Undercover: Science students

We did science so you don’t have to.

Cambridge cambridge life cambridge medical degree Cambridge natural sciences Cambridge science Cambridge scientists cambridge students Cambridge University Engineers lifestyle Mathematicians mathmos medicine medics NatScis natural sciences

Every week your Lifestyle editors, Leyla and Alex, will brave life and limb (and in this case reputation) by infiltrating a different Cambridge tribe. This time, we became that most Cambridge of creatures – scientists.

NatScis, Mathmos, Engineers, Medics – if you’re a typical art student these words might fill you with fear of long hours at lectures, complicated-sounding practicals and forced small talk where you try to summon any and all knowledge you memorised four years ago for GCSE Biology.

This is quite possibly the largest of the Cambridge tribes we will be investigating, but it is simultaneously the one you encounter least as a typical arts student (as much as others may try to convince me that Peterhouse has Mathmos, I won’t believe it until I see it).

Leyla – Bio NatSci

My attempt to be a NatSci for the morning started well enough, even though I got lost and accidentally met my guide, Reza, in the Downing site and not the New Museums Site. We laughed it off and made it into the Babbage Lecture Theatre on time.

Don’t you hate it when quaternary structures go wrong?

I was getting along without any incident until the space next to me was left empty by a girl who sat one seat away. I feared that my mission had been compromised and my phoniness exposed but my native guide informed me that it’s common NatSci decorum to leave a space between people at lectures: physical human interaction can apparently be a no-go. Ironically the lecture started with a discussion of protein interaction. Turns out the objects of study are fine with contact.

Initially rebuffed by the NatScis, I continued to make efforts to infiltrate them by paying attention to the start of the lecture. The lecturer started trying with a joke about sushi rice, but it quickly fell flat in this rather heavy atmosphere (yes, I’ve gone native and started making NatSci jokes. The things I do for the Tab).

Their lecture slides about the structure of cells grabbed my attention mostly for their resemblance to early cave painting, though I am reliably informed that that wasn’t the aesthetic they were going for.

Science, amirite?

Their handouts were far more extensive than history handouts are (probably a symptom of the fact that the History faculty has to work harder to entice us to come to lectures), which meant that there were very few people actively taking notes. Laptops were also far rarer, as most of the notes they did take were of structures and diagrams that could not be replicated on Pages.

An hour later I left the lecture, mildly entertained but not particularly enlightened (the lecturer lost me at the 30-second mark). Reza asked if I wanted to come to the next one, a Maths lecture next door, but to be honest all I wanted to do was go back to the Seeley and read The Military Border in Croatia.

Hiding in plain sight

Alex – Medicine

As an English student, until Friday I had not been to the Downing Site. My friend told me to meet him by the main entrance, but Google Maps, usually my saviour, had taken me to some random back entrance, so I spent a while wondering around, trying to figure out where on earth I was and nearly being run over by a particularly agitated cyclist in the process. Finally, after much facetiming, we found each other.

Looks more like a dirty joke than a lecture slide

When I asked how his morning had been, he told me that he had been in a lecture at nine, with a two-hour practical directly afterwards and now this lecture. I had spent the same time in bed with a book and a big cup of tea. I’m sure once it’s time to look for serious employment I will regret choosing a degree that allows me such luxuries, but I’m not sure I could face the medic lifestyle.

The lecture we were going to was on action potentials, which are apparently the way that cells pass signals electrically. I thought it sounded interesting, until I saw the notes, full of graphs and numbers and things, and realised that I was going to understand precisely 0% of what was said.

Just a really badly arranged seating plan

My situation was not helped by the fact that we had to sit right at the back of the lecture hall, since my inability to navigate had made us late. I would like to believe that had I been at the front, and thus able to hear everything the lecturer was saying, I could have understood more of it. However, even when I could hear it was like listening to a very foreign language: he was throwing around words like ‘refractoriness’ and ‘axoplasm’ and ‘serious work’. No idea what any of them meant.

While these adventures have increased our appreciation for the intelligence of the NatScis around us, we’re glad to be back from the wild. Next week our investigation will take place closer to home, as we investigate just what arts students do with their time.