British undergrad

  • This has become our largest and most active forum because the physics GRE is just one aspect of getting accepted into a graduate physics program.
  • There are applications, personal statements, letters of recommendation, visiting schools, anxiety of waiting for acceptances, deciding between schools, finding out where others are going, etc.

determinant
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Dec 19, 2007 10:11 am

British undergrad

Postby determinant » Wed Dec 19, 2007 10:32 am

Hi,

I'm currently an undergrad in my third and last year at Cambridge Uni, UK reading maths with a concentration in theoretical physics. I would like to stay here for Part III next year and then apply for US graduate school in physics. Is there anyone here who was an undergrad in the UK as well and decided to move to the US for a PhD?

I'm particularly interested in the grades one would need to have to be competitive in admissions at some of the top school. Particulary in which top percentile of the school one should be in since the grading system in the UK is slightly different from the US one (there are no GPAs). Also, how important is summer research experience? Does non-academic experience help? (i.e. proving you are well-rounded etc.)

Furthermore, I know grad school should take about 5 years in the US but I have had a look at the curriculum of some and it overlaps largely with what we are doing right now and what is being taught at Part III, more or less covering the first two years. Is it possible to skip these and take quals directly and has anyone done this? How long does it usually take for international student to finish the PhD program?

Sorry for the long post, thanks for the following comments!

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Postby grae313 » Wed Dec 19, 2007 2:58 pm

To address a few of your questions:

Summer research (and winter, spring, and fall research) is EXTREMELY important. If you are not already involved in research, you absolutely need to do so. Top schools like MIT list research experience as the first or second thing they look for in an applicant. I spoke to admission advisers at schools from Cornell to UC Santa Cruz, and they all said that classwork is only the first two years of your degree. Afterwards, your job is research, and they want to know if you will be good at this job. They want you to have research experience and a letter writer who can comment on it. The more the better.

As for grades, well, I don't know your system and how it scales, but if you are looking to get into one of the best programs in the world, expect that the school has several dozen or so spots and the top several hundred young minds in the world applying for them. Your grades should distinguish you as being one of the very best physics students at your school (top 5%)

Non-academic stuff doesn't help as much as it did for undergrad admissions. They won't hurt, and can help if they show skills that will be helpful in grad school. But for the most part, you are going to eat, sleep, and *** physics for the next 5-6 years and they mostly care about how good a physics student and researcher you will be.

I'm a little unsure about not taking your first two years of courses. From a bureaucracy standpoint, you may need to have a certain minimum number of units under your belt before you are allowed to advance to candidacy. I would pick a school, call them up, and ask. You may very well be able to pass the quals your first year and begin research towards your Ph.D. right away, or you may have to take a few units of electives first.

stardust
Posts: 109
Joined: Fri Sep 21, 2007 8:15 pm

non-academics and fellowships?

Postby stardust » Mon Dec 24, 2007 5:18 pm

grae313 says: Non-academic stuff doesn't help as much as it did for undergrad admissions.

I thought so too. But then, I see some fellowships care about leadership skills. So doesn't that come back to the non-academics? Did anyone have that experience?

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Postby grae313 » Mon Dec 24, 2007 9:27 pm

well ok, maybe for the random fellowship here and there, but in terms of padding your application and helping your *admissions* chances, every source I've seen says "yeah, it's good, but we really care about the physics."

CondorSection17
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Dec 25, 2007 6:43 pm

Applying from UK for PhD in USA

Postby CondorSection17 » Tue Dec 25, 2007 6:52 pm

Well I have lots of info, so much that I cannot respond in length now...why??? Because I am still applying to US grad school - it is a pain.

OK, having done a poorly in GRE, we shall see how good my advice is but essentially you have to satisfy the following:

Be as high 1st as possible and if near the top ask recommenders to include that in your rec. letter.

Research experience absolutely required, which is why I strongly urge you to do part 3 , it gives you time to prepare for GREs and start applications early and do research if you can do two projects fine but one will still be fine. The whole point of grad school is to do those classes as we dont really get to cover everything in UK. But yes some schools will look what you have done and ( others correct me if I am wrong ) will either waive a class requirement or ask you to sit a test.
Contacts really help I think - at least I hope so in my case. So find out from profs if they know people in certain places and see if these people are doing what you are interested in.

More later, but seriously these application take a long time especially finding out what is due when, where it goes who does what etc etc.

