So I have a 1st class honours degree in maths and physics from my undergrad university. I then went on to do the part iii course at cambridge where i did only theoretical physics courses. I got a merit for that. Currently I'm working abroad for a year in a non-maths related job (hopefully my inability to easily return to the uk for interviews and also the fact that i'm only managing to top up my physics in my spare time won't damage my application!) Anyway, I'm looking to apply for a PhD in theoretical physics in the UK for 2012 entry and I want to get started on applications asap. I have some questions: (i) Now, I've been told you don't need to specific an idea of a research proposal. I have decided that I want to work along the lines of GR and black holes with some quantum-y stuff thrown in. Does that perhaps lean towards string theory? Does this sound specific enough or are they looking for much more detail? (ii)The next step is to decide where to apply. I have decided Edinburgh and Glasgow are both getting an application as I'm from Scotland and haven't lived there in a good while. I thought about Cambridge but it's so pressured it might drive me crazy! Also, I'm fairly sure they require a distinction for entry onto a theoretical physics PhD. Even if I can't make Cambridge, I believe my academic background is sufficient that I should be looking for Russell Group Universities. I took a look at Oxford but their website on theoretical physics seems to suggest the department is limited to condensed matter and particle theory - is this true? Another big thing for me is having a reasonable quality of life - I want to live in a fairly interesting place - I was maybe thinking some of the London unis would be worth a shout. I really don't know enough about these other universities - can anyone suggest to me unis in good cities with strong research in my desired areas? I reckon I should probably aim to apply to about 4 places to have a reasonable chance of being accepted somewhere - does this seem reasonable? (iii) Am I right in thinking that the next step is then to email the departments in question? Who do I email? Academic staff or the secretary? And do I basically just say something along the lines of "Any chance of a PhD?" lol. The application process for this is quite different and I'm kind of struggling to get my head around it so thanks for any and all help!