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Programs Need advice on Possible Plan leading to a PhD in 7 years after HS

  1. Aug 20, 2011 #1
    This is a follow-up to some of the advice I was given at the thread I created called "Shortest Path to a PhD in Math or Theoretical Physics" and here it is for reference:


    After looking around on the internet here is a path which I could take which could lessen my time by about 2 years if I can go through with it. I'm not sure how realistic this plan is, which is why I'm making this thread.

    Right now I'm a sophomore Math and Physics double major who will receive a BS in Physics and a BA in Math upon graduation. However I'm considering dropping the Physics major as it requires a lot of classes which don't interest me such as labs and other introductory classes which sound like they can be skipped. So by dropping the major I'd still take classes such as Quantum Mechanics, Classical Mechanics, E&M, General Relativity and maybe Statistical Physics and would have more space to take a good amount of math classes, as well. As a result, it is entirely possible for me to have a decent application as far as coursework is concerned (I don't have to do GE credits anymore either). After this I want to get into one of the strong Masters programs in the UK which have a mix of Math and Theoretical Physics courses such as "Part III" of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge, or "Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces" at Imperial. After spending a year doing a Masters I could try to get into some decent place in the UK (such as DAMTP at Cambridge however I've heard only the best candidates from Part III are admitted) and finish my PhD in three years following the masters. If all goes according to plan I could have my PhD in about 6 years from now or (3+1+3 - 1 year of college) which sounds great to me.

    The plan sounds great on the surface however I want your advice on how realistic it is, which brings me to the following questions:

    1. How difficult will it be to get into Part III at Cambridge or QFFF at Imperial for a US applicant after 3 years of hopefully strong coursework and grades? I haven't had a lot of luck finding admission statistics online.

    2. I know that the US graduate schools heavily weigh research and recommendations, along with coursework and GPA. How true is this for UK universities? I feel that they put more weightage on grades rather than research because from what I've read about their BA/Masters programs, most undergrads don't do a lot of research (Part III is 100% coursework).

    3. Last question is about funding. I've heard that it's very difficult for non-UK citizens to fund a masters (I'm a US citizen). What options are available? Suppose that I somehow shell out the cash for the year I'm doing my masters, will things get easier at the PhD level? How difficult would it be for me to receive stipends like I would in the US?

    4. In general, what do you think about the plan? If it sounds like a good and doable one, should I immediately start implementing it in my undergrad studies (dropping the lab and introductory courses, replacing them with more math etc).

    Thanks a lot for your help.
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2011 #2
    What's the rush...got a date or something?
  4. Aug 20, 2011 #3
    Why are you so intent on going to school in the UK?
  5. Aug 20, 2011 #4


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    Yah what's the rush? Most people enjoy the idea of not working just yet.
  6. Aug 20, 2011 #5
    He seems to be intent on going to Oxbridge.
  7. Aug 21, 2011 #6
    There are other good universities in the UK, besides Oxbridge!

    Most (if not) all undergrads doing a 4 year undergrad master's do a substantial project in their final year, which is intended to introduce them to research. If you do a postgrad master's, you'll get that experience too. You should be fine, I'd imagine (though obviously Oxbridge may have more stringent requirements).

    There isn't a lot of funding for UK people to do master's courses, either (apart from in some special subjects), though this may have changed in recent years. With regards to PhD funding, usually the research councils fund UK or EU students only (I think, so check). The universities you're applying to may have their own award schemes for overseas students, so check with them. Edit: it seems like they aren't giving out ORS awards any more; sorry about that!
  8. Aug 21, 2011 #7


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    I think as long as your grades are good and (and this is important) can pay the fees then they will welcome you with open arms.

    There are a number of places which you should consider for an MSc, King College London, Imperial College, and of course part III at Cambridge. I did my MSc in this area at Oxford but now it no longer exists. There is also an MSc in mathematical physics at Trinity College Dublin and one at University College Dublin.

    Hope this helps.
  9. Aug 21, 2011 #8
    Anyone know the difficulty in getting into the Master's programs in the UK (for non-UK or UK students)?
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2011
  10. Aug 21, 2011 #9


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    As long as you have guaranteed funding (either self funding or otherwise) then it shouldn't be a problem.
  11. Aug 21, 2011 #10
    It's really that easy to get in (assuming requirements and funds met)?

    I was going to spend another year at undergrad to improve my application for a Master's at the UK next year, but knowing this now, I guess I should apply and graduate this year.
  12. Aug 21, 2011 #11


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    I think that the minimum requirements for a MSc place is a 2.1 (or the equivalent from a non-UK university).

    My advice is apply as it doesn't cost you anything to apply.
  13. Aug 21, 2011 #12
    It's just that I don't want to remain in school for so long if there are other options such as this available, and I want to return and settle in my home country as early as possible. In other words, if it can be done in lesser time without much of a disadvantage why not do it?

    Because as my previous thread states, it seems to offer a PhD in the shortest amount of time.

