Natural Sciences (Biological)
St John's College has a strong history in the Natural Sciences, including among our alumni the double Nobel Prize winning geneticist Frederick Sanger and the physicist Paul Dirac, one of the founders of Quantum Mechanics. We continue these traditions today, with a strong teaching fellowship maintaining broad interests across the sciences. There are at least fifteen Fellows and other teaching staff who are directly involved in supervising Natural Scientists in the College.
The Natural Sciences course at Cambridge is perhaps unique in the UK in its flexibility and broad scope. Throughout, the emphasis is on developing an understanding of principles so that graduates are well equipped to both understand and contribute to future scientific advances. The broad nature of the course is particularly well suited to modern science, where traditional subject boundaries are being abandoned in favour of cross-disciplinary approaches.
The 'Physical' and 'Biological' classifications in Natural Sciences are very flexible, and students often mix modules from the biological and physical sciences.
The supervision system is integral to teaching at Cambridge, and at St John's you will have regular supervisions, usually in groups of 2-3 students. In the first year you will have 4 supervisions per week, mostly with teaching Fellows from the college. The College also offers considerable additional support, including an excellent library, grants towards the costs of essential books and laptop computers and prizes for academic excellence in Natural Sciences.
We are also home to the Larmor Society, the Natural Sciences society of St John's College, named after the eminent alumnus Joseph Larmor. The Larmor Society organise talks spanning all areas of scientific research, connects students across years, provides guidance for subject choices and other science-related questions, and holds a variety of social events throughout the year.
Many students spend the summer carrying out research projects in UK or European universities. Students in the Biological Sciences have the opportunity to take part in a research project in the Peruvian Amazon, supported by a sustainable forestry initiative 'Green Gold Forestry'. Two students per year have spent their summer in the rainforest, carrying out a research project aimed at examining the effects of low impact logging on biodiversity and forest growth. Also, students can participate in an exchange program with California Institute of Technology.
Courses in Natural Sciences
The first year will involve choosing three (out of a possible eight) basic experimental subjects, plus an appropriate course in Mathematics. This will give you a thorough and broad foundation on which to build your chosen speciality.
Second year students choose three subjects, giving them the opportunity to become more specialised in a particular subject, or to retain a broad approach.
By the third year you will be specialising in one of seventeen subjects, chosen from a list that runs from Astrophysics to Zoology and includes Biochemistry, Chemistry, Genetics, Pathology, Pharmacology, Physiology, Development and Neuroscience (PDN), Plant Sciences, and Psychology.
In all Natural Sciences subjects it is possible to graduate with the BA Degree after three years. Four-year courses leading to the degrees of BA and MSci are available in eight subjects including Biochemistry, History and Philosophy of Science, and Systems Biology, subject to appropriate examination performance.
Students who read Natural Sciences during their first one or two years may also complete their degrees in another subject: for example, Chemical Engineering, Mathematics, or Management Studies.
Biology Subject Day Lectures
Find out what to expect from Biology at St John's by watching these lectures from our Biology Subject Days.
UCAS Code: BCF0
Typical Minimum Entry Requirements
A Level: A*A*A
International Baccalaureate: 42 points, with 776 at Higher Level
Essential Subjects: A Level/IB Higher Level in at least 2 science/mathematical subjects
Desirable Subjects: None
Submitted Work: None
Admissions Assessment (pre-registration required): Natural Science Admissions Assessment (NSAA) consisting of two 60 minute sections of multiple choice questions. More information can be found on the University webpage here.
Please note that Cambridge Assessment Admissions Testing (CAAT) has made changes to the 2022-23 admissions round registration deadline and test date for the NSAA. The registration deadline is 30 September 2022 and the test date is 19 October 2022; these dates are earlier than in previous years. You must register for pre-interview assessments so please do review this information carefully.
We take a flexible approach in the subject combinations we accept but whatever the combination it must be one that gives a sufficiently firm scientific foundation for the subjects that you would wish to take in the very broad first-year course. If you are in any doubt about the suitability of your combination of subjects as a preparation for the Natural Sciences Tripos, please contact us well before the deadline for submission of a formal application for advice.
We expect to admit about 30 students to read Natural Sciences every year, with approximately half classed as ‘Biological’ and half as ‘Physical’ Sciences. However, these classifications are very flexible, and students often mix modules from the biological and physical sciences, or change their preferred area entirely. In our last round of applications, we made offers to roughly 25% of Biological applicants.
Candidates will have two interviews by the Director(s) of Studies and other teaching fellows, each lasting 20-25 mins. We conduct our interviews in a friendly and informal manner, and you should not feel too daunted by the prospect of them. No special preparation for the interview is necessary, or indeed desirable. One of the interviews will be concerned with subject-related topics, but we do not expect you to have detailed prior knowledge of topics outside of the areas you have covered at school. The interview is not a test of memory, but is concerned with exploring your ability to think through scientific problems. Often the problem will involve interpretation of a graph or similar scientific figure.
The other interview will set mathematical problems asked in the context of biology or chemistry. We do not use a digital whiteboard, but you should have a pencil and paper to hand.
No additional assessment will be asked at or before interview.
Please find example questions here.
Directors of Studies
Professor Uta Paszkowksi - Natural Sciences (Biological), Plant Sciences
Professor Chris Jiggins - Natural Sciences (Biological), Evolution & Behaviour, Genetics, Ecology & Zoology
Professor Jean Abraham - Pathology/Biology of Disease
Dr Elizabeth Michael - Psychology
Professor Buzz Baum - Biology of Cells
Dr Richard Dybowski - Mathematical Biology
Dr Taufiq Rahman - Pharmacology
Professor Hugh Matthews - Physiology
Professor Eric Miska - Molecular Biology
Dr Dániel Margócsy - History and Philosophy of Science
Professor Uta Paszkowski - Plant Sciences
Professor Simon Conway Morris
Professor Steve Edgley
Dr Kristian Franze
Professor Richard Gilbertson
Dr John Hutchison
Professor Chris Jiggins
Professor Graham Ladds
Professor Ernest Laue
Dr Keith Matthews
Professor Eric Miska
Professor Uta Paszkowski
Professor Ole Paulsen
Professor James Staunton
Dr Derek Wight
Dr David Williams
Dr Ian Winter