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Where to study physics? Imperial College or ETH Zurich?

  1. Feb 9, 2008 #1
    Hi guys and girls

    I have the following problem:
    I can't decide where I want to study physics (undergraduate).
    I've got unconditional offers from Imperial College London for MSci Physics and Theoretical Physics and one from ETH Zurich for Mathematics/Physics (Bachelor/Master; ETH Zurich = Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich).
    I can still change from MSci to BSci at Imperial.
    I am really interested in theoretical physics and particle physics (have written a thesis in QFT a year ago) and considering doing a PhD in this field (but don't know at which university yet; maybe continental Europe, in the UK or in the US)
    I am not Swiss and it takes me about the same time to get from my home to Zurich as to London (which means that I have to move regardless of which university I choose).
    I know that both are very good universities, but they have very different teaching styles and support by staff. I don't know how it is handled at ETH, but there is very good support at Imperial (like having a personal tutor).
    There are more interesting lectures and more freedom in choosing them at ETH (3rd and 4th year) than at IC. But I think IC is better for my future because it is more know around the world (or how is the reputation of ETH?).

    What do you think or can tell me about both universities?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 9, 2008 #2


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    I am not in the right field so can't tell how imperial compares to ETH in particle physics etc.
    However, I can say that ETH has a VERY good reputation (as far as I know it is considered to be one of the best universities in Europe) and in some fields (including mine, microtechnology/solid state quantum information processing ) I would say they have an even better reputation than Imperial. Both ETH and Imperial (and all other universities) "specialises" in a few fields and have very good research groups in those (e.g. when I hear "Imperial" I think of quantum optics). Hence, the fact that a university is well-known does not neccesarily mean that they do well in all fields.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2008
  4. Feb 9, 2008 #3


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    You say that you've already "written a thesis in QFT a year ago." If so, why are you applying to take an undergraduate degree? Can't you just take a masters degree if you've got that level of knowledge?
  5. Feb 9, 2008 #4
    I agree with this assessment, also for what it's worth Albert Eintstein attended Zurich too (back when it was known as Zurich Polytechnic). :P
  6. Feb 9, 2008 #5


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    A UK MSci isn't really a masters it's an extra year tacked on the end of Honours Degrees to make up for the dreadfull fall in standards at high schools equivalent to a US 4year degree. It would be required if you went on to do a PhD at a UK university - the ETH degree would probably count as an MSci.

    Both Imperial and ETH are top10 science instutions. Consider which city you would like to live in, I've only visited Zurich but London is a great place to live - especially as a student. I'm biased I went to UCL!
  7. Feb 10, 2008 #6
    because I lack the knowledge of foundamental basics in mathematics and physics and because you need to do an undergraduate degree first before you can do a graduate degree

    That's the problem, I really like both cities.
    Zurich is very nice and really small, air is great and I live the food
    London is a fantastic place, you can do literally everything you want, but I don't like British food that much (but there's plenty of other food available)
  8. Feb 10, 2008 #7


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    Well, if you feel you lack a lot of knowledge, then that's fair enough and you should go for the undergrad degree. But, I wouldn't be so sure to say that you necessarily have to do an undergraduate degree first, especially since you say you've written a thesis. Imperial run a masters course on "fundamental forces & something else i can't remember" which is basically a course on theoretical physics. There's nothing saying that you definitely need an undergrad degree: why not email the admissions tutor, explain your situation, and say you'll send a copy of your thesis for him to peruse.

    I know a guy doing a PhD in maths who only took a handful of maths courses at undergraduate level, so requirements are not set in stone!

    What classes as British food? Seriously, if that's the only thing that putting you off about London, then I wouldn't worry. There are many, many different areas in London, each with different speciality foods.
  9. Feb 10, 2008 #8
    Q: Where to study physics? Imperial College or ETH Zurich?
    A: Caltech, of course!

    Yuk, yuk...

    Just kidding...
  10. Feb 11, 2008 #9
    How important are the basics of mathematics for theoretical physics?
    With basics of mathematics I mean knowing and be able to do proofs. Or is it enough if you know how to use this or that trick?
  11. Feb 14, 2008 #10
    That sounds suspiciously like another thread starting....
  12. Feb 28, 2008 #11
    I've got another question before I can make my definitive decision:
    If I decide not to end up in science and but instead in the industry (specifcially: finances or consulting), which college would be more beneficial for me?
    Or as many graduates from ETH Zurich working in finance related jobs as those from Imperial College?
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