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Plasma Physics PhD in the US vs UK

  1. Apr 19, 2014 #1
    I'm a Physics student in the UK planning to apply for a PhD in Plasma Physics this autumn, in the area of Magnetic Confinement Fusion (MCF) specifically. The UK has a rather limited MCF university network, with only 3 universities playing a significant part. Two of these, Oxford and Imperial, probably won't be offering relevant PhDs for the 2015 year, but I'll apply anyway. York is the other option (and an excellent one at that).

    In order to keep my options open I'm considering applying to American universities, with Princeton and MIT the main two I've considered so far. I have extensive Plasma Physics research experience so good letters of recommendation shouldn't be a problem. I have top grades and I will have at least two publications (one as main author) in standard Plasma Physics journals by the time I apply.

    I do have a few questions regarding study in the USA:

    Since I will have studied more Plasma Physics and general Physics than most US students, will the PhD still take 5-6 years? If not, how long will it take?

    Standardised tests - are these considered important in the application process? They don't look too hard from my quick look, but what is considered a good score?

    Could you please recommend any other good Plasma Physics departments?

    In your opinion, what are the significant benefits and/or negatives of studying in the US instead of the UK?

    Thanks for your time.
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 20, 2014 #2
    Ha! I am almost in the opposite situation. I'm an American student, and I'm going to York this fall to do their M.Sc. in fusion. I'm also interested in MCF. I'm trying to figure out whether I'll want to come back after the masters for a PhD or to stay in Europe after because I feel like the quality of life in some places over there could be a lot better, and you get better pay as a grad student in places like Sweden or Norway.

    You sound like you have a lot of research experience already (which I thought is not very common among UK undergrads?). Sounds like you have a chance at applying to some top schools. I applied to Wisconsin and got accepted with only a little research in electric propulsion and some research in the math department which wasn't related to plasma physics.
    I'd encourage you to apply there. Just look at PPPL's faculty and staff, tons of them went to Wisconsin. Also some other good schools are UCLA, Maryland, Michigan and University of Washington in Seattle. The plasma research isn't always necessarily done in physics departments over here, though.
  4. Apr 22, 2014 #3
    Thanks for your reply, it's great to hear from someone in the equal but opposite situation! Everyone I have spoken to has raved about the York masters and PhD courses so excellent choice in that respect! With regards to post-Masters, I say play it by ear and see how you like life in Europe. If you do want to stay, look into Uppsala University in Sweden as they have an excellent department which is involved in research on MAST and JET tokamaks. Also look at universities in Germany, Finland and the Netherlands as they are involved in MCF research.
    What prompted you to study in Europe rather than staying in the US?

    I do have a lot of research experience and it is indeed unusual for UK undergrads (is it the same in the US?), I was lucky enough to work at MAST for a while. I'll certainly look into the schools you recommended, thank you.
  5. Apr 22, 2014 #4
    I'm glad to hear that! Yeah, the only reservation I have is that foreign PhD's are supposedly not viewed well by US hiring committees from what I've heard, since they don't do graduate coursework.

    I received a Fulbright fellowship which basically pays for me to do a year's worth of graduate work in the UK, so I chose the one-year M.Sc. in Fusion Energy at York.
    I think it is generally more common in the US (from what I've read) to do research as an undergraduate. My school is a relatively small school with not very much research going on, but we have the opportunity to do it if we want to as long as there is a professor willing to let us participate. I'm hoping to work at MAST or JET while I'm at York, how did you get involved in that?
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