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

Europe Graduate School

  1. Jun 30, 2008 #1
    How does it work?

    I'm kind of interested in schools outside of the US (I mean, why not?) and I've started looking at websites because I'm graduating this coming year and was told to start applying early. What I see (from Oxford and Cambridge at least) are a 1st Honours and High 2nd Honours requirement or whatever. Being from the US, I have no idea what that means. Is that like some sort of GPA? A Wikipedia search found that 12% of graduates from UK universities get 1st Honours and 73% get 2nd Honours. So what's the big deal?

    Secondly, I know that you need a Master's first. Is there an easy way to jump from a US bachelor's into Europe for a Ph.D.? Or would I first have to earn a Master's on my own coin somehow and then go to Europe? That seems like too much of a hassle if that's the case.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2008 #2
    It is *possible* to get funding to do an MSc in the UK - but not very likely.

    http://www.phy.cam.ac.uk/research/applications/grad_basics.php [Broken]

    Are you interested only in British universities? What field would you like to go into?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  4. Jun 30, 2008 #3


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    I don't understand your question "what's the big deal?" If you are trying to see whether your degree is (or will be) good enough to apply to a university in the UK, then you should check the admissions pages of the universities you are looking to apply to. Some departments do let students with a UK undergraduate degree in directly for a PhD (normally admitted on a masters programme, but then upgraded later), but I don't know about US degrees. The only people who will know are those in admissions departments.

    You should consider the cost of a PhD in the UK as a first thought. International tuition fees are generally in the region of £13,000 per year (which does not include accomodation or living expenses). Then, depending on where you live, it can get pretty pricey to pay rent. There are also limited studentships available from the universities, so if you end up only securing a bursary from home (i.e. in $) you will have a very hard time trying to stretch that to cover rent, food, travel, etc..
  5. Jun 30, 2008 #4
    Well anywhere where they speak English... so I guess maybe Scandinavia would fall into that? Switzerland?

    What is "first honours", "second honours" and why are they making a note of it to people if most people get them anyway?

    I was under the assumption that if you are a TA or RA for your professor, you get tuition paid for + a monthly stipend. Well, that's how it works in the USA. Is that not how it goes in the UK?
  6. Jun 30, 2008 #5


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    In the UK, degrees are classified into the following categories:
    1 - an overall score of 70% or above, with about 10% of the year receiving the grade
    2i - an overall score of 60% or above
    2ii - an overall score of 50% or above
    3 - an overall score of 40% or above

    Most people get either a first or second class degree, but note that second class is split into two divisions (i and ii, or upper and lower). Hardly anyone gets a 3rd, since they normally just give up.

    I'm afraid that's not how things work over here. There is no such thing as a TA (at least not one that gets a monthly stipend and whose wage is set). What you would call an RA would be what we would call a studentship. Since you are an international student, you will not qualify for any of the research council studentships, and thus can only apply for university-specific studentships, which are few and far between at most places. Then, even if you secure one of those, then you may only get your fees paid, and not given a stipend. Also, since there aren't that many of these studentships, I would imagine they go to the best students.. i.e. those with masters degrees.

    Once you've got a place, there is normally a chance to make some extra cash as a TA, either marking or helping out in classes. However, this is not a monthly stipend, and depends on how much work you do.

    So, to summarise, the UK system is, in general, nothing like that in the US. I would urge you to go and talk to an advisor, or a professor who knows about the UK system, as they will be able to give you the best advice.
  7. Jun 30, 2008 #6
    It would be worth looking at PhD programs in the Scandinavian countries, Germany and the Netherlands - very often graduate work in the sciences is in English. You might also consider universities in Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

    If you are not a UK or EU resident it is actually very difficult to get full-ride funding for graduate work in Britain. I would say that the Britain is the hardest country in the world for a foreign student to get a funded position in physics. This is partly due to competition for the available positions and partly due to poor policies in British universities which make doing a PhD financially unattractive. University personnel are starting to wake up to the fact that good students - especially good physics students - are going elsewhere for graduate work, but policy change will be slow.

