Student Blog

HSPS Subject Profile

15 Sep 2017 | Ali Hyde | Subject Profile

HSPS (Human, Social and Political Sciences), is a course where students can take papers across several departments, including Politics, International Relations, Sociology, Archaeology and Anthropology. In your first year you can choose four different papers from across all the subject areas, before specializing in one or two ‘tracks’ for the remaining years of your degree. 

There are no required subjects for HSPS -but useful preparation would be arts subjects, or an arts/science mix. The standard conditional offer is set at A*AA. Read on to find out about Downing undergraduate Ali’s experience of the course at Cambridge University!


Hey! I’m Ali and I’m a second-year HSPSer at Downing, originally from Yorkshire.

HSPS is such a great course. In the first year it’s very broad and you can find yourself studying whether time is universal one minute and then the intricacies of the International Criminal Court the next. Though Politics and International Relations, Sociology, and Social Anthropology are the main disciplines included in the first year course, you can also choose papers from Archaeology or Psychology. In second year you specialise into one or two disciplines. The broadness of the course in first year allows you to explore different social sciences and settle on which one you feel suits you best – I’m going to be studying Sociology from second year onwards because I enjoyed it the most and love how it encompasses the study of the other disciplines. We have two fellows at Downing involved in HSPS: Dr Jay Stock (Biological Anthropology) and Dr Mónica Moreno-Figueroa (Sociology). They are both great – Mónica is my Director of Studies (overseeing my academic life) and is always there to speak to, if I have a question or query about the course.

It can sometimes be hard to balance time when studying HSPS. Although as a Humanities course it has fewer contact hours than Science courses, it requires a great deal of time management because you are effectively taking four subjects. I often look enviously at friends in the History or English tripos whose essays are due in at the same time every week. In HSPS, you might have no essays due in one week and then three the next. Time management is an essential skill!

The History Faculty Library – one of over 100 libraries in Cambridge!

Most days my lectures start at 10 but they’re usually only a couple of hours. I’ll spend the majority of the day making my way through the reading list for essays I have been set (and eventually writing them!) in my room or in one of Cambridge’s many libraries. Sometimes I’ll study in Downing’s library but I often travel to the Sidgwick Site (the Humanities site) to use the History library (which houses politics books), the Social and Political Sciences library, the Economics library, the Classics Library, the Modern and Medieval Languages library, the English Faculty Library… You get the picture. There are lots of great spaces to work in Cambridge. I usually have one to two supervisions a week, with one or two other students, to build on our ideas about something we’ve written an essay about. This year I’ve written essays and subsequently had supervisions on whether class is dead, how different gift and market exchange are, whether terrorism is local or global, and whether democracy is necessarily the rule of the rich.  I spend the rest of my time being involved in student politics, Downing’s Arts societies, and in the Cambridge classical music scene.

The number of colleges in Cambridge can be overwhelming when it comes to choosing which college to apply to. A friend suggested that I would like Downing, and after looking at a couple of others for comparison, I decided they were right. I love the neoclassical architectural style, the quality of the accommodation, the Paddock (grass in central Cambridge that you can actually walk on!), and the chapel. I would highly recommend Downing as a college – it has a thriving sports scene and an active music scene (with a chapel choir, a jazz band, and opportunity for students to play in recitals). It is also a very social college which is a very welcome aspect of life, considering how work-orientated Cambridge as a whole is.

HSPS is a really great, interesting subject. It teaches you the tools to understand the world around you better- I would highly recommend it.

Ali Hyde

Hey! I’m Ali and I’m a 2nd year HSPSer (Human, Social, and Political Sciences) at Downing. I went to a Quaker school in Yorkshire and studied English Lit, Music and Religious Studies at A-level. In my free time, I play the clarinet and saxophone, sing, bird watch and am involved in student politics.