Advise on MSc in theoretical physics/applied mathematics?

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Zozo
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Aug 20, 2011 2:19 pm

Advise on MSc in theoretical physics/applied mathematics?

Postby Zozo » Sat Aug 20, 2011 3:39 pm

Hi,

I graduated from the University of York with a BSc in theoretical physics with a first class honours. Due to circumstances I wasn’t able to apply for masters this year, but I really want to pursue further studies. I am mainly interested in doing an English taught MSc that deals with quantum mechanics, general relativity and/or string theory from a theoretical physics/applied mathematics point of view. Searching on the internet I found some very interesting universities such as the University of Munich (Theoretical and Mathematical Physics ), Cambridge (DAMTP), ICL (MSc in Physics or in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces) and ETH Zurich (I am avoiding the USA universities due to lack of money). I like the courses because they focus on the fundamentals of physics (I care little about the application of physics), but if anybody knows any other alternative good universities than please let me know.

At the moment I am most interested in the Theoretical and Mathematical Physics programme offered the University of Munich, because it offers a two year course, combining a wide range of very interesting modules and 6 months of research. I do not know much about the research offered by the university and I was wondering if anybody has any information on this?

Furthermore, I would really like to know what you guys think my chances are of getting accepted by any of these universities. Keep in mind that I realised at a late stage that I wanted to do a MSc, therefore I have no extra research experience besides computational laboratory and my BSc project that I have done last year (so this would probably reduce my chances). But I do have (very) good marks for all the mathematics/mathematical physics, quantum mechanics and special relativity modules (and most other theoretical/mathematical based topics) and I am Dutch (I’ve heard that universities like to have international students for some reason).

Also, I sort of have no plans for this coming year (it’s too late to get accepted by any university at this point as far as I know), so does anybody has any realistic advice on what I could this year to increase my chances of getting accepted.

Thank you very much in advance,

Zozo

Minovsky
Posts: 99
Joined: Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:05 pm

Re: Advise on MSc in theoretical physics/applied mathematics?

Postby Minovsky » Sun Aug 21, 2011 5:06 pm

If MSc is your end goal, then you are right to avoid US schools (your interest in a taught MSc seems to imply this). If your end goal is a PhD, then you may want to consider some US universities as 1) you can apply to US PhD programs with just a BSc and 2) all US PhD programmes are funded.

Zozo
Posts: 2
Joined: Sat Aug 20, 2011 2:19 pm

Re: Advise on MSc in theoretical physics/applied mathematics?

Postby Zozo » Sun Aug 21, 2011 5:30 pm

Hey Minovsky,

Thank for your reply. I am very ignorant when it comes to the US education system, so correct me if I’m wrong, but I have the feeling that the US top tier universities are very difficult to get in compared to the European top tier universities. I would have no idea how my UK grade converts to the US grade (GPA?). And also, I have the feeling that for American universities extra (outside the university) research experience is considered to be even more important than for European universities.

But if you think I have a chance of getting accepted by these universities, could you recommend me some good universities with interesting courses? I’m mainly interested in quantum mechanics, special relativity and the so called “theory of everything” (quantum field theory and string theory). This is also a reason why I first want to get an MSc and then maybe an PhD, because I first need to learn a lot more about these areas of physics before I can conduct any sort of research. Right?

Cheers,

Zozo

P.S. All the European universities that I have mentioned in the first post, except for Cambridge, offer courses that are both taught and research Masters

Minovsky
Posts: 99
Joined: Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:05 pm

Re: Advise on MSc in theoretical physics/applied mathematics?

Postby Minovsky » Fri Aug 26, 2011 11:57 am

If you're only looking at "top" universities, staying away from the US may be a good choice. Even some of the best US applicants get rejected from "top" universities here. I would go to department websites to see if they have any statistics on international students. A lot of US universities do good research, but are not top tier/name brand institutions. If you're willing to to go to a school without a big name, there are some school that may interest you. I don't know of any QFT/String Theory schools other than the big names since that is not my field of interest.

Research experience in general is what is looked at in US applications, it doesn't have to be from "outside the university." Most students get their research experience by working with professors at their own institution. Your BSc project would probably count as research experience.

US PhD programs typically spend the first 2 years or so focused on coursework, that's why it is standard for US students to go straight to their PhD after their bachelors.

bfollinprm
Posts: 1197
Joined: Sat Nov 07, 2009 11:44 am

Re: Advise on MSc in theoretical physics/applied mathematics?

Postby bfollinprm » Fri Aug 26, 2011 1:08 pm

In the US, you might have more luck applying to applied mathematics programs since these often require less research experience and are more based on grades. I know a lot of string theorists are moving into math departments anyways--there's less pressure to bring in big grants.* Two schools outside of the top 10 I know have switched at least some of their QFT and string theory faculty to applied maths are UCSD and UC Davis (my current institution). A quick search will easily turn up more; a semi-accurate ranking for applied maths programs can be found at http://tinyurl.com/3au2bjo, while for physics it's here: http://tinyurl.com/3jgepef. Schools good at both are likely to have excellent mathematical physicists in the applied maths department, though there's certainly not 100% correlation.

If you apply to US programs, you will almost certainly have to sit the GRE (and either the Physics GRE or Maths GRE), which are non-trivial endeavors in Europe. The MGRE and PGRE are considered quite hard, and you should aim for a near-perfect score to get into top universities. Most applied maths departments will take either, so take a look at both and see which one suites you best.

*This also means its somewhat harder to get a graduate research stipend in applied math, but that's a problem in elementary theory in physics departments anyways. Regardless, you'll probably be a teaching assistant for at least 2 years, and probably longer, during your PhD. A bit of a drag, but not the end of the world.




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