenTheWind Mon 28-Nov-16 22:41:29

Agree with trills.

user7214743615 Tue 29-Nov-16 03:07:37

However, I'd only do natural sciences at a university where that was the way that you study sciences.

Yes, the natural sciences courses at many universities consist of a pick and mix of modules from other science courses. This leads to lack of coherence and also to pre-requisite problems - most of the students taking a module will be specialising in that subject, taking many modules in that subject, so a Natural Scientist may feel the pace is too fast/too much knowledge is assumed. And taking modules from several different departments means that there is less chance of getting to know one department, and modules won't fit together well. (In particular, lecturers won't communicate about deadlines, so a student can find themselves with a number of big assignments and tests in the same week.)

Science is increasingly interdisciplinary, which makes knowledge of multiple sciences very valuable. Natural Sciences courses in principle are great preparation for working in modern science, but their implementation is not always terrific.

BTW Nat Sci in Cambridge is of course not a pick and mix course, as it is the only way they do science. And students in Cambridge pretty much specialise from the second year onwards, in contrast to many other Natural Sciences courses which offer "pick and mix", allowing incoherent mixtures of modules, right into the fourth year.

LoveAfternoonTea Tue 29-Nov-16 03:48:32

I have a NatSci degree from Cambridge. An excellent course, with great options. I intended to specialise in chemistry but turned out to be much better at geology which I had never studied before. I have worked as a geologist since getting my PhD. This wouldn't have happened if I had done a single science course. I found the first year very very hard, which was a shock after sailing through A levels. To the point where I didn't really enjoy it. But it was much better from second year where you can ditch the subjects you aren't so good at or interested in. No regrets at all, great course, great institution, has set me up for a good career.

I don't know about NatSci at other universities, but would be inclined to agree with others that they may be best to avoid if taught on a pick and mix basis and regarded as less serious options. Hope that helps.

goodbyestranger Tue 29-Nov-16 07:30:46

That was exactly what DS felt - that only the Cambridge course seemed to have real coherence. And that was just from reading the online bumph so very possibly the reality is worse.

feesh Tue 29-Nov-16 07:43:28

Slightly different, but my experience says that it is actually better to do a specialised degree, rather than a generalist one.

My school 'strongly advised me' not to take Marine Biology, and pushed me towards Zoology instead, because they thought that Marine Biology was too specialised at such a young age and were snobbish about it being a mickey mouse degree.

I took Zoology but switched to Marine Biology after the first year, and I have always found that being more of a specialist from the outset DEFINITELY helped me in the jobs market after graduation (I got a job at a marine conservation charity).

The zoologists really had to do Masters after graduation in order to find their niche, and I strongly suspect the same would be said for natural sciences.

From reading the replies above, I think if it was at Cambridge then it would be a good thing to do, but at any other uni I would strongly urge your DD to pursue a more specialist course.

user7214743615 Tue 29-Nov-16 09:37:00

Slightly different, but my experience says that it is actually better to do a specialised degree, rather than a generalist one.

On the other hand, I would very strongly encourage students to take a "Physics" degree rather than a "Particle Physics" or "Astrophysics" degree. You can't be a good physicist without broad foundations and you can't know whether you will like particle physics or astrophysics before you've even started at university. The best universities actually tend to allow the least optional module choices as they want their students to study all topics at undergraduate level before specialising at Masters level.

As I said above, science is increasingly interdisciplinary. Maybe for marine biologists it's great to specialise from the start but for most scientists reasonably broad foundations are essential.

GnomeDePlume Tue 27-Dec-16 10:54:51

DD is in the middle of a Bio Chemistry degree on placement year. Absolutely loving it. The subject seems to be constantly evolving. DD's interest is in nanotechnology and that is what her placement is in.

I think a year in industry is worth looking out for as it gives the opportunity to see what type of work the course could lead to.

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