1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What do I learn in a PhD in Physics (UK)?

  1. Jan 12, 2016 #1
    I am currently looking for PhD's in physics just now but more specifically a project which uses my favourite topic of quantum theory. Up until now i have only thought about picking projects based on this preference but i would like to know what you learn on the PhD.

    So for example if i picked a project on based on imaging using quantum techniques would I only learn about quantum optics theory for 3-4 years and thats it? Because my interest expands to quantum optics, information, mechanics etc. I would like to learn about other topics in quantum as well. Does that also mean if i got a PhD in this area and i wanted to be an academic i could only do research in quantum optics? Because it seems very confined.

    I would like to learn about other topics in quantum as well in more detail.

    Can anyone with more experience elaborate on what the PhD process involves in terms of the learning aspects?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 13, 2016 #2
    You need to look at the specific requirements of your school in more detail. Most PhD programs in the US require significant coursework and grad level accomplishment in quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, classical mechanics, and electrodynamics in addition to a couple courses in areas different from the candidate's specialty, and then the in depth research and thesis in the area of specialty.
  4. Jan 13, 2016 #3
    In the UK a PhD is solely research as far as I know. There aren't any taught classes.
  5. Jan 14, 2016 #4
    Interesting. Are there qualifying exams that cover physics more broadly to encourage students to self-study?
  6. Jan 14, 2016 #5
    It's not true that UK PhD students aren't taught classes. When I did a PhD in theoretical high energy physics, the first year was about 60% classes and 40% research. It might be different for experimentalists, I don't know.
  7. Jan 15, 2016 #6


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    It depends on where you do your PhD. In the past some universities (notably Imperial) ran "US style" PhD programs where the first year was coursework, but this was an exception. However, students joining one of the new Doctoral Training Centres (DTC or CDT) that by now have been around for a couple of years tend to spend one year doing coursework and projects before picking a project. (which is then 3 years).

    That said, there are still lots of positions for "old style" PhDs since not all universities have CDTs. In this case you do a 3 year with no mandatory coursework (except short 1-2 day long courses in presentation skills, how to write an article etc).

    To the OP. It is important to realize that doing a PhD is about specializing, no one can know everything and quantum theory is a huge field.. However, this does not mean that you will necessarily have to work in exactly the same area your whole career; plenty of people switch to something else when they e.g. start their first post-doc. The key is finding a new project/area where the techniques/skills you already know are useful.
  8. Jan 15, 2016 #7


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I believe this would be theoretically possible to have them ; but I don't know of any university that uses qualifying exams for PhDs.
    Note that most (albeit not quite all) students will have finished their MSc before starting a PhD; and in many cases the students are effectively evaluated based on how well they dud during their masters year and MSc project,.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook