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Programs Cambridge DAMTP PhD

  1. Jul 3, 2008 #1
    I'm interested in theoretical particle and mathematical physics. The grad schools that I'm considering applying for are all in the U.S. - but it has come to my attention recently that Cambridge DAMTP might be a very good program to apply to given my interests. I was wondering whether anybody here could tell me more about the program (especially by comparison to programs in the US). Is there any coursework involved as in American grad programs or do you start research right away? What resources are available for grad students in the department (e.g. is it easy to get financial support to attend conferences?) What is the general ambiance there like and interaction with advisors and other faculty? What are the postdoc prospects like with a degree from there? Any other feedback would also be great...
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2008 #2
    To get into DAMTP, you need to take part III of the Cambridge undergrad maths tripos (http://www.maths.cam.ac.uk/postgrad/casm/). This is a little bit like a masters, although it's entirely taught. Unfortuatley funding for this is barely existent(there are few scholarships at the larger cambridge colleges like Trinity I think, if you lived in one these during your time at Cambridge (but these are super competitive and very few), realistically you would have to fund this yourself (or with a loan etc).
    Having part III is necessary, but not sufficient to be accepted onto the PhD however, the actual PhD students at DAMTP, are creamed from the top students (distinction marks) graduating from part III.

    The PhD at DAMTP is known to be very prestigious, I would probably say the most prestigious theoretical programme in the UK. Also do you have UK/EU citizenship of any kind? If not you may also find funding the PhD itself (US citizens are not eligible for the usual STFC grants that UK/EU students get automatically when they get accepted) , very hard to come by, even if you do pay for part III yourself (unless you are very very good and win a rare scholarship). But that goes for all UK PhD programmes for US citizens.

    As for the contrasts between it and US programme, you will start research of some kind straight away, yes (you can effectivley regard the part III year, as the analogue of the first year (or 2) of a US PhD programme, with the preporatory grad courses etc.
    Another difference is you will probably have a much smaller teaching load (most likely
    just optional teaching if you'd like to earn some extra cash).

    I would say prospects of a postdoc with a PhD from here would likely be excellent...
    I don't know anywhere who is there, so couldn't comment on ambience and interactions and what not, but sure it's pretty similar to anywhere else (it is possible that because quite a few members are quite eminent they will have less time for students, but Im just speculating, and Im sure that its the same as any other High rep institute)

    If your intersted in maths/theory then Imperial have quite a good programme similar to DAMTP in many respects too, they also have an MSc in theory/maths (but this isnt a prereq for entry into PhD, although alot of MSc's do go onto PhD there)....Infact Im pretty sure a lot of people who take part III, and get reject from the PhD at DAMTP end up on the Imperial programme, so competition is quite stiff here too.

    Other UK places:

    Oxford (very good for string theory/QFT/Physics beyond stand model, http://www-thphys.physics.ox.ac.uk/research/particle/research/frames.html). I went to visit here and noticed lots of US accents from the students so funding must be possible somehow!
    Durham (again string theory and mathematical physics, not as prestigious as Ox/Cam/Imp but still pretty good)
    Also check out Trinity college Dublin string theory dept (http://www.maths.tcd.ie/~string/), this is the top uni in Ireland, and string theory programme here is pretty well regarded.
  4. Jul 3, 2008 #3
    oh and check out http://www.dpmms.cam.ac.uk/~twk/PartIII.pdf
    this guide has pretty much everything you could possibly want to know about part III, inc sources of funding for US students (see gates trust etc, deadlines are very early)
  5. Jul 3, 2008 #4
    First, thanks very much for your very informative post. Regarding Part III - I will be doing an MSc in math next year (not in Cambridge); would I still have to do Part III or can I apply directly for the PhD?
  6. Jul 3, 2008 #5


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    Email/call Damtp and ask.
    As h0dgey84bc said Damtp is a pretty hot dept and getting into it is more than just a matter of hitting entry requirements. Even if there isn't a formal requirement to do partIII anymore - but you are going to have to have pretty impressive results from a MSc to compete.
  7. Jul 3, 2008 #6
    Check the lectures in the part III syllabus, if the Msc is similar in lecture course content to the part III programme then you may possibly have a chance.

