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Programs Will my undergrad affect my choice of PhD? (UK)

  1. Apr 2, 2009 #1
    I'm terribly sorry if this has been asked before, but at the moment I want to work in Nuclear Fusion eventually, MCF like JET etc. seems the most interesting although ICF like NIF is pretty interesting too..

    However, many people change their mind over what they want to study whilst they are an undergrad, and I have received a 3k a year scholarship from Exeter Uni which although it has a good astrophysics department, doesn't have a plasma physics department. It does however have good research in other interesting areas of physics such as medical imaging and condensed matter.

    So would I still be able to do a PhD in plasma physics even if I hadn't studied it at undergrad so long as I get a good degree? Or are they really tight on entry requirements?

    Because the scholarship is really handy as it means I don't have to work during term-time and can concentrate on studying and given that Exeter is the 8th best physics dept. in the country and has good research areas it's not like I'm losing out on much by going there.

    But obviously if PhDs are really strict then going there would pretty much kill my chances of ever getting to work in fusion, although I suppose that I could do a masters year if it was really necessary in any case.. so I will pretty much certainly take the scholarship but do you have any advice?
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 2, 2009 #2


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    What matters most to graduate schools is that you have (a) a solid foundation in physics and (b) a demonstrable potential to excel in graduate work.

    While there can be a slight advantage in getting involved in research in the field you plan to enter (ie. perhaps a letter of reference from a recognized professor), potential graduate students are not generally expected to have a background in the sub-field they hope to get into.

    I wouldn't give up a scholarship at a school with a strong physics department just because they don't have strength in the area you hope to specialize in. As you've mentioned, a lot can change during undergrad. You will discover your strengths and weaknesses, and at the end of it you'll be in a better position to decide what path you want to follow.
  4. Apr 2, 2009 #3


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    Just out of interest, where did you read that Exeter has the 8th best physics department in the country, and on what metric is this based? One should be wary of league tables anyway, but I don't recall seeing any that rank Exeter that highly.

    My advice would be to concentrate on going somewhere with a large (ish) physics department, and obtain a good solid background knowledge.
  5. Apr 2, 2009 #4
    Erm, well it's on their website which isn't the most impartial place I know.. but I think the RAE 2008 placed it at 8th if you include joint positions and stuff meanwhile the times have it at 12th. Meh it's not an ex-poly and its in the top 20 so I should get taught good Physics the dept. is a reasonable size, it seemed well-equipped yet friendly.

    I think I will definitely take it then because I think it would be foolish to focus on the negligible differences between the top 20 depts rather than the very tangible difference of me not having to work during term time which is probably far more likely to impact upon my success.

    Wow, I never realised how badly Warwick did in the latest RAE, because that's where else I was thinking of going, although you have to commute from Coventry in later years which is a pain. I also had an offer from Durham which is good, and seemed nice enough but is very very far away and seemed quite expensive too.
  6. Apr 2, 2009 #5


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    The website says it is using "percentage graded 4* and 3*," which certainly suits the department!

    Anyway, the RAE isn't really important at all for undergrad studies, since it doesn't tell you anything about teaching. The league tables (like those on the times or guardian website) are aimed at doing this, though one should not trust them too much.
  7. Apr 2, 2009 #6
    "Exeter is an exciting place to study Physics and was ranked 1st in the UK for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey (2007)*."

    It sounds an OK place. Don't worry about the lack of plasma physics research, any good physics ug course should give you sufficient background in electromagnetism, nuclear physics, etc to do what you want. Talk to the staff once you are there about the best options to take. They have the guy I would most like to take a course from:


    Gribbin knicked most of the best ideas in his "Kittens" book from "Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics"

    "Because the scholarship is really handy as it means I don't have to work during term-time and can concentrate on studying."

    This is a great advantage. Take the money and run!
  8. Apr 2, 2009 #7
    Ah, cool. I haven't read kittens, I read cat though and it was okay. The beginners guide by Rae is probably the best though.. Al-Khalili has written a similar book too, is that any good?
  9. Apr 4, 2009 #8
    You've probably read enough introductions to QM! I became temporarily jaded with the subject after reading too many popular physics books. Try Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens...
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