FAQ

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What is the difference between the BSc and MPhys degrees?

The BSc degree is designed to give a thorough understanding of physics and the skills of physics problem solving, numerical simulation and computation. This degree in aimed at students wanting the skills associated with a  physics degree. It is also the entry route for further study in MSc programmes or into school teaching. 

The MPhys degree on a year longer and includes an extended research project and a range of advanced Master level courses at the frontiers of modern physics.  This degree is aimed at students who wish to pursue a career in physics or further study towards a PhD in physics.

Both degrees have a common entry requirement and common programme for the first three years, and students can transfer between them at any time over this period. However; there are potential funding implications, especially for student funded by Scottish Government, and all are advised to initially apply for the MPhys programme.

What is the difference between the MPhys degree and MSc degrees at other UK universities? 

The MPhys and MSci degrees are equivalent, they are both “Integrated Masters” degrees as defined by Scottish Credit and Qualification Framework Level 11 which is equivalent to Qualification in England and Wales Level 7. The detailed structure will be different at different universities. Check the relevant entry and programme details.

What is the different between a BSc + MSc and a MPhys degree?

  • The MPhys is a single “Integrated Masters” degree completed as a single institution and contains master level material in the final year.
  • The BSc + MSc combination are two independent degrees, one at BSc level and the second at MSc level. These can be undertaken at different institutions and there is no credit transfer between them. There is no automatic progression to MSc, all MSc degrees are subject to entry requirements set by the university offering this degree
  • The MSc is a taught postgraduate degree so is covered by different fee and funding conditions, this is particularly relevant to students funded by the Scottish Government. The MSc degree is typically 12 months as compared to two semesters for the final years of the MPhys.

What is the difference between Theoretical Physics, Mathematical Physics and Mathematics and Physics?

Theoretical Physics follows the same program as the Physics degree for the first two years then replaces experimental work with theory courses giving access to the more theoretical advanced options in the final years. This program is designed for students who want to take a theoretical or computational approach to the study of physics. This degree is available at BSc and MPhys level and is fully accredited by the Institute of Physics.

Mathematical Physics follows the program as the Physics degree and Mathematics degree in the first two years, in particular taking all the required courses from the School of Mathematics to undertake advanced courses from the School of Physics & Astronomy and the School of Mathematics. This results in limited scope to take optional courses is these years. This program is designed for students who wish to apply advanced modern mathematical techniques to the study of physics. This degree is available at BSc and MPhys level and is fully accredited by the Institute of Physics.

Mathematics and Physics is a joint honours degree offered by the School of Mathematics This degree follows the same program a Mathematical Physics for the first two years then offers a much more flexible structure allowing access to advanced courses across the School of Mathematics and Physics. This is primarily a mathematics degree with options to take physics courses subject to pre-requisites. This degree in only available at BSc level and is recognised, but not accredited, by the Institute of Physics.

What is the difference between Computational Physics and Computer Science and Physics degrees?

Computational Physics follows the same program as the Physics degree for the first two years, with additional computing courses, then replaces experimental work with theory courses giving access to the more advanced scientific computing options in the final years. This program is designed for students who want to take a computational approach to the study of physics, in particular numerical simulation and modelling. There is also the option in the final year of the MPhys to undertake high performance computing options from the “High Performance Computing” MSc programme. This degree is available at BSc and MPhys level and is fully accredited by the Institute of Physics. Computer Science and Physics is a joint honours degree offered by the School of Informatics. This degree follows the same program as the Computer Science degree in the first two years with physics courses taken in place of options. It then offers a flexible structure allowing access to advanced courses across the School of Informatics and Physics. This is primarily a Computer Science degree with the option to take physics courses subject to pre-requisites. This degree in only available at BSc level and is recognised, but not accredited, by the Institute of Physics. 

What is the difference between Physics with Year Abroad and undertaking an exchange year?

In Physics with a Year Abroad, the year abroad is in the fourth year and is integrated into the program. This year consists of a supervised research project at a host institution, typically a research institution which may be within a university or may be separate; there are typically no associated courses. This degree is only available at MPhys level.

A Student Exchange is where you become a student at another university for a year and take a set of equivalent courses and assessment under their regulations. Application to this scheme in only available to students once they start their degree and is open to BSc students for their third year only and MPhys students for their third and fourth years only. 

