gnegnegne
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Hi, I'm an undergraduate student studying Physics in Europe. I was thinking of applying for a Master in a UK university. I was considering Cambridge and Imperial at the moment. I've read that Cambridge offers two courses: a MAst (predominantly taught) and a MPhil (predominantly research); on the other hand Imperial offers a MSc in Physics (with the possibility of one year of extended research). I'm planning to pursue a PhD, not necessarily in the UK.

Here in Europe a MSc usually lasts two years and has both a big part of teaching and a thesis at the end, therefore I have a few doubts about Cambridge courses, which seem to me a bit unbalanced (towards teaching or towards resarch) compared to the Imperial ones, but of course there must be some valid reason I can't see for this. Could you clarify my ideas?

What are your opinions on these courses and how do they compare? Is the research done during a MAst enough for a PhD outside Cambridge? And what about the taught parts during a MPhil?

P.S. Don't misunderstand me, of course at Cambridge they know better than me what's better for students, I would just like to understand how the Master system works in the UK
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alleycat393
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(Original post by gnegnegne)
Hi, I'm an undergraduate student studying Physics in Europe. I was thinking of applying for a Master in a UK university. I was considering Cambridge and Imperial at the moment. I've read that Cambridge offers two courses: a MAst (predominantly taught) and a MPhil (predominantly research); on the other hand Imperial offers a MSc in Physics (with the possibility of one year of extended research). I'm planning to pursue a PhD, not necessarily in the UK.

Here in Europe a MSc usually lasts two years and has both a big part of teaching and a thesis at the end, therefore I have a few doubts about Cambridge courses, which seem to me a bit unbalanced (towards teaching or towards resarch) compared to the Imperial ones, but of course there must be some valid reason I can't see for this. Could you clarify my ideas?

What are your opinions on these courses and how do they compare? Is the research done during a MAst enough for a PhD outside Cambridge? And what about the taught parts during a MPhil?

P.S. Don't misunderstand me, of course at Cambridge they know better than me what's better for students, I would just like to understand how the Master system works in the UK
With any of the masters degrees you can do a PhD. The taught course is more geared towards developing your knowledge and the research more towards developing your research skills so it depends on what you think you need to work on.
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gnegnegne
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If I chose the MPhil program, would the knowledge of a standard undergraduate program be enough to undertake a career in research without further studies? Might the "missing" year of advanced study be a disadvantage? Or would the "premature" research be a bonus? Or neither? I'm not only interested in the formal aspects (admission to PhD etc.), but on what are the best choices (if there are any) to become a well prepared physicist. Of course I would be eager to start doing research as soon as possible, but I'm not sure about the cons of skipping one year of additional studies (which seems to be standard everywhere except for Cambridge MPhil)

Perhaps it seems strange to me because the only independent work (I don't even know whether that can be called research) an undergraduate student does in my country is a project/thesis at the end of the BSc and on the other hand the MSc is usually well balanced between study and independent work...
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alleycat393
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(Original post by gnegnegne)
If I chose the MPhil program, would the knowledge of a standard undergraduate program be enough to undertake a career in research without further studies? Might the "missing" year of advanced study be a disadvantage? Or would the "premature" research be a bonus? Or neither? I'm not only interested in the formal aspects (admission to PhD etc.), but on what are the best choices (if there are any) to become a well prepared physicist. Of course I would be eager to start doing research as soon as possible, but I'm not sure about the cons of skipping one year of additional studies (which seems to be standard everywhere except for Cambridge MPhil)

