Oscar - Psychology and Behavioural Sciences
Oscar is from Kowloon, Hong Kong, and wrote this at the end of his first year studying Psychological and Behavioural Sciences here at Christ's College, Cambridge. Before Cambridge, Oscar took the International Baccalaureate with History, Biology and Chinese A at Higher Level, and Mathematics, Music and English A at Standard Level.
How did you choose your college?
I actually mostly relied on The Student Room, which said that Christ's was a pretty and friendly central college and that I wouldn't need to use a bike to get anywhere. It has been exactly what I expected and I'm really happy to be here.
I really like the collegiate system because there are only three 'PBS' students in my year at Christ's, which means I can get actual support. People know you, they’re happy to talk to you and they help out where they can. English isn’t my first language, and I still struggle a little when writing essays. My Director of Studies noticed this and very easily sorted out some extra contact hours with someone from the University Language Centre which was really helpful. It's really easy to sort out extra support if you need it.
What attracted you to PBS at Cambridge?
The flexibility of the Psychological and Behavioural Sciences course structure was really appealing as it allows me to dabble into some material from other Cambridge courses as well. This year, for example, I was able to study a paper from the Natural Sciences course (I took 'Evolution and Behaviour') and a paper from the Education course alongside it. A list of the papers you can take is on the course information page (click on the course outline tab).
Was there anything that you were nervous about?
Yes! The academic intensity of it all! You hear horror stories about how tough Cambridge is going to be. When I got here it turned out that I was right, it is really intense! But crucially the workload isn’t actually stressful. This is because you’re surrounded by people who are working just as hard as you and you're studying for a course that you are actively interested in – the intensity isn’t stressful, and so I found that it isn't anywhere near as bad as it was made out to be.
"You’re surrounded by people who are working just as hard as you and you're studying for a course that you are actively interested in – the intensity isn’t stressful."
How did you find the application process?
A lot of forms! So many forms - just have a look at the how to apply page. As an international student from outside the European Union, I had to do a UCAS application plus the COPA form and transcript for non-EU students plus the SAQ form, and as I applied for PBS, I also had to be registered for a pre-interview assessment, and then there were a few extra bits to send in to Christ's after I applied. But it’s just something you get on with, you follow the instructions on the how to apply page / and from 20 Sept, the current applicants section, and if you want to come here it just needs to be done.
If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to just be yourself (even if that sounds clichéd). I was told by staff in my school to completely alter my UCAS personal statement into what they thought Cambridge wanted, but I stuck to what I knew was the most accurate representation of me – by the time you’re writing one, you’ve lived with yourself for 18 years, and no one knows you better than yourself. It’s so important because the application is how Cambridge figures out whether you are suited for life here, and whether you would be able to learn from the type of teaching provided here. They can’t do that unless they are given an accurate representation of who you are.
There's an admissions assessment for PBS, which included basic Biology and Maths (which was well covered in IB) and a thinking skills test (that really didn’t require that much preparation in my case). There are some practice papers on the course website, that are useful if you want to familiarise yourself with the types of questions.
Beyond that, the interview was exactly what I expected it to be after looking through the interviews information and films. It's academic only so they asked me about the subject, and only the subject.
"[The interviews are] academic only so they asked me about the subject, and only the subject."
Before you came, what were you most worried about?
The academic intensity, and how much work I'd need to do. I had been sent a massive reading list in late August and was scared I’d need to know all of it before coming here. But I quickly figured out that it's up to you to choose how you use it, if you want to read fifteen books on one topic then you can, the suggestions are there and available. But if you just read the ones that interest you the most, that’s fine too!
Did you find it easy to settle in?
It definitely took me a full term to figure out what life here was like and to properly feel like I knew what was going on, but I think that’s perfectly normal. University is a massive adjustment, and you just have to trust that you will get there. It definitely helped me to keep in touch with a lot of my friends from home and call my parents regularly just to remind myself of the outside world and reassure myself that everyone was going through he same thing, especially being an international student and dealing with the culture shock of coming to a new country.
I didn’t actually take part in too many freshers events beyond the big ones like the freshers fair (where you can sign up for societies), mostly because I spent my time auditioning – I wanted to get a headstart in theatre! Also, since I don’t drink, there were some organised activities that I wasn’t that interested in. It wasn't an issue, though, because I didn’t have to drink to be friends with people who do. There are plenty of other opportunities to meet people and socialise. You just have to find the alternatives! A good start could be joining different student societies and participating in extracurricular activities that you’re passionate about; that way you meet people that share a common interest, which gives a much better basis for a new friendship.
