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Physics and Philosophy, Oxford

Hey, I'm a 2nd year physics and philosophy student at oxford with a couple of weeks to kill before term starts. I know a couple years ago I'd scroll through every forum I could find talking about the course to see if I'd like it, so I thought it's only fair to give something back.

Feel free to ask any questions about the course, the admissions process (PAT + interview) or anything else Oxford related and I'd be happy to try and answer.

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Original post by petrolhead008
Hey, I'm a 2nd year physics and philosophy student at oxford with a couple of weeks to kill before term starts. I know a couple years ago I'd scroll through every forum I could find talking about the course to see if I'd like it, so I thought it's only fair to give something back.

Feel free to ask any questions about the course, the admissions process (PAT + interview) or anything else Oxford related and I'd be happy to try and answer.


first of all do you like the course?

I have done an EPQ about the Fermi Paradox(Aliens) do you think this would help alot at the interview/ is it the type of thing thats studied?

What was the interview like? Was it mostly physics(I haven't taken any humanities subjects - will this disadvantage me?)
Original post by isiaiah d
first of all do you like the course?

I have done an EPQ about the Fermi Paradox(Aliens) do you think this would help alot at the interview/ is it the type of thing thats studied?

What was the interview like? Was it mostly physics(I haven't taken any humanities subjects - will this disadvantage me?)


The course is great!! I really enjoy it and I feel like most people who pick physics and philosophy know it's for them so end up liking it a lot.

In terms of the interview: I had 2 physics interviews, 1 maths interview, 1 physics and philosophy interview and 1 philosophy interview. So the main focus is physics and maths, and often if they feel like you wouldn't do well on the philosophy side of the course then they can still offer you a place to do physics.

The fact that you haven't done any humanities subjects wouldn't disadvantage you completely, as long as you're doing some extra reading so that you haven't completely forgotten how to structure an argument etc. The philosophy interview is more like a discussion, where they ask general philosophical questions, you give an answer and then they try to play devil's advocate and make you defend your opinion. As long as you're confident doing this then not doing humanities subjects doesn't matter at all.

The EPQ is great to show personal interest, but in most of the interviews (especially physics) the personal statement is barely talked about and so they probably wouldn't ask you about it
Original post by petrolhead008
The course is great!! I really enjoy it and I feel like most people who pick physics and philosophy know it's for them so end up liking it a lot.

In terms of the interview: I had 2 physics interviews, 1 maths interview, 1 physics and philosophy interview and 1 philosophy interview. So the main focus is physics and maths, and often if they feel like you wouldn't do well on the philosophy side of the course then they can still offer you a place to do physics.

The fact that you haven't done any humanities subjects wouldn't disadvantage you completely, as long as you're doing some extra reading so that you haven't completely forgotten how to structure an argument etc. The philosophy interview is more like a discussion, where they ask general philosophical questions, you give an answer and then they try to play devil's advocate and make you defend your opinion. As long as you're confident doing this then not doing humanities subjects doesn't matter at all.

The EPQ is great to show personal interest, but in most of the interviews (especially physics) the personal statement is barely talked about and so they probably wouldn't ask you about it


Thanks!
Reply 4
Original post by petrolhead008
Hey, I'm a 2nd year physics and philosophy student at oxford with a couple of weeks to kill before term starts. I know a couple years ago I'd scroll through every forum I could find talking about the course to see if I'd like it, so I thought it's only fair to give something back.

Feel free to ask any questions about the course, the admissions process (PAT + interview) or anything else Oxford related and I'd be happy to try and answer.

Hi! Thanks for this post,
Could you let me know what grades you got at A-level / GCSE and what your offer was? I know PhysPhil is a really competitive course and am a bit worried about the fact that I am only doing 3 A-Levels.

I am currently predicted A*A*A for Maths, Physics and Further Maths respectively. In GCSEs I got 11A*s and 2As. On top of this I decided to take the Philosophy AS level outside of school and studied it on my own to get a feel for philosophy as my school didn't provide the subject. Sadly though I got a C because of my lack of knowledge in structuring philosophical answers. Would this disadvantage me?

Thanks in advance!
Original post by Biteri
Hi! Thanks for this post,
Could you let me know what grades you got at A-level / GCSE and what your offer was? I know PhysPhil is a really competitive course and am a bit worried about the fact that I am only doing 3 A-Levels.

I am currently predicted A*A*A for Maths, Physics and Further Maths respectively. In GCSEs I got 11A*s and 2As. On top of this I decided to take the Philosophy AS level outside of school and studied it on my own to get a feel for philosophy as my school didn't provide the subject. Sadly though I got a C because of my lack of knowledge in structuring philosophical answers. Would this disadvantage me?

