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How does one pick an undergrad thesis and phd subject?

  1. Feb 26, 2012 #1
    How do people generally go about choosing a subject to do thesis on in one's last undergraduate year (ie: year long thesis project)?

    Should one be picking the desired field for a phd subject as an undergrad or is it okay to "make a mistake" and apply for something different at grad school?

    What criteria should people have when choosing a subject, things like future prospects/availability of funding for post-doc work or transferability of skills to non-academic environments (ie: programming/numerical methods)?

    Next year I'll be doing my final year of undergrad at a UK institution as an exchange student, and I need to pick an undergrad project/thesis subject. I have something in mind but I'm afraid of biting off more than I can chew for just an undergrad project. Should I contact potential advisers before going to get some sort of recommended reading list for the summer? Or should I wait til arriving in order to meet the advisers first and make the decision then (to avoid an unsavory relationship if I pick one that isn't to my liking)?

    My interests, if it helps any: theory/computation in astrophysics, something along the lines of fluid dynamics and/or solar physics. My programming skills are very elementary as of now but I'm making good progress in my numerical methods course this year (scilab/matlab-based).
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2012 #2
    If you already have something in mind for a PhD I would try to go with that area, but it doesn't matter too much - if you have a good reason for going for something else...


    It's common to provide lists of final year projects in the UK, e.g:

    http://www.ph.surrey.ac.uk/intranet/fy_projects?supervisor=&dept=Physics&type=Expt&group=&degree=&course= [Broken]

    If at all possible, I think you should do a set project rather than dream something up for yourself, because (a) the lecturer should have made it 'bite size' (b) the lecturer will be really interested in a project he sets (c) you avoid making a 'really big mistake' - like choosing a zany topic through inexperience... you can do that when you have experience and tenure :)

    If it's not on the web site, ask for such a list from the secretary of the department (Don't email the lecturers for one! You don't want a reputation for bothering them with trivia...)

    If you are *seriously* interested in a project, or two, after reading the list, you might send out a short email enquiry.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  4. Feb 26, 2012 #3
    How does one figure out if a field or subfield is better funded than another?

    My exchange university doesn't have a complete or up-to-date list of the subjects available, only HEP subjects which I would feel inclined for, but don't think would be a good idea as I won't be able to take a course in HEP as an undergrad.

    Many thanks for the advice, I'll have to ask my uni secretary for a list, I wouldn't have thought asking lecturers directly was a bad idea!
    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
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