    Well so should I completely lose hope about receiving funding for a masters or PhD in the UK? I haven't personally researched the subject at all.

    So assuming I have strong coursework and can pay, will I be able to get accepted to Part III for example? Does research matter much?
  14. Aug 21, 2011 #13
    This sentiment might be appropriate if you were intent merely on obtaining an undergrad or masters level credential. In those cases, the credential's primary value is as a signal to prospective employers, so finishing early both provides those employers with additional signalling as to your worth and enables you to begin your career more quickly.

    A PhD is not like that. A PhD is designed to prepare you for a career in research. Research is not something that should be rushed. If research is your goal, then you are likely better served by performing well rather than performing quickly.

    If your goal is ultimately something other than a career in research, then I would suggest that perhaps there are other, more lucrative degree options that you might cast your eye upon rather than a PhD in theoretical physics.
  15. Aug 21, 2011 #14
    I understand that which is exactly why the PhD part of this plan isn't rushed. In the UK you enter a PhD program with a masters degree, so you've already done most of the important coursework, so the PhD is 3 years of pure research which I don't think is rushed at all. The "rushed" part of my plan is only my bachelors which I'll finish in 3 years but the rest of it seems to be the standard in the UK (a year spent on masters and then three years on research).
  16. Aug 22, 2011 #15
  17. Aug 22, 2011 #16
    I'll mainly answer question 4.

    To be quite frank, I'm finding most of this to be pretty ridiculous. You want to finish a bachelors in 3 years, have a weaker application for graduate school, go to another country where you might not get funding, all just to save one, MAYBE two years of school? That's just crazy.

    First, I think it's a bad idea to try to finish your bachelors in three years unless you came in which a huge amount of AP credit. If you just took Calculus 1&2 and Physics 1&2 your freshman year (or are you on the quarter system?), I don't even see how it's possible to graduate that fast. Usually at least some of the classes you take junior year are prereqs for classes your senior year. Even if you are able to squeeze in all of the required classes for your degree while following your university's rules, you'll have massive course loads and probably won't do as well anyways. You'll have less research experience. Most people find college to be the best time of their lives, and all you want to do is take time away from it!

    If you're going to be spending 7+ years in school for a PhD, what difference will one more year make? If you want to do research in pure physics, you will likely need to be a physics professor. To follow this path, after you get your PhD you will do post doc positions for at least 3 to 5 years, probably a lot more, before you become an assistant professor. You will not be able to "settle" during this time, you will be constantly moving across the country, and you will be making the salary of a janitor. In your other thread, you had concerns about your family and you being in grad school for 5+ years. This should concern them a lot more.

    I think you have a very romanticized idea about what doing theoretical physics as a career will be like. You will probably not get grants for doing such research until at least your mid 40's, if ever. When you think of it that way, reducing your time in college by one or two years will be negligible.
  18. Aug 22, 2011 #17
    Yes without being really sure about funding it does seem to be that way to me too, so before following this plan strictly I'll have to research more into that.

    Those are valid concerns you have raised however it is possible for me to have at least a decent application in 3 years and I'll show you how. Firstly I came to college with about 22 credits, leaving 98 more. My first year I did Calc 2, 3, Physics 1, 2, Linear Algebra I, Differential Equations and a basic Computational Physics class. Furthermore there's this thing at our school where if you have a good enough GPA your first year you can get exempted from doing area requirements. So I could take the following classes in the next 4 semesters:

    Semester 3: Advanced Calculus, Differential Geometry, Advanced LA, Classical Mechanics, Introductory E&M
    Semester 4: PDEs, Abstract Algebra, Complex Variables, Junior-level E&M 1, Introductory Modern Physics, General Relativity
    Semester 5: Real Analysis, Math grad course(s), Quantum Physics 1, E&M 2
    Semester 6: Math grad course(s), Quantum 2, Statistical Physics

    So I don't that this is neither too hard (compared to whats expected of a math and physics major of course), nor too weak in terms of coursework. Obviously it could be much stronger if I spend 4 years, though.

    As far as research is concerned, I plan on applying to math REUs for summer 2012 and will also be looking for projects over the regular school years as well.

    Again those are very good points, but I don't plan on staying in the US after I'm done. Getting a job in academia just seems like a huge struggle over here. No matter how much I love Physics, the last thing I want to do is move every few months, before landing a potentially permanent job. I plan on going back to my home country, and although I haven't looked into it that much, I think the prospects in academia, at least employment-wise, maybe better over there compared to the US. Facilities-wise I'm not so sure.
  19. Aug 22, 2011 #18
    The problem with this is that it is generally accepted that the UK PhD process *is* rushed; at least, this is what everything in my (albeit limited) experience has told me regarding the situation there. Three years of research is not really enough to complete a PhD in theoretical physics.
  20. Aug 22, 2011 #19
    Taking Diff. Geo, Ahsan? I just checked the syllabus. Grading is:

    75% problem sets
    25% presentation and short paper

    This should be fun!
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