Thanks in advance!


Hey! So I did the IB so I'm not sure how much help I can be here (my offer was 39 766 HL) but the standard A Level offer (and I don't think they ever deviate from this) is A*AA.

I wouldn't worry at all about (a) doing 3 A Levels or (b) your Philosophy AS. First off, the A Levels you're doing are probably the most relevant you could do for the course (doing A Level Further Maths is more useful than doing A Level Philosophy, for example) and so the number of A Levels you're doing doesn't matter at all.

More importantly, though, they really don't care that much about GCSE grades or even AS grades. No matter what you've got in the past, if you're studying the right subjects (which you are) the only things they care about are (a) your performance on the PAT (b) your performance at interview. In that sense it's a bit of a brutal process because a lot of emphasis is put on the PAT and if you don't do well in it you won't progress, no matter what your grades beforehand. But hopefully that stops you worrying cause you've got nothing to worry about!
Reply 6
Original post by petrolhead008
Hey! So I did the IB so I'm not sure how much help I can be here (my offer was 39 766 HL) but the standard A Level offer (and I don't think they ever deviate from this) is A*AA.

I wouldn't worry at all about (a) doing 3 A Levels or (b) your Philosophy AS. First off, the A Levels you're doing are probably the most relevant you could do for the course (doing A Level Further Maths is more useful than doing A Level Philosophy, for example) and so the number of A Levels you're doing doesn't matter at all.

More importantly, though, they really don't care that much about GCSE grades or even AS grades. No matter what you've got in the past, if you're studying the right subjects (which you are) the only things they care about are (a) your performance on the PAT (b) your performance at interview. In that sense it's a bit of a brutal process because a lot of emphasis is put on the PAT and if you don't do well in it you won't progress, no matter what your grades beforehand. But hopefully that stops you worrying cause you've got nothing to worry about!

That's good news!
Thanks for your reply :smile:
Original post by petrolhead008
Hey, I'm a 2nd year physics and philosophy student at oxford with a couple of weeks to kill before term starts. I know a couple years ago I'd scroll through every forum I could find talking about the course to see if I'd like it, so I thought it's only fair to give something back.

Feel free to ask any questions about the course, the admissions process (PAT + interview) or anything else Oxford related and I'd be happy to try and answer.


I am currently studying physics, maths, RS and art (AS). I was not completely sure of what I wanted to study when I chose my options, I was gearing mostly towards either a degree in philosophy and logic, but I love physics too much to not take it further. I have always been interested in both physics and philosophy together (also art and architecture, hence the AS) and I believe this course would be brilliant.

However, I am not taking further maths. Even though It is not stated as a requirement, I am concerned this will be a great disadvantage to me and I won't be taken seriously in the interview, if I get one in the first place. Have you any ideas for maths work, literature and courses/activities I can do outside the classroom so I can become more adapted to the difficulty and concepts of maths useful in the course?

I am doing a lot of wider reading on the topics of philosophy and physics, however I feel this is not enough. My maths teacher stated (after I raised my concerns) that he knew a few of his mates at Oxford did not take further maths A level and caught up in the year 13 summer, he suggested I attend some maths societies at the school and I shouldn't be too worried about it if I do end up applying for the course. How common is this and is it advisable?

PS. At my school, if you take further maths, you are required to take it as a 5th A level or As level because they teach double maths as one subject.
Thank you in advance :redface:
Original post by _Basquiat
I am currently studying physics, maths, RS and art (AS). I was not completely sure of what I wanted to study when I chose my options, I was gearing mostly towards either a degree in philosophy and logic, but I love physics too much to not take it further. I have always been interested in both physics and philosophy together (also art and architecture, hence the AS) and I believe this course would be brilliant.

However, I am not taking further maths. Even though It is not stated as a requirement, I am concerned this will be a great disadvantage to me and I won't be taken seriously in the interview, if I get one in the first place. Have you any ideas for maths work, literature and courses/activities I can do outside the classroom so I can become more adapted to the difficulty and concepts of maths useful in the course?

I am doing a lot of wider reading on the topics of philosophy and physics, however I feel this is not enough. My maths teacher stated (after I raised my concerns) that he knew a few of his mates at Oxford did not take further maths A level and caught up in the year 13 summer, he suggested I attend some maths societies at the school and I shouldn't be too worried about it if I do end up applying for the course. How common is this and is it advisable?

