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Q. How mathematical is the Part II Astrophysics course - would the average physicist cope?

The Part II Astrophysics course is somewhat more mathematical than Part II Physics and thus may involve some adjustment by students from a physics background during the first term of the course. Nevertheless we find that some of our most mathematically rigorous courses are among the most popular and successful courses for students from all backgrounds.

Q. Mathematicians and physicists entering Part II Astrophysics have different skills and have done different courses in Part IB - so how does this work?

Both mathematicians and physicists will meet both familiar and unfamiliar material. For example mathematicians may be familiar with some of the topics covered in the Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics course and physicists will likewise have met some material in the Statistical Physics course. The differences in approach of mathematics and physics students are addressed in supervisions: physicists learn greater confidence with mathematics whilst mathematicians are encouraged to develop more physically intuitive ways of looking at problems. In practice, the differences between former mathematicians and former Natural Scientists are much less pronounced by the end of the year.

Q. Will I learn less fundamental Physics than in Part II/Part III Physics?

The key thing here is that you will learn different physics (with some overlap, of course) with the physics emphasised being that which is most relevant to astronomical rather than terrestrial contexts. Thus you'll learn considerably more dynamics but considerably less about solid state physics than in the physics course.

Q. Do I restrict my options by doing Part II Astrophysics?

Inevitably, yes: any specialisation closes some doors and opens others. In practice this means that any student contemplating postgraduate research in another branch of physics (such as condensed matter) should remain in the Physics Tripos.

Q. Are there any practicals or opportunities to use telescopes?

There is currently no practical component of the course, although we review this issue regularly in consultation with the students. The IoA however houses a number of telescopes, including the historic Northumberland and Thorrowgood telescopes, and students are encouraged to join CUAS, who provide training in the use of these telescopes as well as organising a programme of entertaining astronomical lectures.

Q. How difficult is the Part II course?

Part II Astrophysics should not be regarded as a soft option and it is found to be challenging to mathematicians and physicists alike. On the other hand, students on average advance a class in Tripos between their Part I and Part II Astrophysics result, suggesting that the majority of students rise to this challenge. More dramatic changes in class (e.g. III -> I) are not unknown, as students are inspired by the course content and rediscover their scientific curiosity. Due to the small class size, exams are not marked to conform to a standard mark distribution which therefore varies greatly from year to year according to the enthusiasms and abilities of the student cohort.

Q. How difficult is the Part III course?

The taught component of Part III Astrophysics derives from Part III Maths and so one should not underestimate the pace and mathematical rigour of the course. On the other hand, our selection procedure for this course means that the students who go on to Part III Astrophysics appear to be well equipped for the course, judging by their Part III results (to date the great majority have obtained 2.1s and Firsts).

Q. Can I study Astrophysics within the Mathematics and Physics Triposes?

The answer is yes in both cases. For mathematicians there are two Part II courses covering astrophysical topics (Cosmology and General Relativity), with the wide range of topics at the Part III level. Physicists take a Relativity course in the Michaelmas Term and can opt to take the IoA's Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics course as a Lent Term option (both these courses being shared with Part II Astrophysics). In Part III Physics, students may take a major option and some minor options in Part III that are astronomically related, as well as having the opportunity to do some astronomically related project work, although this is less extended than the project work component of Part III Astrophysics. The breadth and depth of astrophysical courses offered in Part III Physics is in general less than in Part III Astrophysics (or Mathematics), but, as a trade-off, students obtain a better grounding in non-astronomically related physics at the Part II level.

Q. Can I make non-standard transitions between Mathematics and Astrophysics and Physics at the Part III level?

Maybe, but this is a matter for discussion with your Director of Studies and the departments involved. In general, transitions between Mathematics and Astrophysics at the Part II to Part III level are straightforward in either direction for qualified students. Transfers between Physics and Astrophysics after three years are now possible for suitably qualified students who have taken the Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics option in the Lent Term of Part II Physics. In addition, such students will be expected to complete a CATAM computing project over the summer. Those wishing to transfer into Astrophysics at the Part III level should note that, in the case of over-subscription, priority will be given to those coming from Part II Astrophysics. Transfers between Part II Astrophysics and Part III Physics are not encouraged.

Q. What do people do after Part II and Part III Astrophysics?

The destinations of Astrophysics graduates after Cambridge are very varied. Many have proceeded to PhDs in astronomy; in recent years, most of our students taking this path have taken the Part III Astrophysics course, which is regarded as an elite qualification by astronomy departments both in Cambridge and elsewhere in the UK. A number of students have also gone on to acquire a range of (non astronomy related) further qualifications that build on the solid mathematical skills acquired in Part II Astrophysics.  Astrophysics degrees also equip graduates for a range of non academic jobs, including teaching, software development, financial services and accountancy. Our graduates include investment bankers, business analysts, workers in the media and a vicar. In the words of an alumnus from 1996/1997 "...having 'Astrophysics Cambridge' on one's CV certainly opens a lot of doors!"

Q. What will appear on my transcript if I transfer from Part II Mathematics or Physics to Part III Astrophysics?

Transcripts (both official and unofficial) of students transferring from Part II Mathematics to Part III Astrophysics will appear as follows:

  • Name of Qualification: MSci & BA Degrees
  • Level of Qualification: Undergraduate
  • Field(s) of study for the qualification: Natural Sciences Tripos, Mathematical Tripos
  • Official length of Course: Four Years

Transcripts (both official and unofficial) of students transferring from Part II Physics to Part III Astrophysics will appear as follows:

  • Name of Qualification: MSci & BA Degrees
  • Level of Qualification: Undergraduate
  • Field(s) of study for the qualification: Natural Sciences Tripos
  • Official length of Course: Four Years

Unofficial transcripts can be viewed on CamSIS. Should you have any queries or concerns regarding the contents of your transcript, please contact