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Schools Which UK University/Course?

  1. Feb 26, 2010 #1
    Hi i'm currently in the lower 6th and if i'm able to, going to study Physics in some way, shape or form at university.

    I'm currently studying Physics, Maths, Chemistry and Further Maths at AS and will be taking them all for A2, i'm predicted A's in all of them.

    I was wondering which universities are the best for Physics, APART from Cambridge and Oxford, as I do not have any wish to study there... I've looked at Durham, Birmingham, Glasgow and Imperial so far, and I think I like Durham the most at the moment, as Imperial is too expensive, Glasgow is a massive distance from where I am currently (East of England) and Birmingham has fairly low entry standards (which leads me to the conclusion the teaching won't be quite as good; correct me if i'm wrong).

    I have one other question too, if I was intending on doing an MSc and then a PHD at university, then hopefully going on into research, which course would be most beneficial for me at MSc level, Physics, Physics with Maths, Physics and Particle Physics and Cosmology, or Physics and Astrophysics? I am extremely interested in more the fundamental physics as opposed to creating new technologies etc.

    Any replies are extremely appreciated :)
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 26, 2010 #2
    Durham is a good choice, I would suggest Physics w/ Mathematics (or Mathematical Physics), by the sound of what you might potentially be interested in. It can be hard to pull together the shear amount of mathematics one needs to undertake a PhD in a fundamental topic (such as String theory or another form of QG), and having the chance to do it alongside your undergraduate degree is probably the easiest way to gather this knowledge. You will only be missing out on lots of boring (in my humble opinion) lab work, that will primary just teach you techniques as oppose to further your Physics knowledge vastly. As you can probably tell I hated lab, and now really wish I had taken Maths and Physics, and had the luxury of learning Topology and Metric spaces, Functional Analysis etc etc via lectures.

    Durham and Imperial are good pathways into fundamental research, I think there are lots of people at both working on Stringy things. Also both have very good MSc programs offering lots of courses at the advanced level, and are recognised well abroad (i.e. if you wanted to go do your PhD in the US after you finish your undergrad, the places over there would know about Durham and Imperial)

    Other options: Nottingham, has a good Mathematical Physics program, and the fundamental physics group there work on Loop Quantum Gravity as an alternative to String theory. Manchester, good Physics program again, good for Particle Physics but perhaps not so much the more mathematical type of particle physics (i.e. more phenomenology (modelling of detectors and collidors etc) than stuff like QG)

    I wouldn't throw aside Cambridge so quickly, if you feel you have a shot of getting in, you should probably go for it. I didn't go here, so have no direct experiences, but the mathematics program there is probably second to know, and there part III course (basically an advanced masters before your PhD started) is probably the most prestigious in the world. The shear scope of courses on offer is unparalled at anywhere else I know of, and would no doubt set you up for research very well indeed. You are very unlikely to be accepted for a theoretical PhD in Cambridge (in DAMTP) even after a degree and part III there, but it would open up your horizons to get in somewhere very good elsewhere if not Cambridge.

    Hope that is somewhat useful
  4. Feb 26, 2010 #3
    That was very useful thanks :)

    I will look into more Math based Physics courses. What sort of things do you actually do in lab work for Physics? Or at least how are they of any real use to the final degree/research?

    And about Cambridge, every single person I have met who wanted to go/has gone there, bar a few, has been a complete uppity prick, I don't think its the kind of environment i'd want to be associated with. Yeah sure, they probably are in the top 3 international universities, but I cannot see how they could be THAT much better than every other university in the UK... Prestige is overrated :P

    Thanks for the quick reply :)
  5. Feb 26, 2010 #4
    It really depends on what research you end up doing, obviously if you do an experimental PhD you will want to have lab experience from your undergrad, but for me personally as a theoretical grad student, the stuff I learnt in lab as not helped me/been needed at all (Of course I'm not saying experiments lab is not useful as a whole, that is quite a different statement. Also lot's of people absolutley love lab, maybe you will be one of those people and will drift away from the more mathematical stuff). It's hard to know before you start, but looking back I think if I'd have thought about it a little more I would have discovered I mass more mathemtically inclined than experimentally. I don't think you realise quite how big the divide is between the theoretical people and the experimental people, before later in university however.

    As for what you do in lab work, there is tonnes of stuff ranging from electronics (building amplifiers, flip flop circuits etc), radioactivity, thermal properties, playing with various interferometers, and many more things I can't remember. Some people really love tinkering with electronics, and magnets or taking data down. Personally I prefer actually learning the intricaces of the more mathematical theories (or at least trying too), I feel like I gain more Physics knowledge by attending courses rather than labs etc. You can usually always change in your first year though so there's always time to try and figure out what you like.

