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Programs Choose Uni or Project for PhD?

  1. Jul 15, 2009 #1
    Hi guys,

    Regarding a PhD application in the UK, is it better to figure out which area you would like to work in, and then apply to universities that research that particular area, or is it better to pick a really good university and then maybe shift your research interests a little to suit the areas that they do?

    Thanks in advance of any replies posted.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 15, 2009 #2
    Here in Canada one generally picks a supervisor more than one picks a school.
  4. Jul 15, 2009 #3
    At some universities (with small numbers of admitted students), you are admitted knowing which group you will likely be working for, but generally students do not get matched with a research group until after their core coursework is completed (or at least halfway so).

    Because of this, I'd generally think that you need to pick your research area, then look for particular universities that have strong research groups in your area. If you aren't a stellar applicant, you'd want to try to apply to an institution that had at least three groups that you are interested in. To my knowledge, the supervisors of the strongest groups did go and look in students files, checking undergraduate performance (including research experience) and students preformance in core classes. I went to a university that was very strong in a particular research area, and still found that some of the students that were admitted left because they weren''t acccepted to the "famous" research group(s) they were most interested in.

    That said, you can have a general idea of what you want to do (say condensed matter versus high energy) and be flexible about the details.... But you should have at least some idea of what you want to do... otherwise, why are you going to graduate school
  5. Jul 15, 2009 #4


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    It doesn't quite work like that in the UK; it is quite different to the system in the US.
    Applying for a PhD position in the UK is more of less like applying for a job. The supervisor gets funding (often as part of grant) for employing a PhD student for a particular project; he/she then tries to find a suitable student (usually by asking around, but also by e.g placing ads in magazines like New Scientist etc).

    From your point of view this means that you more or less know what you will be doing for the next 3-4 years when you start, you also know which group you will be in and who will be your advisor.
  6. Jul 15, 2009 #5
    Thanks f95toli. So what do you see as more important, the close fit of project to your interest, or the reputation of the institution?
  7. Jul 16, 2009 #6
    The reputation of the group & supervisor is most important. If you are most interested in a highly competitive area (high energy?) look for a fallback position! Look through: http://www.jobs.ac.uk.
  8. Jul 16, 2009 #7


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    That is a very good and valuable piece of information, f95toli.

    If you have some time and willing to expand on the application process and what one should know, I'd appreciate it if you could post this vital information in the "So You Want To Be A Physicst" thread, which is lacking on info on the UK system. I would love to include that eventually in my essay since this is definitely very useful.

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