Specializing in Theoretical Physics during a Masters Degree with a Physics Bachelor's

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aDfDs
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The university I applied to only offers theoretical physics for the Mphys but not a normal bachelor's degree. I would like to do a Master's degree (Msc) in another university, probably specializing in theoretical physics. Would this be possible with just a physics Bsc or would I need a theoretical physics Bsc (which I know some universities offer but not most)?
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NovaeSci
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It would indeed be possible as I know a few who have done it. You may find there's a bit of a learning curve due to the extra maths and computer programming aspects. But if you're still early in your degree, you can probably select these modules for your optional ones
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artful_lounger
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It's fine, just take as many mathematical/theoretical/programming modules as you can. A degree that is e.g. BSc Theoretical Physics will cover the same core content as a BSc Physics anyway; it just means you will usually have certain optional modules preselected for you as core modules, and you might do slightly less labwork in some courses. Doesn't really make or break anything either way.
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NovaeSci
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Artful_Lounger put it better than me. Which university are you looking at studying your BSc and MSci at?
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aDfDs
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(Original post by NovaeSci)
It would indeed be possible as I know a few who have done it. You may find there's a bit of a learning curve due to the extra maths and computer programming aspects. But if you're still early in your degree, you can probably select these modules for your optional ones
Okay, thank you for your reply! Basically, I've just realized that the university I'm planning to go to next year doesn't offer a theoretical physics BSc, only a theoretical physics MSc, but I was planning to do my Master's degree somewhere else. Honestly, I'm still not sure if I want to specialize in theoretical physics but I do want to keep that door open. I could have the same first three years as the people on the theoretical physics MSc track at my university if I chose the right electives (fourth year would be the masters and that's when I would probably go to another institution). Would this still set me at a disadvantage in a theoretical physics Masters degree or would it be very minimal?
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aDfDs
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(Original post by NovaeSci)
Artful_Lounger put it better than me. Which university are you looking at studying your BSc and MSci at?
BSc at Durham University and MSci I'm not really sure, probably somewhere in Europe (either another university in the UK or I was also looking at universities in the Netherlands, and ETH Zurich in Switzerland) or if I was really fortunate and got a scholarship maybe the US.
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NovaeSci
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(Original post by aDfDs)
Okay, thank you for your reply! Basically, I've just realized that the university I'm planning to go to next year doesn't offer a theoretical physics BSc, only a theoretical physics MSc, but I was planning to do my Master's degree somewhere else. Honestly, I'm still not sure if I want to specialize in theoretical physics but I do want to keep that door open. I could have the same first three years as the people on the theoretical physics MSc track at my university if I chose the right electives (fourth year would be the masters and that's when I would probably go to another institution). Would this still set me at a disadvantage in a theoretical physics Masters degree or would it be very minimal?
As long as you chose the right modules, the transition would be minimal. Even if you didn't study the extra modules, you probably would be able to transfer with no problems as many students do. If there are modules that are only 10 credits, you may be able to take an extra one or two, but not get credit for it. But this is at the discretion of the university.

You could even do your dissertation on a theoretical physics topic. Just remember an undergraduate degree is mainly for you to study a subject as broadly as possible. A lot of students may go into a Physics degree due to a passion for Quantum Physics, but by the end, may find they end up enjoying a completely different topic, such as String Theory. As I said, a BSc in Physics is to provide as broad as possible view of Physics as a whole, with an MSc when you begin to specialise, then a PhD when you specialise even further. Another example is Astrophysics: you can study Astrophysics with an undergraduate degree, but some don't and realise they have a passion for it once they've completed their BSc. But they are still able to go to a MSc in Astrophysics. It will involve a crash course at the beginning of the MSc and may require a bit more work at first, but it's definitely doable as many students have proved.