PS. At my school, if you take further maths, you are required to take it as a 5th A level or As level because they teach double maths as one subject.
Thank you in advance :redface:


Great to hear about your enthusiasm for the course! So as for further maths, not doing it at A Level will not disadvantage you at interview: they only ask questions concerned with the material covered in A Level Maths (I'm pretty sure that's the same with questions in the PAT, but you'd have to check the PAT syllabus to see which topics you've covered in school. There were a few I hadn't since I'd done HL Maths as part of the IB) so you definitely would be taken seriously! Quite a few people in my year now hadn't done further maths and they got in!

The only way not doing further maths would disadvantage you is that people doing further maths have more exposure to maths and so have more practice in solving problems. The actual content itself isn't needed for interview.

In terms of preparatory maths you'd do before the course, that's only really worth worrying about once you've got your offer! You're given an optional online course to look at over summer which goes over the basics of first and second order differential equations, complex numbers and all sorts of other things. Plus I'd also recommend Khan Academy, patrickJMT (YouTube) and Paul's Online Math Notes for learning new material by yourself. But I hope by now you know that if you just know the material you've been taught at A Level well then you'll be fine!

If you do want to do some extra work, the best thing to look at is in my opinion solving differential equations. Joining a maths club/society is good if you want to! But don't feel you need to in order to 'show' you care about learning maths. They don't really care about that - they care about how you do on the PAT and in the interview.

Hope this helps!
Original post by petrolhead008
Great to hear about your enthusiasm for the course! So as for further maths, not doing it at A Level will not disadvantage you at interview: they only ask questions concerned with the material covered in A Level Maths (I'm pretty sure that's the same with questions in the PAT, but you'd have to check the PAT syllabus to see which topics you've covered in school. There were a few I hadn't since I'd done HL Maths as part of the IB) so you definitely would be taken seriously! Quite a few people in my year now hadn't done further maths and they got in!

The only way not doing further maths would disadvantage you is that people doing further maths have more exposure to maths and so have more practice in solving problems. The actual content itself isn't needed for interview.

In terms of preparatory maths you'd do before the course, that's only really worth worrying about once you've got your offer! You're given an optional online course to look at over summer which goes over the basics of first and second order differential equations, complex numbers and all sorts of other things. Plus I'd also recommend Khan Academy, patrickJMT (YouTube) and Paul's Online Math Notes for learning new material by yourself. But I hope by now you know that if you just know the material you've been taught at A Level well then you'll be fine!

If you do want to do some extra work, the best thing to look at is in my opinion solving differential equations. Joining a maths club/society is good if you want to! But don't feel you need to in order to 'show' you care about learning maths. They don't really care about that - they care about how you do on the PAT and in the interview.

Hope this helps!


Thank you for the reply, it really helps to have the insight.

About the course, how much of it is dominated by the philosophy part. I understand that you can choose some of the topics you learn about, but in general, would you say that it is a 50/50 split, or a physics degree with philosophy bolted in here and there?

Once again, thanks!
Original post by _Basquiat
Thank you for the reply, it really helps to have the insight.

About the course, how much of it is dominated by the philosophy part. I understand that you can choose some of the topics you learn about, but in general, would you say that it is a 50/50 split, or a physics degree with philosophy bolted in here and there?

Once again, thanks!


No worries! So at the end of the first year you do 3 physics papers (2 maths papers and 1 mechanics/special relativity paper) and 2 philosophy papers (one logic paper and one general philosophy/philosophy of physics paper). I'd say the first year has been probably 60/40 physics/philosophy.

2nd year you study both physics and philosophy modules but the 3 exams at the end of second year are entirely physics (thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics). The philosophy modules (philosophy of science, epistemology and philosophy of physics [philosophy of quantum mechanics and philosophy of special relativity]) are a two-year course which only get examined at the end of third year.

Then in third year you can choose if you want to do more physics or more philosophy. Then in the fourth year you get a free choice.

Long story short: probably more physics than philosophy in the first two years at about a 60/40 ratio. Then you get to choose.
Original post by petrolhead008
No worries! So at the end of the first year you do 3 physics papers (2 maths papers and 1 mechanics/special relativity paper) and 2 philosophy papers (one logic paper and one general philosophy/philosophy of physics paper). I'd say the first year has been probably 60/40 physics/philosophy.

2nd year you study both physics and philosophy modules but the 3 exams at the end of second year are entirely physics (thermodynamics and statistical mechanics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics). The philosophy modules (philosophy of science, epistemology and philosophy of physics [philosophy of quantum mechanics and philosophy of special relativity]) are a two-year course which only get examined at the end of third year.

Then in third year you can choose if you want to do more physics or more philosophy. Then in the fourth year you get a free choice.

Long story short: probably more physics than philosophy in the first two years at about a 60/40 ratio. Then you get to choose.