    Part III is the norm, and probably the vast majority of applicants come from part III, but it is not a formal requirement (by which I mean they dont state on the DAMTP grad website 'must have completed part III'), but it does seem to be one of those unwritten rules for entry. The main problem with not doing part III, is you wont get to know the professors directly, who might be much more likely to choose a student they have worked with and know, than take a gamble on an outsider.

    But if your MSc is sim in content to part III, I would certainly not rule a DAMTP PhD out. I spoke to an admissions tutor at DAMTP a while ago (without having taken part III, but having a Physics masters from somewhere else), and he told me to apply anyway, and that if I wasnt accepted on the PhD, my application would be deferred to an application for part III. I never ended up applying though, so I cant comment on the probability of being accepted through this route. Your best bet is probably to drop them an email, and just inform them of the masters your going to be doing, and if they'd accept that.
  8. Aug 2, 2008 #7
    You may find this post, with which I agree strongly, helpful.

    From the point of a Part III student? Quite poor. There are masses of students in Part III and they are generally treated simply as anonymous faces by both the departments at CMS and the colleges. It is only once (if?) one gets past the Tripos exams that one starts being viewed without suspicion.

    You will have very limited official contact with your mentor since his or her job is principally to assure that you're still alive. If you choose to submit an essay as part of the year, you will have contact with the person who submits the essay; some are unfailingly generous with their time, some are famous for never being willing or able to meet with Part III students. Luck of the draw really.

    As is often the case here, the guidelines which govern the process aren't always followed in practice. You do not need to have done Part III of the tripos to be admitted to read for a Ph. D. in DAMTP (although this is, admittedly, the usual way of things). If you've been up at Cambridge as an undergraduate you can be admitted straight to Ph. D.; you can also be admitted straight to Ph. D. level from outside Cambridge if you're a particularly impressive student, although this is less common. This nit-picking aside, however, the general rule is that unless you're already known to people within the department, it is very likely that you'll be asked to sit Part III first.

    Prestigious perhaps, but it's just not very good, certainly in comparison to other, similar, programmes in the UK. To my mind the corresponding programme at Imperial is far, far superior.

    No, you won't. Part III is entirely taught. Even the (optional) essay involves absolutely no original research.

    Part III students have no teaching duties whatsoever. Indeed, they're expressly forbidden from doing so and are not offered the opportunity.

    I'd agree wholeheartedly with the idea that both Durham and Trinity College, Dublin are excellent places at which to study, although I'm not sure if they offer something similar to Part III.
  9. Aug 2, 2008 #8
    I am aware that part III is a taught course, I was referring to when (if) you start the actual PhD at DAMTP after completing part III, then you will immediatley dive into research (In contrast to a PhD in the US where the first 1-2 years will be mostly lectures, before taking the qualifier. So in this respect part III can be regarded as the analogue of the first year of US PhD programme).

    Again referring to the PhD at DAMTP. In contrast to US PhD's where you are typically supported by a TA, which can be upto 20 hrs teaching a week, in the UK PhD students are awarded funding without having to make any teaching commitment (unless they volunteer to, to boost their cash).

    I agree the Imperial programme looks really good, the MSc just seems impossible to obtain funding for though. I applied for a PhD in theoretical HEP last year without the MSc, but with a 4 year theoretical physics degree from another UK university, and they rejected me without interview! I consider my background pretty good (I was using this as a backup to oxford/cambridge), so I really wonder what the standard of applicants must be, unless the MSc is a kind of unwritten prerequisite (somewhat like part III for DAMTP, i.e. you dont strictly have to have it, but pretty much everyone does)
  10. Aug 7, 2008 #9
    I supervised during Part III. I asked for the work, and I was given it!
  11. Aug 7, 2008 #10
    You supervised what, exactly?
  12. Aug 7, 2008 #11


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    In Cambridge aswell as the lectures, most of the teaching is in small group tutorials typically given by grad students or post-docs. These are called supervisions.

    edit - sorry that wasn't what you were asking!
  13. Aug 7, 2008 #12
    IB Methods, Part II integrable systems.
  14. Aug 7, 2008 #13
    I also meant to add, that I've not known of anyone do this during my time at Cambridge. Even the senior wranglers have had to do Part III. Perhaps it was more common a few year back?
  15. Aug 7, 2008 #14
    Hmm. Not uninteresting...

