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Grad school and career questions from an aspring astrophysicist

  1. May 31, 2014 #1
    There's a good deal of interesting grad school info here (though mostly for non-astrophysics, of course), but it seems quite US centered. I'm a few years ahead of graduation now but figure it's best to plan ahead. My interest was piqued since the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Heidelberg put up a notice in both the Physics and Astronomy departments at my school earlier this year for a Ph. D program.

    Question 1/2/3: Is the process for getting into grad School in Europe significantly different than for a US university (e.g. GRE equivalents)? If so, how, and are there any special steps I should be taking to prepare for this? Further, would taking any of said steps somehow become a stumbling block for applying to US grad schools (I'm planning on applying to US and international schools)?

    Question 4: For astrophysics generally, is there a preferred foreign language (I already speak half decent Spanish and have a knack for languages, so I'd like to add another)? I attended an exoplanet conference as a volunteer in March, and the impression I got seemed to indicate either French or German. Is this impression correct, or does it even matter?

    Thanks for any answers in advance.
  2. jcsd
  3. May 31, 2014 #2
    1/2/3: Significantly different. No standardized exams outside of TOEFL/IELTS if your undergrad was not taught in English, for the most part. A masters degree is an almost universal requirement for entry into any PhD program in EU universities. MPA is an extremely competitive program and they are no exception to this rule: masters required.

    4: English is still the main language for publications, conferences, and general communication between scientists of different nationalities, I would not worry about learning a new language other than for the sake of doing it.
  4. May 31, 2014 #3
    I can speak with knowledge of the UK, and with slight knowledge of the rest of Europe.

    To help with Google searches, at least, note that In the UK, and in most of Europe, there is no such thing as "grad school". If you want to do a PhD in physics, then you should look for PhD opportunities in physics, not "grad school" in physics.

    There is no GRE in the UK, to do a PhD in astrophysics you require a good BSc honours degree, (1st or 2(i)) in astrophysics, or a closely related subject (e.g., physics!) Most UK university websites should give you information on how American qualifications translate to UK qualifications.

    English is the universal language of science. I've been to many conferences in Europe and no one expected me to speak anything but English. It doesn't matter if you speak a foreign language or not. Obviously, if you obtain a PhD position in Germany *then* it would be a good idea to start learning German, but don't worry if you are far from fluent by the time you get there.
  5. May 31, 2014 #4
    I'm not sure this is correct for the UK (although it's some time since I was in this situation.) I think it's more correct to say a masters degree is *quite often* a requirement for entry into a PhD programme. And if that's the case, you will often be shepherded through doing an appropriate MSc at the same institution where you pursue the PhD.
  6. May 31, 2014 #5
    I stand by my original statement. This is what it's like nowadays, particularly since the implementation of the Bologne process. I spent a good year looking for graduate study opportunities within the EU (especially the UK) and around 99% of the PhD programs I found required a masters, for which funding is extremely limited (and in the case of the UK, practically nonexistent for non-nationals unless you're from a EU member state and have lived in the UK for at least 3 years). I did come across the odd one or two "doctoral training centre" in the UK that included the masters program as part of the PhD, but it was in extremely competitive schools (ICL was one) and in fields I wasn't interested in.

    Scotland's U St. Andrews PhD offerings don't require a masters degree, it was one of the schools I applied to this year (ultimately I decided on one of the US schools I got into before I heard back from them). They had a variety of thesis topics out there with some pretty established faculty. I think Eric Priest is still around as an emeritus faculty member, not sure how active their Solar theory group is nowadays though. Didn't see any thesis offerings on Solar physics topics, then again I didn't check their math department which is where E. Priest and co. work(ed).
    Last edited: May 31, 2014
  7. May 31, 2014 #6
    I wasn't certain this was an important distinction, actually. Not being aware of the need for an MS in parts of Europe, the terms "Ph.D opportunities" and "grad school" have become mostly synonymous in my mind.
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