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Programs Grad school + phD in the UK?

  1. Sep 28, 2011 #1
    I'm a 3rd year undergraduate in Spain contemplating continuing my studies upon graduating next year. I was initially considering doing my 4th final year via Erasmus exchange at Imperial College London so I could take some electives that my university doesn't offer.

    Unfortunately today I found out that I can't take any elective courses that aren't expressly offered by my home university if I go on an Erasmus exchange, which is really annoying because I wanted to get a taste of HEP courses (4th year msci in the UK) before going all out and deciding that's what I want to for a masters+phd at said institution.

    First and foremost, how can I familiarize myself with this area if my university isn't active in it? They no longer offer a final year course in QFT so I'm out of luck. Both the undergrad thesis program and the astrophysics department/grad school/research institute offers the ability to do a masters thesis in HE astrophysics which I can guess is only remotely related, but I'm not sure I want to do the masters in astrophysics anymore (2 years, required for phd, expensive and funding is flaky. Plus I don't really like the majority of the courses).

    What is the procedure for EU students wanting to do a masters+phd in the UK and what kind of funding is available, if any? What about academic records?

    Any help is greatly appreciated, thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 28, 2011 #2
    Hey Lavabug,

    This sounds quite unfortunate for the university not to let you take such courses. I don't see what's the sense on doing an Erasmus year if they don't let you take classes that can't be offered in their university. I have never been in an Erasmus year neither I want to, so I cannot give you really precise information about this issue.

    However, concerning the UK system... Isn't that 4th year a master course? I mean, in the UK, you have a three year Bachelor and then one for the master. And you said that you are in your 3rd year, so you haven't finished your bachelor degree (because in Spain you need 4 years for a physics B.Sc). Maybe that could be 'why' they don't let you take such classes?

    If I were you, I would concentrate on getting a good Bachelor degree in Spain and then apply for the masters in the UK (if that's where you want to go). And again, the masters would be their '4th year'. Keep in mind that in the UK, they have 13 years of education before university, whereas in Spain you have 12, so at the end of the day everything is compensated.
    About the procedure that you asked... Well, if you have your bachelor of science in physics, you should be able to apply to the UK. I don't see where is the problem here.

    In the UK, the masters are not considered as a 'research' degree, so you would not be paid for it. That is, you would need to find funding and/or search for the scholarships offered by the university and its colleges. As you may know, the UK is now going through hard times economically speaking, so it is probably harder to find funding than say... 10 years ago. Maybe I'm wrong here; but either way, funding is never a trivial issue. I would also consider searching for scholarships awarded in Spain, I'm sure there are plenty of these scholarships for students planning to study abroad.
    And as a last case, if you had to fund your master degree (which is only one year!), you would need to pay it yourself or see if the university offers loans to EU students. Again, the masters in UK are only one year long, so it's not that you would need to pay longer like, say, in France. However, the tuition fee has raised this year in the UK (for all EU members). You should check how much is it for the master in different unis.
    Then, you also asked about the PhD. As far as I am concerned, if you get an offer to pursue a PhD in the UK, you would certainly get paid for it (or at least they pay you the living expenses and tuition fee). The PhDs in the UK normally take three years, so they would probably pay you for the first three alone. Note that this may vary in different universities.

    I don't know if those were the exact questions you were asking. Please post back if something wasn't clear or you had more questions.


    P.S. May I ask you where from Spain are you from (or studying)?
  4. Sep 28, 2011 #3

    Thanks for the reply, really helpful. You managed to answer practically all of my questions. :) I'm studying at La Laguna.

    The reason I can't take courses not offered by my university as an Erasmus student is purely bureaucratic. The competent person on exchange issues at my faculty fully agrees its a stupid rule, but he doesn't get any say on it. As it stands, I can technically take them, but they wont be recognized by my home institution if there's no equivalent subject, so consequently I'll be unable to graduate even with a full course load. (not that I had any other intention). My intention was to try out some of these subjects to see if I really like HEP as much as I think I would. I guess I can try doing some self-study if time permits.

    However I can get away with taking the subjects I like if I go on an exchange to another university in Spain, which can turn out really well (the financial aid is substantially better) or really badly (I know some other unis have irrationally brutal grading policies, and I want to learn without having to postpone my graduation needlessly, as I can't afford to lose my grantee status as I attend college/live in a different province). I will look into this but I'm still hoping I can find some kind of loophole so I can take these subjects in the UK (I feel like I would perform better if I took courses in English, plus I really want to get a feel for the prospects of a physics career in the UK).

    A lot of the courses in the msci are/were actually undergrad subjects in Spain before it started adapting to the ECTS/Bologne reform (the "licenciate" degree lasted 4 years, and they offered subjects like electrodynamics, QFT, advanced math (group theory etc), and cosmology(separate from GR) to name a few in the 3rd and 4th year. Looks like I better read up on my country's scholarships for masters degrees abroad, if they exist.