Is the Msc your Uni offers an integrated undergraduate Masters, or a standalone postgraduate Masters? If you do end up set on Theoretical Physics, then it may be worth checking if your Uni offers a Mathematics and Physics degree. It's highly unlikely they will provide a MSc in Theoretical Physics if they don't have a degree structure already in place to prepare students for this at undergraduate.
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aDfDs
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(Original post by artful_lounger)
It's fine, just take as many mathematical/theoretical/programming modules as you can. A degree that is e.g. BSc Theoretical Physics will cover the same core content as a BSc Physics anyway; it just means you will usually have certain optional modules preselected for you as core modules, and you might do slightly less labwork in some courses. Doesn't really make or break anything either way.
I see, thank you! I could basically do my first three years as if I was going to graduate with an MSc in Theoretical Physics (except I wouldn't stay to do the fourth year and just graduate in the third year with a BSc in Physics and with all my electives in Mathematics or Theoretical Physics modules)
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aDfDs
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(Original post by NovaeSci)
As long as you chose the right modules, the transition would be minimal. Even if you didn't study the extra modules, you probably would be able to transfer with no problems as many students do. If there are modules that are only 10 credits, you may be able to take an extra one or two, but not get credit for it. But this is at the discretion of the university. You could even do your dissertation on a theoretical physics topic. Just remember an undergraduate degree is mainly for you to study a topic as broadly as possible. A lot of students may go into a Physics degree due to a passion for Quantum Physics, but by the end, may find they end up enjoying a completely different topic, such as String Theory. As I said, a BSc in Physics is to provide as broad as possible view of Physics as a whole, with an MSc when you begin to specialise, then a PhD when you specialise even further.

Is the Msc your Uni offers an integrated undergraduate Masters, or a standalone postgraduate Masters?
Yeah I applied for just physics to most of the universities I applied to because I understand that I have very limited understanding of complex physics at this point, and obviously I am most enticed by popular topics like Quantum Mechanics. But maybe I'll go into university and discover a whole new different niche topic that I am really interested in. So I'm glad to know that a Physics BSc is the right track to keep my postgraduate options open.
My university offers an integrated Masters, the official name is "Theoretical Physics MPhys" (sorry, I mistakenly called it a MSc earlier)
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NovaeSci
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(Original post by aDfDs)
Yeah I applied for just physics to most of the universities I applied to because I understand that I have very limited understanding of complex physics at this point, and obviously I am most enticed by popular topics like Quantum Mechanics. But maybe I'll go into university and discover a whole new different niche topic that I am really interested in. So I'm glad to know that a Physics BSc is the right track to keep my postgraduate options open.
My university offers an integrated Masters, the official name is "Theoretical Physics MPhys" (sorry, I mistakenly called it a MSc earlier)
I've actually added a bit extra to my original post, which may go into a bit more detail if you want to re-read.

One thing I think is worth is adding is the finance aspect: you can get a tuition loan and maintence loan if you study the integrated masters at the same university; however, if you were to study an MSc at a separate university, you would only be able to get a postgraduate loan which is around £10k to cover all tuition fees and living expenses. If you change universities to study the integrated masters year (which I'm not sure if universities allow this) your current university will graduate you with a BSc, which will make you ineligible to study any more undergraduate years, even if a university does accept you on to year 4 of an undergraduate integrated masters year.
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aDfDs
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(Original post by NovaeSci)
I've actually added a bit extra to my original post, which may go into a bit more detail if you want to re-read.

One thing I think is worth is adding is the finance aspect: you can get a tuition loan and maintence loan if you study the integrated masters at the same university; however, if you were to study an MSc at a separate university, you would only be able to get a postgraduate loan which is around £10k to cover all tuition fees and living expenses. If you change universities to study the integrated masters year (which I'm not sure if universities allow this) your current university will graduate you with a BSc, which will make you ineligible to study any more undergraduate years, even if a university does accept you on to year 4 of an undergraduate integrated masters year.
If I ended up changing universities I wouldn't do an integrated Master's degree. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think a MSc is a 1 year post grad degree and the MPhys is always integrated as part of an undergraduate degree. I would do an MSc.
About tuition loans, I am a European student so very unfortunately I am no longer eligible for those. Where I do my Masters will most likely depend on what sort of scholarships or financing I can get from my country or other institutions.
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artful_lounger
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(Original post by aDfDs)
Yeah I applied for just physics to most of the universities I applied to because I understand that I have very limited understanding of complex physics at this point, and obviously I am most enticed by popular topics like Quantum Mechanics. But maybe I'll go into university and discover a whole new different niche topic that I am really interested in. So I'm glad to know that a Physics BSc is the right track to keep my postgraduate options open.
My university offers an integrated Masters, the official name is "Theoretical Physics MPhys" (sorry, I mistakenly called it a MSc earlier)
You'll cover quantum mechanics in any physics degree. Physics degrees normally cover more or less the same material because most are accredited by the IoP which requires they cover a range of topics, and so they all tend to be fairly similar outside of the optional modules available. So really the main difference between courses, and applicants with a physics degree applying to masters degrees and PhDs etc, will usually be a) their performance in the core modules b) what optional modules they took and c) what if any research experience they have beyond the undergraduate dissertation/project (this probably more relevant for applying to PhDs).