  8. Jun 30, 2008 #7
    Despite Cambridge and Oxford, saying they accept a 2:1 on the website, they don't!(well unless you've done some serious research in your undergrad years, and have a superb excuse lined up). A first should be seen as a minimum for these PhD programmes, as pretty much everyone, who thinks they are worthy to apply will have this.

    As far as I can tell a 1st equates to a GPA of something like just below a 4.0 in the US system ( http://www.leeds.ac.uk/studyabroad/downloads/conversions.pdf [Broken]). It's basically a grade A in the US system. Although the whole conversion is really confusing me at the moment, the two system are so unalike.
    I read on another forum ( http://www.newmediamedicine.com/for...dents/21826-us-uk-college-gpa-conversion.html) that Cambridge consider a GPA of 3.8 equivalent to a First.

    As for doing a Masters first, isn't an undergraduate degree in the US four years long anyway?(vs a Bachelors in the UK which is three years, which is then followed usually by a one year masters) So I'd imagine you might have a chance at getting straight into a PhD, depending on what courses you've taken in those four years.

    Funding is very tough to come by, there's always the Fullbright if you're a genious.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  9. Jun 30, 2008 #8
    I can give very detailed information about swedish graduate schools. just ask away.

    I am wondering, how good are UCL, and the red bricks on the international scale. How do I get in to one of those, and the golden question; how do I get into oxford/cambridge? What is the demands for extracurriculars, GPA (I assume 2i) and how should one phrase the personal letter?
  10. Jun 30, 2008 #9


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor

    The departments presumably set the lower limit at 2i since this is the lowest that the research councils will accept for their studentships.

    In the US, students take a wide range of "gen ed" classes, which add up to about a year of classes outside their "major." Thus, a student with a BSc in physics, say, from the UK (which takes 3 years) has done around the same amount of physics as a US student with a BS (4 years) majoring in physics. Thus, their four year degree is not the same as our four year (masters) degree.
  11. Jun 30, 2008 #10

    Ah yeah, good point. I forgot about the minor major thing.
  12. Jun 30, 2008 #11
    Okay, so let me recap what just happened here:

    In the UK, getting money for graduate school is a lot harder and close to impossible for a foreign student. What if you have dual citizenship? I was born in Greece. Could I wriggle my way into there somehow?

    Secondly, 1 and 2i mean high marks in your classes. But I don't understand the really high % of people getting them, then, because at least here things are graded on a curve, meaning that the person up top sets the grade and the entire class is never on the top, even if they are close.

    Thirdly, yeah, I've done quite a bit of research and *might* even get my name on a published paper, but it doesn't look too good anymore. But I'll be getting 2 strong letters of recommendation and I need to find a 3rd.

    Fourth, I was told that in Germany and France classes are in their respective languages. My E&M prof said so about Germany and a post doc I work with has a girl friend who went to grad school in France, which was all in French.

    Lastly, how does the rest of Europe (including Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Scandinavia, whereever) look? Are the rules similar to the British ones or does it vary a lot? I am assuming since the whole EU thing is going on they are trying to get some sort of cohesion?

    Fearless, I'd appreciate any info you have on graduate schools in Sweden. Such as which ones are the best, are classes in English or not, the Death Metal scene over there, and how I would pay for it.

    Thanks for all your help, everyone.
  13. Jun 30, 2008 #12
    hmm, if you have daul citizenship with Greece, you might stand a good chance. You would still struggle getting funding for the masters (even UK students struggle to fund a masters independent of their orginal degree, you would most likely need a loan of some kind), but if you somehow got the masters, then you would be eligible for the usual STFC award for the PhD I think, as an EU citizen. (I know someone from Cyprus who was awarded the STFC, just like normal)

    As mentioned above, only around 10% of the year obtain a First, do you consider that a lot?