What destinations are available for those who wish to study abroad?

If you are enrolled in the MPHys Physics with Year Abroad, there are three destinations available (for students in fourth year during session 2020/21): University of Sydney, University of Melbourne and TRIUMP in Canada. These are subject to change in subsequent years.

If you are studying one of the other BSc or Mphys degrees (but not Physics with Year Abroad), see the list of exchange destinations.

The School of Physics & Astronomy has seven degree programmes, but I am not sure which is the right one for me. Is there the possibility to transfer to a different degree after I apply?

Yes, you can transfer between any programme in the School of Physics & Astronomy at the start of your degree. Transfers during the degree are usually available, in many cases up to the end of second year, but this depends on the details of the transfer and which courses have been taken. Here your Student Adviser will advise you on what is possible at each stage.

Which physics degree has the best future career prospects?

Most people with a physics degree build a career using the skills learnt during their degree rather than the specific topics covered, so on this basis there is no real simple answer to this question.

The key questions to ask yourself are:

  • Are you interested in experimental (lab based) or theoretical analysis.
  • How much formal mathematics do I want to include.
  • Do you want to broaden your degree with external options.
  • What is your motivation for doing physics, are there any bits that you find really fascinating.

The really import thing is that you are doing something that motivates you and you enjoy.

Remember that all the degree have a common entry requirement and most have common course in first and second year so with care with the options you take you can transfer between programs once you have started. This means that the MPhys Physics is a good default option.

I’m likely to meet (or already have) the criteria, should I take Second Year entry option?

This is a very personal decision and depends on your background, maturity what you want from your University experience. The keys points are:

  • Courses for First Year entry include consolidation of basic physics and mathematics in semester 1 so allow you time to settle into University life.
  • Second Year entry will assume full fluency in A-Level / Advanced Higher physics and mathematics from day 1; there are top-up courses to consolidate these but they move at a fast pace.
  • First Year entry allows considerable scope (up to one-third of time) to take outside options from any subject area, while with Second Year entry there is typically one option in semester 2.
  • Second Year entry is a perfectly viable option, typically 25% on the intake take this route and succeed.

So if your aspiration in to obtain a focused physics degree in the shortest possible time and are committed to work full out “from days one”, then Second Year entry is the correct choice, however if you want to broaden your degree and/or feel you need time to adjust to university life (for example first time away from home), then you should seriously consider the First Year entry. You will NOT be bored in first year classes, there are challenges as well as consolidation.

Do I need a laptop, and if so what specification?

Any modern machine will work, so typically:

  • Windows machine running Windows-10 with at least 4 Gbytes memory and at least 5 Gbytes of free space.
  • Mac machine running MacOS 10.4 of newer with at leave 4 Gbytes and at least 5 Gbytes of free space.
  • Modern web browser (Chrome or FireFox recommended)
  • PDF reader (Adobe achrobat reader recommended)
  • Webcam and microphone capable and internet connection able to support video conferencing (Zoom / Teams or equivalent)

All software licenses will be supplied and will include:

  • Full Office-356 including Teams (do not purchase you own license)
  • TopHat lecture response software.
  • Overleaf (on-line LaTeX)
  • In addition you will be required to download some additional license free packages, in particular Anaconda (Python) Individual Edition.

What are the required textbooks for first years courses?

All first years physics courses have full online course notes however most student will want to have access to:

  • Principles of Physics, Halliday, Resnick & Walker, International Student Edition (10th Edition). Covers the material in first and some second years courses. It is also an excellent reference to have on your shelf.
  • Mathematical Methods for Physicist and Engineers: A Comprehensive Guide. Riley, Hobson & Bence (3rd Edition). Standard mathematical textbook useful for the whole of a physics degree.

There are additional recommend text books for optional courses which will be available on the on-line course pages as the start of the year.

Where will my first year lectures take place?

Most of the first year lectures and lab workshop will take place in the James Clerk Maxwell Building, King’s Buildings Campus. The location of your optional courses will depend on what courses you choose.

In subsequent years Astrophysics courses will be at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh (10 mins walk away from the James Clerk Maxwell Building).

Did you not find the answer you were looking for? Email us at futurestudents [at] ed.ac.uk