    I can think of several people who've done it, myself included.

    On a rather different note, this is the first time I've encountered the phrase "senior wrangler" in anything other than a piss-taking sense...
  16. Aug 7, 2008 #15
    Shoehorn, what was your background to get into DAMTP without part III if you dont mind me asking?
  17. Aug 7, 2008 #16
    My background was quite straightforward: I got a double first from Trinity and, after having taken a year off to care for an ill relative, came back to Cambridge and started my Ph. D. without sitting Part III.

    To avoid any confusion, it may be worth emphasizing once more: it is not entirely uncommon for people who have been undergraduates at Cambridge to go straight to Ph. D. What is very uncommon is for people to come from outside and to be admitted straight to Ph. D. level at CMS without first having sat Part III. This is a pity because, as I've mentioned before, I regard Part III to be an utterly contemptible waste of a year.
  18. Aug 8, 2008 #17
    Well you learn something new every day!

  19. Aug 8, 2008 #18
    This is the most scathing I've ever heard anyone be about the CASM; I find it curious that it's coming from someone who has a 1st and a PhD from Cambridge! Can I ask, shoehorn, why you dislike it so much without having taken it? On the basis of what people you know have said about it? Also, why do you consider the PhD at Imperial to be so much better? Imperial is very highly spoken of, but I've never known anyone to elevate it so highly over Cambridge before. I'd be equally curious to hear Anthony's views on the subject as someone who's actually taken it.
    (I ask, by the way, as a Durham undergrad entering his third year and looking to do a PhD in theoretical physics after his fouth year.)
  20. Aug 9, 2008 #19
    I have to admit that this is a total shocker! I don't know anyone! Was this a few years back, or is this more recently?

    Well everyone is different - I quite enjoyed Part III. It's fairly tough going, but it's nice to have the opportunity to go to lots of different courses, ranging over so many areas. The competition for PhD places makes the atmosphere quite competitive, but in reality you've a good idea if you're going to be successful based on how you're getting on with the course relative to your peers.

    I very much expected Part III to be a continuation of my undergraduate degree (also at Cam), so not having contact with members of the dept. didn't bother me. I just went to the lectures, did the question sheets, went to the odd examples class then sat some exams.

    One thing I know about the system which irritates a lot of people is the way in which the PhD places are given out. Because of the fact the decision lies almost entirely on the exam results, the dept can't give you a firm offer until the day of results. This means that if you were to receive an offer from elsewhere in say March, you'd have to reject it *hoping* you'd do well enough in your exams to get a PhD place at Cambridge. I know people who have rejected offers elsewhere, sat the exams and got a distinction but didn't get a PhD place because other people wanting it got better distinctions. This is quite harsh, but there doesn't seem a way of getting round it. You can try and get the other place to hold off on your decision until June, but that doesn't usually go down well, because they'll know exactly why you're doing it.
  21. Aug 9, 2008 #20
    I have a poor opinion of it because I don't believe it's particularly good preparation for a Ph. D. at Cambridge. Generally speaking, if you're competent enough to do a Ph. D. here, you're competent enough to do it without the distraction of Part III.

    I also have numerous objections regarding the behaviour of some of the colleges regarding Part III students, but that's neither here nor there.

    You're quite severely mistaken if you think I suggested anything of this sort. Please read the thread again.

    If you're a grad student here now, then yes, this would have been before your time, although not hugely so.
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