Please take this page in conjunction with the Part III Timeline of Events, as it provides explanations of the events listed there.
- Start of the Year
- Major Support Events
- Wednesday Talks
- Information about Research Groups
- Administrative Matters
- Exams and Results
- End of Year
Start of the Year
MASt Welcome to CMS and Part III
Part III students who were not Cambridge undergraduates are strongly encouraged to attend the “Welcome meeting” to CMS and Part III on the Tuesday before the Introduction to Part III. In this meeting, some of the aspects of Part III which might be seem surprising (or indeed downright strange) to such students will be explained by present PhD students and Faculty who came in from outside to study Part III. There will also be tours of the Centre for Mathematical Sciences (CMS) showing where the Part III room and the various lecture theatres are.
Part III Introductory Meeting
This is the official start of the Part III year for all students. It will be very crowded, filling two adjoining lecture rooms, with speakers giving essentially the same introductory presentations once in each room. You will be given a lot of information, which is often hard to take in at this point. A large part of this is general administrative information, much of which can be found in the Part III Handbook (look for the latest version listed here) and also in Prof. Korner's Unofficial Guide to Part III. Perhaps the most important part of this is to learn what sources of help are available to you - what the roles of Director of Studies, Tutor, Subject advisor are, and who else might be useful for advice and explanation of how the Cambridge system works.
The Subject Advisers will also introduce themselves, and the courses which are being offered this year. Some are courses which are given every year, and it is well worth reading both this year's and last year's Guide to Courses to get an idea of what is covered in the more basic courses before this meeting.
The usual practice is to sample six or seven courses intending to drop one or two within the first week. This means that lectures are extremely crowded in the first week. Be prepared to stand or sit on the floor in some cases. Some of the more popular courses may be rescheduled to make better use of the bigger rooms. The class sizes generally shrink dramatically after the first week. There will be a general re-allocation of rooms according to need after the first week.
Major Support Events
Many Part III students come to Cambridge from other universities, so their mathematical background is as varied as the places they come from. The catch-up workshops at the beginning of Michaelmas term intend to deliver some background material in subjects such as Algebraic Topology, Basic Algebra, Geometry, Measure Theory, Functional Analysis, Statistics, Quantum Mechanics, General Relativity and Fluids. They run 2pm-4pm Thursday to Tuesday in the first week of lectures, and are given by PhD students who try to make them based around examples. Some of these catch-up workshops may be followed up by support meetings through the term. You will manage the process of catching up much better if you have already looked at the Part III Preparation Resources over the summer before you come. You can look at the time table and abstracts for more information. It would help us if you can indicate interest in this Google form. This is not binding, just to give us an idea of numbers. Time-tables for previous years (or the current year, if you're looking just before they happen) are available on the Graduate Maths Website.
When learning a lot of new and probably hard courses, it can be very helpful to talk to others taking the same course. The study groups give you the opportunity to organise helpful discussions with others from your lecture course. This can be about prerequisites, about the current lecture material, about some example sheet questions, ... Use them in a way that most benefits you.
Doing Part III, you are now Masters students and have to increase your level of independent learning. In this spirit, Study Groups are not supposed to be a substitute for undergraduate supervisions, and are set up for you to organise yourselves on purpose.
Part III Seminar Series
There are two Part III Seminar Series, one at the end of the Michaelmas term, and one at the end of the Lent term. These are your chances to give talks to your colleagues. Take advantage of this opportunity to give a talk. It will serve to consolidate the material you have been learning during the term.
The Seminar Series are a major social event in the Part III calendar. Even if for some reason you are unable to give a talk, keep this time available to listen to others. Even listening to others giving talks is an excellent way to use and thus revise the concepts you have met this year. It is a good way to meet your colleagues in a more active role. You will also meet many of the research students, who have figured out that these talks provide excellent introductions to subjects outside their area of expertise. Both series end with a well-supplied party in the part III room.
For the Michaelmas Term series, you are encouraged to present material arising from examples sheets, or to develop themes introduced by lecturers but then abandonned. You will be organised into groups talking on similar subjects (even better if you organise your own seminar group). You will give your own talk, you will listen to other peoples talks, and you will participate in discussion following each talk. The Michaelmas Term Seminar Series season begins with a talk on How to Prepare a Talk. Sign-up for the series begins following that talk, and there will be opportunities to ask about the running of the seminars at that time.
You may wish to invite potential supervisors/writers of supporting letters to come and listen to the Michaelmas talks. It is one opportunity (out of very few) for students to display their mathematical abilities to staff before the exams in June. While staff are busy too at this time of year, it remains the best option we have found.
