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Studying mathematics/physics abroad

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  • Thread starter MWH
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  • #1
MWH
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Main Question or Discussion Point

I've known for years that I want to study mathematics as I have a great passion for it, but I'm not quite sure whether or not I also want to study physics. Today's (theoretical) physics thrills me more than 'today's math problems'. What I'd eventually really want to do is studying reality at its most fundamental. I am a theorist by heart, I'm really fascinated by the big questions physicists are trying to answer. I'm asking for, and I'd be very pleased with, any advice about the differences in opportunities when studying either mathematics or both maths and physics, given that I want to become a theoretical physicist and that I prefer mathematics as a single study. Also, I'd most likely love doing research in and contemplating about certain fields of theoretical physics, so I'm willing to dedicate myself to it. I continually hear about how much better education is at top universities like Harvard and MIT. Is this true, as regards to especially physics as in that case I'd really want to go and study there? I've lived in the Netherlands for my entire life and I don't quite have the right preparatory training in order to get admitted to university yet. Here we have a somewhat laborious 'program' for people who want to get admitted to an undergrad mathematics and/or physics study. I've got numerous reasons to back up my willingness to study abroad, perhaps mostly because my English would develop so much more. So for this reason, what should I do to get myself admitted into an undergrad mathematics and/or physics program at a foreign top university, given the fact that I can acquire whatever knowledge required that I don't yet possess within this (school)year? I'd be happy with all advice and/or corrections you may have!
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
cgk
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A major problem with studying in the US is that it is very expensive. Unlike in most EU countries, you have to carry the cost of both the education and living yourself. In total that can easily cost several 100k EUR.

Regarding the "quality": At levels before graduate school at PhD level this does not really make much of a difference. Of course having lots of bright students around you will be very rewarding and motivating, but if you can motivate yourself, then you can learn just as well in Utrecht or Dresden as in Cambridge, MA.

Just as a side-squabble: Cambridge university (the UK one) recently stopped their student exchange program in physics with MIT because the Cambridge students coming back from there almost unanimously said that the level of study in MIT was much lower than in Cambridge and that academically they did not learn anything in their year abroad. What does this tell us? I guess in the educational quality there is more of an *assumed* difference between top-level and other schools; in the end no one really can tell, because no one actually took two times the same undergrad degree at different universities!

It all comes back to what you do yourself. Your university can only help you in that.
 
  • #3
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Dude what do you mean by theorist at heart? How old are you? If you've never gone to undergraduate school, you need to slow down. You don't know anything about yourself until yuou've experienced undergraduate. You don't even know if you're a theorist.
 
  • #4
MWH
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Dude what do you mean by theorist at heart? How old are you? If you've never gone to undergraduate school, you need to slow down. You don't know anything about yourself until yuou've experienced undergraduate. You don't even know if you're a theorist.
I mean I'm interested in expanding the theory of mathematics/physics, rather than applying it or whatever else. You don't have to tell me I've got a shallow view on this as I've indeed never gone to undergraduate school. Furthermore, I might just find out that I'm totally wrong when I've gone to undergraduate school, although that seems very unlikely to me at this point. I'm not trying to tell that I know exactly what I want and thus conclude I'm a theorist. I'm just trying to clarify once more that I'm interested in the theory of mathematics/physics, this has been the case for quite a long time and I don't just see this changing when I enter an undergraduate school. By the way, I've probably done more research than the average individual who hasn't gone to undergraduate school yet.

A major problem with studying in the US is that it is very expensive. Unlike in most EU countries, you have to carry the cost of both the education and living yourself. In total that can easily cost several 100k EUR.

Regarding the "quality": At levels before graduate school at PhD level this does not really make much of a difference. Of course having lots of bright students around you will be very rewarding and motivating, but if you can motivate yourself, then you can learn just as well in Utrecht or Dresden as in Cambridge, MA.

