Theoretical physics university climbing

  • #1
I'm a 4th year MPhys student currently finishing my undergrad. I will be attending a theoretical masters course next year at Kings. I have been declined by Imperial and Cambridge so I have started to get a little worried about my future.

Even though I have been declined this year, is there any chance I can be accepted for a theoretical physics PhD next year by top universities? The reason I want to attend a top university is that I know after a PhD it's rare that someone goes to a more prestigious university.

What I'm asking is, what would it take for me to be accepted at top 20 UK/US universities given that I'll be attending kings(considered good but nowhere near as top 20 I guess) this year?

Note: Please don't just tell me not to follow a career in theory
Note2: Assume that I wasn't accepted because I was off by 5-10 marks on my average(I got a 71%)
 

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  • #2
Orodruin
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First of all there is no such thing as "theory". There is theoretical physics, but it is not a branch in and of itself. There are theorists in most branches of physics, including high-energy physics, condensed matter, etc.

The second thing to realise is that the most important thing to get a good PhD is not something you can influence, it is luck. Second is that you do very well in your studies in order to get accepted into a PhD program, which is something you can influence. I would not say that your undergraduate institution comes before those two things. (Conversely, you could be accepted to an ivy league university and do really bad. This would be worse for your prospects than having attended ivy league or not.)

A career in physics continue to rely to a large extent on luck regarding available positions and how well you fit them. This dependence on luck does not really end until you get tenure - typically around an age of 35-40 if you follow a more or less straight path, depending on country.

This is why this bothers me:
Note: Please don't just tell me not to follow a career in theory
It seems to suggest that you have envisioned one and only one career path, and success on that path is strongly dependent on luck - even if you are brilliant. Not having, or at least thinking of, an acceptable backup plan can lead to additional stress (worsening your performance) and ultimately lead to depression if you cannot imagine an alternative path. Looking back to my own career path I can clearly see several instances where my advancement towards tenure to at least a significant extent was based on pure luck.
 
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  • #3
Thank you very much for your input! Having a backup plan is definitely required(data science doesn't sound terrible), the reason I made that note is that I UNDERSTAND that this career choice is not the best, but I can't help my passions. Also when I say theoretical physics I mean fundamental physics which is still vague but I recognise that I don't have the knowledge required to make a specific choice yet.
 
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Orodruin
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If you are aware that a large part of your fortunes are not really things you can influence and have a reasonable backup plan (or plans), then go for it and focus on the things that you can affect, i.e., your own performance in your studies.
 
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