Perhaps it seems strange to me because the only independent work (I don't even know whether that can be called research) an undergraduate student does in my country is a project/thesis at the end of the BSc and on the other hand the MSc is usually well balanced between study and independent work...
Undergrads here too would only have done their final year projects. And yes if the entry requirement is an undergrad degree for the MPhil that will be enough. It's not like you won't gain any additional knowledge. In research you are always learning and in some cases will need to go back to the basics.
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gnegnegne
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Thank you very much!
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kitchenroll99
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The cambridge course is essentially the fourth year of their undergraduate course, it might be a big step up depending on your background. There are lots of MSc courses in physics at other unis you could check out. If you are really motivated to do a PhD then maybe go straight into it. Personally I'd never do a PhD in physics as the job projects are bleak and it's just too much study.
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artful_lounger
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As above, the MASt is essentially the final year of the 4 year integrated undergraduate masters course. There are in fact thought three Physics-related MASt courses at Cambridge; the Physics one, which has a major project/dissertation which is 1/3 of the total marks for the qualification; the Astrophysics course, which is similar to the Physics one but the emphasis is on Astrophysical topics and they have some overlap with the 4th year (Part III) Maths course for certain relevant options; and finally the Part III Mathematics, which has much less "research" type work, and is mostly exam based, although you can submit an extended essay. For all of them, the exams are noted to be exceptionally challenging.

The Physics course (and department) focuses more on experimental work, although they have some theory in Condensed Matter fields. The astro department is pretty varied, and has both theory stuff in department and via Maths. Most of the theoretical physics work is done in Maths though, which at Cambridge consists of two departments: the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics (DAMTP) and the Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics (DPMMS). They're based on the same site and the division is somewhat more administrative than anything else, but as the title of the former department suggests, it has a major theoretical physics focus (this was the department Stephen Hawking was based in, for example). Part III Maths is the usual prerequisite for a PhD in either of the Maths departments there.

There is then also the MPhil, which will be research based (although you will might well end up going to some of the same Part III lecture courses, just without taking any exams). I would suggest if your aim is a PhD, you should consider what area you would want to do it in - if it's in theoretical physics (except condensed or maybe some astro topics), you should look into the MASt Mathematics course (Part III Maths). If it's in experimental, or maybe condensed matter theory (and not astro-) physics, then the MPhil is probably the best bet. If it's in astrophysics, and theory based, you might want to consider the MASt but otherwise an MPhil is probably more relevant. Do also look at the content of the MASt courses - if you haven't covered material at that level already, you might find it a better fit than the MPhil so you can actually get that background. But, if you are "ready for research" then do so. To my knowledge though either the MPhil or MASt is acceptable to go on to a PhD in either department (and undoubtedly elsewhere). In the UK generally it's fairly typical for students to go frmo a 4 year undergraduate-masters course (e.g. MPhys, MSci, MMath) to a PhD without doing a separate standalone MSc/MPhil (although there are exceptions, like DAMTP at Cambridge, which often expects external students to do the Part III even if they have a masters/undergraduate-masters already it seems).

For Imperial they have a few "flavours" of their Physics MSc, but for all of them you do a several month long research project/thesis over the summer; it is fully a 12 month programme (Oct-Oct, I believe). They also have an extended research version, where you do a 9 month research project in a second year after completing the first year. This latter option is probably most appealing to you. They do however also have their very well regarded Msc in Quantum Fields and Fundamental Forces, which is somewhat similar to the MASt Mathematics at Cambridge in focusing on theoretical physics with some advanced maths that relates to it (e.g. differential geometry, lie groups). The QFFF course however I think assumes a little less exposure to abstract mathematics than Part III at Cambridge. Oxford also have a relatively new MSc in Mathematical & Theoretical Physics, which again is similar to Part III at Cambridge for a theoretical physics masters. Imperial has a dissertation as a requirement, and Oxford has it as an option (being 10% or 20% of your work for Oxford, and I believe more for Imperial). However both, as with Part III at Cambridge, are designed as PhD preparatory programmes.

In terms of UK vs EU masters, in the UK a 1 year MSc is normally equivalent to the two year Bologna format masters in Europe. This is partly due to the fact that, as indicated above, normally such a course is in fact 1 full year - it does not end with exams in May-June and normally you do research in the summer period (although typically you'll begin working on it before then). The MASt programmes at Cambridge are the exception, rather than the rule. Imperial's page for the MSc QFFF for example specifically notes it is Bologna compliant and acceptable to continue to a Bologna format PhD in the EU.
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gnegnegne
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Woah! Things are much clearer now, I couldn't have asked for more. Thanks a lot
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