Opinions: Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University

nb
Posts: 38
Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:16 pm

Opinions: Theoretical Physics at Cambridge University

Postby nb » Fri Jan 12, 2007 7:17 am

I just wondered what is your opnion regarding to the Theoretical Physics Deprtment at Cambridge University ??

I just received a postive answer from them and it will be intersting to hear from someone who knows the program his opnion.

By the way I applied to some Universities in the U.S.A and I am waiting to hear from them before I will make any desicion.

soluyanov
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Joined: Fri Dec 15, 2006 1:06 pm

Postby soluyanov » Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:32 am

Cambridge is one of the best schools in the world. Physics is very good there. But you should prepare yourself for J. of Physics instead of Phys. Rev.) And to "english" English, if it's not your native language.

Moreover, being a foreigner in England is very different from that in US. But Cambridge is great. No doubt.

nb
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Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:16 pm

Postby nb » Fri Jan 12, 2007 9:45 am

What do you mean diffrent ? I am very intersted to know how is it like.

jall
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Postby jall » Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:07 am

First of all, congratulations

Look at this: http://fliptomato.wordpress.com/

In Cambridge, before you are accepted as a PhD student, you must complete the Part III (one year attending graduate classes). It is really hard! I think that you must pass with distinction to be accepted in the PhD program.

By the way, when did you apply, and when did you receive the answer (and how: by mail?)?

Regards

soluyanov
Posts: 51
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Postby soluyanov » Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:17 am

In England, you will (probably) always feel yourself beign a foreigner. I don't think you will feel it in Cambridge, but beyond the campus. It all depends on where are you from.

My supervisor used to work in Cambridge and University Colledge London, but he still says that not being the english puts some walls around you in the society. Still, I think this is very personal, and a man from a former USSR may see things different.

From the other hand, you can get a US faculty position with a Cambridge Ph.D. without much effort, I guess.

I was considering applying to Cambridge - my supervisor's recommendation letter weights much more in England than in US - he worked with V. Heine - Cambridge megastar. They wanted TOEFL 250, I got 270 and was ready to think about applying to Europe seriously. But then I found out that they need 5.0 on the essay, and I got only 4.0((((. Besides, I would worry about understanding the lectures - no secret that English in England is much harder to understand when you're a foreigner.

Also, physical society in Europe is absolutely different. Other journals, other accents (scientific I mean) almost everywhere. To get a Ph.D. in France or Germany, for instance, is not a problem - to stay in science this is the problem. Especially for people fom other countries.

Nevertheless, I think, finishing Cambridge and getting to US after that is a really good start of a career. So, I would, most likely, prefer Cambridge to almost all US schools except 3-5 or even just 3.

nb
Posts: 38
Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:16 pm

Postby nb » Fri Jan 12, 2007 10:20 am

Yes I got it by the mail and as you said I should take the Part III course first. I sent my application two months ago.

What do you know about the program ? I think that it will be very hard to receive financial aid but I have enough time to check it out.

When you say that this course is hard you compre it to the PhD program in the U.S ??
I will appriciate any information.

jall
Posts: 11
Joined: Thu Dec 07, 2006 1:20 pm

Postby jall » Fri Jan 12, 2007 11:36 am

I don't know what is the US universities difficult level because I'm european. Last year, some friends completed the part iii in cambridge and they did very well. They said that only 1/5 of the initial part iii physics students (60) were accepted to go for the PhD program. This seems quite few students, so I think you should confirm this information with someone else.

In the US universities, I believe more than 1/5 pass the quals. However, I believe that top US universities are also more selective so at the beggining of the first year they already have top top students.

If I remember well, In part III you have to do, at the end of the year, all the examinations (even the examinations of the subjects you did in the first term). I think you can choose between 6 exams and 5 exams+1 essay, and all the stuff you learn in that year are graduate physics. I think that part iii is the only scholar part of the PhD. In the second year you start doing research. I think the PhD is 4 (or 3?) years long (part iii + 3 (or 2?) of research).

