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Where to go for graduate school?

  1. May 15, 2009 #1

    I'm a student from the UK about to embark on a PhD in the area of String theory/QG. I have a couple of options in front of me and I am struggling to decide which would be the best path.

    1) University of Southern California (USC). The PhD would be much more "stringy" here, and I get the Impression (perhaps someone else could confirm?) that String theory in general is much more dominant in the US than Europe. The professor(s) I would potentially working with look very friendly and people I would enjoy working with. One issue I'm having is to try to ascertain how well respected this place is, all I can see is the rankings place it mid 40's for Physics gradschool, which doesn't sound too great?
    Another thing about here is the PhD will be much longer than my other options (5-6 years), I will be glad of the graduate courses and support I will have to ease me into research however, as oppose to the UK PhD options which will likely throw me in at the deep in with a lot more of a "go read this book" attitude, vs formal lectures. I won't however be so thrilled at having to devote so much time away from research being a TA (20 hrs a week, vs almost nothing in the UK). Finally I really like the idea of living in California for a few years, everything I've seen of this place (I've not been there in person yet!) looks really great; Mountains, hiking, weather, climate, proximity to places I've always wanted to visit etc. So it could be a really good experience for me.

    2) Nottingham QG group. It's really hard to compare how this institute stacks up against USC in terms of how well respected they are, and what my chances of getting a good postdoc after would be? The professors seem really good, and from publication lists it seems that they collaborate with Perimeter from time to time, which is of course v well respected in QG. PhD is only 3 years, and whilst that is good in many ways, I do wonder if without the formal graduate lectures teaching me QFT and advanced GR etc, will I be thrown into research somewhat out of my depth? Although no TA'ing which I view as a definite plus. Also Nottingham seems a lot less exciting than LA (although I don't want to sacrifice education for location, it could be a deciding factor if all else turned out to be equal).

    3) Imperial MSc Quantum fields with funding. This is only an MSc whereas others would be directly PhD, but assuming I did well on this course and came within the top band, I could presumably be taken on as a PhD at Imperial (not sure about Oxbridge as Im guessing I'll still be beat out by part III, is this def the case?). Imperial is a lot more prestigious than both the above, and I would really like to take these courses as I feel I could really use some formal lectures in advanced QFT/GR/ Stringy things, and it would help very much when starting any research. It is a risk however since I'm not guranteed a PhD spot afterwards, or I may just end up with a PhD of the same calibre as I have now anyway.

    So there is my dilemma, I would really appreciate any thoughts anyone has on the above, as I'm finding it impossible to decide. Thanks
  2. jcsd
  3. May 15, 2009 #2


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    Ranking of physics programs in the US is directly correlated with how many students a program graduates each year with a PhD. Lower-ranked programs aren't necessarily any worse than the high-ranked programs, just smaller. I started out at one school ranked above 100, and transferred to another, and they're both good programs with some top people - just small. Graduate still get great post-docs and go on to faculty positions.

    US PhD programs do take longer on average than European programs, but friends of mine in grad school in the UK and Germany have told me a US PhD is often seen as equivalent to a PhD and post-doc - if you have a lot of publications during that time.
  4. May 15, 2009 #3
    Thanks for reply eri. Interesting about the US PhD being considered as PhD and post-doc..

    The question I'm struggling with is how to compare USC and Nottingham side by side, which is quite a hard thing to do, since not a lot of people know enough about both universities, and rankings (for what they're worth anyway) don't include both for Physics etc...
  5. May 15, 2009 #4


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    I think in general if the PhD graduate did an excellent job and is highly recommended by its university in the US, there's always the possibility to get an assistant professor job without a postdoc.
  6. May 15, 2009 #5
    So I know this is highly subjective, but since you are Americans you are at least in a better position than I to answer, is USC a "good enough" gradschool....will the education I recieve be almost equivalent, do I have any shot at all at postdoc career?

    I feel with the UK option, although americans may not of heard of Nottingham so much, it's fairly well respected in the UK, certainly well enough to almost garantee me postdoc unless I really naff up the PhD. The group also seems to have some well respected figures of QG, and in general academia isn't as cutthroat over here. I'd just be a bit unhappy at having to give up my chance to live in California for a few years, and was hoping all else being equal I could have still gone there for my PhD. Perhaps I would be making a sacrifice in academics though?
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