Mathematics

Maths supervisionDirector of Studies: Dr Robert Hunt

Other Fellows in Mathematics:

Number of students admitted each year: 10

Annual events: 

University Website

University Admissions Website
 

On this page you will find the following information: 

Introduction

Since the foundation of Christ's College, people of all backgrounds have been coming to the College to study and appreciate the beauty of mathematics. Our current Fellows continue that great tradition and combine world-class research with outstanding teaching. Professor Frank Kelly is a Fellow of the Royal Society and is famous for his work on mathematical systems, including the invention of an algorithm for answering large numbers of incoming telephone calls. This algorithm, still in use today, is known as Dynamic Alternative Routing and improved on previous algorithms by more than 20%. The Director of Studies in Mathematics at Christ's, Dr Robert Hunt, was also the Deputy Director of the renowned Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences, and is now the Senior Tutor of the College. He holds a prestigious prize from the University of Cambridge for excellence in teaching.
 

The University Course

The Faculty of Mathematics at Cambridge has for many years offered one of the most highly regarded Mathematics degree courses in the world. The course caters both for students who wish to follow a career in Mathematics and for those who leave to pursue wider interests after graduation. Study of the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos (as the course is traditionally known) can extend over three or four years. The Honours B.A. degree is awarded after three years of study; students can then decide whether they wish to continue for a fourth year leading either to the Master of Mathematics degree – MMath (also known as Part III Mathematics).

All Mathematics students take the same basic courses during their first two years at Cambridge, referred to as the Part IA and Part IB years respectively. These courses introduce a wide range of topics in Pure Mathematics, Statistics, Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics which are regarded as core knowledge. In the third year (known as the Part II year) it is entirely possible (and indeed expected) for students taking Part II to mix and match courses as their own interests and ambitions dictate. The available courses at this level cover an exceptionally wide range of mathematics, from Logic, Algebra, Analysis, Topology, Probability, Statistics and Financial Modelling through to Fluid Dynamics, Numerical Analysis, General Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and Cosmology: there are around 35 courses in total, from which a student might normally choose about 8 for examination. In both the second and third years, there is also an option to study computer projects and to submit coursework based around these projects; this option, known as CATAM, teaches programming, investigative and presentational skills.

The fourth-year Part III course is an outstanding preparation for research in cutting-edge mathematics, statistics or theoretical physics as recognised by the influx of students from other universities, both in the UK and abroad, who come to Cambridge to take Part III as a separate one-year course. For students already at Cambridge, it is not necessary to make the decision as to whether or not to continue to Part III until they have completed their Part II year.

Cambridge also offers first-year students the option of taking a course in Mathematics with Physics. In this option students drop one quarter of the first-year Mathematics courses in favour of lectures in physics. At the end of the first year they then decide whether to continue with Mathematics full-time, or to switch to studying Physics full-time at no disadvantage. Students whose long-term interests lie in Theoretical Physics can study for this subject equally well either through the Physics options in the Natural Sciences Tripos, or by taking three years of the Mathematical Tripos (specialising in the Theoretical Physics options at Part II). Taking Mathematics with Physics is therefore a good way of finding out which route appeals most, without limiting options at an early stage.

Mathematics is one of the most (maybe the most) versatile and marketable of degree subjects, and graduates from the Cambridge Mathematical Tripos are highly sought by employers.
 

Mathematics at Christ's College

Christ’s is ideally situated for the first and second years lectures which are given in University lecture rooms near the centre of the city, about 5 minutes walk from the College. In the third year, lectures take place at the new purpose-built Centre for Mathematical Sciences, about 20 minutes' walk from the College.

While lectures are delivered by the university, supervisions are organized by the College and Christ’s excels in the provision of supervisions for Mathematicians. Supervisions are tutorial teaching sessions in small groups: each Maths student will typically have two supervisions per week in pairs as well as a 1.5 hour examples class, where an examples sheet is discussed in a group. One of the key purposes of supervisions is to work through problem sheets associated with lecture courses, but at Christ’s we particularly encourage students to discuss points of interest or concerns that they have come across in lectures or in their own studies.

