Preparing for Biological Natural Sciences

Advice from Director of Studies for 1A Biology students at Peterhouse, Dr. Justin Gerlach

Students preparing for their first year of studying Natural Sciences at Cambridge University inevitably get bombarded with lists of things they 'ought' to read. At some point you will also be directed to an on-line preparation course for STEM subjects; it's not particularly onerous but may feel like yet another thing to do. The university's recommended reading is there to broaden interest and to help you to be in the right frame of mind at the start of term, rather than to give you specific vital information. In addition, I regard these two as important reading:

  • "Essential Biology" is a very short book written specifically to cover everything needed for starting the first year
  • "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins remains the clearest explanation of the key idea in evolutionary genetics

    Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" is, of course, the fundamental text in biology. It is very rarely read these days, but is worth a try. Some people find the Victorian style difficult, but it's worth at least sampling one chapter in particular. Chapter 4 where the end of the first paragraph introduces the term 'natural selection' and then goes on to invent the concept of 'sexual selection'. There are many on-line versions; the Google Books version is easily searchable, or Darwin Online is an obvious source. Part of the point of looking at some of this is to appreciate the extraordinary amount of information that Darwin complied in support of his argument (and he regarded this as merely an 'abstract'!).

    It is also important to carefully consider your choice of 1A courses, although final decisions are not made until the start of the academic year. You will have been asked for an early indication of likely choices to help the college make plans for teaching. Links to further information on courses are provided here in summary form and in more detail.

  • Contact

    Justin Gerlach by e-mail