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Programs Graduate Degrees in the UK

  • Thread starter EEWannabe
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Hey there,

I'm still at undergraduate level studying Physics right now, but looking ahead at the possibility of pursuing a PhD i'm slightly worried about what some people are saying.

I'm currently studying at quite a good university, but seeing as I wanted to do a year abroad to learn a foreign language (German) I didn't apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, I received an offer from Imperial but the lifestyle there is too expensive really for my family so I'm currently at a good University - but not at the level of the 3 aforementioned. However when looking at PhD programs, particularly at Cambridge and Imperial, i've discovered that (not seen this officially but many people have mentioned it) both institutions ask for Masters qualifications from their own department. This would mean that in order to study for a PhD at Cambridge i'd first have to complete a MSc course there, and similarly for Imperial. Is this true?

If it is true what advice would you give me - someone who'd be keen to study at one of these places? I'm certainly willing to put in alot of work on the academic side, and I should obtain a 1st relatively easily if I continue to work as I do, however due to the changing in tuition, i'd much rather just complete the masters at my current university.

Thanks in advance for the help
 

cristo

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It depends what field you're interested in. If you want to study theory then it's usually true that Imperial and Cambridge look at students graduating on their own masters course. But there are plenty of universities around, and restricting your applications to imperial and cambridge from the outset will mean you have a very small chance of getting onto a PhD programme.
 
409
1
Hey there,

I'm still at undergraduate level studying Physics right now, but looking ahead at the possibility of pursuing a PhD i'm slightly worried about what some people are saying.

I'm currently studying at quite a good university, but seeing as I wanted to do a year abroad to learn a foreign language (German) I didn't apply to either Oxford or Cambridge, I received an offer from Imperial but the lifestyle there is too expensive really for my family so I'm currently at a good University - but not at the level of the 3 aforementioned. However when looking at PhD programs, particularly at Cambridge and Imperial, i've discovered that (not seen this officially but many people have mentioned it) both institutions ask for Masters qualifications from their own department. This would mean that in order to study for a PhD at Cambridge i'd first have to complete a MSc course there, and similarly for Imperial. Is this true?

If it is true what advice would you give me - someone who'd be keen to study at one of these places? I'm certainly willing to put in alot of work on the academic side, and I should obtain a 1st relatively easily if I continue to work as I do, however due to the changing in tuition, i'd much rather just complete the masters at my current university.

Thanks in advance for the help
The Cambridge requirement I believe you refer to is called Part III, in brief it is a sort of unwritten rule that to get into DAMTP at Cambridge you will need Part III (and typically they 'cream off' the top few out of maybe 100 of that years Part III candidates, so even completing Part III is not enough to guarantee PhD acceptance their). This is not an official requirement and you will hear different things from different people I suppose and it's something that has been discussed a number of times here. I think however it is highly likely that this is the case unless you are something very special that they should make exception (and very special isn't graduating number one in your year with a first class degree and a multi author paper).

Note however that this is only if you want to get into DAMTP at Cambridge (e.g. to study Stringy, QG, Math Physics etc) if you want to do say particle physics phenomenology say, or something else then you have a much greater shot at getting a PhD at the Cavendish Cambridge. You will still need to be good, but you don't need part III, a MSc from somewhere else and good grades will suffice probably.

As for Imperial, their Quantum fields and Fundamental forces MSc has a good reputation, and yes again what tends to happen with Theory PhDs is that they either take them from this MSc or some of the people who did Part III but didn't get creamed off for DAMTP end up coming to Imperial, making the competition very stiff indeed for someone who just did a degree and fourth year at some other UK institution.

