Psychological and Behavioural Sciences

What makes the Cambridge course in Psychological & Behavioural Sciences (PBS) so special?

The Psychological and Behavioural Sciences course at Cambridge gives you the opportunity to study cognitive, social, developmental and biological psychology within the broader context of the behavioural sciences. Examples of topics in the course include: cognitive psychology, psychopathology, language, brain mechanisms, gender, family relationships and influences, personality, and group social behaviour. Research projects and a dissertation also enable you to study in greater depth the topics that interest you most. 

Why choose Newnham for PBS?

PBS students at Newnham College enjoy high levels of support from Senior Members of the College. There are currently two Professorial Fellows with a background in Psychology; Prof Claire Hughes (Centre for Family Research, Department of Psychology) and Prof Jenny Gibson (Play, Education, Development & Learning Research Centre, Faculty of Education). There is also one new Psychology Junior Research Fellow: Dr Abigail Bradshaw (Cognition & Brain Sciences Unit). In addition, Dr Susan Imrie, a former Newnham Psychology JRF who now holds a lectureship at UCL, lives locally and, through her membership of High Table, retains her links with the college. 

Support facilities at the College are very good, including a particularly well-stocked library. We are proud of our liberal and independent atmosphere. Newnham has a strong international character, and welcomes both mature students and students with disabilities. 

How many students take PBS at Newnham?

We expect to admit three to four students per year. 

How is PBS taught at Newnham?

The Experimental Psychology department is located on the Downing Site, central in the city of Cambridge; made up of laboratories, a lecture theatre, department library, practical classroom, a social space for students (the Psychology Sanctuary) and for staff (Nick Mackintosh Seminar Room). You can expect to be set 1 to 2 essays a week on average, for which you have to do some reading. 

Can you tell me more about the PBS fellows?

For information on the current teaching staff and Fellows for Psychological and Behavioural Sciences, please visit our teaching webpages.

What jobs will Newnham PBS students go on to do?

The Cambridge PBS course is accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). This means that students who successfully graduate (with at least a second class honours) will achieve the ‘graduate recognition’ needed to pursue a career in, for example, clinical psychology or educational psychology. 

Many students pursue further study and research, and graduates are eligible for admission to professional courses in clinical, educational, forensic or applied psychology. Many past students of psychology at Cambridge have gone on to prominent positions in psychology and related fields throughout the world.  The course also equips you with skills and knowledge applicable in numerous professional sectors. Other recent graduates have entered careers in the media, management, the Civil Service, finance, law and business. 

Are there any A-level subjects which are particularly useful?

Students taking PBS will benefit from having studied Maths and/or Biology. As such, applicants are required to have studied Maths or Biology to A Level or equivalent. In addition, the conditional offers have been raised to A* A* A. We would notmally expect one A* to be in Maths or Biology.

Can I take a gap year?

We are happy to offer deferred places to applicants who have plans for a year out. Some students take jobs to build up their financial resources, or work abroad to improve their language skills and experience another culture. Others take a work experience placement or travel. Most gap year students feel they have benefited from the experience, and have no trouble getting back into the swing of academic work once they arrive, although we do suggest some revision is done in the weeks before arriving in Cambridge. If you are considering a gap year, be prepared to discuss this at interview. Although we won’t expect you to have detailed plans, we would like you to have at least some thoughts about your activities during the year. Maintaining some sort of a connection with your subject is always encouraged, even if only through reading. 

What can I expect at interview?

Although applicants cannot pre-prepare material for Newnham (or Cambridge) PBS interviews, there are ways in which they can help themselves. Key to this is handling the process before coming to interview: careful thought about the content of the personal statement on the UCAS application. Keeping copies of the personal statement and reading it through before the interview, is advisable. An interviewee should be prepared to explore ideas in more depth, and to have them questioned and challenged; intellectual flexibility is sought as well as interest backed up by evidence of further reading. 

Is there an Admissions Assessment for PBS?

Yes – applicants for the 2024 admissions cycle at Newnham are required to take a Cambridge College registered written assessment for PBS which will consist of writing a response to a provided text.  Past essay questions for the PBS Admissions Assessment at Newnham have been:

‘Does memory offer a more perfect world than the universe?’

‘Antisocial behaviour runs in families – Discuss.’

Where can I find out more?

A description of the structure of the Tripos and further useful information for prospective applicants can be found on the University website and there is also information on the prospectus pages

The Cambridge University Alternative Prospectus website has a good page with a students’ perspective on the PBS course. 

Recommended Reading?

  • Kevin Durkin (1995): Developmental Social Psychology: From Infancy to Old Age (ISBN: 978-0-631-14829-6) 
  • Keith E. Stanovich (2013 9th Edition): How To Think Straight About Psychology: Pearson New International Edition (ISBN-13: 978-1292023106) 
  • Mark F. Bear (Author), Barry Connors (Author), Mike Paradiso (Author) (2015): Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain (International Edition) 

Back to course list