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Programs How easy is it to find funding to do an Applied Physics PhD abroad?

  1. Sep 9, 2010 #1
    Although I am not yet sure which area I would want to do a PhD in (I am only in 2nd year undergrad) it would most likely be something applied like accelerator physics, plasma physics, metamaterials, plasmonics etc. (I realise this is a ridiculous range of topics :P )

    The proposed ~30% cuts to the UK research councils make me wonder how easy it would be to secure funding to carry out a PhD project abroad? (perhaps the EU would be easiest, but then what are language requirements like?)

    It seems easy to do post-docs abroad as it is just like a job and you are paid a salary whereas I worry that it would be hard to get tuition costs paid and a stipend for living costs as an international student. Although the EU can be strict about ensuring that sufficient support is given to EU students at undergraduate level I am not sure this is the case when studying a PhD? And even if it were would I be required to speak the language of the country I go to, or is English sufficient?

    I have tried to answer this question through my own endeavours but as I find the whole process of doing a PhD rather confusing in the UK let alone abroad I have not had much success.

    Any information or advice you can offer would be greatly appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 9, 2010 #2
    I'm currently looking for funding to do a master's on the continent (The Netherlands are looking good at the minute) and there seem to be lots of PhD opportunities if you know where to look. The language won't be a problem - to quote my advisor "the language of international science is broken English" - they all teach and work in English on the continent, because postgraduate degrees seem to attract lots more people from many different countries compared to undergrad degrees.

    You'll have to research some institutions (find out which ones are strong in your area of interest... whatever it turns out to be!) and have a look at their funding pages, and see if there are any government/etc organisations offering scholarships. For example, VU in Amsterdam offer full scholarships for any postgraduate study in any subject...

    May I ask what your grades are like? You should find a (UK) program funded if you are working at a high 2.1 or 1st.

    What confuses you about the UK PhD system? You can either apply to a posted PhD position which already has funding available, or you apply to a department you like, and (I think!) they then apply to the EPSRC/STFC on your behalf if they like you and your proposed project. The former is definitely the easier route, but that way you have to stick with the advertised vacancies, which will be a problem if none of them really interests you.

    Finally, consider the US. They provide mostly master's + PhD 1+3 funding packages (which could require you to be a teaching assistant or research assistant), and it always seems to me that they support more students more readily than institutions in the UK... I'm sure someone will correct me if the disagree!

  4. Sep 10, 2010 #3
    I got a 1st (87%) in the First Year and am just entering the second, that got me on the Deans Commendation thingy which is like ~40 students out of each year or something. I also receive a scholarship from the university due to getting 5As at A level from a struggling school (if only they had had A*s when I did them :P )

    So I am doing okay grades-wise, reading that actually makes me sound pretty smart but I don't feel especially talented. The second year is meant to be a lot more challenging though so it remains to be seen whether I can keep it up. The third and fourth year will also be interesting when we do more research - as I could just turn out to be a poor researcher in which case doing a PhD would be a nightmare.

    Ah, thanks for explaining the UK system, that makes more sense now. Still, the possibility of proposing your own project seems daunting, but I guess it is quite a long time away. It is interesting that you say the US is better for support, as I always seem to see US grad students complaining about the lack of financial support etc. but I suppose they could be in the Arts.

    Thank you for your help,
  5. Sep 10, 2010 #4


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    In practice, prospective PhD students in the UK rarely propose their own research project. You apply to a research group within a department which has been assigned research council studentships. This application usually contains a "personal statement" (i.e. what broad area you want to work in and why), along with transcripts and recommendation letters. It sounds like you're doing well, so keep up the good work. Also, try and do as much research as you can.

    On another note, I wouldn't worry too much about the funding situation in the UK-- I can't see that studentships will be cut. Firstly, it doesn't really save the councils much money, but secondly, the government actually wants to train PhD students in physics and science, with the view that many of them will go to work in the city or the like and boost the economy.

    As for more opportunities in the US, I think it's true that more students are supported, but I think that's mainly because they need more students to teach (they have general education classes in the US, so that people with majors in a whole load of different subjects will need to take intro physics classes). There are also more smaller tutorial groups. Be warned, though, that US grad students have to take a couple of years of classes and then pass exams based on them, so if you do a 4 year undergrad, you will likely be repeating quite a bit when you get over there.
  6. Sep 10, 2010 #5
    Interesting... The course descriptions I have seen always say it is just one year of taught. I always figured it can't hurt to bone up on the basics!

    Wow, impressive grades! If you keep that up you'll have your pick of postgraduate programs.

    Have a look at this:

    I am on one this summer (today is my last day actually!) and I have found it immensely enjoyable, motivating and useful. If you pick a topic (or topics) you like, and try and find an academic whose happy to have you on a placement, it'll really give you a taste of what research is like. In addition, both the experience, and possibly a publication, look good on postgraduate applications!

  7. Sep 10, 2010 #6
    Those look interesting, I'll see what research is available at my university too as it'd be cool to get to know the staff well before third and fourth year where there is more research done (that's a horrible sentence but you see what I mean :P )

    I'll try and apply for IAESTE too but that seems pretty damn competitive and I only speak English (my French is abysmal) so I doubt that will help much. CCFE/JET look like they have some but it looks like they might only be for engineers.

    What topic did you do your summer placement on by the way?
  8. Sep 10, 2010 #7
    Very quickly flicking through IAESTE's site I found something that said only English is required for most positions, so your grades might make up for not speaking the language.

    The group I'm working with are theoretical chemists, Molecular Quantum Electrodynamics to be precise. The biggest piece of work in the placement has been to develop a technique for rotationally averaging rank two tensor expressions that are multiplied by an exponential with the same expression in the exponent. I also did some more speculative (i.e. less productive...) stuff earlier on. I think this + my dissertation is going to be moulded into a paper and published so it has been valuable in so many ways - publication, experience, knowledge and money.

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