A PhD degree in the Theoretical Physics Group enables outstanding students to pursue fundamental research at the forefront of theoretical physics. The Group’s research interests are diverse but possible topics include string theory, M-theory, quantum gravity, foundations of quantum theory, thermal field theory, early universe cosmology and particle physics.

The Group has around thirty PhD students at any one time, including both UK and non-UK citizens. Competition for places is intense, so successful candidates require outstanding academic records and/or must demonstrate excellence in other ways. For some applicants, our MSc Course can provide a more appropriate route to PhD study, though it does not guarantee a PhD place.

General information about postgraduate study and student life at Imperial can be found in the online postgraduate prospectus. International applicants may also want to look at the online guide for international students.

More information


Applications should be made online.

The official application asks for a research proposal, but we do not expect any kind of lengthy or detailed proposal. It is sufficient for you to describe what you find most interesting in physics and which area or areas you might like to do research in. This will help in terms of pairing you with a potential supervisor. Also, it is not necessary for you to contact a prospective supervisor directly, unless you have specific questions not covered here. See you also the information about staff members and their research interests on the Theory Group website.

The official college application form allows applicants to specify only two different research groups or two different courses (e.g PhD and MSc). However, some applicants are interested in more than two groups. If so, please indicate this in the supervisor field of the application form (and also in the personal statement). Administrators processing the form will then forward it to all the groups you show interest in. For example, many students applying to the Theory Group (THEO) are also interested in the High Energy Physics group (HEP), Astrophysics (ASTRO) , Quantum Optics and Laser Science (QOLS) or Condensed Matter (COND).

We usually have a very large number of applicants for a small number of places (last year over 150 applicants for just 4 places). In the past successful applicants have generally had a strong first class four-year degree from a UK institution in physics or applied mathematics (or an equivalent level from abroad). It is very unlikely that we will short-list any applicants not close to this level of performance. It is also a significant advantage to have done an MSc course in theoretical physics or the Cambridge Part III but this is not a pre-requisite.

Usually UK-based students are invited for interview before being accepted. This provides an opportunity to discuss possible supervisors and research projects.

Open days

There will be an Imperial physics department open day December each year. The theory group will have a number of faculty and PhD students to answer questions there. 

We will also have a specific PhD Open Day slides on December 7th. There we will give a brief overview talk about PhD applications and then have faculty and current students available to answer questions.


Our main funding for PhD students is from the UK research councils, STFC and EPSRC.

This coming year we expect to have 4 funded research council studentships, all of which will be awarded to the best eligible applicants. For UK citizens, and EU citizens who have been based in the UK for the last 3 years, these studentships pay both your fees and your living expenses. For other EU citizensthey pay only your fees. It is not necessary to make a separate application for these studentships. Overseas applicants are not eligible for research council funding and are advised to look carefully at their funding situation before applying.

Some funding for other EU and overseas candidates does exist through the Imperial College PhD scholarships and the Schrodinger scholarship. These a very limited in number and therefore very competitive. Only students with an unusually strong academic profile are put forwards for them. To apply for one of these scholarships, all you need to do initially is tick the box on the PhD application form to indicate interest but DO NOT attempt to secure provisional acceptence from a potential supervisor at that stage. We may put you forwards for this funding if you are short-listed for one of our PhD positions and can be matched to a suitable supervisor. We will contact you if we wish to do this. (Note that these instructions may be contrary to those you receive from elsewhere in the college but you must follow the instructions given here). The College scholarships have three deadlines throughout the year. The first one is very early in the year, usually in November, and has considerably fewer applicants than the later deadlines so there is some advantage in getting your application in early. A map of the Process for Imperial PhD Scholarships 2017-18‌‌ is available but also see notes on scholarship selection process for full information on scholarships.

Note that for students currently doing an MSc course, if the college offers one of their scholarships it will be conditional on a distinction. The college are very strict about this -- this is no negotiation if this condition is missed very narrowly.

Please indicate in the application whether you will be able to accept an offer from us if we are unable to provide funding. Details of Imperial PhD fees can be found here.

The postgraduate prospectus also details certain funding that may be available depending on your country of origin. See also the list of overseas student scholarships. For example, US applicants are eligible to apply for Fulbright scholarships. Bear in mind that different application deadlines and procedures may apply, as detailed in the prospectus.


Our application deadline is *** 1st February *** each year. Please ask your referees to submit their letters (via the college website) by this deadline, or shortly after.

Applications after this deadline may be considered if we still have PhD positions to fill at that time.

However if you are not eligible for our funded studentships (ie. you are EU citizen but have not been living here for 3 years, or you are an overseas candidate) then it is important that you apply by mid January each year to be eligible to apply for scholarship funding.


For general enquires about postgraduate study in physics and the application procedure contact
Ms Loli Sanchez
The Physics Postgraduate Secretary
Department of Physics, Imperial College
London SW7 2AZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)20 7594 7512
Fax: +44 (0)20 7594 7777
Email: l.sanchez@imperial.ac.uk

For enquiries directly related to study in the Theoretical Physics Group contact Professor Andrew J. Tolley but please read this website carefully first since it addresses most common questions. Note also that due to the time required to process the very large number of applicants it may not be possible to answer all email queries in any detail.