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On Choice of Subjects

Which subjects require A Level Mathematics, AS or A2 Further Mathematics?

If you want to guarantee that you will be able to take a significant amount of Mathematics beyond Year 1, you must take A-level Mathematics and at least AS-level Further Mathematics.

It is noteworthy that the Further Maths Support Programmes in England and Wales offer students/schools support in taking Further Maths.

If you aren't studying Further Maths you need to study at least two subjects that don't include Mathematics as part of your degree. This involves students getting an A* and an exceptionally high set of UMS marks (at least 95%).

If you aren't doing A-level Mathematics, Higher Level IB Mathematics or equivalent in an alternative qualification, then we'd still welcome your application. Dependent on your background and meeting the admissions requirements, the subject pathways that you'd be able to take would be as follows.

At least one from Biology, Earth Sciences, Psychology, constituting at least 50% of your degree; you could, if you wished include some Anthropology, Business, Geography, Philosophy, Education, or Sport.

Not all subjects will combine smoothly on the timetable, but the popular paired combinations below will work.

  • Biology and: Anthropology, Geography, Earth Sciences or Psychology
  • Earth Sciences and: Biology or Geography
  • Psychology and: Biology or Geography.

Note that Higher Level Mathematics Applications and Interpretation is not suitable for applicants who wish to take a Mathematics or Physics pathway through Natural Sciences.

Chemistry requires a Mathematics A level or equivalent.

The Chemistry Department have built their core Year 1 module Core Chemistry 1 (CHEM1078) to require A-level Mathematics as well as Chemistry. For students taking the International Baccalaureate qualification, we require Higher Level Chemistry. Students taking Standard Level Mathematics struggled with the jump in Mathematics and we want to ensure all our students are well equipped to start their degree.

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Why Philosophy and Natural Sciences?

Some people question the inclusion of Philosophy in the Natural Sciences subjects, yet it can bring great benefits. We would like to offer you the views of some past and present students on their chosen combinations.

Daniel Fox (2017)"BSc in Natural Sciences. The subjects in which modules have been taken successfully in the final two years are as follows: Philosophy and Physics."

Why were Physics and Philosophy a good combination for me?

I chose to study physics and philosophy for two reasons. First, I wanted to keep my future career options as broad as possible. It is difficult to think of a degree that achieves this goal better than physics and philosophy. Second, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding of how the world works. Both subjects are focused towards this goal.

It was only at the start of my final year that I decided I wanted to become a barrister. Studying physics and philosophy has proved to be excellent preparation for this ambition. Both subjects require an ability to understand difficult concepts and then to apply those concepts to different scenarios. Being able to communicate in a clear and concise fashion is also important. These qualities are crucial in most professions, in particular the legal one.

Why Durham’s Natural Sciences programme?

I chose to study physics and philosophy through Durham University’s Natural Sciences programme for two reasons. First, the reputation that Durham has in both subjects is excellent. The quality of teaching and support networks at Durham has confirmed the validity of this reputation. The Natural Sciences department in particular is exceptional. Second, I know of no other University which has as flexible a programme. I managed to combine studying all the foundational subjects in physics (progressing up to theoretical physics in my later years) with a variety of philosophy modules. Amongst many other subjects, I studied existentialism, political philosophy and epistemology. My dissertation was on the philosophy of human rights. If I had studied physics and philosophy at another university, I doubt that I would have been able to pursue as diverse a range of subjects.

Diana - Chemistry and Philosophy student

I study the more unusual combination of chemistry and philosophy. I tried a philosophy module in my first year and ended up enjoying it so much that I dropped maths as my 'minor' subject and look up philosophy instead. I think more scientists should study philosophy. It complements a range of scientific areas (it's more relevant to science than some might have you think), encourages critical thinking and debate, and also develops skills that might be neglected in a pure science degree such as essay writing and reading. It's a great way of broadening your academic horizons and I can definitely recommend taking it up as part of a natural science degree.

