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ETH VS Imperial

  1. Mar 24, 2013 #1
    Hi fellow PF members,
    I am an undergrad physics student in the last year of my degree. This year has been pretty sh**** as I have been rejected from 17/17 US universities that I had applied to for a PhD program. As a good and organized scientist though I had a backup plan. As I didn't really expect it to go down this road I wasn't really prepared for the kind of decision it's come down to. I am interested in a PhD in particle physics and I will get there no matter what, even after taking into account all the terrible career prospects and the job's market state at the moment.
    So the two programs I have to chose between are:

    2 year MSc in High Energy Physics

    1 year MSc in Physics

    I would like to hear your ideas about any pros/cons or whatsoever about those unis and London/Zurich in general.

    Having spent the last 3 years studying in London I can't really say I'm excited about spending another year here but it may well be worth the sacrifice.

    As the two programs are quite different any ideas about why I should go or shouldn't go for a 1/2 year master's would be welcome as well.

    I am leaning towards ETH, but finances taken into account 2 years in Zurich may not be the best option. Also even though it's supposed to be a specialized program with a focus in High Energy Physics, I don't know if it worth the time instead of getting faster into a PhD. On the other hand, spending one year at Imperial and then aiming for a paid PhD position sounds a better plan financially speaking.

    I'm open to all suggestions so feel free to write anything that comes to mind that you may think will help me reach a final decision!

    Many thanks,
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 24, 2013 #2
    Hi, another fellow physicist finishing up his degree in London here. Sorry to hear about your bad luck with US phd apps, I too did not get in anywhere but I'm currently on the waitlist for a top 20. All institutions I've spoken with tell me they have had to turn down a very large number of well-qualified applicants that they would've taken no questions asked in years past when there wasn't such a glut of good students, which I suspect is even bigger in fields like HEP, so it is no fault of your own.

    Have you had a rigorous look at the cost of living in Zurich for 2 years? I would be very surprised if the tuition + living expenses for 2 years in Germany would exceed the cost of living + tuition in London for one year. I also think arrangements for work-study/TA-style jobs in Germany is much more common than in the UK but I may be wrong.

    I know Imperial and UCL are known for HEP but I don't really know much about ETH in this regard. I'll have a wild guess and say Imperial is your best choice out of those two, since they've had + still have heavy hitters in HEP which you might get a chance to work with for a masters project, which could earn you a fairly epic recommendation letter. (I think Weinberg visited less than a month ago, FWIW). But again I say this with complete ignorance of what ETH does.
  4. Mar 24, 2013 #3
    Btw ETH is in Switzerland not in Germany (albeit the German speaking part of Switzerland). And yes the living cost is waaaay higher for the two years. In fact it is possibly going to be higher per year than that of London. Zurich is the most expensive city in Europe at the moment and I'm pretty sure it exceeds the living costs of London, from the research I've done. The only good thing is tuition fees, which are negligible compared to 6000-6500 pounds for 1 year at Imperial. Yes working on paid research within the department is more common, which I think is a very good thing, but then again you have to wait 6 months to get involved to get working rights on your visa sorted out (as Europeans we need a visa to live/study/work in Switzerland).

    Concerning academic reputation in the field I am not so sure myself. From the research I've done on the people working in the relevant department, Imperial seems to have people publishing more and naturally getting cited more. Imperial runs a fairly big group with 20-30 people involved (only in HEP!!!), whereas ETH has 3-4 people here and 3-4 people there, each one with his very own specialty. To me there seems to be a totally different ideology behind the teaching/research style between the two universities, judging from the structure. Then again I can't know for sure nor can I tell a priori which is going to suit me better (even though smaller and more personal always sounds good).

    As far as US institutions are concerned don't believe the c*** they give you on the rejection letters. They are 100% perfectly standardized saying the exact same thing to all applicants. Yes applications are becoming more but I don't see a huge difference when we are talking about moving from 600 to 650 applicants. This is off topic, but after failing to receive any feedback on my applications (even after emailing very kindly my request numerous times, which I wouldn't have done if they didn't mention on the rejection letter I could do so) I would appreciate it if you told me what was your background in Physics? Did you go straight from your BSc to apply like I did or had a master's? How was your PGRE?
  5. Mar 24, 2013 #4
    I'm fully aware rejection letters are standardized, but I got extra feedback from some grad schools and they gave me the numbers for this year compared to previous years and the difference was substantial. I exchanged similar emails with the director of a well-known summer research program that also waitlisted me and later had to turn me down.

    I applied with my BSc in Physics, which in my country is 4 years unlike it is in the UK, and I've had more coursework (both in course quantity and rigor) than most people get even if they go for the MSc at UCL. GRE's weren't great (below 50th percentile), but can and will be improved if I don't get in this year, since there is no way I could afford a masters (or get additional research experience apparently, emailing profs about volunteer work hasn't been fruitful so far).
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2013
  6. Mar 24, 2013 #5
    Hold on tight fellow sufferer! We'll get there... Don't let em make you quit...
    The absurdity and irrationality of academia has made my year spectacular. Since this post has strayed off a bit... I'll give you a couple of fun stories.
    1) Don't ask me how I managed to do so but this year I apparently had picked up an extra course (some error with the online registration system). I only realized so when I asked for my transcripts to apply for grad schools, which was a couple of week before the course was over. The funny thing is they didn't let me take credit for the course since it would go over the 120 credit limit that you get per year in UK unis. If only they knew I have been working on a second degree with the Open University whilst attending my university and taking twice as much credit that legally possible... I guess it's ok though so long as they don't know about it... The ultimate irony was however, when my offer from Imperial came in. Usually people get conditional offers, like obtain 1st class results upon graduation and stuff like that. My offer was conditional on de-registering from the Open University. So apparently it doesn't even matter if I pass my final exams (I double checked that...even though I am planning to study pretty hard).

    2) As a good guy I tried to get some external funding to help with my grad applications. Being Greek in ethnicity actually Greece was the only place I could go around to ask for funding. Out of the 3 possible places I could get funding, from 2 I was rejected for the following reasons. I got rejected from the Fullbright program because apparently it's ok if you want to do a PhD (in any country) after doing a BSc in Greece, but if you have a BSc from some other country you are not entitled for funding. I got rejected from the Onasis Foundation on the grounds that I had to have completed my degree before applying for a scholarship. That is you are excluded from being awarded a scholarship if you apply during your last year of studies. Their reasoning being that you can apply after you have completed the first year on your PhD for which you can get funding from your university. Am I the only one who finds this absurd? As if you manage to get through the 1st year of your PhD, will you not have found a research group to take you under their wing and finance you while you do research for them...?

    Funny how such things turn out...
  7. Mar 24, 2013 #6
    Funny, I'm also a national of one of the European PIGS states...

    I was/still am planning on applying for my country's Fulbright scholarship myself, but it's not going to help me since I you don't get funding until one year after requesting it. Had I known about it when I was halfway into my junior year I would've applied...

    I am close to requesting a summer scholarship in the UK for research... hopefully that'll work out. Not exactly the kind of research I want to do, but besides my finals and the upcoming GRE's, I think it's the only thing I can do to increase my chances for next time.
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