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UK HEP groups

  1. Aug 14, 2008 #1
    Hi, as well as applying to US gradschools (you may have seen some of my other threads...) I also intend to apply to UK places (I would ultimatley prefer to go a US gradschool, but I need some insurance incase I mess up the PGRE, and dont get accepted anywhere, or anywhere half decent).

    I'm interested in theoretical particle physics, most likely heading in the stringy direction, but not necessarily set in stone.

    To give you my background, I'm a UK citizen and graduated in 2007 (so by the time I actually start the PhD I would of had 2 years out :( ) I originally intended to have one year out, just to travel and have a break from academia etc and was intending on starting my PhD this september. However I applied to only 3 universities; Oxford (had the interview from hell, I had been doing temp work and travelling with abs no physics for almost a year at the time of this interview and it was just a nightmere), Durham( I was quite badly ill at the time of interview, so ended up missing my chance there), Imperial (I applied to the string group here and didn't even get invited for an interview!).

    So I am bit gutted at the moment to say the least at having to fill another year and be away from academia again, but never the less I've had time to prepare for the GRE's so if I ended up in the US that would be a nice twist.

    I feel my background is pretty strong with a First class degree, from a decent UK university and near the top of my year, and with a publication. However being rejected without interview from Imperial string group has really worried me, what calibre of candidate am I against? I don't know if I would have been accepted at Oxford if I had prep'd better etc and had a good interview, but at least they invited me in the first round of interviews. Why did Imperial reject w/o interview but not Oxford?

    Now I'm in the situation were I have to decide where to apply for 2009, I feel I can't apply to Oxford/Imperial/Durham again, and they are a large portion of the theoretical UK particle physics group.

    I don't really want to take part III (although I would at a very last resort if I hadn't been accepted anywhere else) to *attempt* get into DAMTP. So that seems to leave me with:

    Cambridge cavendish HEP group (this group is very very sim to my undergrad dept HEP group, and my previous advisor has good contacts here, so I may have a good shot of acceptance). Im not sure however if this is "theoretical enough".

    Sussex theory group: seems a very close fit on research, but I wonder what the reputation of the group is, and if that is something I should worry about?

    Queen mary string group: again I like the research here, but worries about it being a small group and how well regarded?

    Nottingham Quantum gravity group: great group, seems really unique and definitley interested in their research, how well regarded is it? Also this group is in maths dept not physics, would I struggle to be accepted?

    KCL: maths group again, same worries as with Nottingham.

    Lancaster: reputation? lack of info on the math phys group here.

    Finally Edinburgh and Glasgow, which seem to be quite reputable, although Im not sure theyre a research match.
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2008
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 14, 2008 #2
    Sorry, I know that was a monster post. Would be very grateful, if anyone could give me any recommendations on the groups I mentioned (or other groups).

    Do you think the fact I would of been away from academia for 2 years upon starting the PhD will be a negative factor against me?

    Also am I better off applying to non stringy HEP groups, since I was rejected flat out from Imperial? e.g maybe I should rule out Trinity college dubline or Nottinghams Quant Grav, since I would perhaps be against people who had done part III, or joint physics and mathematics. I have studied gen rel, intro QFT and group theo but not string thoery or courses like algebraic geometry, so perhaps I have no shot at the more math string groups?
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2008
  4. Aug 14, 2008 #3


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    Do you have a masters degree (i.e. an MSc and not a MSci)? From what I gather, Imperial require a masters to study for a PhD, and preferably their own qunatum fields and fundamental forces masters. This is a very popular course, and so they have ample choice from their graduate pool for their PhD places. This may explain your rejection without interview.

    I will reply in more detail regarding specific groups later on, when I get a few more minutes.
  5. Aug 14, 2008 #4
    I have an "MPhys", so basically it's a masters but not seperate from my undergrad degree. Kind of like a four year bachelors I guess, my final year was mostly taught with a Master's project thrown in.

    Well Imperial told me a Msc wasn't a prereq when I emailed, but perhaps this is just the official line, and realistically nearly all admitted have a distinct research based masters (either from Imperial itself or perhaps part III or Durhams, hmmm). In much the same way as DAMTP "officially" say, you dont need to do part III, but for all intents and purposes you do, who knows. I would seriously have thought about doing there MSc in quant fields and fundamental forces, but financially was just not possible. Oh well....

    Thanks, much appreciated.
  6. Aug 17, 2008 #5
    Hey Cristo, just checking you haven't forgot about me? :smile:
  7. Aug 17, 2008 #6


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    Sorry, yes I did forget!

    You sound in a good position. During your degree, how much of the following did you study: special & general relativity, quantum theory, quantum field theory, string theory (some courses on it do exist at some places) advanced maths for theoretical physics (i.e. differential geometry, topology, etc..)
    Sure you can. In fact, if you didn't do as well as you could have done in interview at both Oxford and Durham, I'd encourage you to apply again. An important thing to remember when applying to grad schools is that there are normally around 5-10 or so applicants per place. You could just have been unlucky and applied in a year when there were several incredibly good candidates. This may not be the case this year.