    If you're limited to programmes in English, the only other place I can think of, other than those mentioned, is Amsterdam.....they have an amazing string theory centre, if that's your bag. http://www.science.uva.nl/research/itf/strings/phdpage.html [Broken]
    All in english, and they have a masters programme here too (with limited financial aid). This place is one of the best in Europe for string theory, so Im told, and would def be a great experience. Awesome thing about Holland too, is that they treat their PhD's as employee's and actually pay a pretty decent salary.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  14. Jun 30, 2008 #13
    That's for First. What about 2i?

    Nah, I'm going for experimentalism. But having a decent salary sounds nice. :)
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  15. Jul 1, 2008 #14
    Warphalange: I would say like this; It depends very much on your experimental field; for condensed matter physics and quantum chemistry I would choose Uppsala university, Chalmers/KTH or Lunds university.

    You actually get paid a lot for doing doctoral work in sweden. You get something in the line of $40k a year (and that's calculated low, at chalmers with the right expertise you can get something like $50k a year). IN USA you pay to educate yourself, in soviet russia education pays YOU!

    I think it's that way all across europe. But I bet there are exceptions.

    If you could pinpoint a speciality I could give better help.
  16. Jul 1, 2008 #15
    The 73% quoted refers to the total number of people obtaining any kind of Second class degree....this is the whole spectrum of second class degrees; from Upper second-class (2:1) to lower second class (2:2).

    To be accepted into a PhD programme you would need minimum a 2:1, of which a much smaller number than 73% obtain (not sure the exact figure). To have a realistic chance of going to a prestigous school, you will need a First( unless there are mitigating circumstances, or you have compensated by some astounding research, etc).

    On the GPA->UK conversion front, I have been looking for this myself, as I really need to know also, and it seems there is no unique way to do this,as the systems are so different. Some people use WES (http://www.wes.org/students/index.asp), and pay them to do a conversion. Other institutes, say don't even bother trying to convert, just state your qualificatons in your own countries system. So it's probably best just emailing the department your thinking about applying to first, to see what they prefer. However, seems typically a First equates to something like 3.7 upwards.
  17. Jul 1, 2008 #16
    See I don't know yet. I'm still looking around. The two things I'm looking out for are nanotech (nanoelectronics would be best) and quantum computing. But I'm open to a lot of different fields, so I want to get into a school with a large department and many groups.

    The USA system works like this: They pay your tuition and give you a small monthly stipend (enough to live off of) for doing either research help or TA-ing a class. So I'd say that's a pretty good deal.

    If the $40k/year before you pay for tuition or after?
  18. Jul 1, 2008 #17
    For nanotechnology, you should check out Delft Institute of Technology (in Holland). It's a leader in that field.
  19. Jul 1, 2008 #18
    Warphalange: Yes, Delft is an european leader in nanotechnology, all kinds is what I've heard, both the Q-comp and the general part. And besides it's one of the best tech-schools in europe.

    You get $40k right of the bat. No tuition in soviet-union of sweden republic.

    for nanoelectronics I would pick either Chalmers or KTH first, then after that I would pick Lunds university. They are the leaders of that in sweden.

    I would like to hear more about Delft, what is the requirment to study in the netherlands, what does it pay?
  20. Jul 1, 2008 #19
    Do you have Greek citizenship? If you do that will make doing a master's in the EU much more feasible because you will only have to pay EU tuition.

    You need a master's degree before you can start a PhD in the Netherlands. All Dutch universities offer their physics MSc and PhD programs in English. Stipends are 2000 to 2500 euro/month (but expect to pay about 40% of this to pensions, taxes and healthcare).

  21. Jul 1, 2008 #20
    I wouldn't mind paying 40% if I get healthcare for it. As it stands, I wouldn't have had healthcare anyway and that's more important to me than buying toys.

    But would I get paid at all when going for my Master's? Or would I need a job too? That would be pretty hard...
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook