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An englishman in New York (or California)

  1. Aug 2, 2008 #1

    I was wondering if any graduate students here know any British people enrolled in PhD's over in the US?

    Also what is life like as US graduate, do you really have to share a room? (I mean I can handle flat share,but room share!?)

    Also what are the holidays like, I know Americans typically get less time off than Europeans in industry, is this the same for US PhD students? In the UK I think it's typically about 8 weeks a year off.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 2, 2008 #2


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    No, you won't have to share a room. That's something some undergraduate freshmen do; not graduate students.
    I'll let others answer the rest
  4. Aug 2, 2008 #3
    No grad students don't share room.
    I don't have a Ph.D, but your days off will differ.
    Unlike in Europe.Many American Universities require grad students to be TAs and teach undergrad classes. Otherwise your schedule is determined by your major,your Ph.D advisor and lab availability..
  5. Aug 3, 2008 #4
    That's the same in Europe too.

  6. Aug 3, 2008 #5


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    Staff Emeritus
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    For the record, marlon defines Europe to not include the UK.
  7. Aug 3, 2008 #6
    Thanks for the replies. It's good to know I wouldn't have to room share, where do most grads live in dorms or private flats?

    Would love to hear from any UK people who've gone to the US either as postdocs or postgrads after UK academia, and their experiences. Or even anyone who just knows of anyone over there who is from the UK as a physics postgrad.
  8. Aug 3, 2008 #7
    My experience is that the custom of requiring graduate students to undertake teaching duties is far, far more prevalent in the US than it is in Europe.
  9. Aug 3, 2008 #8
    In the not immeasurably distant past, my first post-doc was at a reasonably well known pile in NJ, having come straight from Cambridge. Great experience and a lot of fun. However, apart from practical issues such as taxation, visas, healthcare, and so on, the fact is that there are no general "rules" that someone who has been a grad student or post-doc in the US can really give you: doing something of that nature is just part of life and you will, by and large, have to figure out how to do it yourself. If you have a sufficiently optimistic outlook on life, you'll find it relatively easy to enjoy life as a grad student regardless of where you're located. After all, the work is easy, your responsibilities are relatively few, and it staves off having to begin real life for another four or five years.

    For what little it's worth, while I enjoyed the few years I spent in the US, I was more than happy to return to the UK.

    <massive, not possibly justifiable generalization>
    The vast majority of the people I met were just what you'd expect: unflappably generous, helpful, and friendly. I do, however, think that the country itself is just, well, too weird for my tastes. Hence my decamping back to Europe. Your mileage may vary.
    </massive, not possibly justifiable generalization>
  10. Aug 3, 2008 #9
    My experience is that every graduate student in Western Europe HAS to fulfill teaching tasks, mostly exercises, in college. As a matter of fact, when i was in college ALL exexcise sessions were given by graduate students. Professors only gave the theory lessons !

  11. Aug 3, 2008 #10
    Our experiences seem utterly contradictory, then.

    EDIT: By the way, I've just laughed long and hard at this. Excellent!
  12. Aug 3, 2008 #11
    So it would seem

    But can you do it ??? Can you ???

  13. Aug 3, 2008 #12
    Not at all, and I'm giggling like a schoolgirl as I try to master it.:biggrin:
  14. Aug 3, 2008 #13
    well, once you get it, you can always post a video reply if you want to

    good luck

  15. Aug 3, 2008 #14
    Yeah, you're right I will have to ultimatley figure it out on my own, and look forward to doing so. My main concerns are not with the day to day things like taxation/healthcare etc (I will be thinking of such things much closer to the time no doubt), but just that other english people do go over to the US for PhD in physics. I know that sounds stupid, but I have scoured quite a few forums for the last couple of months, and cant seem to find anyone else from the UK going over to the US for a PhD! Which makes me wonder about things like if the admissions bar raises for an international student, making it next to impossible to get in.

    Do other UK grads no something I don't about US PhD's?

    (for example I was also thinking of applying to australian universities, but had a number of discussions with professors over there who told me that without Australian citizenship, I would need to win international scholarship, of which there are not very many nationwide, they all told me that realistically to get in I would need a 90%+ average....which is pretty darn high for a UK grad. One professor told me that most of these awards go to indian and chinese applicants who had "freakishly" high scores.)

    So It makes me wonder if a similar thing goes on in the US; i.e. the dept websites have no mention of a distinction between domestic/international students, and I doubt I'd be able to eek it out of them via email, I'll only probably find out after a lot of wasted money and effort on the PGRE and applications.

    That's why it would be nice to find someone else from the UK who had done a PhD over there, just to reassure me that if I do well on the PGRE I have a realistic chance of being accepted.

