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Applying for a phd post in physics, how useful would a masters be?

  1. Mar 1, 2013 #1
    Hello, I'm nearing the end of my first year as an undergrad in physics at a Russell group university. I'm currently registered on the Bsci course, straight physics. I'm interested in theoretical particle physics, and if (as I hope to do) a phd I think that's what I would like to do it in.

    My question is this: how much of an advantage would changing to a masters be? And given the fact that in all my theory assignments I've been getting Firsts, where as in lab I get 2:1s would changing to theoretical physics be an advantage? (I've heard that it makes it harder to get a PhD post)
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 1, 2013 #2


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    Homework Helper

    In which country do you intend on doing your Ph.D.? In the US I don't think it matters at all if you have a master's. You apply directly to the Ph.D. program even if you only have a Bachelor's degree. I don't think having a Master's significantly cuts down on your program time, either. A couple of the now-graduated students in my group had a Master's from a previous university, and I don't think they got their Ph.D.'s any faster than someone who didn't have a Master's. Perhaps in some cases you can skip some courses, but that's about it.

    If you were interested in applying to Canadian grad schools, then the Master's could be handy, because in order to directly apply for a Ph.D. program in Canada, you do need a Master's degree. If one only have a Bachelor's degree, they have to apply to the Master's program, but once they're in and making good progress, it is possible to transfer into the Ph.D. program.

    If you intend on staying in the UK or Europe, then I'm afraid I can't tell you any of the details there. I'll have to let someone else cover that.
  4. Mar 1, 2013 #3
    What's the point of the master's then?
  5. Mar 1, 2013 #4
    Some institutions in Europe and Canada require a masters for admission into a phd program, see Cambridge or most universities in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. There are many exceptions, but in most cases I've seen a masters is expected. It makes sense since European phd's generally have clear cut start & end dates which are fairly short and you won't really have time to cram in graduate courses that will assist you in research in such little time.
  6. Mar 1, 2013 #5


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    In the US, a physics master's degree is usually a "terminal degree" with a specific focus in some application area, for people who are going to work in industry. Or a high-school teacher might get a master's degree in order to improve his/her credentials and salary.

    Or if you bail out of a Ph.D. program, but have finished the coursework, you can probably pick up a M.S. diploma as a sort of "consolation prize."
  7. Mar 3, 2013 #6
    Thanks for the responses!
    But if I were to apply for a phd post in Britain, how much would the masters improve my chances over a bachelors (assuming first or 2:1)
  8. Mar 4, 2013 #7
    A masters is a prerequisite to start a PhD in pretty much all of Europe, including the UK. I don't know anybody that started a PhD without a masters degree.

    I'm confused about it not being a requirement in the US. Is this really true? Or do you actually go through a masters program during the first part of a PhD program? I thought master and PhD were actually tightly connected in the US, or does this differ per state or university?
  9. Mar 4, 2013 #8


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    Yes, it's really true. I applied directly to a Ph.D. program in Physics, having only a B.Sc. There is no terminal Master's degree in most physics programs in the US - you can pick a non-thesis Master's up along the way to your Ph.D. or grab it and leave the program as jtbell mentioned, but the intent of a department when admitting a student is that they are pursuing the Ph.D. You don't even have to pick up the Master's if you don't want to.

    This is of course not necessarily true in other disciplines. I've heard that at least some geoscience or geophysics programs offer terminal Master's degrees. In physics in the US, though, Ph.D. is the norm and Master's is relatively rare.
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