Also, why did you choose the course, what were your expectations and how did the reality of the course compare to this? Are you more into the Physics side or the Philosophy side and what do you hope to do after the completion of the course (if you have any idea)?

I'm mainly asking because I love physics, but I am not sure if I want to go on after that to continue with Physics or do a masters in the area of Philosophy, Logic and Ethics. I'm wondering if the course is mostly for people who want to go into a career which is full of physics and numbers.

Thanks,
Or maybe I'm being too worried about the distant future. :^_^::h:
Original post by _Basquiat
Also, why did you choose the course, what were your expectations and how did the reality of the course compare to this? Are you more into the Physics side or the Philosophy side and what do you hope to do after the completion of the course (if you have any idea)?

I'm mainly asking because I love physics, but I am not sure if I want to go on after that to continue with Physics or do a masters in the area of Philosophy, Logic and Ethics. I'm wondering if the course is mostly for people who want to go into a career which is full of physics and numbers.

Thanks,
Or maybe I'm being too worried about the distant future. :^_^::h:


So I'd always been interested in and good at physics and maths at school, so I thought I was probably going to go down that route at university. Then over the summer after GCSEs I started learning about philosophy, just really through reading introductory texts and watching youtube videos. Initially I was interested in questions to do with ethics and morality, and also the philosophy of religion, but I also discovered that physics and philosophy was a course at Oxford and so started to try to find out what that was all about and read a bit about the philosophy of science. It didn't take long for me to realise I was really interested in those type of questions as well which made me apply for physics and philosophy.

The course is brilliant, the only thing which differed from my expectations was the amount of logic you do in first year. I wasn't really interested in it and found it quite difficult (by far the most difficult subject for me in the entire course so far!) and so I found that frustrating.

In terms of life after the course: no idea. People specialise in physics afterwards, in philosophy afterwards or do something completely different. One of the people who've just left is now teaching English in Spain. I wouldn't worry too much about life after any degree you do just yet, unless you want to do something like being a doctor/vet which requires a specific degree.
do you think anyone gets in with 3 A Levels? I'm doing Physics, Maths, and Drama (all predicted A*), but seems to be ridiculously competitive and I don't see why they would take someone without further maths.
Reply 14
Original post by YourPalCal
do you think anyone gets in with 3 A Levels? I'm doing Physics, Maths, and Drama (all predicted A*), but seems to be ridiculously competitive and I don't see why they would take someone without further maths.


Do you have some advice for maths/compsci interviews?
Reply 15
Original post by YourPalCal
do you think anyone gets in with 3 A Levels? I'm doing Physics, Maths, and Drama (all predicted A*), but seems to be ridiculously competitive and I don't see why they would take someone without further maths.

I think that a strong score in the PAT is the most important part of the application. I've spoken with 2 tutors who study at Oxford and they said that with a very good PAT score (like 80+) you're basically in unless you seriously mess up in the interview. They put a lot of weight on the PAT, more so than the A-levels you are doing.
Than you for answering questions! I will apply for Physics and Philosophy for the same reasons as you, however I have two questions:

1) I am a gap-year student, will that be a disadvantage? Will they require more from me?

2) How did you prepare for the PAT? I'm really nervous...
What college are you at?
Original post by petrolhead008
So I'd always been interested in and good at physics and maths at school, so I thought I was probably going to go down that route at university. Then over the summer after GCSEs I started learning about philosophy, just really through reading introductory texts and watching youtube videos. Initially I was interested in questions to do with ethics and morality, and also the philosophy of religion, but I also discovered that physics and philosophy was a course at Oxford and so started to try to find out what that was all about and read a bit about the philosophy of science. It didn't take long for me to realise I was really interested in those type of questions as well which made me apply for physics and philosophy.

The course is brilliant, the only thing which differed from my expectations was the amount of logic you do in first year. I wasn't really interested in it and found it quite difficult (by far the most difficult subject for me in the entire course so far!) and so I found that frustrating.

In terms of life after the course: no idea. People specialise in physics afterwards, in philosophy afterwards or do something completely different. One of the people who've just left is now teaching English in Spain. I wouldn't worry too much about life after any degree you do just yet, unless you want to do something like being a doctor/vet which requires a specific degree.


Thank you, this was really helpful and reassuring, good luck on the new year btw!
Original post by YourPalCal
do you think anyone gets in with 3 A Levels? I'm doing Physics, Maths, and Drama (all predicted A*), but seems to be ridiculously competitive and I don't see why they would take someone without further maths.


It is competitive, but like I've said, if you performed well on the PAT and at interview they would take you regardless of you doing futher maths or not. It's all about your performance on the things they test you on

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