    Perhaps I will just email a professor and try my luck.
  16. Aug 3, 2008 #15
    Plenty of people go to the US from the UK although my suspicion is that the numbers have dropped significantly over the last three or four years. This is quite probably not unrelated to the delightfully random way in which the US government now decides who gets to live in the country.

    As to the broader question of whether it's a good idea to go to the US, all I can say is this: unless you've identified a specific person or group at a US university with whom you desperately want to work, there aren't sufficient gains to be had from studying in the US at present. Indeed, were I starting a Ph. D. again today, I wouldn't even consider going there; there are far more opportunities available in Europe (particularly for Europeans). The best advice I can give you is to identify the specific area in which you want to work, and then try to come up with a list of the top five or six places in the world where you could study in that area. You may be surprised by how many of them are in Europe. Indeed, if your interest concerns certain areas in theoretical physics, you'll most probably be able to find world-class programmes here in the UK, many of which will come with plenty of funding for home students.
  17. Aug 3, 2008 #16
    Is this true of postgrads as well as postdocs though? I mean I thought it would have been, but having trouble finding them...and the whole limited international funding thing -->ramped up competition-->few english people in the US, concept keeps springing to my mind. I don't know.

    Well to be honest my decision to do my PhD in the US wasn't purely based on the calibre of gradschools (Although I'm pretty sure the ones I plan to apply to are as good, as the top ones in the UK, so I don't feel as if Im sacrificing anything career wise), but was also based on wanting the experience of living in another country, plus the lifestyle in California (sun/sea/beaches/mountains/etc) appeals to me quite a bit. I don't think I would want to live there forever, but a PhD there seems the ideal chance to get a taste without having to committ to living there forever.

    My interest is actually in theoretical particle theory,probably with a view to eventually end up in string theory research. Just out of interest where would you recommend in the UK for this, as I will probably apply to some UK places too?

    As for Europe my only language is english unfortunatley...:(
  18. Aug 3, 2008 #17
    It's true of both postgrads and post-docs. From my own experience the contrast between the situation now and, say, ten years ago is enormous. Fortunately(!), the worst that most people will experience are interminable struggles with bureaucracy and unhelpful government departments, but I've heard some truly horrifying first-hand accounts from students who've had dealings with immigration and homeland security in the US; if their stories are at all accurate the situation there is worrying.

    Indeed, but don't think that sun and sand is the only pleasant environment in which to work. California's a beautiful place, especially the northern part of the state, but you might be well advised to forgo it's heat and think of somewhere like UBC in Vancouver. It's colder than California but the quality of life's better. Perimeter should be another option you look at since they fund lots of students.

    Well, there are always the old favourites: Cambridge and Oxford. Cambridge tends to require outsiders to sit Part III though and, as I think I said in another thread, I view this as a complete waste of what could otherwise be a perfectly productive year. Oxford, well, I just don't like Oxford.

    Off the top of my head, Durham, Nottingham, Imperial, and Queen Mary's are among the outstanding particle physics places in the UK. If you fancy an even wetter climate, Trinity College Dublin is also superb. hep-th is an enormously broad area though, so you might want to see if you can identify a more specific area of particle physics theory in which you're interested and then see which schools match your choice.

    DO NOT LET THIS LEAD YOU TO IGNORE EU UNIVERSITIES! There are some superb schools and faculties in mainland Europe and most of them will go to quite considerable lengths to help you to pick up the language. The AEI, for instance, is particularly good at this.
  19. Aug 3, 2008 #18
    hmm Vancouver does seem like a lovely place, and I did have a brief look at Perimeter (after reading one of Lee Smolin's books, lol), also seems very very good! UBC requirements state "with at least an 80% average (3.5 GPA)." (http://www.physics.ubc.ca/graduate/Entry_English.php [Broken]) . Surely this is 80% from a US programme? as you know around about 70% is a UK first, so I would have thought 80% UK would translate to much higher than a 3.5?

    I was thinking of applying to cambridge particle theory dept (not DAMTP) to avoid part III, no idea what this is like really though, and if it will be "theoretical enough".
    What's wrong with oxford?? haha

    I do like the look of the quantum gravity group at Nottingham, this is in the maths dept though not physics, so I wonder if they'd accept me there, hmmm again.

    Does Queen Mary's have that good of a reputation? I thought it was pretty small

    Also is Edinburgh any good?

    I find this really difficult at this stage, I mean I know I want to take more courses on QFT, standard model, beyond standard model, then eventually get on to learning string theory etc. I'm not really interested in things like lattice gauge, QCD'y kind of things, other than that??
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  20. Aug 3, 2008 #19
    On another note getting into Perimeter seems like it would almost be impossible, just from the language they use on the website, http://www.perimeterinstitute.ca/Scientific/Applications/Graduate_Student/ [Broken]

    Looks like it would be very very good though. What do you think 'Exceptional' actually means, what would there typical accepted student's profile actually be I wonder?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
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