Also the above advice about funding NovaeSci is worth bearing in mind; also SFE won't fund a 1 year MSc if you already hold an MPhys/MSci/etc (undergraduate masters integrated course). However the funding is better for doing an MPhys as noted than BSc + MSc. If you wanted to go the MPhys + MSc route you would need to self-fund the masters or get some kind of funding from elsewhere (e.g. from scholarships etc offered by the university teaching that MSc, although substantial funding for masters courses generally is very limited at Oxbridge and more or less non-existent at most other unis)
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NovaeSci
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(Original post by aDfDs)
If I ended up changing universities I wouldn't do an integrated Master's degree. Correct me if I'm wrong but I think a MSc is a 1 year post grad degree and the MPhys is always integrated as part of an undergraduate degree. I would do an MSc.
About tuition loans, I am a European student so very unfortunately I am no longer eligible for those. Where I do my Masters will most likely depend on what sort of scholarships or financing I can get from my country or other institutions.
If from Europe, then just ignore my bit about loans in that case. But you are correct in saying an MSc is a 1-year postgraduate course. Different universities use different terminologies. MPhys is usually the case with undergraduate integrated Masters; however, at Glasgow, it's actually MSci, but the MSc postgraduate and MSci integrated has the exact same module choices. Also, unis like Cambridge use BA for undergraduate and, I'm assuming, MA for the masters. They're all the same either way, so I wouldn't get hung up on the name.

If you do end up really interested in the String Theory, Particle Physics and Cosmology side of Theoretical Physics, Durham actually do a course called that, which when you look at the modules, provides a ton of theoretical choices.

https://www.durham.ac.uk/study/courses/f3k209/

Do you intend on going on to a PhD?
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NovaeSci
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As artful_lounger mentioned regarding them asking for what research experience you have beyond the BSc dissertation project, a lot of Universities actually offer MRes (Masters by Research) degrees, which are also 12 months, but you actually spend it researching a topic of your choice. Or at least one the university offers that may spark your interest. This can be highly advantageous if planning on going straight to a PhD and provides you with the transition into research. The fees are usually only half the amount, also. Plus, you can usually ask to attend postgraduate lectures if you feel you want to learn certain topics relevant to your research. Just an idea for you to check out so you have researched as thoroughly as possible.
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aDfDs
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(Original post by NovaeSci)
If from Europe, then just ignore my bit about loans in that case. But you are correct in saying an MSc is a 1-year postgraduate course. Different universities use different terminologies. MPhys is usually the case with undergraduate integrated Masters; however, at Glasgow, it's actually MSci, but the MSc postgraduate and MSci integrated has the exact same module choices. Also, unis like Cambridge use BA for undergraduate and, I'm assuming, MA for the masters. They're all the same either way, so I wouldn't get hung up on the name.

If you do end up really interested in the String Theory, Particle Physics and Cosmology side of Theoretical Physics, Durham actually do a course called that, which when you look at the modules, provides a ton of theoretical choices.