    I already heard around here that phd's in the UK last 3 years, is this enough time for most people? Is it likely to land a post-doc immediately upon earning the degree? The funding for phd's in Spain lasts up to 4 years and typically you get a stipend of around 1k € (hard to live on but better than an almost certain unemployment).

    Does phd funding in the UK allow one to treat it as a job or do people need to pick up side jobs just to make ends meet?

    Once again, thanks for the reply.
    Last edited: Sep 28, 2011
  5. Sep 29, 2011 #4
    No problem!

    I can see how what you really want to do is to get a feeling of what is HEP like. Have you considered talking with professors about the availability of joining an HEP group in your university? –Considering that you are from Canarias, I don't know if there are such groups in your university; however, as you mentioned, they probably have a far better-than-average group in Astrophysics.

    Now, if you can't find any loophole in the Erasmus issue, i.e. you cannot take those courses in the UK and transfer them to your B.Sc (I still think it is ridiculous not to let you... I mean, that's why the ECT system was created! lol) you can always go to the UK as an Erasmus student, take some classes that you can trasnfer and join the HEP group there as well as auditing some HEP classes (you could do this by e-mailing first the head of the HEP group in ICL etc). Secondly, if you don't like this alternative, my personal advice is that if you are not into Astrophysics, I would really consider going somewhere else in Spain (starting from September 2012 I guess... Since you will first finish your 3rd year in La Laguna). I mean, you would only need to be there for one year, just to finish your B.Sc, right? So at that point, you would have your Bachelor of Science diploma and some experience into what really is HEP (by taking classes or even joining their group). By then, you would be in a perfect position to apply to the UK and do their '4th year' with all the HEP classes you want.

    About the PhDs... I think they just say 'three years PhD' as a standard guide, but in fact it is rare to finish it in 3 years. I'd say the average is 3.5 to 4 years. And it's not that they are not going to pay all these PhD candidates at their final year; so normally, if you check their department, you will see that they state to provide funding *initially* for three years. I am certain that if you are doing a good job they will keep on funding your doctorate for 1 or even 2 additional years.

    Now, about 'how much' do they pay you... I have no idea. Since it is the UK, I would think they just pay you the 'minimum' living expenses. That is, they pay your room and the food provided in your corresponding college. But we could just wait for someone to post here if they have a more precise information.
    And finally, about the post-doc issue... I'd say this really depends on the candidate. Normally if you did a good doctorate with great publications, the university will most likely try to keep you as a resident academic. I don't know if that's what you asked, if you meant to be more general in your post-doc question: yes, after you have finished your doctorate you can start your post-doc in case you have an offer.

    And again, I'm sorry, but I don't know how much money do the average PhD student earns in the UK. I know that in Germany and France (I'd say all over the Continent), it is similar to Spain; my ex-flatmate earnt 1500€ per month.

    Maybe we can wait for some UK-user to answer this PhD issue :P

    If you have more questions I'd be glad to try to help you.

  6. Sep 30, 2011 #5
    UK user here.

    Some projects are funded for EU students, some for UK students.

    Most universities only require a 3 year undergraduate degree before PhD (Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, etc). Only Imperial and Cambridge want 4 year degrees/masters (Maybe more, I can't name them).

    Here is a website that shows a lot of projects and funding:

    On the right of every project is a flag that shows whether it is funded for UK, EU or International students
  7. Oct 2, 2011 #6
    Thanks. I've been looking through that site and this one:

    Been looking through the UK council website as well. Seems like funding for any masters/phd depends purely on the institution you're considering and what scholarships they have available. It looks like the course of action is to find a graduate program you like first, then look at the funding possibilities and not the other way around?

    Is it common to pursue a masters on a UK loan while working to pay off the tuition/living expenses, before applying for a paid doctorate contract? I'm trying to figure out how foreigners typically make this work. My country's gov't doesn't offer any tuition scholarships for post-grad degrees abroad (only a loan, which is less than what is available in the UK, plus the repayment terms in the UK are a lot better). What kind of work can graduate students do in the UK? Some kind of administrative job at the university which lets you attend classes maybe?

    On a side note: I'm considering doing the 1st semester of my final year via erasmus at ICL, taking the mandatory courses I'm required by my home institution(3) and the 2 electives that closely resemble the courses available back home (requirement). Even if I have to miss out on the courses I want, getting some experience living in the UK is probably a good thing.
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2011
  8. Oct 2, 2011 #7


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    Here you're talking about research council studentships. Nowadays, since PhD's are taking longer, they provide on average for 3.5 years funding.