Regards

braindrain
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Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Fri Jan 12, 2007 12:12 pm

Congratulations! That is a world class department. But, even if you aren't the 1/5 of the part III that get to move on for the phd you can apply at that point to the US and have better qualifications than now AND still have the Cambridge prestige on your CV as a mphil or equivalent if they do that. Also there is something to think about regarding the phd programs in England from what I hear only take 3 years. Then you can move on to postdocs and even do one extra postdoc because you would have time to. That may be a better alternative than a phd program that keeps you 5,7, or 9 years!

nb
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Postby nb » Fri Jan 12, 2007 8:06 pm

It was realy easy to get accepted I am starting to think that maybe they do the major selection after part III. In the application they asked for the minimal things like transcripts and two letters of recommandation...

mingsy
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Postby mingsy » Tue Feb 27, 2007 8:21 pm

Part III was er.... an experience. They say that even old Professors that have done the Part III speak of it like old war stories amongst themselves. I highly reccommend it because of the amount of mathematics and theory you can cover in a year even if you don't get the PhD offer from DAMTP.

I an international student from Asia but I did my undergrad at Imperial College London (The UK's MIT equivalent - Abbus Salam was our a head at one time) so I was pretty much acquinted with the English weather and the English by the time I enrolled at Cambridge. Anyway, the make up the Part III's are fairly international anyway. Lots of left-handed Germans, rigourous French mathematicians and very hard-working Chinese. There aren't that many Americans or at least I didn't bump into a great many of them so you'd be a minority which is a good thing.

Other than being lectured by some of the best in their field (most notably Mike Green's String Theory lectures - a must for any aspiring String Theorist- while I was there they celebrated his 60th with the EuroString conference held at the Math department. John Schwarz came but I didn't see him) there's also the oppurtunity to meet Europe's next generation of leading mathematics and theoretical physics some of which will probably go on to win the Fields Medals or Nobel Prizes. Attiyah, Chandra, Wiles, Donaldson, Abbus Salam and pretty much all of the British mathematicians and theoretical physicists who've won those prizes all did Part III. So the "networking" oppurtunity is great.

After the first semester, I knew that High Energy wasn't for me because of it's detachment from experiment. I also understood why the String theory groups were so selective in choosing PhD candidates. It's because the problems they work on are really very hard and to commit to the field is actually a VERY big career decision one which you have to make very early in your PhD and requires lots of committment. So they have to look for evidence of great talent, hardwork and dedication (Part III is a good test- it's more like a PhD recruitment programme, which gives anyone a fair chance... just do well in the exams they say) in their applicants to ensure that they won't jeopardize their research career at such an early stage.

Anyway, if you do decide to have the Part III experience remember your ultimate goal... that is the "distinction" grade and work hard to do well in the exams. Most of the questions are usually "book-work" questions. To be fair, they can't possibly ask you to be too creative and original in thinking when doing the exam questions so they mostly ask you to reproduce to lecture notes in these questions. So it is possible and in some cases even necessary to remember answers without understanding them. The PhD students there that i've spoken even to admit that they only truly understood the lecture material in their first few years of their PhD.

Now I've decided that I wanted to work on theoretical condensed matter which still had many unsolved problems (high T-c supercons.) and new phenomena emerging from experiment (BE condensates, fractional statistics) but I didn't regret my Part III experience... in fact I think I learnt a great deal. It's like a freakin buffet of courses to take. The list is just WOW... It's so easy to over-indulge in lecture sitting and so easy to neglect the example sheets and classes. But I learnt that real learning doesn't happen in the lectures... it happens when you take the time to self-study and sit under a tree and figure out what all the scribbles mean. Anyway, I didn't get the prized distinction and had to settle with a Merit because I didn't put in as much work as I should have and there were other distractions as well (WORLD CUP!!!). But I did learn a lot and that's the most important thing... even if it didn't count as much when it came to exam time :( The upside is that in the rest of Brittain Part III is highly reputable. Even the theory group at my old Uni takes mostly Part III's and even Goldman Sachs London likes to hire PartIII's.