Just as a side-squabble: Cambridge university (the UK one) recently stopped their student exchange program in physics with MIT because the Cambridge students coming back from there almost unanimously said that the level of study in MIT was much lower than in Cambridge and that academically they did not learn anything in their year abroad. What does this tell us? I guess in the educational quality there is more of an *assumed* difference between top-level and other schools; in the end no one really can tell, because no one actually took two times the same undergrad degree at different universities!

It all comes back to what you do yourself. Your university can only help you in that.
American universities indeed seem to be like 30k a year for education only. I didn't know Cambridge was so much better and I think this university is also much cheaper. Do you know what exactly I can/should do to get myself admitted to a school such as Cambridge, given that I won't get accepted based on my school results (although I'm quite sure it shouldn't take long to get myself to the required level)? Even though the level of undergraduate programs may not differ much, I would still like to settle abroad early for a number of reasons.
 
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  • #5
319
6
Just as a side-squabble: Cambridge university (the UK one) recently stopped their student exchange program in physics with MIT because the Cambridge students coming back from there almost unanimously said that the level of study in MIT was much lower than in Cambridge and that academically they did not learn anything in their year abroad. What does this tell us? I guess in the educational quality there is more of an *assumed* difference between top-level and other schools; in the end no one really can tell, because no one actually took two times the same undergrad degree at different universities!
I'd like to see a source for that, please, as I would consider it extremely unlikely for the following reasons. Firstly, Cambridge (and Oxford) terms are only eight weeks long. Now, I'd imagine that an MIT one is much longer, as I've found in general US universities have longer terms than British ones. Secondly, Cambridge physics students will actually be admitted to their degree via the natural sciences route so they won't have even been studying physics their whole university careers - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Sciences_Tripos" [Broken]. And lastly, universities such as Cambridge also exist as places for the upper middle classes to send their offspring to meet and socialise, hence degrees cannot be too difficult or else large numbers would fail (the official statistics show that Cambridge is second highest in the UK for handing out good honours degrees, behind Oxford).

I've heard stories to the contrary, where German and French students at Cambridge have actually said the level of work there was behind what they were doing in their native lands.
 
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  • #6
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I'd like to see a source for that, please, as I would consider it extremely unlikely for the following reasons. Firstly, Cambridge (and Oxford) terms are only eight weeks long. Now, I'd imagine that an MIT one is much longer, as I've found in general US universities have longer terms than British ones. Secondly, Cambridge physics students will actually be admitted to their degree via the natural sciences route so they won't have even been studying physics their whole university careers - see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_Sciences_Tripos" [Broken]. And lastly, universities such as Cambridge also exist as places for the upper middle classes to send their offspring to meet and socialise, hence degrees cannot be too difficult or else large numbers would fail (the official statistics show that Cambridge is second highest in the UK for handing out good honours degrees, behind Oxford).

I've heard stories to the contrary, where German and French students at Cambridge have actually said the level of work there was behind what they were doing in their native lands.
So it seems we have MIT < Cambridge < Germany/France. It then has to follow that the best degree in Physics is obtained at the lowliest of universities, right? :biggrin:
 
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  • #7
cgk
Science Advisor
521
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I've heard stories to the contrary, where German and French students at Cambridge have actually said the level of work there was behind what they were doing in their native lands.
Sorry if I have not made this clear: This was precisely my point. Everone thinks that *his* own school is the best, no matter which it is, and likely with good reason. You get used to the way things are done at your place. Truth is that you can do undergrad studies at any reasonable place, and arrive at the same level of final skill with the same effort. The place only really matters if you want to go into some specific field (say, if you'd be interested in solid state physics, there certainly are places one should prefer to other places).

And about that Cambridge vs MIT thing: I also don't believe it to be based on sound facts. I've heard it from a student in Cambridge who applied for this exchange program, got accepted, and then got the notification that the program was terminated with the above reasons.
 
  • #8
cgk
Science Advisor
521
42
So it seems we have MIT < Cambridge < Germany/France. It then has to follow that the best degree in Physics is obtained at the lowliest of universities, right? :biggrin:
I certainly hope you didn't want to imply that German or French universities are "lowly".
 
