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Math MSc - Imperial vs. Durham vs. Warwick

  1. Mar 27, 2008 #1
    Trying to decide whether to accept an offer for a math MSc from Imperial College London, the University of Durham, or the University of Warwick. I'm mostly interested in geometry, topology, and the mathematical foundations of physics (e.g. of field theory, gravitational physics). Does anybody have any opinions about either of these programs? Any direct experiences?
    Experiences relating to the schools in general would also be appreciated.
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2008 #2


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    Regardless of the content of each course (which I don't know, but you may find on each institution's website) have you visited each place? The three institutions are all very different in terms of style and personality - so much so that the environment is more likely to differ than the course content.

    There's no way I would want to live in London for example, but would probably be quite happy in the quieter, more countrified Durham. Warwick is a law unto itself, and I've never felt comfortable dealing with them, but they may suit you.

    Each place you mention has a very specific typical clientele too, so that might influence your decision further.
  4. Mar 28, 2008 #3
    I'm a U.S. student - so visiting the places before making a decision unfortunately isn't really an option for me... Could you please elaborate further on the "clientele"?
  5. Mar 28, 2008 #4


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    Ah, I see. Sorry I assumed you were already in the UK. I'll try to help. Stereotypically, the sort of person each institution you mention attracts is quite different (in my experience). Disclaimer: I've got nothing personally to do with any of the three places you mention.

    Durham tends to attract a lot of well spoke, affluent, highly capable, more independently minded students from supportive backgrounds. Durham is a traditional, well respected, solid, university. When people imagine the feel of a British university, Durham isn't far off (also consider Exeter, Bristol, Cambridge, St Andrews). Durham produces leaders rather than workers. It is in a well balanced area with plenty of air and space to breathe and relax.

    Warwick for the past 10 years has been expanding from well, relative obscurity. They're pretty cosy with the Labour party and have benefited (some would say unduly) from them being in government since 1997. Warwick is a much newer (late 1960s?) university than Durham and they have a very high opinion of themselves, but never seem to actually do a great deal. It's worth noting that university isn't in Warwick, but closer to Coventry. The typical Warwick student is someone from a slightly less affluent background who has come from a modern 'comprehensive' school and learned how to pass exams but not think creatively. Warwick produces workers not leaders.

    Imperial is the best well known of the three you mention, they're a good, soild, old institution with an excellent international reputation, the best of the three. The only downside is that they're in London (London prices, London pollution, London noise, London traffic) which really puts me off. A lot of international students are attracted to Imperial primarily because it's a well respected place and is in London which is somewhere they've heard of. It's also close to Heathrow for when you're flying in from/out to the States.

    Hope I haven't been too blunt describing Durham and Warwick, just trying to be candid.

    It all depends on your personality and what experience that you want, I think.
  6. Mar 29, 2008 #5
    Interesting... Yes, it definitely would be nice to visit and get a feel for the places. I take it you're not a big fan of the Labour party, Ex1? (~;
    Thanks for your input!
  7. Mar 29, 2008 #6


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    Ex1, "durham produces leaders rather than workers" and "warwick produced workers not leaders" are pretty strong statements to make and really cant be taken seriously without any reason. Why do you think Warwick students "have not learned to think creatively"?

    Oxymuon, I go to warwick, and Im doing a joint degree in maths and physics. If you have any specific questions id be happy to help.
  8. Mar 29, 2008 #7
    dx - first of all, how would you assess the teaching at Warwick? Do you get to interact much with faculty or are they mostly just busy doing their own research and only teach out of obligation? The other issue that is very important to me is the content of the courses; is there any emphasis on particle physics-related math - especially in the way of geometry and topology?
  9. Mar 29, 2008 #8
    and another thing - is there much cooperation between students in the department? How is the general environment in the department?
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2008
  10. Mar 30, 2008 #9


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    Most professors/lecturers have office hours during which you can go talk to them. Every student is assigned a personal tutor, who you see for 1 hour every week with 2-3 other students. Also, if youre interested in extra work during the summer on a project or something, most professors would be happy to help you. Infact, I'm doing some extra work in quantum mechanics this summer under the guidance of my tutor. So I think youll have plenty of opportunities to interact with the faculty.

    As for the teaching, I varies from person to person. In my opinion generally the quality of teaching is pretty good, but I dont know how it compares to other institutions.

    Are you planning to do a degree in physics or maths+physics? If you would like to see a lot of math, then I suggest you do a joint degree. Even if you choose to do straight physics, you can take almost any math module as an outside option. Here are the geometry and topology courses that are currently offered:

    Geometry of Curves and Surfaces ; Introduction to Topology*; Knot Theory*; Fractal Geometry*; Computational Algebraic Geometry*; Algebraic Topology*; Elliptic Curves*; Hyperbolic Geometry*; Algebraic Geometry*; Algebraic Curves*;

    There are also some other geometry related options like manifolds and riemannian geometry which are offered as part of analysis. But any maths that is needed for a particular physics course like particle physics will normally be introdueced as part of that course. Here are the courses that come under "particles and nuclei"

    Nuclear and Particle Physics
    The Standard Model of Particle Physics
    Neutrino Physics
    Relativistic Quantum Mechanics
    Gauge Theories for Particle Physics

    You can see a full list of courses on the department website.

    As for cooperation between the students, Its really upto you. Some people like to work on their own, some like to work with others. Youll be part of a small tutorial group with 2-3 other students, so youll get a chance to work with them. There are maths and physics societies which have regular meetings where you can discuss whatever you like. There are usually a lot of talks etc by people from the faculty and also from other universities. We recently had a talk on the neutrino experiments being conducted at the university. Many of the modules have support classes with 10-15 people where you can get help with problems/homework if you want. So theres usually a lot going on and the general environment is pretty lively in my opinion.
  11. Mar 30, 2008 #10


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    He's applying to do an MSc course, though, so he won't have free time in the summer. Masters courses run lectures during the normal teaching terms, with exams in the final exam period, but then the summer is taken up with writing a dissertation on a certain topic.
  12. Mar 30, 2008 #11


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    Oh I'm sorry, didnt see the Msc part.
  13. Mar 30, 2008 #12


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  14. Mar 30, 2008 #13


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    Hi dx, no offense intended, both workers and leaders are needed in life, neither is better than the other - they're simply different roles in a process, and due to natural personality along with prior conditioning and environment a lot of people fit into one xor the other. Of course, as with everything to do with humans, there are exceptions, and generally, they're the more interesting cases on an individual level.

    My conclusions in respect of the typical personality/roles (worker, leader, etc) assumed post-graduation of the alumni of each university are based on interactions with ~10,000 recent (<2 years prior at the point of contact) graduates and graduands of all disciplines from UK universities over the 22 months, who responded to job advertisements placed by a company whose board of directors I'm on.

    My opinion has been shaped not only by those data, but also from my personal experiences dealing with the universities as a member of the business community, along with when I was a prospective student (physics) at undergraduate level some years ago, as a postgrad more recently, and as someone with a particular interest in educational philosophy and the impact of educational style on post- full time education life.

    As they say, "You pays your money and takes your choice". We're probably off topic now :-)
  15. Mar 31, 2008 #14
    Thanks dx - I appreciate the detailed description (:
  16. Apr 1, 2008 #15
    I did the MSc in Quantum Fields + Fundamental Forces a couple of years ago at Imperial - is this the masters your talking about?

    Its actually a pretty good course, and altho the name suggests its a qft course it really isnt (well, it sort of is ... its not easy to get away from qft in theory really) and there are plenty of courses if your interested in the whole gravity/diff geom route

    I did

    diff geom - your standard diff geom intro course
    strings - HARD (but well worth it), your group theory and gen rel/diff geom has to be pretty good really
    supersymmetry - pretty straight forward really, maybe a little difficult
    black holes - actually a really good course (i did it because i needed one more course to complete the masters and ended up really enjoying it)
    particle cosmology - easy if your gen rel is good
    Advanced QFT - mostly renomalization and path integral stuff
    QED - more path integral stuff
    Qunatum Information - easy

    not to mention a whole lot of courses on group theory and path integrals etc that are non examinable - these are in the first term and are there to get everyone up to scratch. There are also loads of undergrad courses available (things like foundations of qm and gen rel)

    I did my undergrad at IC too so i stuck about basically because i knew the tutors, its a good uni, south ken is a great part of london etc etc etc - I dont really know much about the other courses im afraid
  17. Apr 1, 2008 #16
    mish_mash, what are you doing now? what have you been doing after finished this MSci course?
    I will start as undergraduate at Imperial this fall and I was thinking to switch from the 4year MSci course they offer for undergraduates to a 3 year BSci and then do the MSci Quantum Fields course. Is this recommendable? Was it easy getting accepted to the MSci course when you already are at Imperial?
  18. Apr 1, 2008 #17


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    Just a clear up on terminology: the MSci course is indeed a 4 year undergrad masters, the "BSci" you quote doesn't exist.. bachelor's degrees are BSc degrees. The Quantum Fields and Forces (I think that's what it's called) is an MSc course.. that is, a one "conventional" taught masters degee.

    I'm sure if you're suitable (i.e. match the requirements) then you'll be accepted onto the course. One thing to think about is student loans etc, if you're eligible. You can get the student loan for all years of the MSci degree (including the masters year) but cannot for the MSc degree, since it is a postgraduate degree. Still, this is not an issue if you are not hoping for loans.
  19. Apr 1, 2008 #18
    sorry, rather long reply...

    Thats exactly what i did - we were the first yr to do the MSci with Theory, then i did the MSc - in all honesty its total overkill, you could quite easily do the BSc and then the MSci and save yourself a year but doing both lets you get to grip with quantum field theory and GR etc

    Really it depends on what you want to do and where you want to go afterwards - if you want to do a PhD at IC or any other college with an MSc program (or part 3 at cambridge) dont bother doing ICs MSc - you will have to do equivalent classes in your first year anyway

    if you want to go to a college that doesnt do an MSc i would definitly do it - you know the lectures and tutors and its a great masters (altho its pretty expencive)

    I was due to start a PhD at the uni of vienna in october but was a bit unlucky and my Phd funding fell through at the 11th hour ... totally rubbish but it does happen im afraid

    Pretty soon afterwards i was approached by a hedge fund and i know work there with a group almost entirely composed of people with phds and masters in physics/maths so i guess i landed on my feet there

    Most of my year are doing PhDs at one place or another - one of the good things about the course is you do a big project at the end - if your lucky like me the tutor will go round people in that research area and ask everyone if the want a phd student the next yr and set you up
  20. Apr 1, 2008 #19
    Mish mash - I'm actually going for the MSc in pure maths - not the MSc in forces and fields (though I hope to substitute 1-2 of the forces and fields courses for maths courses). Do you know if the good tutor-student relations extend to that program as well?
  21. Apr 2, 2008 #20
    Im not really sure if im honest - i would have thought so though - tutors tend to appreciate that there isnt much money around and dont want good students to go to waste
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