The Lent Term Series offers the perfect opportunity to begin to gather your ideas on your Part III essay together prior to setting metaphorical pen to paper, although you are welcome to give a talk even if you have no intention of offering an essay, and giving a talk is in no way a requirement for writing an essay. The Lent Term Seminar Series season begins with a talk on From Outline to Essay, after which sign-up will be available.
The timing of these seminar series
Every year earnest complaints are lodged that the timing is unsuitable. Every year we have scanned the calendar for more suitable times, but so far we have not come up with any better solution. The Michaelmas term series needs to be in early December if it is going to be any use for those needing recommendations for US universities. The Lent term series cannot be any later if it is going to be of use in helping students arrive at a sensible outline for their essays. Like much of life, this is an occasion where we will make the best of sub-optimal opportunities.
You can look at listings of past Michaelmas and Lent Term Seminar Series talks, and current timetables, on the CUGMS website.
You can find slides for some of these talks on Julia Goedecke's talks page.
Talk: Introduction to the Careers Service (including applying to PhDs in the USA)
In this talk you will be introduced to the facilities available at the University Careers Service. Due to strong demand, there will be a focus on USA PhD applications, which have quite early deadlines.
The process of finding the right place for the years to come is one that will continue through this term and the next. In particular, the Research in UK afternoon and the Research Groups in Cambridge sessions are part of this process, and a part you should plan on being part of.
Talk: Applying for PhDs
While some research students come to Cambridge from outside Cambridge, the majority of those who get places to do a PhD here in CMS come from the Part III year group.
The process of applying for PhD places and then deciding which offers to accept or not has some inherent problems (as many other job application processes might also have!). It is often the case that students may need to accept or reject some offers before they know whether they will fulfil the conditions of other offers conditional on Part III results. Many Cambridge PhD offers are still conditional on Part III results, but not all: you need to come to this talk to find out what the procedure is in your area, and to know how best to navigate through this complex process.
Talk: Essays and Talks
Many students prepare an essay as part of the Part III examination. This is an opportunity to learn some of the skills needed in academic research without being dropped head-first into cold water. It is a very good idea to take advantage of this option; this is not just because the essay is often one of the best marks a student receives. Keep in mind that the point of the year is to transform undergraduates into working mathematicians. Getting the experience of working on a substantial mathematical piece of writing before you attempt a PhD thesis is a wise investment of time and effort.
This talk will describe what is involved in the essay option, how to choose an essay topic, how to request an essay topic if there is some theme you would like to write on which has not been offered as an essay title, what sort of support you can expect in preparing the essay.
It will also explain the series of events geared towards guiding you step by step through the process of reading mathematical papers, getting to grips with the ideas therein, and perhaps preparing a talk on the topic and writing an essay that will demonstrate your understanding of the ideas and your ability to apply them, perhaps even to questions not dealt with in the paper.
Talk: How to Write a Part III Essay 1: How to Prepare a Talk
The purpose of the Part III year is to transform undergraduates into working mathematicians, capable of reading papers, doing research, writing papers, giving talks and generally being part of a mathematical community. In the course of the Part III year, you will have two chances to give a talk, and be part of a seminar group, a chance to read papers, and a chance to write what may be your first mathematical paper.
The Michaelmas Term Part III Seminar Series offers all Part III students the chance to talk for about half an hour on a subject of their choice. "How to prepare a talk" goes through the stages of planning and rehearsing a talk. This is also a very important part of the essay writing process, as it helps you prepare a good outline for your essay. The Lent Term Seminar Series is deliberately timed in such a way that if you give a talk on your essay in that series, you will be on very good track in terms of finishing your essay by the deadline.
Talk: How to Write a Part III Essay 2: How to Read a Paper
The second talk in the series of guiding you through the Essay writing process deals with good ways of reading a research paper.
The lists of essay descriptions will have been published online. You will now begin the process of choosing an essay topic, and reading the papers that are referred to in the essay descriptions. Reading mathematics is not easy, but there are tricks of the trade which make it easier. The talk this week should help you get started.
Even before you attempt to read more than the description of the essay online, I strongly suggest you ask our friendly research students about the topics. This will save you a lot of time. You should also contact the essay setter. Essay setters have different ways of handling initial discussions with students who may wish to write on the topics they have set. Some will encourage individuals to come and talk with them directly, others will arrange a time when they will present the topic more formally in a short talk, before meeting with students individually. Expressing an interest in writing an essay does not commit you to writing or submitting that particular essay, or any essay at all. You will not have to make that choice officially until late April/early May. Of course, if you do want to write an essay, you have to choose and start far earlier than that to have time to complete it, but should it go horribly wrong you have the option of abandoning it and not submitting, until the time that you have officially declared which examination papers you will be taking (see Easter term, Week 1).
