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ICL MSc in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces - how hard?

  1. Feb 18, 2010 #1

    I am thinking of applying for the above course and just trying to guage how difficult it is really. I have a 2:1 in physics from Cambridge, and although at times I felt like I was knocking my head against a brick wall overall I think I might have pulled to a first if the exams had gone better. However, on the advice of my DOS who thought I might get more marks elsewhere I did not take TP1 (Theoretical Physics 1) and TP2 courses in my final year; I am not sure this was the right decision but there you go.

    I am very interested in the areas of physics covered by the ICL course and would love to give it a shot, but I am a little concerned that it might be a bit above my head; I'm not sure that I would like to spend the whole year banging my head against a wall. Does anyone out there by any chance have experience of Cambridge physics undergrad and this course - a bit of a long shot I know. Anyone else who could shed any light or has been through this course, I would very much appreciate your comments.

    (I would certainly plan to have a good look at the suggested reading beforehand)

    Thanks very much
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 27, 2010 #2


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    2 people I know did that QFF course. Both like you first did degree in general physics, not TP specialisation. As indication of level, one thought of doing a PG course in similar area that there is at Cambridge. But tutor advised him forget it, it is pitched at such level you couldn't manage, it would positively harm you. The IC one is already tough enough. And he found it so, just got through. The other one I think did that course and then a Ph.D. in that field and department.

    Neither felt the urge to continue. One went on to financial math and is now in banking. Someone else from the course finished doing political research for a political party among other things. The Ph.D. went into admin. They felt that it was not to continue. Just prospect of more of the same things, difficult calculations, difficult profession, not such a life and not discovering the secret of the Universe. Strings are still too fiendishly difficult for that course to touch them much. On other hand, you could read 'Faster than the speed of light' by one of the IC bright stars*, and it sounds like the perfect life, but then again you couldn't repeat his.
    *He was a supernova but I don't know whether he's a red dwarf now. :biggrin:

    Difficult to advise, I hope we get a lot of opinions. From this large sample of 3 it looks like it does lead to jobs but not always the ones you imagined.
    Last edited: Feb 28, 2010
  4. Feb 27, 2010 #3


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    I am also considering doing this course next year, or the similar one at Cambridge (mathematics tripos part III). Does anyone here have experience with either of these courses? If so, I would appreciate it if you have anything to share about your experiences, because I'm having some difficulty deciding between the two courses.
  5. Feb 28, 2010 #4
    It is a very hard course to get into - you would ideally need a 1st to get in (I got a 2:1 from Oxford and was rejected outright). Perhaps this gives an indication of how hard the course actually is.

    A couple of friends who are doing some QFF modules at Imperial tell me there is a lot more work involved (for example, each module is 40 hours of lectures, compared with 20 at other universities) but the courses themselves are not neccessarily harder.
  6. Mar 8, 2010 #5
    Hi, I recently applied for this course (QFFF that is) and am now awaiting the outcome of my application. I am about to obtain a 1st class hns BSc in Physics at the University of Amsterdam which, combined with proper motivation and references, is hopefully enough.

    It is quite unfair though, that you are rejected immediately with a 2.1 from Oxford, because tbh I think that's equivalent to a 1st from Amsterdam. But they say you've got to have a 1st for this course, so that's quite a hard entry requirement indeed.
  7. Mar 9, 2010 #6
    Hey, sorry for the self-response, but I just got an offer for the MSc QFFF. My qualifications are those stated above.

    I only get the offer on two terms though, one being the English language requirement, so that's nothing special. The other one is that I need to finish my BSc with 8/10 average grade, which means a "cum laude" here (there are some additional conditions to it).

    I think that would compare to a 1st from a British university.

    As for the comparison with the Maths part III: I think it's overall quite a similar course, although at Imperial you do have an added research project. However, the supervisor of my bachelor's thesis told me that, although the courses may be similar, the exams would be harder at Cambridge, but you said you already studied at Cambridge, so maybe you're already used to that.

