EuskaltelEuskadi
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As the title says, I've just finished my MPhys Astrophysics (at Aberystwyth uni) and I'm starting my PhD in theoretical cosmology (more specifically, modelling dark energy, at ICG Portsmouth) in October.

I like to help people out and it'd be cool to answer any questions you might have, about
  • physics/ astrophysics/ cosmology-related undergraduate degrees
  • what you need to do as an undergrad for a successful PhD application
  • the general progression to post-grad
  • aiming for a career in academia/ research (eg lecturer, professor)
  • life as an undergrad physicist

If you have questions, ask away!
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saharan_skies
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how does it feel knowing that i, a wannabe astrophysics nerd, look up to you???? i really want to go to university and specialise in astrophysics like you did, what made you decide that this was the field for you??
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EuskaltelEuskadi
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(Original post by saharan_skies)
how does it feel knowing that i, a wannabe astrophysics nerd, look up to you???? i really want to go to university and specialise in astrophysics like you did, what made you decide that this was the field for you??
It feels weird that anyone should look up to me!

As for what made me decide to specialise in astrophysics; well, I've always been interested in space, which was why I applied for astro courses in the first place. To be honest, I just really like thinking about what the universe is doing (hence why I'm moving into cosmology as a postgrad) and don't want to stop thinking about it any time soon

Also, bear in mind that most of the specialisation in physics degrees doesn't come until 2nd or 3rd year, so you will have plenty of time while at uni to figure out what you like most and possibly switch courses/ specialisms if you need to.
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mcdonaldkylie
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I also want to study astrophysics and I am aiming for a career in research, but I wander if the complexity of physics will take away the love and I am just curious how you found the whole process (from GCSE's to A-levels and then to your degree).
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oShahpo
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1- How hard do you need to work during undergrad to be a PhD somewhere nice? Any tips on what you need to do?
2- How fun is a PhD in physics compared to say, first year physics at undergrad (I am talking about the personal satisfaction of doing it)?
3- Do you get any free time at all?
4- How competitive is it?
5- Do you have any money at all :P?
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saharan_skies
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That's exactly what I fear too!! I love Physics but sometimes it's hard for me to get my head around and fully understand the theory or what's going on. Sometimes I never do. (Anything about EM Induction at this stage makes me want to slam my head into a wall, since I'm just doing P3 at the moment)
(Original post by mcdonaldkylie)
I also want to study astrophysics and I am aiming for a career in research, but I wander if the complexity of physics will take away the love and I am just curious how you found the whole process (from GCSE's to A-levels and then to your degree).
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EuskaltelEuskadi
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(Original post by mcdonaldkylie)
I also want to study astrophysics and I am aiming for a career in research, but I wander if the complexity of physics will take away the love and I am just curious how you found the whole process (from GCSE's to A-levels and then to your degree).
I'm so sorry for the super late response :O

For me, the complexity is what I love about physics, and the fact that, the further you go into your physics education, the more you come to understand the world around you and all its intricate workings, from the behaviour of a single hydrogen atom in a potential well to the accelerating expansion of the Universe.

Some of it is a slog and when you're slaving over three pages of integrals at 1am trying to work out what this EM wave is doing in a circular waveguide the physics does lose some of its shine but it's so worth it.

In terms of the process- well, I can hardly remember what GCSE physics was about. I undoubtedly found A levels more difficult than my degree, up until the 4th (Master's year) where the volume of work and the expected quality and standard quadrupled (at least). I felt that A levels tried to cram too much into too short a space of time, compared to a degree where you have much more specialised course allowing for a really in depth look at the topic.

Above all, to survive in research you must have passion for your subject and a deep motivation to discover more about it. These things have to come from within. The complexity of the subject goes hand in hand with this (but remember, at research level, you will be focusing on one tiny, tiny aspect of the subject for years, and will therefore get to know and understand it very well).
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EuskaltelEuskadi
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(Original post by oShahpo)
1- How hard do you need to work during undergrad to be a PhD somewhere nice? Any tips on what you need to do?
2- How fun is a PhD in physics compared to say, first year physics at undergrad (I am talking about the personal satisfaction of doing it)?
3- Do you get any free time at all?
4- How competitive is it?
5- Do you have any money at all :P?
Sorry for the delayed response, life got in the way of TSR :O

To answer your questions:

1) You need as a bare minimum, a 2:1. In practice though, almost all offers for PhD places go to those with a 1st class degree. How hard you have to work depends on how easy you find it to get those grades :P Much more important than grades, however, is getting some research experience while an undergrad. This means that you will get some idea of whether you actually enjoy research before you embark on a career in it, as well as giving you something very valuable to talk about in PhD interviews. Examples of undergrad research experience are: writing a final year dissertation (generally compulsory at most unis anyway) or finding a supervisor who will help you do a summer project. This could be at your own uni or elsewhere. You'd most likely be doing this work for free.

2) I haven't started my PhD yet so I'm not best placed to comment, but the whole experience of doing a PhD is completely different from an undergraduate degree. You're doing research, not being taught, so literally from day 1 you are sitting down at your desk in the office and trying to come up with new ideas. For some people this is fun; for others, it's hell. If you manage to get out the other side intact, I think it's the most rewarding thing in the world.

Getting a degree in physics is still pretty f-ing awesome too, though.

3) Undergrad, yes, lots, if you manage your time properly. I am planning to treat my PhD like a 9-5 job, so most evenings and weekends will be mandatory free time. This is mainly to look after my own mental health.

4) In my field (theoretical cosmology), extremely competitive. Most departments will only have funding for ~3 new students per year, and sometimes only 1 or none. Consider the number of departments in the UK who do research that you're interested in (probably ~15-20) and you're looking at very few funded places indeed.

I considered myself a pretty strong candidate (really good research experience in the field, excellent grades, strong writing skills) and of 9 applications I made, I had 3 interviews and of those 3 interviews received 1 offer. Speaking to friends and other candidates, this was pretty much average. Out of the 17 of us 4th year physics students at my uni, only 4 of us have fully funded PhD offers (I think about 15 of us applied).

5) Yes, haha :P I was lucky to get a pretty big student loan and go to uni in one of the cheapest towns to live in the country. Plus I have a summer job and some savings, so I'm getting by. Holding out for my first PhD stipend payment in October though (~£1200 a month- luxury!).
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