PhD FAQ

When should I apply?

Applications are usually received from October onwards, with the majority having been sent in by January. We would like you to send a short statement (perhaps fifty to one hundred words) of the general scientific areas you are interested in. After we receive applications, they are considered by the appropriate research group, and the Head of that Group will arrange for United Kingdom based applicants to visit the School for an interview (from about March onward). During this time we will be taking up the references that you offer. Within some short period after interviews have occurred we should be in a position to tell you whether we are in a position to offer you a place. Often this will be conditional on your examination results which may not be known at that stage. For overseas applicants it is often more difficult to arrange interviews. In these circumstances it is important you ensure that testimonials from several referees reach us with your application and that we have details of the courses you have taken or are taking. We generally make rapid decisions upon receipt of this information. Since distance sometimes makes rapid communication difficult you should feel free to contact the Postgraduate Admissions Tutor, by mail, telephone or e-mail.

What qualifications will I need?

Generally students who achieve first or upper second class Honours from a UK university, or its recognised overseas equivalent, are eligible to apply for PhD courses. At least a lower second class Honours degree will be required for Masters courses. For many people, these requirements are mandatory if they are to be awarded a grant to support their studies. Competition for such grants may be intense, the number of applicants greatly exceeding the available grants. For overseas applicants it is always helpful to us , and can speed up consideration of your application, if you can send us a list of the courses which you have studied during your first degree, along with grades if they are available.

What will the interview consist of?

You should consider the interview a two-way process, allowing the School to assess your academic potential and your ability to fit into the research environment, as well as allowing you to decide if the areas of current activity, the Group, School and the environment at Queen Mary are for you. The format of the interview will vary from group to group, you may have just one interview or you may talk separately to several of the academics working in your areas of general scientific interest. These are friendly and informal affairs, which you should not worry about. It is always useful for these if you can spend some time thinking about what scientific areas you might be interested in and how this relates to the current activities of the School. You may also like to talk with some of our present postgraduate students asking them for their views of the School and how their present view of research differs from their preconceived ideas when they were at the same stage as you are now. We will be interested to hear from you about project work which you have done, or are doing, during your first degree course.

How long does it take before you can tell me if I will be offered a place?

Queen Mary, like some other major physics Schools, receive many more applications than we are able to support. In an average year we may accept around 20 PhD students usng various sources of funding. Decisions on offers are often determined by the availability of funding. For overseas applicants we generally try to make very rapid decisions to allow time for applications for applications for scholarships to be made early. Often you will find it necessary to have already been accepted by a UK university prior to being able to submit an application for a scholarship (for example from your own government). For British Research Council studentships we are generally in a position to make decisions shortly after interviews have taken place, with offers usually conditional on examination results.

Will I be able to get a grant?

The regulations for grants and scholarships are made by the individual awarding bodies who often have very rigid deadlines. UK and EC applicants will normally be eligible for Research Council studentships. Queen Mary receives a number of such 'Quota' awards each year often earmarked for various research areas. If you are made a conditional offer by us it will usually be with the expectation that you will be offered one of these grants if you are eligible. You do not have to apply to yourself for one of these awards, it is dealt with by us after you know your degree classification. In addition to the normal 'Quota' studentships there are a number of other possibilities including Cooperative Awards in Science and Engineering (CASE) which are sponsored jointly by Research Council and other public and private) research organisation with a commercial interest in research. Some of our part-time Ph.D. students are supported under the Public Research Institutes (PRI) scheme which allows students to be registered for a higher degree at Queen Mary whilst being employed by a major research establishment (such as the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory or Daresbury, etc.).

Overseas applicants should discuss, at an early stage, the opportunities for scholarships in the UK with their own Government, institution, or with the British Embassy or High Commission to your country. In addition there are a number of scholarship schemes for which you may be eligible and which are listed later in this booklet.

Are there any Queen Mary funds available?

The University is, from time to time, able to provide full scholarships for Ph.D. or Master course studies. There are also a number of Queen Mary/Drapers Company Studentships for which you may be eligible. For most of our postgraduate students at Queen Mary there are opportunities to assist with marking, demonstrating or other areas of teaching; most students are able to supplement their grants or scholarships in this way. Outside Queen Mary some of our students also teach in a part-time capacity at Colleges of Further Education which again may provide a very significant enhancement to their income.

Where will I live?

