Best grad schools in Europe?

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  • Thread starter dreamLord
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  • #1
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I'll be applying for graduate studies(M.S) in Physics in a couple of years, so I would like to know the best universities in Europe but NOT UK as I cannot afford it. The reason I'm asking this now is because I will be learning the language of the country I decide to go to - even if they have courses in English, I would like to learn the language starting next month.

Germany, Switzerland etc anything except UK. My undergrad degree is a 3 year one btw, not a 4 year as provided by the unis in US.

Thanks!
 

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  • #2
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There are many interesting university rankings.
Do you have some specific areas of physics in mind already?

I don't think it is necessary to start learning the language several years in advance. It is nice to have some basics, of course, but learning a language is easier if you hear it everywhere around you. In many universities (at least in Germany), most master courses are in English anyway.
Just based on the number of physics students, the most frequent language in Europe (ignoring English) is German.
 
  • #3
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Nope, I don't quite know what area of physics I want to eventually end up in. I guess I'd be looking for a general M.S program instead of a specialized one (assuming you do get specialized degrees as well).

I know it's definitely not necessary to learn the language of the country - but I've always had a fascination with learning a language (preferably German), so I just wanted to confirm whether my university and language would match.

So what are some of the good grad schools in Germany? I don't need a ranking, just some names so I can start researching.
 
  • #4
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You could check out the Times Higher Ed World University Rankings for Europe. I don't think that European universities are quite as stratified as American ones are, but I get the impression that many of the best are in German speaking cities, and as usual in the major cities: Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, etc.
 
  • #5
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You could check out the Times Higher Ed World University Rankings for Europe. I don't think that European universities are quite as stratified as American ones are, but I get the impression that many of the best are in German speaking cities, and as usual in the major cities: Berlin, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, etc.

I know that ETH Zurich in Switzerland is an excellent school. Here's their website and here's their wiki page, if you're interested.

EDIT:

I know that they require you to be competent in German for undergraduate studies, but I'm fairly certain that most of their graduate courses are held in English. But of course you'll still be in Switzerland, where the people around you will speak German or French, so it would still be beneficial to learn the language.
 
  • #6
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(assuming you do get specialized degrees as well).
It is possible, but it is uncommon and I would try to avoid it.

Most universities focus on specific parts of physics. As an example, if you get interested in particle physics, Heidelberg is a great place - it has several particle/nuclear physics groups involved in nearly all major experiments worldwide. If you get interested in plasma physics, on the other hand, I doubt that there is any professor working on that. Garching/Munich would be the right place for that.

So what are some of the good grad schools in Germany?
Munich and Heidelberg frequently appear in worldwide rankings (similar to Zürich), Karlsruhe, Freiburg and Berlin are very good. Many other universities are smaller, so they are very good in some parts of physics only.

The "Exzellenzinitiative" (english wikipedia page) rewarded good universities (with more money to become even better), but that was not physics-specific.
 
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  • #7
f95toli
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Most countries in Europe do not have a grad-school system. Mostly, you just apply to become a PhD student in a specific research group with a specific supervisor.
Hence, the masters year does not directly influence where you do your PhD, if that is what worries you.
 
  • #8
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We have "graduate schools" in Germany, but master degree and PhD are separated - it is common to switch the university in between.
 
  • #9
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So currently I have ETH Zurich and LMU in Germany on my list - any more you guys would recommend? Ecole Polytechnique in France seems to be highly rated, but I think one has to know French. Can someone confirm?

Also, how rigorous is the admission committee? Are extra curricular activities a must as they are for undergraduate admissions, or will good marks in your undergrad be enough? Do the admissions require a lot of input from the applicants side in the form of essays?
 
  • #10
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French universities generally require that you pass a language exam at the B2 level (intermediate-advanced), you can find examples of these tests online along with information on the scores required to pass. L'Ecole Polytechnique is I believe a rather prestigious university.

With regard to some of the earlier comments made about the various degrees offered by European universities, all I can say is that it appears to be a bit of a mess. I believe the baccalaureate in Europe is traditionally 3-4 years of coursework dedicated solely to ones subject major, which can then be followed up with another 3 years of doctoral research. Nevertheless each country seems to have its own idiosyncratic take on this standard; for example I think in certain countries (Germany?) the PhD is actually not the highest degree.

The Bologna Process was a relatively recent attempt to standardize (and Americanize) university level education across the continent. Both by providing certain 'professional degrees' for disciplines like engineering, and also terminal masters degrees. It's not entirely clear to me how successful this has been, since after visiting a lot of different university web pages across Western Europe, I remain somewhat baffled as to how to objectively compare university credentials across borders.
 
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  • #11
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Nevertheless each country seems to have its own idiosyncratic take on this standard; for example I think in certain countries (Germany?) the PhD is actually not the highest degree.
The system in Germany:
- bachelor - designed for 3 years, 3-4 are more realistic, including ~3-5 months for a thesis
- master (requires a bachelor) - about 2 years, including ~1 year for a thesis
- PhD ("Promotion", requires a master) - about 3 years, mainly research, with a few lectures
- after that, you can work on a habilitation, which is a requirement for most professor positions. I don't think this counts as "degree".