    Hope this helps. Anyone else going to do this course?
  8. Mar 16, 2010 #7
    Hi there,

    I am on the course at the moment (should be done in October), feel free to give me a buzz if you have any questions regarding the course.

  9. Mar 20, 2010 #8
    Hi presario! (... and anyone else who can answer my questions)

    I have a few questions about the QFFF course. I will finish my BSc (Physics) in the UK next year and (rather than doing the MSci) I will be applying to QFFF, part III, Durham, and my current univeristy (as backup), all particle theory.

    How do you think the course compares to part III, Cambridge? I've seen in one of your posts you don't think highly of it, personally I am tempted by Cambridge - the courses look interesting and it seems highly regarded by other univerisites. (Some people say it's just regurgitating lecture notes in the exam... I dont know if this applies to the pure side or applied side or both)

    How was the interview process for QFFF? (and if anyone knows, part III?) I expect to get a good first... is that enough or are they expecting something extraordinary?

    Do you know if many of the PhD students in the Imperial theory group have come from QFFF? (and part III?), and have you applied for PhD places (or know of your coursemates experiences) ... how have other theory groups regarded the QFFF course?

    & Did the exams in January (and subsequent reccommendation letters - I assume that is the point them) help for PhD applications? this is something that does not happen in Cambridge. I have seen people write that if you get a distinction in part III you are sure to have good oppurtunities for PhD places... but there is no assesment until the summer, which is too late for the application process (except for DAMPT).

    Thanks in advance.

    I'm trying to get a QFFF - part III debate going here, there is some debate on other threads but I still need more info!
  10. Mar 21, 2010 #9
    hi there,

    Since I am not on part III, it will be no point for me to talk about it, but I'll try answer your questions regarding QFFF.
    1. On the physics side, both are very similar (from the notes I have seen from part III) however Cambridge has more mathematical courses than QFFF, in QFFF only maths courses are Differential Geometry, Group Theory and Particle Symmetry (which is Lie groups)
    On both courses, the material itself is very hard enough to learn and only a few people in the world are true experts in the field, as a result, the exams are usually some steps from books like Peskin and Schroder.
    2. There was no interview for me, a First should do.
    3. Yes, Imperial (as the webpage says) take some people from QFFF, some from its undergrad degree and some from elsewhere (like Part III)
    It depends on your personal attributes more than which instituition, the Phd place here is very competitive, this year they can only take 2 students out of 100 applicants due to funding cuts.
    People from QFFF do get lots of interviews from good unis (Oxford, Bristol , Nottingham, MIT etc) I think the course is regarded quite well.

    4. The exams are used to write your recommendation letter (unless you do a research project, they don't really know you through any other mean) and Phd places are extremely competitive in any theory group and the better the reputation expect a better competition for places.

  11. Mar 22, 2010 #10
    thanks for the reply,

    I was quite shocked that the number of applicants for 2 places! Searching through theory group websites in the UK it's clear there aren't that many places up for grabs each year.

    I wonder if there are more opportunities in the US for HEP-theory/phenom. I'm doing the PGRE in April, to see if I would have a chance. ( it is not fun revising for that thing! )

    Are there opportunities for QFFF students to get involved in any research? I assume that is the kind of thing that seperates you from the pack when applying for PhDs... surely everyone has good grades and reccomendations.
  12. Mar 29, 2010 #11
    hi there,

    Yes, theoretical physics there are not many places available, most of my classmates who applied around the UK said that its always the usual suspects (IC, Oxford, Cambridge) who they meet at the interviews.
    There are certainly more opportunities in the US, they have tens of really good research universities there, unlike the UK that only concentrate at a few places. Applications to US is very competitive, perhaps a lot more than UK, apart from standard of excellent grades and GRE, the US looks more for research experience ,a guy here is top of his class from his previous university but got straight rejections from US because he lack the research portfolio.
    However, as it is a Masters degree, you will spend 2-3 months doing some research for your master thesis, it can be original or only a literature review, depends on what you can do.
    Some very enthusiastic people here do some work with the group, its tough work though, because you're looking at it on top of 20 hours of classes and weekly seminars + preparation for exams. Most people here are burnt out