You will see in the University Prospectus details of the College Halls of Residence, however, most of our postgraduate students choose to live in rented accommodation or flats. There is a College Accommodation Officer who will be pleased to help you make arrangements before you arrive. London is an extremely easy place to travel in, with an extensive Underground Railway and Bus service, giving easy options of living either within the heart of London (travel time 15 - 20 minutes), or in outlying areas close to its edge (typically 30 - 45 minutes travel time). You should ensure that you contact the Accommodation Officer straight away if you are offered a place at Queen Mary.

How will I fit into the School and research group?

The scientific activities at Queen Mary are focussed into dedicated Research Centres. These research groups are run on informal principles in general, with little distinction between academic staff and postgraduate students within the research environment. You will find that you are expected to work alongside other people in the group, often sharing common research topics. In many cases staff and students will also share leisure and social activities. One of the fundamental objectives of postgraduate training is that you be trained in 'methods of research'. An extremely effective way of doing this is for you to learn by direct experience and this is one of the most important skills which you will acquire during your three year training.

One of the important aspects of working in a group environment is that you are able to interact closely with other workers at Queen Mary. This is extremely important since at your stage of career development it is important to be able to learn from others with as wide and diverse a range of related interests as possible. Later on in life you may specialise in a very narrow area but that is not always advisable at the outset.

You are likely to form a close working relationship with your supervisor, as well as with other scientists, students and technicians in your group. As such you will be expected to work at least as hard as every other person in the group, contributing both towards your own individual research as well as the overall scientific objectives of your group. The individual groups have regular (usually weekly) seminars and lunchtime meetings to discuss scientific developments in their own areas, in addition there are more general Schoolal seminars. These are often concluded with 'further discussion' occurring in the College Bar or a restaurant where visiting speakers may be entertained. In addition some groups have additional 'Postgraduate Student Seminars', which allow you to practice how to present material to your contemporaries so that when you give your first talks at major scientific meetings you will be able to deliver your paper with a practised fluency.

What help will my supervisor give me?

Your supervisor is there to help you and to collaborate with you in your endeavours to push forward the frontiers of scientific knowledge. He or she will suggest research topics, oversee your progress and direct your study. This scientific relationship often extends into long lasting collaborative work and friendships between students and their supervisors.

What will my research topic be, and how will it be chosen?

When a postgraduate student starts, she or he will be given a general area or topic to work on. This will usually be related to the scientific interests of your supervisor and group. The first tasks often include making a literature survey, a study of the published scientific literature on a specific topic. This may take several months. At the same time you will be learning more general information from other courses which you may attend. Experimental students will quickly be introduced to new techniques. It often takes about a year for you to become completely acquainted with the field and to gain experience in the techniques you will need to use. During this time, you will agree with your supervisor the specific objectives of your research program and how to go about it. For astrophysics postgraduates this may involve planning overseas observing trips to Hawaii or Japan; for high energy physics students, the construction of instrumentation or planning experiments at accelerator laboratories at CERN, Hamburg or RAL.

What if I don't finish in three years?

The great majority of students in our School do finish on time and your supervisor will make all efforts to help you to do this. However, if you do overrun by a few months you will still be able to carry on working with us, although of course you may find that your research grant is for a fixed duration and there will be extra fees to pay!

Will I get a job afterwards?

Almost invariably our postgraduate students find jobs without serious difficulty. Many have subsequently chosen to pursue postdoctoral research - either at Queen Mary, other universities at home or abroad - whilst others have gone into a wide and diverse range of industrial or commercial jobs. The skills and training acquired during your postgraduate life are highly valued by employers and many of our former students have been able to choose from a wide and diverse range of attractive and interesting (and often well remunerated!) job offers. To a large extent the specific area of your research, even though it may be in a particular highly specialised field, may be less important than your abilities and approach to the examination of problems in science.

Will I be able to travel overseas for conferences or research?

For some groups extensive overseas travel may be required if you are to obtain the data which you will need. Postgraduate students in astrophysics for example may make three or four 'observing trips', lasting up to a month each, to major telescope facilities in Hawaii, Japan, Sweden or the USA; those involved in high energy physics may spend several months or even a year working at CERN, Hamburg, or RAL. There will also be many UK and overseas conferences, summer, schools and seminars in your particular area of interest and it is a reasonable expectation that you will attend one or more of these during your three years as a postgraduate student. Many postgraduate research grants may in fact have an earmarked allocation for at least one conference.