Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Programs Choosing PhD Group + more (Astrophysics, UK)

  1. Oct 4, 2011 #1
    Hi everyone,

    I am thinking of applying for a PhD in Astrophysics to start in October 2012, at the moment I'm still researching different Unis both here and abroad but in doing my research I've seen that for your long term career prospects it doesn't matter so much what Uni you go to, but more who your supervisor is and your group you are part of.

    I am honestly not sure the best way to go about choosing groups, obviously each dept. website will try and sell itself as best it can, and the RAE is only of limited value since it can't tell us which groups within the departments are good and which are bad it just gives an overview of the department as a whole. I would take a guess and say that the bigger Unis (Oxford, Mancs, Birmingham) will most likely have very active and highly regarded groups but I want to get as complete a picture as possible before starting to apply to places, so this includes the smaller places too.

    Haha did intend this to be quite a short post but I might as well post some more questions that came to mind when I wrote this too :) -
    1) generally how competitive are places for ESPRC funding in astro groups? I am leaning more towards theoretical work instead of computational since I did a lot more theory at undergrad. This is especially important since I didn't do any Astro at undergrad (except I guess particle physics and GR), but I have and still do study it in my spare time.

    2) Related to 1) am I at a significant disadvantage to someone coming straight from their masters? I believe I have a strong academic background, I graduated in summer 2010 with a 1st Class Masters, writing my dissertation on Graphene. I also did an IAESTE internship abroad between my 3rd and 4th years. My reason for the gap after graduating was to go travelling which subsequently required getting a job, so hopefully this won't be frowned upon but the gap is a bit of a concern for references.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 7, 2011 #2
    The gap is no problem. The problem is Graphene - what does that have to do with theoretical astrophysics? You also did no astrophysics at undergraduate level - that shows a real interest in the subject :)

    Imagine you are competing with someone with a first class honours in astrophysics, who has had astronomy as his all consuming hobby since age 7. There are plenty of them, and few of them will land a place doing a theoretical astrophysics PhD. So why should you?

    If you are *really* serious you should fund yourself for a second masters degree in astrophysics and make sure you come top - working all the hours you can, including Christmas day. Do the best MSc project that anyone's ever done for the top professor in the place and you *might* get to do a funded astrophysics PhD.

    Graphene is a really interesting substance with lots of applications. Can't you find something to do in that area? Should be a lot easier. And why do you want to move? Any potential supervisor will suspect you have an inconstant mind and are suffering from a "grass is greener" complex.

    I did an MSc in astrophysics that killed my interest in the subject I'd been obsessed with since age 7. The grass isn't greener.
  4. Oct 7, 2011 #3
    I think you're shooting yourself in the foot here. If graphene is really to have the impact on technology that many are predicting, surely you would be doing yourself a great favour by setting yourself up as an expert in a field where there could potentially, be great opportunity for interesting and rewarding work in the coming years. I'd rather have employers banging down my door instead of grovelling for a low paying research job which may never be anyway.
  5. Oct 9, 2011 #4
    George Osbourne just announced an additional £195 million in science funding for research into graphene and super computing.
  6. Oct 9, 2011 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    Really? I disagree: I also don't see having astronomy as a hobby as being a pre-requisite for doing a PhD in astrophysics.

    This is terrible advice, and a waste of money. If the OP has an undergrad degree in physics, then the necessary astrophysics can be taught in the first year of the PhD.

    To the OP: the choice of university really depends upon the specific area in which you want to conduct research. Whilst you're correct that the larger universities tend to have larger groups, there are lots of smaller universities out there with good groups in specific areas.

    Do you know what sort of theoretical asotrphysics you are interested in researching: planets, galaxies, cosmology?
  7. Oct 17, 2011 #6
    Thanks for the replies everyone, I have been considering studying for a PhD in Nanoscience/Graphene/Condensed Matter also and I think I am certainly leaning more that way now after a bit more thought.

    I think cosmology is the area I'd be most interested in, what would be the best way to find the groups which are best in this area?

    Also, I think I will make a new thread since I have some more questions about the general PhD application procedure that might not get the best coverage in this one.
  8. Oct 17, 2011 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I can give you a list of departments with decent cosmology groups (in a rough north-south order, no other ranking intended):

    Durham, Lancaster, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Oxford, Cambridge, Cardiff, Imperial, UCL, Queen Mary London, Sussex, Portsmouth.

    (I hope I've not missed anything out!).

    Each of these specialise in different types of cosmology (from the more theoretical physics side, to more observation orientated), so try googling them and take a look at the research strengths in their groups.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook