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MSc in theoretical physics: Imperial College or Perimeter Institute?

  1. Feb 4, 2014 #1
    I'm considering both the MSc in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces at Imperial and the Perimeter Scholars International program at Perimeter. I do not currently live in the UK or Canada (or even Europe or North America...)

    I want to continue to a PhD, possibly at the same place I did my MSc, with a goal of staying in academia.

    One advantage of Perimeter is that the program is completely free, while the tuition at Imperial is ridiculously high. What other advantages/disadvantages are there to the two institutions?

    Additionally, how impressive, in the eyes of a PhD admissions committee, is a degree from the Perimeter Scholars International program compared to similar MSc degrees from prestigious universities (such as Imperial College)?

    Their website says that "all course grades are either Credit or No Credit", and "the final grade on the PSI Certificate will be Pass or Fail". I take it to mean that there are no exams.

    This is great if I will be able to continue to a PhD at Perimeter Institute. However, what if I can't continue at Perimeter, or I want to continue somewhere else? I know that high grades in the MSc degree make it easier to get to PhD programs at prestigious universities (I'm thinking mainly about the UK and Canada, not the US). If I don't have any grades, then in particular I don't have high grades; "pass" can be translated as anything between 50% and 100%.

    So basically what I'm asking is, is a PSI Certificate with a final grade of "pass" from Perimeter Institute equivalent to an MSc with a high final grade from a prestigious university (such as Imperial College, Cambridge, Oxford etc.), just because Perimeter Institute itself is prestigious and well-known?

    Also, the actual MSc degree is from the University of Waterloo, which is of course a fine institution but not really prestigious or well-known, particularly in theoretical physics (currently ranked no. 180 in the world). Again, does the PSI Certificate make this degree equivalent to a degree from a prestigious university in the eyes of the PhD admissions committee?

    I will especially appreciate answers from people who have studied / are currently studying in Perimeter Institute or Imperial, and from people who are in PhD admissions committees for theoretical physics.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 6, 2014 #2

    I do not precisely fit in your requirements (but still close) but have physically been at both places and interacted with colleagues there. I wouldn't think there is an unequivocal comparison between both, but rather it would depend on the subjective views of the committee members. It will be very hard to rank one of them higher than the other in terms of academic standing. In both you find capable faculty well positioned in their field. IMHO, applying to PhD programs with a degree from Imperial will appeal more to professors with recent Western-European background. On the other hand, P.I. is highly renown, young and visited by leading minds. Its reputation is very high.

    Yet there are other factors to consider.
    Attending Imperial will be costly when you consider not only tuition, but the high cost of living in a certain Victorian-era apartment house as well as attending a college housed in an aging building. Cost of living in Waterloo is better compared to London, UK. Toronto is close by and IMHO, living standard in Canada is higher.

    All the best,
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