  • #9
1,086
2
I certainly hope you didn't want to imply that German or French universities are "lowly".
Most certainly not, my fellow appreciator of European universities :wink:
 
  • #10
MWH
15
0
Most certainly not, my fellow appreciator of European universities :wink:
I hope you aren't classifying universities by continent. Who are you replying for? In case you're American you shouldn't feel so committed to your 'group' of universities because they happen to be situated in the same country as your birthplace. I'd be happy with anyone staying on topic.
 
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  • #11
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Firstly, there's no need to get your panties in a twist.

Second, no I'm not classifying universities by continents. I am actually from Europe and have studied there (two different universities), altough I'm now studying in Canada. And had you seen any of my earlier posts not in this topic, you'd probably see that if anything, I think American universities are overrated, whereas the European ones (I don't know, do you want me to name all countries on this continent, so as not to generalize?) are unjustifiably overlooked. My original remark was alluding to the fact that in world university rankings MIT is usually higher than Cambridge, and the latter higher than any of the German and French universities. But from the comments, it seemed as if MIT was the "worst", whereas the German and French universities were the "best". So as it seems, I made a bad joke or was not PC enough for everyone, and generalized a trend implying that the lower a university is in the rankings, the better its program.

Thirdly, there's really no need to get your panties in a twist.

Oh, and lastly, sorry for the off-topic, although I'm pretty sure if you read between the lines, you'll be able to glean some stuff useful in answering your question even from responses like these (not the don't get your panties in a twist part, obviously, that's more of a general advice to apply in life).
 
  • #12
MWH
15
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Firstly, there's no need to get your panties in a twist.
Thirdly, there's really no need to get your panties in a twist.
Very well said, after all why would one panic after reading a mere post from a stranger :)

Second, no I'm not classifying universities by continents. I am actually from Europe and have studied there (two different universities), altough I'm now studying in Canada. And had you seen any of my earlier posts not in this topic, you'd probably see that if anything, I think American universities are overrated, whereas the European ones (I don't know, do you want me to name all countries on this continent, so as not to generalize?) are unjustifiably overlooked. My original remark was alluding to the fact that in world university rankings MIT is usually higher than Cambridge, and the latter higher than any of the German and French universities. But from the comments, it seemed as if MIT was the "worst", whereas the German and French universities were the "best". So as it seems, I made a bad joke or was not PC enough for everyone, and generalized a trend implying that the lower a university is in the rankings, the better its program.
Whether you were joking or not, it wouldn't matter much to me as it wasn't possible to determine whether you were or not, plus it wouldn't apply to me either way. Furthermore you have the time to distort things in your advantage after reading my reply as different contexts are possible. Finally, if certain views of different people on different universities seem to be very contrary, joking about this by telling me/us you generalized a trend implying that the lower a university is in the rankings, the better its program, indeed really doesn't make the joke sound good. Just kidding.

Oh, and lastly, sorry for the off-topic,
Apologies accepted, my dear fellow ;)

(not the don't get your panties in a twist part, obviously, that's more of a general advice to apply in life).
Very well brought, assuming you weren't joking this time I don't expect you to have thought you were really actually sure I were in need of this advice.

although I'm pretty sure if you read between the lines, you'll be able to glean some stuff useful in answering your question even from responses like these
Could you explicitly state what of which you said should be useful to me, as I'm quite curious (assuming I did not read between the lines)?

I suspect you're quite knowledgeable, so I'd be happy with any advice relating to what I'd like to know!
 
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  • #13
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Back to the topic: I believe Cambridge is the way to go if you really want to go abroad. I haven't experienced studies there firsthand, however, from what my friends tell me, Cam is pretty serious about maths. Again, I am a bit surprised that you do not consider Utrecht, as the double physics-maths BSc there surely looks strong.

(NB: I have travelled ~2k km to learn some Theoretical Physics in Utrecht)
 
  • #14
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University of Leeds is a good choice for those interested in Maths/Phisics field.
But you can always look for a http://studyadvisor.com/" [Broken].
 
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