CondorSection17
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Dec 25, 2007 6:43 pm

Postby CondorSection17 » Tue Dec 25, 2007 6:54 pm

ditto on non academics useless unless you are asked about a sep. personal statment of "concise 2-4 pages". It is something popular in UK, does not make you good at research though...

woooster
Posts: 65
Joined: Thu Jan 03, 2008 3:27 pm

British undergrad

Postby woooster » Thu Jan 03, 2008 4:05 pm

I think it takes 5 years and up to finish PhD in theory. Of course it is shorter, if you skip grad classes.

You said part 3 is similar to first 2 year at US, you actually mean that you will take QFT, standard model, string theory which are 2nd year courses at US, right? I don't think you guys do a one year graduate QM, EMM, Stats. mech? This is a standard in every US school, and they wouldn't let you skip, even though you did QFT. In my school, grad student who did part 3 tripos, or EU master, have to take the 1st year standard classes.

Also, they retake QFT in their first year as well. So, I guess they take 2 years US grad classes in one year. But the QFT here may be "different." I remember the guys who did QFT in his own country saying that the one they took are like ~1/2 of our QFT class at US. I read David Tong's QFT notes from part 3, when I took QFT. It basically covers first 4 chapters of peskin. And our QFT covers beyond that, including renormalization, renormalization group, yang-mills theory, functional intergral, etc.

Hope this help

hg
Posts: 7
Joined: Thu Sep 27, 2007 1:07 pm

Postby hg » Sun Jan 06, 2008 9:39 am

I suppose the best advice I can give is to spend the whole of the next summer holiday trying to get a good GRE. And also make sure you can get a excellent reference from your DOS, and try to find two other ppl that will write good references.

I have been told that you can ask the schools to drop some conditions if you get an offer. Especially given that you will be doing the Part III, they would be open to the idea.

@ woooster, the Part III high energy physics, relativity and cosmology courses cover all of the stuff that are done in the first two years in the US (the renormalisability stuff is covered in the Lent term in Advanced QFT, and QM, EM and Stat Mech are covered in the third year of undergrad).

determinant
Posts: 2
Joined: Wed Dec 19, 2007 10:11 am

Postby determinant » Mon Jan 07, 2008 7:40 am

Thank you everyone for your helpful replies! Happy New Year as well.

Yes, has hg said, QM, EM and StatsMech are done in the last year of undergrad. But it's good to know that people regularly skip the first year of the PhD and that one could even skip both.

A lot of emphasis has also been put on gaining research experience over the summer. I am slightly confused here because different subjects seem to have different ideas about what constitutes research 'experience'. In applied subjects involving lots of experiments and lab work (bio/engineering) students seem to do their own projects and then to publish the results whereas it seems to be rather impossible in fields like pure maths.

How is it in physics? If you say one should try to gain research experience, do you mean trying to get published? Or rather to work with a team over the summer to get an idea what research is all about while also working on some problems, however not with the primary aim of getting published, but just so that group can get an idea about you and your interests/abilities? (i.e. to gain experience and to get a reference but not necessarily to publish)

Which projects at which schools have you guys worked on?

Thanks again for your replies, they have extremely helpful. Keep them coming!

User avatar
grae313
Posts: 2297
Joined: Tue May 29, 2007 8:46 pm

Postby grae313 » Mon Jan 07, 2008 8:45 pm

RG began a thread asking about undergraduate research and many have posted there with their experiences. With a little looking you should be able to find it. Publications are not required, but are a huge plus. The main thing is that you join a team who is engages in some sort of research. If you want to be an experimentalist, join an experimental group, and if you want to do theory, join a theory group. The sorts of groups you should look for are the kind that are doing research that eventually leads to publications, but if you aren't there long enough to come up with publishable results, it's not the end of the world. Don't just think summer, think part time job year round, full time in the summer. Many students here do research throughout their junior and senior years and fulltime durring the summer, or even longer. If you participate in a continuous project like this, you should end up with your name somewhere on a paper.

woooster
Posts: 65
Joined: Thu Jan 03, 2008 3:27 pm

British undergrad

Postby woooster » Thu Jan 10, 2008 12:15 am

I understand what hg means. Almost all international student learn their undergrad QM from sakurai and emm from jackson anyway. My only point is that they still take those courses in their first year. I am speaking it as personal experience. I am sure depending on what schools u end up with, it's different.

About QFT, of course I understand u learn renormalization stuffs somehow. My only point is that we did that in our qft 1 and we still have our adv. qft too, and standard model 1 and 2. Again, two of the part 3 student took General relativity with me in their first year. I don't know why they all retake it then.

Is hg guessing or speaking it out of his own experience?




Return to “Prospective Physics Graduate Student Topics”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 3 guests