  13. Apr 16, 2010 #12
    I recently finished the MSc in QFFF part-time while working full-time in investment banking. My background is a BSc math degree from Imperial.
    I spent most of my time self-studying and took vacations for the exams. I went to almost no lectures at all and I wish I had because I would have enjoyed this degree a lot more.
    Most rewarding aspect was the thesis which has some remarks I have not been able to find in the literature.
    My interest in physics is not related to my field of business in investment banking and I only took this degree for personal intellectual satisfaction. I wouldn't do a PhD in theoretical physics. This degree has, however, increased the range of tools I normally use (mathematical methods etc...)
    I can't say how it compares to Part III. I went to a few lectures in Cambridge when I visited a friend and it seems to me that the level of difficulty is comparable. However, there is a lot more to choose from at Cambridge whereas there's a more limited range of courses at Imperial. I believe this was Imperial's Theory Group response to Part III as most lecturers at Imperial are Cambridge educated.
    Hope this helps.
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2010
  14. Apr 16, 2010 #13
    That's very impressive. I don't go to very many lectures now during my undergrad physics, but I've seen the timetable from the QFFF master and it seems quite packed. May I ask what division / position you work in investment banking, that allows you to combine this study with your work? It is also interesting to hear that you've learned some techniques that can help you within banking.

    I assume you're not doing M&A, since the guys I've spoken from those divisions claimed they didn't do much more than add, substract, multiply and divide in Excel.

    I really can't wait to start with this course, the subjects seem a lot more exciting than those from the bachelor's.
  15. Apr 16, 2010 #14
    Many thanks. I work for a Swiss bank (hard to guess which one it is) and I do equity and fund trading. It's not like Feynman diagrams or the value of the cosmological constant are an asset for me, but sometimes a technique (PDE, complex variable, …) might come useful.
    Frankly I really wish I had gone to these lectures. One or twice I would show up at a lecture in suit and tie and I was totally out of place. All in all I must have gone to a handful or lectures (less than 10) on my first year and none on my second.
    I recommend the jewel crowns of the MSc: Advanced Quantum Field Theory and Supersymmetry. Also, I couldn't take the time off for the Differential Geometry paper and I took Quantum Information instead which turn out to be very, very interesting.
    I am very happy to have taken this course for my personal satisfaction and I'm sure you'll love it as well on a professional level if you want to go into this area of physics.
  16. May 6, 2010 #15
    I too have applied for that course, oct 2010 start, and still dont know if I will be accepted or not.

    I would like to know how hard it is too. Which course have you found to be the most difficult of all? Is it string theory? How are usually the examinations? Are they focused on the material studied on course or do they contain weird extra-exercices?
  17. May 9, 2010 #16
    I also applied for this MSc, I'm not sure of how long it takes them to decide on an application, but to be honest, I'm not very optimistic.
  18. May 10, 2010 #17
    why? what are the reasons why you think they may not accept you? Did you obtain a first class? what is your background in physics?
  19. May 11, 2010 #18
    I have majors in Math and Physics and some research experience. However, I'm slightly below the first class mark (at least in the criteria I'm guessing Imperial considers). It's been 7 weeks since my application was received and this is the time I haven't received a notice. Therefore, I'm not very optimistic.
  20. May 12, 2010 #19

    Im sure you will get it. I have only physics BSc and I just got a conditionnal offer (they only require a proof of my first class + english language requirement certificat, which I already have). I applied about three weeks ago.
    That MSc seems really much more about maths than physics. Though, I will have to study hard in the coming months because I graduated many years ago and not refreshing my mind would be suicidal...
  21. May 12, 2010 #20

    3 weeks waitng is ok. I'm in the seventh now...so...I better put my eyes somewhere else. In any case, I'm going to be in London; and in any case, I wish you the best luck in the MSc.
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