The other quirky thing about Cambridge are the colleges. You belong to your college first, then your deparment, then the University. It's a weird system to get used to, and one that can sometimes be very unfair. Like if you belong to a rich college you get plenty of perks and otherwise if you don't then... well it sucks. There's also the thing about tradition and dressing up for formal dinners and rowing mania. Oh yeah, it's also cool to see Steven Hawking move in and about the department. To mere mortals like me it just seemed like a surreal world. Cambridge is also very pretty and quint... it's the real deal in my opinion unlike the imitation that they have in Mass. USA.

Anyway all the best. I am applying to the US this year because I didn't bother with the GREs during my year at Cambridge... it would have been suicidal. Hope this reply wasn't too long. Just remembered... Jeff Goldstone also did Part III, he gave one lecture while I was there about broken symmetry... no surprise why.

braindrain
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Postby braindrain » Wed Feb 28, 2007 11:02 am

Is PartIII the same as a master's degree or is it the same as the Certificate of Postgraduate Studies? Does the department fund the Part III people if they don't know yet whether they are selected for PhD? In the US, it seems we have problem sets to hand in and get graded, but in that program is there none of that and just one big exam at the end of the course? Did you have any real time to do research?

It does look like an intense physics immersion program (like those foreign language immersion programs) :)

physicslover
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Postby physicslover » Wed Feb 28, 2007 12:43 pm

As far as I know, finishing Part III is short of "equivalent" to having a Master degree. The courses are like the first 2 years in PhD program in 1 year, so you don't really do research. You do have a choice to write a scientific essay (from a pool of topics w/ specified professors) instead of doing 1 of them 6 exams. And you do just have a big exam period at the end, no graded homeworks in the middle. Of course you have assignments and small discussion sessions but those are not graded (you are still being evaluated though I think).

Theoretical Physics at Cambridge is part of the Faculty of Mathematics, so your math will be very strong as well.

I think it'd be a great experience for those in it. Only the funding part is harder to find out... You are not guaranteed a PhD position. But it prepares you well to go to PhD anywhere, for sure you won't have to worry too much about courses in the first 2 years and can get started w/ your own research.

mingsy
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Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:44 pm

Postby mingsy » Wed Feb 28, 2007 2:13 pm

Yeah the only trouble is funding. But to be perfectly honest, funding isn't readily available to internationals in UK anyway. Often my friends at Cambridge had to rely on financial support from their own respective colleges and EU nationals from their respective countries to sponsor them. But I think the Fulbright might be available to US nationals.

Even actual for PhD itself, we were told very early that the department didn't have much to offer in terms of $$$ if we didn't fall into the EU or British resident category, with very little extra work available to PhD students in the form teaching examples classses and helping out during exam time. But I believe that if you do have the offer which is in itself very hard to get anyway, then $$$ shouldn't be a problem although it probably wouldn't come from the department itself.

Part III's technical name is "Certificate of Advanced Study in Math." so it isn't a Masters or MPhil. degree. Heck we don't even get a proper graduation ceremony. All the PartIIIs don't get to dress up in fur on graduation day and do the traditional walk to town to the Senate House to pull some guy's finger. Nevertheless, it has an enormous reputation for being most difficult of courses at Cambridge. In my year we even had one suicide unfortunately. So the irony was that it the toughest of the tough in terms of exams but the least appreciated in terms of paper qualifications awarded. The certificate just had a signature on it, not even a waxed stamp nor printed with fancy Cambridge paper. Anyway, stuff like that just cheapens the whole experience.