Talk: How to Write a Part III Essay 3: From Outline to Essay
This is the third in the sequence How to Write a Part III Essay aimed at guiding you through the preparation of your essay. It takes the process from outline through finished product. It also serves as the kick-off for the Lent Term Seminar Series - an excellent way of arriving at a detailed outline for your essay.
At this talk, the course directors will review some of the more important technical administrative matters concerning the Exams. This is the correct time to come to ask questions about how much credit is given for which exams, when decisions have to be made on what courses you will offer for exams, and similar matters.
Talk: Revision Strategy
This talk is directed at those who are not familiar with the Cambridge tripos exams. For those meeting tripos exams for the first time, a little Cambridge-specific exam and revision strategy can be helpful, but all are welcome whether or not they are new to Cambridge.
Information about Research Groups
Research Groups in Cambridge
The graduate students in each research group put together sessions (spread throughout the term) in which they introduce those research students working in the group, and the subjects on which they are working. This is not a substitute for talking to members of staff, but it is an excellent chance to meet the research students in fields that you are interested in. These people are a very important resource. Probably they all took the courses that you are now struggling with. They probably even did rather well in the exams. They are the best source of technical advice in your subject, generally having more time to sit down and explain things. The different group presentations are the occasion to find out who they are. Make use of them.
Research in UK
We invite students from other universities to come and talk about their research, and we ensure there is a generous tea opportunity, with cakes, to enable you to ask them the questions you need to know answers to (which supervisors in their department are nice, friendly, accessible and have time to spare for their PhD students, for example).
Requesting additional examination papers
It is possible for students to request additional examination papers in addition to those courses already offered. Usually this will take the form of a reading course, which a member of the department has to supervise and then set an exam on. If you are thinking of this, note that the deadline for the members of the department to request such extra courses is 9th November, so make sure you talk to them before this date so they have time to request it.
The lists of essay descriptions will have been published online. You will now begin the process of choosing an essay topic, and reading the papers that are referred to in the essay descriptions. Reading mathematics is not easy, but there are tricks of the trade which make it easier. There is a talk which should help you get started.
Even before you attempt to read more than the description of the essay online, I strongly suggest you ask our friendly research students about the topics. This will save you a lot of time. You should also contact the essay setter. Essay setters have different ways of handling initial discussions with students who may wish to write on the topics they have set. Some will encourage individuals to come and talk with them directly, others will arrange a time when they will present the topic more formally in a short talk, before meeting with students individually. Expressing an interest in writing an essay does not commit you to writing or submitting that particular essay, or any essay at all. You will not have to make that choice officially until late April/early May. Of course, if you do want to write an essay, you have to choose and start far earlier than that to have time to complete it, but should it go horribly wrong you have the option of abandoning it and not submitting, until the time that you have officially declared which examination papers you will be taking.
Requesting Essay Titles
Candidates may request additional essay titles. There is a procedure for this, and it begins with you talking to a member of staff who might be willing to set an essay on the topic you would like to study. Like most deadlines associated with the Part III year, there is no flexibility. It is wise, if you want an additional title listed, to discuss this matter well in advance of this date.
Exams and Results
With luck, given that you have enjoyed and taken an active part in your education during the year, the exams should not hold any nasty surprises. You will have studied past exam papers, and come up with and followed your own revision strategy, whether your ambition is a pass or a distinction. You will be tired, but hopefully not too tired to think.
The exams are hard. Various people will have been telling you that at regular intervals from the first day onwards. The good consequence of that is that a pass on these exams is well respected. It can be an uncomfortable experience for those who are accustomed to walk away from an exam feeling that they have turned in a near perfect paper, to come away from exam knowing that at best your mark is likely to be nearer 70%. Despair is not appropriate: 75%, for example, is still a solid α-. Acknowledge this truth before the exams; it will spare you considerable distress.
The timetable will probably include at least one day with two exams, morning and afternoon. This reflects the complexities of trying to draw up any viable timetable, considering the widely differing collections of courses that students choose to offer.
Part III Results
You will receive your results on CamSIS on the Wednesday in this week.
Unless your plans for the next year are in no way dependent on your results, it is a very good idea to have the Thursday (and perhaps the week following as well) free to spend negotiating with potential advisers and arranging funding for future studies. If you have taken advice to heart and kept at least one attractive fallback option open, disappointments will not be catastrophic for your career. Plans can and do change, and not always for the worse. Be prepared to be flexible, and use the time available to revise plans appropriately in the light of your results.
End of Year
End of Year Party
The end of the year hits people rather suddenly. One week everyone is studying madly, the next week there is scant time to pack and say good-byes. On the Friday following the release of results, both departments provide a liberal supply of strawberries, wine, cheese and bread, giving you the chance to sit about the core one final time talking with friends and colleagues you will never quite forget.