Steve - Computer Science and Philosophy student

For me, philosophy provides a nice, straightforward application of computational thinking (in Computer Science) to either written or verbal argumentation. Logic is taught in the first year of both subjects – which I'm not sure is true for any other two subjects(?) – with the same method but different implementation. I think that this method-implementation difference can extend further, for example:

Artificial Intelligence (method in CS, ethics in Philosophy)
Incompleteness Theorems (procedure in maths and philosophy, epistemology in Philosophy)
Neuroscience (science in psychology, mind and metaphysics in Philosophy).

To be honest, I chose to do both because I liked them independently and the cooperation wasn't important to me but I think most people would agree that philosophy can provide a nice meeting point between what's taught and it's implications in a wider context.

Charles - Philosophy and Physics student

I believe philosophy crucially develops the ability to implement structure within descriptive concepts in physics. To understand an idea, I have found that being basic, systematic and chronological (as I believe philosophy to be) allows me to grasp ideas very efficiently and easily.

I think Philosophy also gives you that open mind to take each concept in physics with a pinch of salt (but a very small pinch most of the time). These are theories made by people that can make mistakes/misconceptions etc. and theories continuously get proven wrong. So rather than viewing each idea that you come across in physics as true fact, you question it - leading not only to a firmer/deeper understanding of the idea, but also leaving space for creative thought and initiative that may lead to an original idea of your own.

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What subjects and combinations are possible?

Subjects

If you are taking a BSc Natural Sciences degree, then at least half your modules over the three years need to be taken from the Faculty of Science, that is from Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Earth Sciences, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology. These are known as the Group 1 subjects. The Group 2 subjects are those which contribute to Joint Honours degrees within Natural Sciences and these subjects are Anthropology, Business, Economics, Geography and Philosophy. The Group 3 subjects are other subjects: Education and Sport. Please note it is not possible to take any modules from elsewhere, e.g. Sociology/English/Music/etc. See the Course Structure pages.

Any modules taken from subjects in Groups 2 and 3 cannot amount to more than half the total number of modules taken over the three years of study.

If modules are taken from Group 3, then this needs to be at least 1/3 of the study each year.

Combinations

There are no modules specific to Natural Sciences: all the options open to Natural Science students are also available to Single Honours students and are timetabled accordingly.

The University timetable is built from scratch every year, so although a combination of modules may work in one year, there is no certainty that it will work in the following year. However, the University does build in certain combinations that must fit together in the timetable. From the point of view of Natural Sciences, these guaranteed combinations are the BSc and MSci Joint Honours degrees. For instance, we have a BSc in Biology and Geography and a BSc in Biology and Physics, so for either of these two pairs, there will be at least one combination of modules that will work in the timetable for each year of the degree programme. However, you should be aware that just because Biology works with Geography and Biology works with Physics, this does not imply that Geography works with Physics.

You should also note that we do not make any guarantees about combinations of modules that cross levels. For instance, for the Joint Honours degree in Biology and Chemistry, we guarantee that the appropriate Level 1 modules in Biology and Chemistry fit together. The same is true for the appropriate Level 2, Level 3 and Level 4 modules. However, suppose you took Chemistry in year 1, but not Biology and then in the second year wanted to combine Level 2 Chemistry with Level 1 Biology modules. There is no guarantee that such a combination would fit together and even if it did we would not be able to guarantee that the following year that Level 3 Chemistry modules would fit with Level 2 Biology modules.

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What’s special about Chemistry?

The capacity of the Chemistry Department is limited by the number of “Bench places” available for practical work. Of these, Natural Sciences has a specific quota and we take pains to ensure that those who are specifically interested in Chemistry can be made an offer which includes this – and that we make those offers to candidates likely to attain the necessary entry qualifications. In any year, we expect to see about 7 times as many applicants as we have Bench places and the process by which we ensure that all such places are filled by appropriately qualified candidates is rigorous and is carefully and thoughtfully applied.

See Programmes including Chemistry for specific advice.

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What about graduate membership of professional bodies?

The requirements of professional bodies such as the British Computer Society (BCS), the Chartered Institute for IT or the British Psychological Society (BPS) vary over time, as do the modules from which a Durham degree is constructed. If professional body membership is of particular importance to you, you should contact the subject departments to verify that a Natural Sciences route can be plotted which will qualify. If attainable, it is often easier to achieve as a Joint Honours option.

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