Learning English Pt. 3 / Cam 101 Pt. 2

02Oct06

Cambridge: where Part III of the mathematics tripos is as hard as the water. Please note that the following information is my own ‘rough summary’ and should not be taken as an official description as I am likely to make errors.

maths: what an American would call ‘math’ (singular). If you think about it though, perhaps it’s appropriate that the truncation of ‘mathematics’ should be plural.

tripos: a four year sequence of undergraduate courses culminating in roughly the equivalent of a master’s degree (or a German diplom). The name comes from the term for the three-legged stool which examiners would sit on hundreds of years ago, when the final exam was an oral debate (because of this students with top marks were known as ‘wranglers’). These days the examinations are written and given at the end of May, following a six week revision session.

Part III: the common name for the fourth year of the mathematics tripos, though there is also a Part III for physics and perhaps other subjects. The Part III course is roughly the equivalent of an American master’s, but has the reputation of being the most difficult course of its kind in the world. All students who intend to pursue a PhD in one of the Cambridge mathematics departments must earn a ‘distinction’ (highest mark) on Part III or attain some equivalent achievement. Only 30% of the 200 students taking Part III earn distinction. The official degree associated with Part III is a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Mathematics. This is effectively a master’s degree, but allows the university some funding perks by not officially calling it a master’s degree.

term: There are 3 terms in Cambridge: Michaelmas, Lent, and Easter (i.e. autumn, winter, and spring quarters). Terms are 8 weeks long with a 6 week revision period in between terms. Exams are held immediately after Easter term and courses during that term are usually for enrichment (and include a courses on supergravity and solitons). Note that Michaelmas is pronounced ‘mikelmiss,’ like “nickel miss” with an ‘m.’

essay: In place of one exam a Part III student may submit an essay on a topic. Essays are generally literature reviews on a current research topic, though can evolve into PhD thesis topics.

DAMTP: Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. Along with DPMMS (Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences) and the Statistics Laboratory, forms the faculty of mathematics. DAMTP is interesting because the ‘theoretical physics’ portion is one of the most mathematically oriented theoretical physics groups in the world.

CMS: Centre for Mathematical Science. The home of DAMTP, DPMMS, the Stats Lab, and the Isaac Newton Institute for Mathematical Sciences. The CMS is one of the most beautiful architectural features of Cambridge.


The central CMS building. note that this building does not show up in areal photos because its roof is covered in a layer of very well kept grass.

tutor: a fellow at one’s college in who looks after one’s general well being. For undergraduates, tutors also have a teaching capacity.

DoS: short for ‘director of studies,’ another member of one’s college whose research interests are more closely aligned with one’s own. Their role is to provide academic guidance. Disambiguate from ‘dos‘ as slang for slacking off (e.g. “The first two terms you can just dos“).

supervisor: PhD research adviser/mentor in one’s department, though not necessarily in one’s college.

departmental contact: for students who are not presently pursuing a PhD (e.g. Part III students), one has a departmental contact instead of a supervisor.



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