    As for Cambridge prestige that isn't why I suggested it primarily (although don't get me wrong prestige can make your life much easier), notice I didn't suggest Oxford Physics however. Oxbridge prestige will get you into a job much more effectively than a PhD, when interviewing for a PhD the professors will not be fooled by the veneer of prestige, they will know exactly what the strengths of your undergrad institute are, what the courses your transcripts say you took mean you know etc etc. The thing that cambridge does give you however is the opportunity to be exposed to lots of advanced mathematical courses (in Part III, which is very hard to get funding for if you're not undergrad in cambridge).
    It may not be that much better than Durham or Imperial, granted, but I wouldn't put yourself off with the "snooty stereotype" of course there will be people like this there, but then they will be at Durham and Imperial too, and there will be plenty of people who aren't snooty at all at Cambridge.
    I'm not trying to say go to Cambridge over Durham etc blindy (there may be many other factors), just trying to say don't brush it off so easily.
  6. Feb 26, 2010 #5
    The experimental stuff does sound interesting, but I think I am more of theorist too, especially once it *hopefully* gets to PHD level.

    I do see what you mean for Cambridge, but trying to be realistic, it is so damn hard to get into I think it would be a waste of an application for me. I know the majority of the people at Cambridge are very down to Earth and nice, so I probably am subconciously (well not anymore :P) creating reasons for me not to put mountains of pressure on myself (if only I could have taken Psychology), but as I said, I just want to be realistic with my options. In a perfect world i'd apply to that King Abdullah University for Science and Technology...

    Thanks a lot for your advice though, I'll be certain to look into it all :)
  7. Feb 26, 2010 #6
    I've just finished applying so if you've got any questions about the process etc feel free to ask. I also took/am taking the exact A2's you are, as well as French so i've you've got any questions about those either again, feel free.

    I've no real input on your choices, it's a personal decision and you can't go far wrong with all of the one's you've listed.

    Something else i'll emphasise which i'm sure you're already aware of is get good AS grades there's no substitute for poor AS grades in terms of references & personal statement etc. For physics right now, you can have an offer as standard for Durham, Birmingham & Glasgow right off the bat if you have 4 A's at AS. They won't even really consider the rest of your application. (Although Glasgow are funny when it comes to non-scottish people I hear).

    But other than that, good luck, you seem to have your wits about you and all the best.
  8. Feb 26, 2010 #7
    My mocks went well so hopefully 4 A's will be on the table :) May I also congratulate you on your fine choice of subjects. I've heard the same about Glasgow, but the uni there is cheaper (money is a BIG issue for me, I will be having to grant/scholarship my way through) and it would be nice not to have horrendous amounts of debt by the time I leave (Physicist's salaries are particularly unforgiving from what i've heard :P).

    Best of luck to you to mate, hope everything goes as you would like it to :)
  9. Feb 27, 2010 #8
    I've lived in Glasgow and Birmingham, several years in each place. There were lots of English people I knew at Glasgow Uni, they never had a problem. Social wise, they are both great places to spend a few years. Being big cities there's always a lot going on, but they are much less expensive than London, and everything is closer together. Their reputation in physics is generally good with a wide range of options; both are *big* universities. Glasgow isn't far from the East of England! Ask American forum members about what "far" really means...
  10. Feb 27, 2010 #9
    I'm sorry to hijack this thread, but it seemed more appropriate to ask here than make a new one, since my question is very much a variation of this topic's theme, as well as follows up on what mal4mac has said in the post preceding mine. I've been accepted to the following universities in the UK: University of Glasgow, University of Birmingham, University of Southampton and University of Manchester, and I'm still waiting for an answer from the University of Sheffield.

    How do they stack up against each other? Which one would be deemed "best"? I'm currently favouring Birmingham and Glasgow, don't know why really, probably because the cities they're in sound more appealing.

    And how would they stack up quality-wise against Canadian universities, such as University of Toronto, UBC, University of Alberta etc.?
  11. Feb 27, 2010 #10
    Why would you want to dismiss Oxford and Cambridge outright?

    I can honestly tell you there is a marked difference in teaching between Oxford and any other university (I myself went to Oxford for my undergrad and am currently doing an MSc at a London university, so I am actually in a position to compare). At the uni I am currently, it's all about learning to pass exams - at Oxford, with the tutorial system, they actually make you think about what you're learning, which is really how it should be.

    If you really enjoy physics - don't dismiss Oxford (from what I've heard about cambridge, its more the case that you get taught ("supervised") by grad students, who oftentimes don't know what they're teaching in any great depth).

    Birmingham's a great uni BTW - they've got a good Theoretical physics course.

