A PhD degree in Theoretical Physics enables outstanding students to pursue fundamental research at the forefront of theoretical physics. The research interests are diverse but possible topics include string theory, M-theory, quantum gravity, foundations of quantum theory, thermal field theory, cosmology and particle physics.
There is about twenty PhD students in theoretical physics 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.
Applications should be made online via the postgraduate applications system My Imperial.
The official application asks for a personal statement. This is an opportunity to talk about your research interests. We do not expect any kind of lengthy or detailed reasearch 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, you can simply indicate potential names of supervisors you may interested in working with. Flexibility is encouraged. See also the information about staff members and their research interests on the Theory Group website.
In the Research Details section of your application, you are asked for your proposed research group. Please write Theory.
The official college application form allows applicants to specify only two different research fields or two different courses (e.g PhD and MSc). However, some applicants are interested in more than two research fields. 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 appropriately. For example, many students applying to do a PhD in Theoretical Physics may also interested in Astrophysics, Climate, Particle Physics, Plasma, Space, Light or Matter.
We usually have a very large number of applicants for a small number of places (last year over 180 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.
Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview before being accepted. This provides an opportunity to discuss possible supervisors and research projects. Due to the large number of applicants we do not interview all candidates.
Theoretical physics held an open day on Wednesday 29 November 2023 in Blackett Building, Lecture Theatre 2 from 2:30pm to 4:30pm.
This includes an 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 2 funded research council studentships, all of which will be awarded to the best eligible applicants. For Home (UK citizens, and EU settled status) citizens these studentships pay both your fees and your living expenses. Overseas applicants (including other EU citizens) are eligible for research council funding however STFC rules restrict the number of studentships that can be offered to overseas students, and you are advised to look carefully at their funding situation before applying. We typically take several overseas students who have scholarships from their home country, or in some cases are self-funded.
Additional scholarships that both Home and Overseas students are eligible for are the Imperial College Presidents scholarships and the Schrodinger scholarship. These are very limited in number and we can only put forward at most one student per round, these are 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 nor should you attempt to prepare a specific research proposal for these scholarships unless you have confirmation from the PhD admission lead that your application has been selected. (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.
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 - there 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. Read more about fees and funding at Imperial.
The postgraduate prospectus also details certain funding that may be available depending on your country of origin. 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 *** 1 February 2024*** each year. Please ask your referees to submit their letters (via the college website) by this deadline, or shortly after. Note however that the first round of Presidents Scholarships is in November and to be considered for the first round you need to apply by 6th November (including references).
Applications after the 1 February 2024 deadline may be considered if we still have PhD positions to fill at that time.
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
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.