    I don't blame you, but it would be good as a last gasp.

    I would advise against this: it will be way to experimental.
    I don't think you should worry: it's a good group, especially for Cosmology (which is what I happen to study).
    It seems an active group; I actually know a few people in this group, and they seem to be doing well. They also have 4 year PhD studentships, which allow you to use the first year taking courses, and learning from textbooks (ideal if you've not studied much QFT etc.) The good think about being in London is that the colleges are part of the London Triangle, which seems good for seminars. There is also some joint work between the ST group and the Astronomy unit housed in the maths department.
    I actually studied undergrad at nottingham in the maths department. They are studying more loop quantum cosmology as well as quantum gravity and, again as you say, they are housed in the maths department. I don't know whether this will affect you adversely, but I do know that some of the PhD students took the 4th year maths courses (black holes, diff geom, etc..) so this could be something you can do. Contact the department if you are still unsure: Jorma Louko is a friendly guy who I'm sure will reply to your email!

    Kings mainly focus on ST though, don't they? Again, it may be mathematical, but they are part of the above London triangle, which is another advantage.
    I think Lancaster study more Cosmology than anything. In that respect, they have a strong group (David Lyth, one of the authors of the seminal book on inflation and large scale structure is an, I think now emeritus, professor there).
    Sorry, I don't know anything about Scotland.
    I know what you mean about the money side! By the way, I think if you want to do a PhD in theoretical physics at DAMTP, you really do need to do Part III; at least that's what the admissions tutor told me a few years ago.

    Hope that helps.
  8. Aug 17, 2008 #7
    I've taken an introductory General Relatvity course (of the level of Schutz or D'Inverno), lots of quantum, I've taken an intro QFT course (well it was more of a relativistic QM course to be honest) (stuff like Klein-Gordan, Dirac equation, eventually moving on to the basics of S matrices, basics of Feynman diagrams etc ), studied differential geometry but not topology, also an intro Group theory course. No strings sadly.

    I definitley think I could do a lot better at the interview again for Oxford, so maybe I should reapply, hmmm....would just be so embaressing if the same guy interviewed me again and he remembered me, and I got questions wrong again. Also I can imagine the pain telling my supervisor I got rejected again if it did happen! :redface:
    I'll have to have a think about that one.

    would it be wise of me though to sacrifice some of my interests to get the prestige of the Cambridge name behind me, then try my best to move into more theory for postdocs? or is this just foolishness, hehe.

    That first year sounds ideal :smile: Don't suppose you know what the part of London this uni is in is like to live?

    This is the only place I know studying loop QG except Perimeter, I wouldn't be against going down this road. I will definitley contact them, thanks.

    Im happy with string theory, it's just if they will be happy with me! hehe...obviously Im worried about being against maths students or students with masters containing string courses etc as my competition. Don't know how I stand up compared to the usual intake for a string PhD.

    What I'm thinking now is to apply to:

    Notting QG group, Queen Mary, Oxford again? ( :redface:) , KCL


    Sussex (still got slight concerns about reputation) , Cavendish (the opposite of Sussex, good rep, not right research), Scotland I too no nothing about

    I think Lancaster is off.

    A wildcard: UCL?

    Thanks by the way, very helpful.
  9. Aug 17, 2008 #8


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    Sounds like you're very well prepared. Is your publication theory orientated too? That's pretty impressive, by the way: I only know one person who had publications as an undergrad and he's, well, incredibly clever!

    Definitely think about it: if nothing else, it will give you interview experience. It may also be a good idea to look at your interview technique. Since you've been out of academia for a while, the questions may be a little more tough for you to answer. For example, I was asked about my master's project, which was very easy to answer since I was doing it at the time. But, if someone asked me now, I wouldn't be able to answer such detailed questions, as it's been a year since I've done it. Just think about little things like that: read through your notes, and your dissertation, and even your notes for your dissertation. Sorry if those points are obvious!

    I'd say no, it wouldn't be a good idea to do that. Competition for postdocs is harsh, so I imagine it will be very difficult to try and switch fields at that stage.
    Erm.. it's cheap :smile: (well, comparatively; it's still London afterall). Accommodation in London is very different to any other city. Most other cities have very distinct "nice" and "rough" areas, whereas London doesn't to the same extent. The east end is mainly a bangladeshi community, but then there are more residential areas with white, middle class families and students living.

    I think Penn State studies LQG; Cambridge also does some LQ cosmology.

    You could be against stronger candidates but, as I said above, I think you have a very solid background for a string PhD student.
    Does UCL have a string theory department? I'm not sure.

    No worries: let me know in the future if you need any more advice (either by PM or posting here, I don't mind.)
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