    Good luck whatever you decide:)
  12. Feb 27, 2010 #11
    Quickly: The universities you have mentioned are all good: Durham is excellent, and Glasgow has a very nice Astronomy department alongside their Physics dept (option of doing Physics + Astronomy joint (0.5/0.5) degree or Physics with Astrophysics). As for distance to Glasgow, it's only a short train/coach ride away.. :smile: (incidently, I know Glasgow and the university well, so feel free to PM me if you have any questions)
    Last edited: Feb 27, 2010
  13. Feb 28, 2010 #12
    These are the two I would favour in your position, as people have been saying they are very good universities, nice one :) As for the Canadian Uni comparison, I honestly have no idea :3

    I suppose I am being a bit stupid really, but I don't know, they've just never really appealed to me. I would consider doing postgrad stuff at Oxbridge, but I just don't think it would suit me for undergrad :)

    Yeah, they're prospectus makes it look amazing. Thank you :)

    I am leaning towards Durham at the moment, but when my Glasgow prospectus arrives I may have some questions, if I do i'll be sure to ask you :)

    Thank you very much for all the replies, sorry this one is a bit late, I was out all weekend with no internet (SHOCK HORROR). :)
  14. Mar 3, 2010 #13
    It isn't only Oxford that cares about teaching people how to think! They also manage to avoid turning people into snobs, something not so easily done at Oxford... These small cities often form insular in-crowds who think they are 'it'. Another reason to go to a big city... (Try reading Bryan Magee's autobiography 'Confessions of a Philosopher" to get the good and bad on Oxford and London for living the intellectual life, or just living life. He comes down in favour of London and other big cities because of the 'broadening' effect. See the woprld young man, not just a bunch of Oxford dons...)
  15. Mar 4, 2010 #14
    My opinion exactly, Durham is still the running favourite for me at the moment.

    Still not sure whether to take a broad course in Physics or whether to specialise straight way on Theoretical Physics with Maths... opinions?
  16. Mar 4, 2010 #15
    If you're set against Oxbridge, I would go with either Durham or Imperial, not that the other choices are not good places, but I think Durham/Imperial do have the edge in terms of reputation (in the UK but vastly more so internationally (you never know when this could be important). More than just reputation however, I think if you did want to do theory, and if that theoretical interest turned into one in quantum gravity (two big IFs there), you be in much better stead at these two places. They both have lots of researchers working in these fundamental areas (something that other places like Birmingham Glasgow don't so much to my knowledge, they are bigger on phenomenological type particle physics, rather than mathsy string theory type), so lots of opportunities for undergrad dissertations with these people, and a chance to stack up some good references. Finally both Imperial and Durham have excellent masters programs in fundamental physics that you could hop onto very easily, which would teach you things like QFT, standard model, Advanced GR etc etc that you will need to pursure fundamental theoretical research.

    Durham is a beatiful place too however, much nicer than Birmingham in my opinion, of course that is entirely just my opinion!

    Personally I'd specialise, if I was going to do it all over again, in fact I'd do a joint maths and physics degree. It is a very personal choice though and only you can even begin to gauge what you'd enjoy. I wouldn't have felt I lost anything without lab, and I think I would have gained a lot by having extra maths courses, but that's because I found my interest in theoretical high energy physics, someone who fell into experimental condensed matter or something would prob tell you the exact opposite.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2010
  17. Mar 4, 2010 #16
    So true, I have a friend doing economics at Birmingham, he says that the place is a bit of a dump >.<

    Thanks a lot for the advice, I think I probably will take you up on it :)
  18. Mar 6, 2010 #17
    Like any major city, Birmingham is a bit of a dump in places. But, for example, it hosts a world class symphony orchestra, with a state of the art hall to play in, and a really good theatre. The Indian restaurants are second to none, and really cheap. It has the national exhibition centre, which attracts big groups, the motor show, and what have you. It has two premier league football clubs (both playing in the FA cup quarter finals this weekend!) It has a large airport on the doorstep, and a main line station. Most cities, even Oxford and Durham have pubs and night clubs, and B'ham certainly has those, and more of them, and better. What else? An amazing dedicated squash racket centre, superb public library, super arts centre ... well the list goes on.

    Birmingham uni is the biggest campus university in the country, with incredible sporting facilities. B'ham has a world class sports arena which holds major athletic events. The refurbished bull ring has all you might want for shopping.

    Glasgow has similar 'big city' attributes. (The art galleries, in particular, are fantastic!) Durham *is* overall pretty, but pretty isn't everything... and anyway B'ham and Glasgow have many clubs and societies (walking clubs, mountaineering clubs, etc...) to whisk you away to pretty.

    University should be about getting new experiences to broaden your outlook on life, and not just on physics. So if you live in a small, Southern, pretty place, why not try a big Northern city as a student? Or vice versa?
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