Currently, Christ's College has six Fellows in Mathematics: Dr R.E. Hunt (Director of Studies) whose research interests include causality in differential equations; theoretical fluid dynamics, with particular reference to local and global instabilities; Mr V. Gryslys (Blyth Fellow in Mathematics); Professor F.P. Kelly FRS, main research interests are in random processes, networks and optimization; Professor P.V. Landshoff, mathematical physics; Prof S. Tavaré, statistics and computational biology; and Dr C. Thomas, theoretical high energy physics. Teaching and research interests between them span a wide range of areas of Pure and Applied Mathematics, Statistics and Theoretical Physics.

In Parts IA and IB, teaching is organised entirely within the College, and much of the supervision is given personally by these Fellows. At Part II, in order to cover the many options available, Christ's joins forces with other Colleges to ensure that supervisions are given by specialists in the appropriate subject. For many years, Mathematics has been one of the subjects in which Christ's College has been particularly strong and this has been reflected not least in the excellent results achieved in recent years by our Mathematics undergraduates. Dr Hunt is one of only four lecturers currently in the Cambridge Mathematics Faculty to have been awarded the Pilkington Prize, the University-wide annual prize for excellence in teaching. The Mathematical Tripos includes the CATAM option described above which shows students how to use computers to solve mathematical problems that may be analytically intractable and Dr Hunt has particular expertise in this option.

There is always a strong supportive community of Mathematicians at Christ’s who often get together to discuss mathematical problems. Each year a dinner is organized for those who want to come.
 

College Facilities

Christ's is distinctive amongst the Cambridge Colleges. It offers strong tutorial support to its students as they pursue their academic work, and is able to offer accommodation for three years to all of its undergraduates. The College also provides a modern library, a theatre, sporting facilities, playing fields, social activities and clubs and societies open to all. The facilities page has further details and pictures. 

Christ’s is currently the only College where both a former Master and the Senior Tutor are Mathematicians, both of whom regularly give supervisions. The College encourages a broad mathematical education; second years are encouraged to study all available options even if they don’t take them to examination.


Student Profiles

Maria, James and Xinhua all study Mathematics here at Christ's College. They have written about their experiences studying Maths in their student profiles:

If you would like to read more accounts from Christ's students, please see the student profiles page.
 

How to Apply

Details of the application process including the dates and deadlines are given on our how to apply page. We welcome applicants from all backgrounds and school types. If you will be applying from outside the UK, we recommend that you also read our dedicated section for international students.

Subject requirements

We admit students taking three A-levels, the International Baccalaureate and a range of equivalent qualifications. To apply for Mathematics:

  • You should study Mathematics at the most advanced level available in your curriculum. For students taking UK-designed A-levels*, you are required to take both Mathematics and Further Mathematics as two of your subjects.
     
  • Physics is also a useful subject. 
     
  • Applicants for Mathematics must also take STEP examinations, and we are happy to consider applications from students who have already taken STEP (Papers II and III). There is further information about STEP, how we use it and how to prepare for it. 
     
  • If you are studying in the Scottish education system, please also read the notes for scottish applicants

*UK-designed A-levels include CIE A levels but do not include Singapore A levels.

Maths or Maths with Physics? 

All Maths applicants apply for Mathematics in their UCAS application. On the SAQ (or on the COPA form if you are applying from outside the EU), you will then be asked to choose between the two first year options in the Maths course: 

  • Pure and Applied Mathematics 
  • Mathematics with Physics 

Information about these options is in the Part 1A course outline and in the Mathematics with Physics leaflet. Please bear in mind that applicants for Mathematics with Physics must be taking Physics at A level, IB Higher Level or equivalent. 