As for Oxford, the place where a lot of Quantum gravity stuff goes on is actually the Oxford Maths inst (this is where Philip Candelas who is a big deal in Stringy circles for things like Mirror symmetry is, and also the group formally headed by Roger Penrose), this place will be very difficult again for someone just from another UK four year course with a first (or even first in their year) to get into. I believe they take again lots of Part III, Imperial MSc people.
As for the Oxford Physics dept, you could study some type of string research here or QFT (I'm not sure exactly what), and you could study phenomenology just like Cavendish, and I believe you would find it easier to get into here, although don't get me wrong still very competitive, but at least you would have a shot if you were a strong candidate.

Another good MSc course is the one at Durham and I'm not sure what standing that would put you in for PhD at Imperial, but from the content they look comparable, so maybe you'd have a shot.
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Speaking from experience, I would have done Part III at Cambridge or the Imperial MSc instead of my fourth year at another UK place. It will be super stressful, and the chances are you won't do well enough to be in the top few to get accepted to DAMTP PhD (but who knows you might), but even so you will then be a very strong applicant for Imperial PhD, or maybe Oxford Maths Inst. Plus even if you don't get into any of these things, the breadth of stuff you will learn during part III will be typically greater than what you'd learn somewhere else and it will set you up well for research and boost your chances getting into another UK programme.

Another thing I would have considered is US PhDs (they are like a UK masters and PhD all rolled into one 5 year 'gradschool' ), depends if you mind moving abroad though. You need to take a GRE exam for this too, but the US discussion is a whole thread in itself, so I wont go into that.
 
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Thank you very much for the quick replies;

Of course I realise that limiting my options to those 3 institutions would be foolish, and i'd certainly be more than happy to consider a good PhD program anywhere in a subject that interests me, I was simply asking for clarification.

Thanks very much for the advice, and I suppose on balance I would like to do a Masters at one of the 3, however due to changes in tuition (moving to £9,000 at all 3 named places) i'm not sure I could afford a separate Masters, but we'll see I guess.

Thanks again for the information
 
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If you have good grades (you must have exceptional grades if you are considering those three), it's possible to go straight into a PhD at a good university (not those 3 though .. )

The EPSRC stipend requires a 2:1 at BSc level for doctorate funding. Yes, you will get more 'respect' for getting a PhD at those institutions, but they're very expensive places to live at - and you'll be struggling on the stipend anyway.

If you can't afford a Masters, try to get yourself onto a PhD somewhere else, and get it paid for :)
 

cristo

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Science Advisor
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If you have good grades (you must have exceptional grades if you are considering those three), it's possible to go straight into a PhD at a good university (not those 3 though .. )

The EPSRC stipend requires a 2:1 at BSc level for doctorate funding. Yes, you will get more 'respect' for getting a PhD at those institutions, but they're very expensive places to live at - and you'll be struggling on the stipend anyway.
It's possible to go straight from a 3 year degree, but not very likely any more. The norm is now a 4 year degree or a 3 year + masters year. As for the living costs, I've lived in London on the stipend, and have certainly not struggled. You're essentially earning £16000 without tax (+£2-3000 for teaching). There are certainly people who live in London and earn a lot less than that!
 
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Sure, the stipend isn't bad at all these days.

But his problem is funding the Masters himself, no stipend for that! (Unless you get lucky ^_^)
 
14
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Sure, the stipend isn't bad at all these days.

But his problem is funding the Masters himself, no stipend for that! (Unless you get lucky ^_^)
 
Cambridge will look for graduation on the same master course when it is for studying theory. Probably that will share some sort of risks to the students.
 
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You could live outside London and commute in - if you are mostly worried about the housing costs.
 
You could live outside London and commute in - if you are mostly worried about the housing costs.
I don't know enough about London to gather what you mean by "outside" with regards to accomodation - I take "outside London" to mean anything the other side of the M25 - but I recently looked at an annual pass from Royal Holloway (i.e. Egham) to one of the stations in central London at it was extortionate - nearly £3000 with a tube pass.
 
While it is often the case that undergraduate degrees from universities are not considered equivalent. PhD's since they are personal pursuit and assessed externally are considered pretty much equal, no matter where you get them from.

