*NB you do not have to be studying Psychology at school to apply for PBS at Cambridge. See subject requirements.
How did you choose to study Psychology at Cambridge?
I definitely wanted to study Psychology as I’ve always found it really interesting, and specifically for Psychology at Cambridge, you have the opportunity to do extra options as well, so I did two extra papers in both first and second year. I felt like I had a better range, rather than just doing Psychology, plus the research they’re doing here is in an area that I’m quite interested in.
When it came to choosing a College, I first of all visited Cambridge for a Psychology taster day that they organised for us when I was in Y12, and I just really liked the atmosphere. Then I visited Christ's on an open day and really liked the location and the feel of it. There was nothing wrong with any of the other Colleges, but I loved the feel of Christ's; the people all seemed very friendly, I liked the size of the year (not too big and not too small), and I felt like I would be able to fit in here very well.
What advice would you give sixth formers considering an application for PBS?
Just have a little read around and make sure Psychology is what you want to do. There's some good stuff on the reading list they provide for prospective students, if you're not sure where to start. At Cambridge, if you don’t enjoy your subject you just won’t enjoy uni. Reading a bit of extra material also helps with interviews, I think. I quite like the fact that when they assess you for a place here, they invite most applicants to interviews rather than just going on grades: it helped me quite a lot.
I would also like to mention to future students that although there is a choice of papers in the course, I've personally found that the biological aspect of Psychology is a lot more important than I initially thought. With my A-level in Biology, I was absolutely fine, but I would advise future students to just be open minded about Biology if you've not studied it in sixth form.
" I've personally found that the biological aspect of Psychology is a lot more important than I initially thought."
What papers did you study in second year?
Firstly, I studied PBS 3 (Social and Developmental Psychology) and PBS 4 (Cognitive Neuroscience and Experimental Psychology) because they are the two second year compulsory papers. I would have chosen to do them both anyway though! I also chose to do two bio anthropology papers – BAN2 (Social Networks and Behavioural Ecology) and BAN8 (Health and Disease). I chose these papers because they sounded the most interesting to me, and also because they were all of a similar style: I thought that they wouldn’t take me completely out of my comfort zone. We had such a random range of choices, and I didn’t want to spread myself too far by doing something like Computer Science. In first year though, I did take Evolution & Behaviour and Social Anthropology as my extra papers, even though they were both very different, since at that stage I wanted to take the opportunity to study a wide range of topics.
Out of all of my papers this year, I thought that the most interesting essay I got to work on was either one on social norms, or another on non-traditional families as I enjoyed being able to explore ongoing research. I also really enjoyed Decision Making in PBS4!
What's the timetable like?
I have about nine lectures a week in total. Then, in supervisions, it varied between weeks - so some weeks I had more than others. Overall it was probably about two a week on average. We also had practicals for two hours twice a week. Then, during Lent term (the second of the three terms here), the practicals changed into Statistics.
I think that first and second year were very similar for my weekly work overall. It's true that we had more essays than short answer questions etc. in second year, and possibly we slightly more reading as well, but I did four papers each year and very similar types of work. The harder content in second year was probably the largest change between the two years.
How have you found the workload?
The workload to extra-curricular balance is fine. I think that just planning effectively and doing the work efficiently rather than spending ages planning is the most important skill to learn - it's all about prioritising.
The issue in terms of workload is probably that it varies, as the different papers you do don’t always communicate so some weeks there’ll be lots of work and others there’ll be much less. There have been times when the workload has been a bit overwhelming, but we've always been able to do something about it. For example, in first term this year there was a point where because some of the supervisions were organised quite late on in term, we had too work to do that was all due in by the same time. It was OK though: we emailed our Director of Studies and they liaised with our supervisors and rearranged our deadlines so that we could do some of the work over Christmas instead. The important thing is to say something if you're finding things a bit tough - your Director of Studies can't help with this kind of thing unless you tell them.
"I think that just planning effectively and doing the work efficiently rather than spending ages planning is the most important skill to learn."
What do you do when you’re not working?
I do some football for the university team. We train about three times a week and then play on Wednesdays. It takes up quite a lot of time but is definitely worth it. I was given some money by Christ's for football which went towards kit and stuff – they gave me £125 and it was really helpful! Other than that I just enjoy being with friends and going out - Sunday's night at 'Life' (the closest club) is great okay?!
There are also special events in College - this year I really enjoyed the Christ's May Ball, and Halfway Hall (a special dinner that we get half-way through our course) was definitely up there, as well as Christmas in the Buttery and all the events like that – all the stuff organised by the College students union.
Out of term, I usually spend the vacations at home with family and friends. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing and catching up with the real world.
What are you most looking forward to next year?
I’m really looking forward to my project - it'll be good to do an actual research project. I’ll also be doing one paper on developmental psychopathology, and another on the social issues in psychology, which sound interesting. Then, my last paper is 'gender'. I’ve chosen these papers because I now want to do all Psychology: its been good to do all the other options that the course allows, but now I want to focus in, and these papers were the ones I was most interested in, as well as the ones with the most real-life applications, which I thought would be useful before graduating.
I don’t really want to leave after next year though! Its scaring me a little that it’s already going to be the last year! I can’t wait for everyone to be back in College, making the most of the last year in general.
Do you know what you want to do after Cambridge?
I’m not really sure yet. I’m not ready to leave university completely so I think I’ll probably move onto a masters degree or have some time off first and just enjoy that, since I didn’t do a gap year and would quite like a break, but we’ll see. I don’t know the final answer, but we don’t have to yet.
Please be aware if you're considering an application that our student writers describe their experiences. Although the majority of the information stays the same, some details may change from year to year. Do read the student profiles in combination with our undergraduate admissions pages for full information.