The old diploma degree was like bachelor+master combined, and it is considered as equivalent with a master.

dreamLord said:
So currently I have ETH Zurich and LMU in Germany on my list - any more you guys would recommend?
What was wrong with the other universities? ;)
 
  • #12
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Nothing wrong with them - they're just too many to individually research on! Finding out the top ones was easy for the US, but Europe (minus UK) is very difficult for me.

Also, you guys have to present a thesis at the undergrad level as well? Interesting. Nothing like that here in my country - 3 years of bare minimum physics and you get your degree.
 
  • #13
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- after [a PhD], you can work on a habilitation, which is a requirement for most professor positions. I don't think this counts as "degree".
It used to be the requirement, but that is not the case anymore. Some people still go for a habilitation (perhaps half of the to-be professors, to give a rough order of magnitude). But I don't believe any position still requires it - neither on paper, nor effectively.

The old diploma degree was like bachelor+master combined, and it is considered as equivalent with a master.
Except by people holding a bachelor, who consider the diploma equivalent to a bachelor degree, people holding a masters degree, who rank a masters above a diploma, and people holding a diploma degree, who consider the masters as a diploma for schoolkids :biggrin:
 
  • #14
f95toli
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Nothing wrong with them - they're just too many to individually research on! Finding out the top ones was easy for the US, but Europe (minus UK) is very difficult for me.

Also, you guys have to present a thesis at the undergrad level as well? Interesting. Nothing like that here in my country - 3 years of bare minimum physics and you get your degree.

You still haven't explained exactly what you are looking for.
Are you basically looking for a place to do a 4th year (a masters year)?

If so, there are international masters programs in a few countries (which btw tend to be 1-2 years).


You could e.g. have a look at Sweden; many universities there have such programs and they are generally very good (but then I am biased:approve:)

See e.g.
http://www.chalmers.se/en/education/programmes/masters-info/Pages/default.aspx


Btw, if this IS what you are looking for then you should put "international masters program" in your search engine, not "graduate school".
 
  • #15
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Nothing wrong with them - they're just too many to individually research on!
Well, you do not have to choose now, at least not between different universities with the same language.
Also, you guys have to present a thesis at the undergrad level as well? Interesting. Nothing like that here in my country - 3 years of bare minimum physics and you get your degree.
You have to write one, I don't know if you have to do more. It is a short one, of course, given the very limited time.
 
  • #16
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ETH, LMU, Ecole Poly are just beyond your reach if you don't have solid undergrad background and research experience I think. You should try to apply to other universities.
 
  • #17
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U. Edinburgh has a (competitive) funded masters program, not sure how competitive it is to get in without funding nor how expensive.

Unless you're highly fluent in Spanish, German and Scandinavian universities are probably your cheapest options for a masters. I am speaking of tuition only, I am oblivious to the living costs.
 
  • #18
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@f95 : Sorry, I thought my opening post made it clear! I'm looking for a M.S degree, which should take me 2 years. I'm afraid I don't quite know what an 'International Master' is. Thanks for your advice - are courses in Sweden offered in English? How do the unis compare to the German ones? Also, it seems like Sweden is even more expensive that UK! Am I calculating something wrong? The link you posted says it costs 140,000 SEK per year.

@mfb : Yes that's true, but I guess I would like to form a list now. I shall be learning German most likely.

@karen : I see. Well I guess I shall consider them my 'reach' colleges for now, and add some more 'safety' colleges on my list. Any suggestions?

@Lava : U. Edinburgh seems to be out of my budget again. What is it about UK being so expensive?
 
  • #19
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@mfb : Yes that's true, but I guess I would like to form a list now. I shall be learning German most likely.
I would make this list as soon as you have some idea about the area(s) of physics your master's thesis should be in. As I said, the best universities will depend on that choice.
 
  • #20
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I see. But I don't really know what field I want to do my thesis in. All I know is that I like Classical Mechanics - does that help me at all? Are there any areas which require Mechanics concepts in large amounts? Should I just wait another year and then assess my likes/dislikes?
 
  • #21
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But I don't really know what field I want to do my thesis in.
That is why I would wait with the choice of the university. You'll see that in the next years.
 
  • #22
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I'll just have to take your word for it, because at the moment I have no clue! And I don't know how I'll end up figuring it out either...
 
  • #23
cgk
Science Advisor
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dreamLord, the "problem" with the German university system is that it is very even level. There are no really bad universities, but also no stellar ones way above the rest. Basically, in each univeristy you will find some excellent groups and some ... not so excellent groups. These are often clustered by field. E.g., if you're thinking of solid state physics, Dresden is an excellent place. However, I'm not sure if they even have any quantum field theory at all.

This is why the answer depends on the field you want to work on.
 
  • #24
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Ah, now I see why mfb was so insistent on me deciding an area first. Thank you. I will be asking field specific university questions in about a year from now in that case (assuming I magically end up liking one more than the others and can make a decision). I hope you two are around to answer me then!
 
  • #25
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In Switzerland:

ETH Zürich
Universität Zürich

In Germany:

Heidelberg
LMU Munich
TU Munich
 

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