https://www.durham.ac.uk/study/courses/f3k209/

Do you intend on going on to a PhD?
Sorry for the late reply.
About the PhD, as of right now I do intend to do one. I studied the international baccalaureate and I got to do a physics research project as part of that which I enjoyed a LOT, so I think I would really like to work in research. However, who knows what might happen in the next three years.
So overall, I should just stick to my choice of university and do straight physics? I could maybe have the option to look for a clearing place in another university that still has places open (e.g. Lancaster University) and offers undergraduate degrees like "Theoretical Physics" or "Physics and Theoretical Physics". But I don't know if this is a bit overkill considering I could do the theoretical physics optional modules at the university I am currently accepted as, just not graduate with the official "Theoretical Physics BSc" title (which, again, I'm not even sure I would 100% go for since I do think I enjoy theory more than experimenting but I would have to decide based on my university experiences in first and second year)
Sorry for the long reply, but you have been very helpful so far!
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NovaeSci
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(Original post by aDfDs)
Sorry for the late reply.
About the PhD, as of right now I do intend to do one. I studied the international baccalaureate and I got to do a physics research project as part of that which I enjoyed a LOT, so I think I would really like to work in research. However, who knows what might happen in the next three years.
So overall, I should just stick to my choice of university and do straight physics? I could maybe have the option to look for a clearing place in another university that still has places open (e.g. Lancaster University) and offers undergraduate degrees like "Theoretical Physics" or "Physics and Theoretical Physics". But I don't know if this is a bit overkill considering I could do the theoretical physics optional modules at the university I am currently accepted as, just not graduate with the official "Theoretical Physics BSc" title (which, again, I'm not even sure I would 100% go for since I do think I enjoy theory more than experimenting but I would have to decide based on my university experiences in first and second year)
Sorry for the long reply, but you have been very helpful so far!
Lancaster is a fantastic University. Along with Durham, I was at one time looking there for their Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology degree. To be honest, most degrees will be pretty much the same in the first year and will give you exposure to experimental and theoretical. It's not uncommon for students to switch to a different degree within the Physics ones.

The Physics degrees which have an added element such as Astrophysics, Theoretical Physics or Particle Physics, are just ways the University have made it easier for you to decide on a degree if you already know what you want to specialise in and don't need the stress or the confusion of trying to figure out compatible modules. You'll find students who don't know, or even students who have a feeling they want to do something specific, but are on the fence, will go straight for a Physics degree. This then gives the option to move over once you have had a bit of a taste.

But another thing is, whilst "Physics with..." degrees usually have the optional modules already chosen, you may end up deciding that you like Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics equally (or another area Physics). However, Theoretical Physics will have the core Physics, with added Physics and Theoretical modules; whereas Astrophysics will have the core Physics, with added Physics and Astrophysics modules. On the straight Physics degree, you could study core modules, but mix the Theoretical and Astrophysics modules, whilst not specialising in more advanced Physics topics.

I hope I haven't confused you, haha. I'm just using Astrophysics as an example, but it could be any other Physics discipline. This is just an example of how a few of the Universities I looked at work. But not all Universities offer this and may provide different set-ups such as dual honours degrees. The Uni I'll be going actually has single honours Physics with Astrophysics, which is actually a core-Physics degree, with a mix of Physics and Astrophysics optional modules; but also does a dual honours Physics and Astronomy degree, which is the same as the Physics with Astrophysics, but the optional Physics modules and projects are replaced with Astrophysics modules to provide more of a 50:50 balance if you get me?

But, don't worry if you don't specialise in Theoretical Physics at undergraduate, as lots of students have had no issues. As a theoretical physics graduate, you will constantly be learning new maths and new ways to program all throughout your career.

Max Tegmark is a famous Theoretical Physicist, featured on popular science shows, and he actually did his BA in Economics, and only specialised in Physics MA and PhD.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Max_Tegmark
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𝓖𝓱𝓸𝓼𝓽𝓵𝓪𝓭𝔂
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(Original post by aDfDs)
The university I applied to only offers theoretical physics for the Mphys but not a normal bachelor's degree. I would like to do a Master's degree (Msc) in another university, probably specializing in theoretical physics. Would this be possible with just a physics Bsc or would I need a theoretical physics Bsc (which I know some universities offer but not most)?
Going on Novaesci's post Lancaster does do a 4 year integrated masters in Theoretical physics and a 3 year bsc,.
https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/un...hys-hons-f321/
https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/un...bsc-hons-f340/
My daughter studies physics particle physics and cosmology 4 year masters and just finished her first year there.

First year is straight up physics and maths. Everyone has to learn the basics (it also has a bit of quantum mechanics in there as well)
It also gives you a chance to meet other like minded students as well before branching off into your niche fields in later years.

This is their handbook https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/mc...dbook16-17.pdf Its not a recent one as they are on their student portal, but the layout of the course is pretty much the same.
To say its been a covid year, the physics dept has been fantastic and she has loved the course a lot.
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