How did you find starting lectures and supervisions etc.?
Definitely a wake-up call! I’d spent a week floating on the high of freshers' week, then suddenly I found myself in an Evolution and Behaviour lecture with so much information coming at me in 50 minutes, and then all the work started flooding in. I definitely took about two weeks to get my feet back under me and start actually understanding how to manage everything. Again - it was the same for everyone starting their courses, though, and we all figured it out!
Did you take a gap year?
Yes I did. I spent it at a university. I had decided to learn some languages, so I was trying to do Japanese, Spanish, French, and German – which was a lot to do all at once! Good fun though!
I don’t think I particularly struggled getting back into the swing of things when I started the course - you don’t really forget how to study!
How have you found the PBS course so far?
It is a lot different here! The system of having all exams at the end of the year means that it’s entirely up to you to motivate yourself to work throughout the year. There’s no homework set to spoon-feed you, and even with the essays, you decide for yourself what to research and how much research you will do!
Both the best and the hardest thing about PBS, or perhaps Psychology in general, is that it combines humanities and the sciences. Therefore, we are expected to be proficient in both fields in terms of our breath of knowledge and style of writing.
I think my favourite topic so far has been Gender. Being taught by the people you look up to, the ones who wrote the books you’re reading and studying is such a unique and amazing experience. The psychology of gender is what interested me in this course in the first place, and having it be one of the first topics I was taught in Michaelmas (the first term of the year) was unreal.
"Both the best and the hardest thing about PBS, or perhaps Psychology in general, is that it combines humanities and the sciences."
What do you feel you have got out of first year?
Prioritisation! The biggest thing I’ve learnt this year is how important it is to prioritise what I want to do. This is important both in actually getting the work done, but also in balancing your social life with it. If there’s something outside of work that you’re truly passionate about and that you actually want to do, you will make the time for it. I personally like to schedule work around musical rehearsals: that way I am more efficient and won’t procrastinate as much.
How have you found the workload?
The number of contact hours you get in this course depends so much on the options you take. For example, Evolution and Behaviour was a Natural Sciences paper and so I had five-hour practicals every other week along with three lectures and a supervision per week. But my Education paper had one lecture a week with two supervisions a term! So the work you get really depends on the options you take, and it’s probably a really good idea to do your research before making any decisions.
I'd advise future students to work at your own pace. You might have figured out your way of studying by now, and if you’re a ‘deadline fighter’ who cannot work productively until the day before the deadline, then don’t stress when one of your peers starts an essay a week before you. Different people use different methods, so find the method that works best for you and stick with it; no need to compare it with anyone else. The same goes for finding the best work spaces for you: personally, I like to work in my room for revision, and the college library for essays.
What have you enjoyed most about life at Christ’s this year?
The students, porters and teaching staff! Everyone here is so friendly and the teaching staff are so helpful, what's more, they will prioritise your well-being as well as your academics.
Otherwise, if I had to choose a favourite thing about Christ's, it would be either the location or the free laundry!
This year, I lived in New Court. The rooms are fairly small but I really felt like they had everything you needed in arm's reach and I loved the ensuite bathroom. They sometimes get crazy warm in summer though!
What do you do when you’re not working?
I spend most of my spare time doing musical theatre — probably a bit too much sometimes! I’ve done shows with 'Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society', 'Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club' and Footlights. They were all very fun and rewarding experiences! I have met many talented individuals as well as made some very nice friends who share the same theatrical interests. When I first came to Cambridge, I was very surprised by how talented people are and how many shows Cambridge puts on every term. Musicals, plays, comedy, performing at bars … there are just so many performing opportunities that anyone who has an interest in the performing arts (both performers and production crew) of all levels of expertise can get involved in. There is also an online platform (www.camdram.net) that is dedicated to Cambridge theatre; you can find out information about different shows, people and vacancies all in this platform, which goes to show how the theatre scene at Cambridge is truly ‘a thing’.
Other than theatre, I can often do a quick trip to London to hangout with friends from home (48 mins on a fast train!). Over the holidays I'll visit my friends in London, do some more musical theatre training, maybe get a job during the summer, and go home!
"I was very surprised by how talented people are and how many shows Cambridge puts on every term."
What are you most looking forward to next year?
I'm looking forward to diving into the new academic year and seeing how I handle the harder second year content with the skills I’ve learnt this year. Also, I'll be following the preferences I developed in first year. As much as it was really interesting, I'd personally prefer not do another Natural Sciences paper. Instead, I'll be taking papers in Sociology and Education because I thought they were really interesting topics.