Interviews

Christ's Maths applicants selected for interview in Cambridge have the interviews in early December. Applicants will normally have two Mathematics interviews (about 25 minutes each). Typically one will lead on Pure Mathematics, the other on Applied Mathematics. All applicants will also be given some questions to look at before one of the interviews starts, and a discussion of your solutions to these questions will form part of the interview. During these subject interviews, we may ask questions on topics with which you are not already familiar: the aim here is to assess your innate mathematical ability when working through unprepared questions and your ability to absorb quickly new ideas. This approach minimizes the effects of a candidate’s background and teaching and creates a more level playing field. We will not try to catch you out but rather will help you work through unseen problems. We sometimes ask candidates to think out loud as they tackle interview problems as a means of helping us to understand their individual approach to Mathematics. We are not simply trying to test knowledge or memory of theorems, etc., as these will be tested in due course by A-level, IB Higher or other examinations.

Further information about interviews (including two useful films) is available in the Cambridge interviews section.
We also hold interviews in a number of locations overseas. If this may be relevant for you, please see the international students section

Offers

Christ's College does not have fixed quotas of places for different subjects and the exact numbers admitted in any one year will depend upon the strengths of the fields of applicants in various subjects. However, our aim is to admit around ten students each year in Mathematics.

Our typical offer is A*A*A at A-level including Mathematics and Further Mathematics (or comparable grades in other qualifications) plus grades 1 or higher in each of STEP papers II and III; and we are happy to receive applications from students who have already completed STEP. Note that Christ's offer holders who go on to achieve the relevant A-level (or equivalent) conditions and secure a grade 1 or higher in either STEP II or III will automatically be placed in the Summer Pool for consideration by other Colleges (regardless of the grade they secure in their second STEP paper), if we cannot accept them at Christ's.

The international students section has further information about typical offers for other qualifications. If you will have already finished school when you apply, please see the page for post-qualification applications

STEP

STEP (Sixth Term Examination Paper) Mathematics is designed to test candidates on questions that are similar in style to undergraduate mathematics. Your preparation for STEP will be an important part of your preparation for Mathematics at Cambridge, and we recommend that all applicants and offer holders make use of the free online STEP Support Programme, which includes weekly online modules and a discussion forum. 

Everyone can have a bad day, a bad interview, or a bad examination so we try to avoid allowing the prospect of a place at Cambridge to rest on a single observation; therefore A level, IB or equivalent grades, STEP grades and interview performance all feed into the final decision. One advantage of STEP is that we can see the exact marks achieved by a candidate, and can also look at candidates’ scripts where appropriate in order to judge the quality of the answers. However, a flexible attitude is taken to our requirements, and we are always ready to review them on a personal basis in the light of special circumstances.

We are sympathetic to the problems that some schools have in providing special teaching for STEP, and we always pay particular attention to the assessment of candidates by their own teachers. Some offer-holders whose schools have difficulty in providing specialized teaching are invited to participate in University-run STEP preparation days.

Most students (including international students if you make the arrangements) can take STEP exams at school. The Cambridge Admissions Testing website has the practical information you'll need, including how to register, what to do if you can't sit STEP at a school, and the dates and costs. If you have practical questions about taking STEP that you can't find the answer to on the website, we recommend that you contact the Cambridge Admissions Testing Support Team.

Taking a gap year

We are always willing to consider Mathematics candidates who wish to take a gap year. Because of the danger particular to Mathematics of going "off the boil" and losing the knack of algebraic manipulation, we would encourage you to ensure that your mathematical skills are kept honed. 
 

Resources

Further Information

If you are able to come to a College Open Day, our Maths Open Day or our Women in Mathematics residential (eligibility criteria apply), we will be glad to tell you more about Christ's and studying Mathematics here in person. If you are not able to come, please feel free to visit at another time or email any questions you have to the Christ's admissions team: admissions@christs.cam.ac.uk.
 

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