Jump to content

Physics MSc after Pure Mathematics BSc


Recommended Posts

I am finishing a mathematics degree and then thinking of applying to Masters in physics programs in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria.

Undergrad Institution: University of Calgary
Major(s): Pure Mathematics (Honours)
Minor(s): Applied Mathematics
GPA in Major: 3.81
Overall GPA: 3.84
Length of Degree: 4 Years
Position in Class: I've been called the best undergraduate student by various professors due to my research, but my GPA is not the best.
Type of Student: White Male

GRE Scores : (revised or old version?)
Q: 161
V: 157

Research Experience: 7 completed papers (2 published (one of which has 2 citations), 5 in submission), and 5 to be submitted soon enough to appear on my application. 3 Discrete Geometry, 1 Algebraic Geometry, 1 Quantum Information/Coding Theory, 1 Game Theory/Logic, 1 Model Theory/Logic, 1 Proof Theory/Logic, 1 Number Theory, 1 Computational Chemistry, 1 Photovoltaic Systems Engineering, and 1 in Black Hole Physics. I contributed to a chapter and illustrated a geometry research monograph published by the Fields Institute/Springer and have given 22 conference talks around North America (Hartford, Banff, Camrose, Calgary, Moab, Kelowna, Montreal,...).

Awards/Honors/Recognitions: Three NSERC USRA Awards (Discrete Geometry, Algebraic Geometry, and Combinatorial Geometry), Various University and Government Scholarships. Won "Best Geometry Talk" at MAA Mathfest 2013.

Pertinent Activities or Jobs: 4 Years Tutoring Experience, Four TA positions (Calculus I & II), LaTeX & TikZ Developer for an Accounting Textbook.

Any Miscellaneous Accomplishments that Might Help: Editor of an undergraduate philosophy journal I helped found and 2 years as VP Academic of the Undergraduate Philosophy club. Founded a solar panel engineering company and invented a novel solar panel technology device.

Special Bonus Points: A top Discrete Geometer is a reference letter, and another great reference letter from an algebraic geometer/representation theorist. I have taken 6 graduate classes (theory of incompleteness, modal logic, proof theory, elliptic curves & cryptography, geometric analysis of convex bodies, algebraic topology). Self-studied a huge amount of physics and have many physics/chemistry electives: Statistical Mechanics I & II, Quantum Chemistry, Physical Chemistry of Interfaces, Quantum Mechanics II, Stable and Radioactive Isotope Theory, to name a few.

Applying to Where:

University of Amsterdam - Physics - Condensed Matter/Quantum Information
University of Groningen - Physics - Condensed Matter/Quantum Information
University of Utrecht - Physics - Quantum Gravity
Radboud University Nijmegen - Quantum Gravity
Leiden University - Physics - Condensed Matter/Quantum Information
IST Austria - Mathematics - Geometry
ETH Zurich - Physics - Condensed Matter/Quantum Information
University of Heidelberg - Condensed Matter/Quantum Information


I want to know how my application corresponds to the schools I am applying to. Can I apply to better schools? Any suggestions in Europe or Australia?

Edited by Oriako
Link to comment
Share on other sites

This profile is amazing. It's impossible to make statements like "you will get in at all the schools for sure!" but with these accomplishments, I don't think there is any program that could be considered "too good" for you. 


I would say that your lack of a Physics BSc is not a big issue because you have some upper level physics course electives. I'm assuming that this means you have some of the lower level requirements as well? If you are still in school this fall, you could consider taking a Physics Electricity & Magnetism course and/or a Mechanics course if you want to fill out your physics breadth courses a bit more. A lot of people consider E&M and QM to be the main pillars of physics and sometimes people add mechanics and relativity to the list as well. However, I don't think this is absolutely necessary for you to still be considered a competitive applicant everywhere.


Therefore, my advice is to not let your degree title keep you from any school you are interested in. If you find a school interesting, I would say it would be worth your time (and money, if applicable) to apply there! Good luck!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If you want to do a PhD eventually, my suggestion is to come to the united states (if you are open to it) and apply to top universities. My feeling is they would be more than happy to give you the maximum stipend. You should not worry about getting into graduate school with that many publications. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

GeoDUDE! makes a good point that if you want to get a US PhD eventually, keep in mind that grad school works differently in most Canadian, European, and Australian schools vs. US schools. In "our" system, we do Masters first then PhDs afterwards, but the US system is a "direct entry PhD".


So if you are still planning on a non-US PhD then a Masters at any of these schools should get you into PhD programs at other schools not in the "direct entry PhD" system. But if you do want to end up at a top US PhD program later, keep in mind that a Masters degree will not be as useful here and you basically have to start from scratch (like I did!). This is not always a bad thing, but just good to keep in mind.


I guess there may be at least two reasons why you are looking for "MSc" programs instead of "PhD". If, like me, you are used to the Canadian system so MSc really means beginning grad school, then keep the above in mind! But many Americans might read "Masters" and think it's a different path from a PhD because in the US system, people go to Masters programs mostly when they do not feel prepared for a PhD program or if they are switching fields. So, GeoDUDE! might also be saying (although I'd feel bad if I interpreted their words wrongly!) that you don't have to do a Masters first just because you didn't do a Physics undergrad. And I agree!


Finally, just curious as to your reasons for the countries you listed? 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

My plan for a Masters in Physics was to try out the field of physics more seriously and see how I liked it compared to Mathematics, at which point I could take a Physics PhD, head back to a Mathematics PhD, or branch out further into other areas such as Chemistry or Engineering for a PhD if I still wanted something else other than Mathematics or Physics. The reasons for the list of countries is mostly because they are not in the US (my girlfriend won't go there happily, and we are applying to graduate schools together) and they are English or German/Dutch speaking. Thanks for the advice! I did also take intro Classical Mechanics/E&M, but waived as many classes as possible to get to the upper-division courses.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well, if you want to make your application even stronger, I guess it won't hurt to take upper level E&M and then you would basically have a Physics degree (give or take a course or two). 


I think the "do a Masters to see if you like it" is a great approach to grad school, personally :) 


My only advice left would be to recognize that despite there may be very good personal reasons to not want to go to the US, they do have some of the best programs in the world. And that if you do want to end up in the North American workforce eventually, most people will advise you to do graduate school in North America, but I'm not 100% certain how strongly you have to stick to that. But perhaps it might be a good idea to apply to and visit a few Canadian or American schools to see what they're like. I found that my preconceptions of many places were a lot different than reality (in both directions). Keeping an open mind is good! However, if you are not prepared/scheduled to take the PGRE this fall, that might limit your options in the US.


** Just to clarify: I'm not saying that because the US have great programs that you should put academic reasons ahead of personal ones. My wife and I definitely weighed personal reasons at least as importantly as career based ones but I do think it's important to keep an open mind and know all the information/consequences either way. This is the purpose of the last paragraph (provide information)--it's not meant to sway you one way or another!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with Takeruk but chances are most places in USA may not take you as a masters student, as in my opinion in terms of skill set you seem to be ready for a PhD easily. 


I don't know if doing a masters is really the best option for you if the only reason you are doing it is to "see if you like physics". Perhaps see if you can get a research position at some school without having to attend a degree program. This is rare, but its still possible. Most people in masters programs (like myself before I completed one) do not have the amount of research you have. 


You might also apply to the English schools as a sort of compromise: UCL, Oxford and Cambridge are just as well known as the top US schools but also allow you to stay in Europe (and they will accommodate your desire to do a masters). 


Please do not see this as me "trying to tell you what to do" but just trying to give you ideas. The plan you laid out is a good one. 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. See our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use