As you approach graduation the question of what to do next has to be addressed. In addition to the information below, the careers advice pages may help.
After graduation tabs
The good news is that recent surveys show that on average, Imperial College graduates are better paid than those from other institutions, both on appointment and after five years. The Department offers a good deal of support and guidance in finding employment, you will find a lot of information on employers on permanent display on Level 2.
The departmental careers advisor sends out regular information about careers and other student opportunities, and offers advice about approaching the College careers service. The careers advisor also acts as a guide to job-related websites, such as those run by the college and by the Institute of Physics. (It is a good idea to join the Institute of Physics, the professional association of the nation’s physicists, early in your undergraduate career. Student membership is free and includes electronic access to the Institute’s monthly magazine “Physics World”. A representative will visit the department during your first term.)
Job applications, CVs, references
You will gain experience of writing CVs and advice about job applications during your degree. It is also worth consulting the College careers service, who run workshops on all aspects of job applications, hold major databases and arrange times when potential employers visit College to make presentations. When applying for a job, your potential employer will want references. The usual practice is to ask your personal tutor, who should have been in regular contact with you throughout your time in the department. For a second reference, you should feel free to ask any member of staff (an academic tutor or your project supervisor, for instance) who knows you well. The Senior Tutor, who has data from your other tutors as well as on your exam performance, can also fulfil this role if necessary.
A large fraction of the Department’s graduates go on to do higher degrees: MSc, MRes and, principally, PhD. To find out more about this choice you can speak to a member of staff, your tutors, for instance, who will be happy to speak with you about their research. You can also attend a postgraduate open day to find out more about postgraduate study at Imperial College. There are a lot of other sources of information: many guest lectures (interpolated, non-examinable lectures within the timetable) specifically address how the course subject links to current research. New professors are required to give inaugural lectures that you can attend, which are delivered in a deliberately accessible language. Almost all of the Department’s nine research groups organise regular seminars. Some of these (Astrophysics, Atmospheric Physics) are designed for a first-year postgraduate audience and present general topics in that research field. Others may be for specialist sub–groups and are not so easily understood. The Central Library stocks all the “current interest” journals – New Scientist, Nature, Scientific American, Physics Today, Physics World – that set out what is current news in the research world.
Much more detailed knowledge of a particular research field is offered by two summer programmes. Both offer summer employment at modest wages for undergraduates to work in research departments. One is UROP (Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme) which functions within the College, whilst the other, IAESTE (International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience) offers work in laboratories elsewhere in the country and abroad. Many of the Physics research groups take part in one or both programmes and you can email staff directly and ask if they have any opportunities for summer research work or are aware of any new schemes.
The department offers a range of Master of Science (MSc) and Master of Research (MRes) degrees. The difference depends on the length of the taught course element to research project and the relative weighting in the final degree mark. They are all 12 months in length (except for one 2 year MSc in Physics with Extended Research) with a modest research content, tested by examination and a thesis. Some of our Master courses can offer a strong industry related training and be directly relevant to future employment; other courses concentrate on first level training for further research. If you achieved only a modest MSci degree or a BSc but are determined to do research, an MSc can offer a route that enables a graduate with a lower second class degree to qualify for a postgraduate research grant (which usually requires a first or upper second class degree at MSci level).
The Department runs four MSc courses. Three of these, in Optics & Photonics, Theory & Simulation of Materials, Quantum Fields & Fundamental Forces are in specialised areas. The fourth is in general Physics and based on the Level 4 undergraduate courses. It is also possible to specialise within this framework, e.g. MSc in Physics with Shock Physics. The Department also runs three MRes Courses in Photonics, Plastic Electronics, Controlled Quantum Dynamics.
All run for a full calendar year, and include a major project over the summer; most require a 2.1 BSc as a minimum entry requirement. MSc courses in other departments at Imperial College and other universities and colleges in the UK offer an enormous range of physics-related study. Details are kept on extensive files in the Central Library and the Careers Service.
The MSc in Theory and Simulation of Materials and the MRes courses in Plastic Electronics and Controlled Quantum Dynamics are also part of the three Doctoral Training Centres that offer four years of PG funding for UK students.
From 2012-13 the department will also offer a 2 year extended MSc programme carrying 120 ECTS, compared with the 90 ECTS of other MSc/MRes courses. This will be of particular interest to students from elsewhere in Europe, who may be expected to have 300 ECTS (180 from BSc and 120 from MSc) for entry to a PhD programme.
Imperial research degrees
The standard way into the international research world is via a postgraduate research degree. The Physics Department has nine research groups, each of which has several sub-groups and we can offer research training in an enormous range of subjects. The Departmental Annual reports give an overview of research activities. The quality of the research is most simply assessed by hard numbers. At a time when research funds are short and competition fierce, the research income of the Department in 2011-12 was roughly £24.9M.
The Postgraduate Fair, held late in the autumn term, gives you a chance to talk to representatives of every group to find out what they do, and what specific fields have studentships on offer. You may sign on for a tour of any group you wish to explore further. You are of course free to talk to any member of any research group – academic staff, RA or postgraduate, to find out more about that research field. Final decisions on acceptance and on research grants are made by the Heads of the research groups.
For further information about postgraduate research places, contact the Postgraduate Secretary, Loli Sanchez, in Room 316. Applications are done online. No place can be seriously considered, let alone guaranteed, until an application has been received.
External research degrees
The UK is a good place to get a PhD, even if you plan to work elsewhere after getting your doctorate. A PhD here takes, typically, 3.5 years when in many other countries 5, 6 or 7 years are needed. However, the benefits of doing a PhD abroad, such as the opportunity to live and work in a different culture, and gaining fluency in another language, can be valuable life skills.
If you plan to do a research degree, but not at Imperial, it is still worth discussing your plans with a staff member here. Collaborative research, shared facilities like telescopes and accelerators, and international conferences mean that the staff here know most of the leading researchers in their fields. Thus you can get advice on who is really top grade, which groups are well equipped and which specific people you should approach. It can often be a good idea to change university for a research degree, as seven or more years as a student in one place can be a bit much. The main consideration, nonetheless, should be to join the group with the highest reputation in your chosen field.