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Physics Post-grad advice

  1. Jul 17, 2007 #1

    I'm just about to start my last year of an MSci Physics at a Scottish university and I'm looking into the option of doing a phd in the US or Canada.
    I'm not sure exactly what I want to do but am considering something in the field of plasmas.

    Problem is I don't even know where to begin looking as the education system is so different to the UK. I've looked up some universities with plasma research groups but I'm not sure where is a good place to go.
    Does anyone know of a good, up-to-date, site with information on phds for international students? I'm just a bit confused about entry requirements, funding and the duration of a phd compared to in the UK.

  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2007 #2


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    In the UK GENERALLY a PhD takes officially 3years (reality 4).
    You don't have to take any classes.
    Your topic and advisor is decided before you start.
    You will get a grant which is a pretty decent amount these days.

    In the US you will have to take a full 3rd year/MSc worth of courses, you might also have to take langauges/arts courses.
    Your topic and advisor might not be chosen until much later.
    You will do a lot more teaching assistant / tutoring - partly to offset your fees and to support yourself.
    You will probably take 6years to finish BUT you will have published several papers and be in line for a junior faculty job.

    In this sense a US PhD is more like a Phd+first postdoc and could be a quicker route of you intend to go into an academic job. If you are heading for industry the UK one has advantages.

    Of course the choice of institution has the largest effect.
  4. Jul 18, 2007 #3
    I have a friend from Edinburgh who did her graduate work in Canada.

    You should have no problem being admitted to a PhD program in Canada or the US. A Canadian PhD will take you about four years. A US PhD might take slightly more.

    Most universities in Canada and the US have a few courses that all their grad students have to take (or have the equivalent of) - these are usually a few fundamentals - eg QM, E&M and stat mech. Usually US universities have more required courses.

    Since you already have a M.Sc you should apply to a university with a supervisor in mind. In fact, I would suggest contacting a prospective supervisor before you fill out an application.

    If a school admits you, they will generally guarantee you funding for four years (a combination of TAships, RAships and scholarships).

    I may be wrong, but it's my impression that there aren't very many people in Canada doing plasma research. Can you ask your current supervisor who does good work in the field? You might also just pick a few random cities that sound like interesting places to live and see what the local physics departments have to offer.
  5. Jul 18, 2007 #4
    Thanks for the replies.
    I'm thinking of either plasma physics or some sort of environmental thing. I could only find a few groups in Canada so I don't know what is my best option. I'm not sure if I really want to commit to 6 years in the US.

    I'd heard that in the US they sometimes view students as cheap labour and try to drag out graduate degrees as long as they can. I don't know how true that is but in the UK you can get a decent grant.

    Anyway, I'm going to see a post graduate advisor at my university next week. I'm just trying to find out some background info before directly contacting any universities.
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