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Undergrad in USA to Ph.D in London?

  1. Jun 30, 2011 #1
    Hi all,

    I've been searching various forums including this one for information on applying to and completing a Ph.D in physics outside the US including institutions such as University College London, Kings College, and some others (mostly in the London area) but have come up with little info.

    Has anyone gone through this experience coming from a US undergrad program and can highlight some major differences? Maybe even things you didn't expect to be a problem that were? For example it seems like funding is not the norm (for overseas applicants especially).

    Also I am especially confused on the structure of the system in that the PhD programs only include the research years where as in the US they would include a string of graduate classes prior to dissertation.

    Looking to gather up some more information so I can make a more informed decision about moving across the pond. Thanks ~Jason
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 30, 2011 #2


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    There are no formal requirements of classes for a PhD in the UK. Depending on what you have studied during your undergraduate degree, you may have to do a masters before being accepted on a PhD program. And yes, funding is quite difficult to get as an overseas student, since all the usual sources are for home/European students only.
  4. Jul 7, 2011 #3
    I study in the UK. For the most part PhDs in the UK follow the "european" model, i.e. are unstructured and purely research. There is no coursework, and they usually run for 3 years.

    In the US you can have a couple of years of course work to make sure everyone is at the same level of understanding and then push on with the research, but this can take up to 5 years.

    I know a lot of foreign students (chinese for example) who study PhDs in the UK. Funding is not usually an issue as you are given a stipend (14k pound tax free) and have the opportunity to earn more as tutors, etc. Tuition is free. A lot of projects have funding limited to UK/EU students however, but this is usually stated in the project description.

    Oh, and in most cases a 3 year bachelors is sufficient. There are some exceptions (I think Imperial insist on 4 year undergrad, but I may be mistaken).
  5. Jul 7, 2011 #4
    I hear that Imperial is even better for PhDs that it is for undergrad, especially for theoretical physics. Definitely worth a try there.
  6. Jul 7, 2011 #5
    Yeah, every since they disincorporated from Univ. of London they've become very lean and hungry and are working hard to break into the oxbridge clic.

    Mind you, that's a status thing. I have no idea how this reflects quality of education.
  7. Jul 7, 2011 #6


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    There is absolutely no reason for why university X would be better than university Y for a a PhD in the UK. There is -as has already been mentioned- no coursework (except a few course in health&safety, writing etc) and you spend all your time working in a research group. Hence, there are (with a few exceptions, Imperial being one of them) no "PhD programs" and the "quality" will therefore depend on which research group you belong to and who is your supervisor. Note also that PhD students are recruited for specific projects, meaning you have to decide in advance what you want to do.
    Being a PhD student here is more or less just like being a very junior researcher, i.e. it is more or less a regular job (although you will of course have to write a thesis at the end).
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