So perhaps you should consider your reasons for just focusing on the ancient universities and instead look more at the red bricks, or just individual departments and supervisors that would suit you.

Also to quote Peter J, Bentley
Some of those based on the older institutions or bodies (such as Oxford or the Royal Institution) will still be biased against you if you "make the mistake" of going to the wrong university. Nevertheless, you should consider that attitude to be their problem and not yours.
 
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I don't know enough about London to gather what you mean by "outside" with regards to accomodation - I take "outside London" to mean anything the other side of the M25 - but I recently looked at an annual pass from Royal Holloway (i.e. Egham) to one of the stations in central London at it was extortionate - nearly £3000 with a tube pass.
It's not much more for rail passes from towns like Milton Keynes, where living costs are much lower than Egham. If you are talking 'family accommodation' then surely housing costs are the biggest consideration?
 
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For Imperial, I know that a lot of people pay on average around £120 per week for rent in London to be 30 minutes away from Imperial's main campus.

How about getting a company to sponsor you? Ask if Imperial will give you a bursary.

London has a reputation for being extremely expensive. If you do all the touristy stuff, then yes it probably is. However, everything except accommodation is about the same price.

Also, apply for accommodation in halls at Imperial. Trust me, it's worth the price (you even get discount if you are a warden or something like that).
 
It's not much more for rail passes from towns like Milton Keynes, where living costs are much lower than Egham. If you are talking 'family accommodation' then surely housing costs are the biggest consideration?
Ah, by "too expensive for my family" I took it to mean that his family was/would be funding some part of his study. Perhaps some clarification is required here?

Also, apply for accommodation in halls at Imperial. Trust me, it's worth the price (you even get discount if you are a warden or something like that).
This may well not be appropriate if you in fact have a family, but if this is not the case I would also consider University of London Intercollegiate Halls. I think Imperial maintains enough of a relationship with the University of London for its students to use these, but you would have to check into this.
 
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What about the master in gravity, particles and fields from Nottingham? I know that Nottingam is not such a fancy named place as Oxbridge or Imperial, but the syllabus looks good. Aditionally, in the RAE, Nottingham scored quite high. Anyone knows how good it is compared to the other programs when it comes to applying for a PhD?
 
Last edited:

f95toli

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Yes, you will get more 'respect' for getting a PhD at those institutions
This is not true at all. Note that getting a PhD here in the UK is VERY different from getting a PhD in say the US. Some universities do have "PhD programs" (Imperial etc) which require you to do a MSc year first (but that is more or less a form of adding an unofficial "extra" year to your PhD), but in most places you will just start working on your project from day one and don't really need to take any more courses.

You'll get a desk somewhere and you'll get paid, it is basically a regular job (badly paid but still).

This means that which group you are in and how respected your supervisor is, is far, far more important than the university. Yes, there are some good groups at Imperial, Oxbridge etc, but there are also quite a few not-quite-as-good ones. No one will get impressed just because you did your PhD in say Oxford.

Also, you can't "apply" to become a PhD student somewhere. What tends to happen is that a researcher gets funded to do a very project, and part of that funding goes towards paying PhD students (and/or post-docs, I literately have a post in my budget that says "PhD student") who will then work towards their PhDs working on that project.

This means that researchers will advertise for PhD students to work on specific projects and which positions you should apply to depends on what you are interested in doing and who you want to work with, which university it is should be more or less irrelevant (although living close to Imperial IS expensive). Some of the best groups out there are based at small universities with small physics departments in the middle of nowhere, the department just happen to very good at ONE thing (at many universities they only work in 3-4 different fields of physics, and the whole physics department might consist of two groups).

Hence, applying for a PhD position in the UK is usually just like applying for any other job.
Note that this is also -as far as I know- true for Oxford and Imperial. One of my former summer students is now doing his PhD in Oxford, and he got accepted to work on a specific project and was basically in the lab from day one.
 

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