Oh yeah, I should mention how they pick their PhD students at the math department. They actually rank us according to our exams results and on the day we find out (and they have a very scary and traditional way of telling us- it's a surprise :D ) is the actual day they will let us know if we've made the cut. I think my magic number was 182 or something like that so like they couldn't/wouldn't offer me a place. But it's an old tradition and an old course that has been around for hundreds of years.

epsi
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Joined: Fri Feb 23, 2007 1:05 pm

Postby epsi » Wed Feb 28, 2007 3:46 pm

sounds lovely...
i'm so glad im going to school in the us

mathlete
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Joined: Tue Dec 05, 2006 12:22 am

Postby mathlete » Wed Feb 28, 2007 4:33 pm

Like you had a choice, epsi. Last I checked Wyoming and Minnesota aren't exactly the bastions of education that Cambridge is.

braindrain
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Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Wed Feb 28, 2007 4:35 pm

Another view from elsewhere in cyberspace:

http://www.lepp.cornell.edu/spr/2004-06/msg0061732.html

BUT, why the math one and not the physics part III?

nb
Posts: 38
Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:16 pm

Postby nb » Sat Mar 03, 2007 6:02 pm

The math is for someone who wants to continue to Phd in theoretical Physics while the physics Part III is for expiramental Phds.

ebgphy
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Joined: Wed Mar 07, 2007 5:55 pm

Postby ebgphy » Sat Apr 07, 2007 5:24 am

@nb
Have you found a scholarship for England, I am accepted to Durham Univ. but since I am not a EU citizen it is very hard for me to find a scholarship, and in my country government ins. don't show sympathy to give money for England, because life really expensive there, and some private ins. give money only for master degree :cry: I think I won't be able to go....
Perhaps you can give an idea: I thougt that I can meet my expenses for one year, and then I can find a job or scholarship from England if I can do very very well in first year courses, how does it sound? I have no idea about England...
any comment...

nb
Posts: 38
Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:16 pm

Postby nb » Sat Apr 07, 2007 10:20 am

I received full scholarship from one of the colleges in cambridge. I think that you should make an effort to apply to as many scholarships as you can. It seems to me that it is very possible to receive aid.

I am very happy that evently I will have the chance to study at cambridge, it seems great place.

braindrain
Posts: 158
Joined: Sat Dec 30, 2006 12:23 am

Postby braindrain » Sun Apr 08, 2007 10:11 am

Congratulations nb!!

I'm still confused on the DAMTP vs. the Cavendish. I kinda thought that the Canvendish was the famous one, but maybe they both are. The Cavendish had I believe Rutherford, Einstein, Planck, and Bohr there at the same time. But the DAMTP had Newton. (But Humboldt University in Berlin had 20 or 30 Nobel Laureates that taught there). Hard to say.

Is there an implication for that program or in general that all theoretical physics IS mathematical physics? I believe I see a lot of theoretical physicists around that are NOT mathematical physicists, but DAMTP and any other programs (I think Columbia) that has the applied math theoretical physics combo is really mathematical physics.

nb
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Joined: Sat Dec 02, 2006 5:16 pm

Postby nb » Sun Apr 08, 2007 10:20 am

Thank you very much !

If you want to do High Energy Physics your place is DAMTP. But maybe I do not see the all picture...Correct me if I wrong

mingsy
Posts: 16
Joined: Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:44 pm

Postby mingsy » Thu Apr 19, 2007 2:05 pm

@nb

Congrats on the scholarship. Hope you enjoy the Cambridge experience, just don't let the pressure/competition and generally inefficient administration of the colleges get to you. Oh yeah, make sure you get a good lock for your bike!

@braindrain

Mathematical physics or theoretical physics at DAMTP? It really depends on which group within DAMTP. Some groups like the HEP group are sometimes more theoretical than mathematical, depending on the problem at hand. Like you can't really work rigorously with QFT most of the time (except maybe algrbraic QFT which is rigorous) but you can with solitons if you're just looking at classical ones. But I think that the Relativity ppl (Hawking and co.) were mostly rigorous-ish except when it came to numerical GR. But I think the overall balance is still leaning towards theoretical physics, hence the TP in DAMTP.

Cavendish also had Phil Anderson for a few years. Their strength mostly lies in experimental research but they have a good Condensed Matter theory group (equipped with the group's own starbucks size esspresso machine for all to use).




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