    The stipends are £12,500 per year, or £14,500 in London. This doesn't sound much, but when you factor in that this is tax free, and you're entitled to pay no council tax, get student discounts, travel cards etc.. it is probably equivalent to a gross salary of around £21,000, which is a decent graduate salary. So yes, you can treat this as a regular job.

    This really isn't true, I don't know of anyone who's been kept on as a resident academic. Of course it's possible to obtain a postdoc after your phd (otherwise the phd system in the UK would be looked on as pretty awful!), and yes, from my experience, UK PhD's are competitive on an international scale.
  9. Oct 2, 2011 #8
    Thanks for your input. Are you a phd student or are you already working as an academic? How are the prospects for an academic career in physics in the UK these days? I've heard of the cuts/reforms the UK is going through, has this been affecting recent graduates and phd's in their hunt for a job much or does it only affect certain areas of research that are seen as less "applied"? Could you please comment on my previous post?
  10. Oct 9, 2011 #9


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    I'm a postdoc, graduated with my PhD earlier this year.

    Academic careers are tough to get into, and of course the cuts mean there are fewer jobs, but that is the case for jobs in general, and not just those for PhD graduates.

    Which part, specifically?
  11. Oct 9, 2011 #10
    I'm aware its a competitive career path, but I get the impression that the odds are a lot better in the UK than in a great deal of other places (certainly my home country).

    as for my earlier post, anything you could chip in on would be helpful:

  12. Oct 9, 2011 #11


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    I don't know about that. I think, in order to succeed, you need to have an open mind as to where you will work (i.e. apply all over the world). AFter that, it comes down to some combination of luck, research area and ability.

    Yes, you find a group you want to work with, and then they will normally find funding for you.

    I know both people who have taught masters, and those who come straight from undergrad (normally a 4 year undergraduate masters degree). So, yes, in this sense, it is common.

    You can do whatever work you can find. There are very few open places in administration that students fill; it is more normal to do bar work or work in supermarkets. When you're a PhD student you normally do teaching or demonstrating to earn extra cash on top of your studentship stipend.
  13. Oct 9, 2011 #12
    Thanks a bunch. Another question if you don't mind: is not having some research experience as an undergrad an impediment to get into a good masters/phd program?
  14. Oct 9, 2011 #13
    Cristo, I've got a question as well. I haven't found anything, as of yet, which explained this clearly enough.

    Do non-EU citizens get a *full* tuition waiver + stipend as well? It would be a bummer if not. Granted, I haven't looked everywhere but at UCL (although it was for Neuroscience), non-EU citizens are usually given tuition waivers only for the portion that EU/UK citizens would normally pay and they would have to figure out where to churn out the remaining portion of the tuition fee. With non-EU citizens paying ~2.5 times the amount EU citizens do, that's a fair a bit of money, eh.

    Another issue is if one has done a one-year MSc (at another institution to the one he did his undergrad at), how would he go about to getting recommendation letters? Does the (usual) application date for a PhD permit that? Is undergraduate research experience, beyond the Bachelor's thesis, given as much importance as in the USA or do accepted students typically not have much of that?
    Last edited: Oct 9, 2011
  15. Oct 10, 2011 #14


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    No, though most people applying with UK degrees will have done some sort of research during their degree.

    I don't think there is a blanket answer to this as it will totally depend on the institution. Since non-EU citizens are not eligible for research council studentships (which are the most common method of funding), the funding available will be either university specific, or will be specific to the country of origin of the student. Therefore, the rules and amounts will differ greatly.

    That's a good question. The usual PhD deadlines are normally the end of January. I would imagine the usual thing would be to get letters from your undergraduate institution, since they will be in a better place to write letters based on your grades, plus perhaps one from the masters institution.

    No, it is not given as much importance, and research done as part of your degree is usually sufficient, since there are not that many opportunities for research. That is changing, though, since there is a bit more money around for undergraduate summer research projects.
  16. Oct 10, 2011 #15
    Its just that the undergrad summer research opportunities where I live are almost impossible to get into, so I was wondering if having done nothing as an undergrad immediately disqualified you from getting into a masters/phd at ICL, Sussex, Oxford etc. It looks like I will be at a big disadvantage compared to all the UK students who did do some undergrad research?
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2011
  17. Oct 12, 2011 #16
    I think universities try any way they can to make it difficult for students to do "sexy" areas like HEP, 'cause they all want to do that! This happens in the UK - I was not able to take a course in GR, and was not given a choice of supervisor - ended up with a comet guy, when I wanted to do cosmology! He said he could only supervise a survey course on cosmology, and if I wanted to do actual research I had to do comets. (Survey course = fast track out of astrophysics into journalism or IT support...) So don't blame the Spanish authorities alone - this is a problem everywhere. Kiddies can have fun and do what they want, within kiddie limits, but after teen years the man expects you to get with the programme... making money for the fat cats...
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2011
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