Physics and Philosophy | University of Oxford
sundial
A diptych sundial made by Paul Reinmann in 1599.
(CREDIT: History of Science Museum, Oxford)

Physics and Philosophy

mortar boardUCAS codeVF53calendarDuration

4 years (MPhysPhil)
3 years (BA)

pencilEntrance requirements

A*AA (with the A* in Physics, Mathematics or Further Mathematics)

HeadSubject requirements

  Physics and Maths
  Maths Mechanics modules
  Further Maths

tickAdmissions test(s)ox.ac.uk/patcrossWritten workNone
bar chartAdmissions statistics*

Interviewed: 31%
Successful: 10%
Intake: 13
*3-year average 2016-18

phoneContact

+44 (0) 1865 272200
Email Physics
+44 (0) 1865 276926
Email Philosophy

Subject requirements:       Essential       Recommended       Helpful – may be useful on course

This course combines the most rigorous and fundamental subjects in the sciences and the arts. Physics is concerned with unravelling the complexities of the universe from the smallest to the largest scale. Philosophy deals with foundational questions of the most general kind: what there is, what we know and how we came to know it, and how we ought to act and structure our lives. Central to both subjects is the development and application of clear and precise thinking to foundational problems, the questioning of received wisdom and the critical articulation of ideas which aim for an understanding of how things are, in the broadest possible terms.


Physics and Philosophy are historically intertwined and each continues to contribute to developments in the other. Philosophy played a crucial role in the two revolutions of 20th-century physics – namely, relativity and quantum mechanics – and continues to contribute both to foundational research in theoretical physics and to the articulation and critique of scientific method. Conversely, discoveries in physics provide profound implications for philosophical inquiry, such as the nature of space and time and the behaviour of matter at the quantum realm. Students on this course can expect to investigate not only central developments in both subjects, but also this interplay.

Oxford has one of the largest physics departments in the UK, with over 100 academics leading research that spans the breadth of physics. This expertise ensures the curriculum is updated in the light of developments in research. The Philosophy Faculty is the largest in the UK, with more than 70 full-time members; it admits around 450 undergraduates annually to read the various degrees involving Philosophy.

The Oxford research group in Philosophy of Physics is the largest in the world, with interests ranging from classical space-time theories and foundations of classical statistical mechanics, to quantum mechanics, quantum field theory and quantum gravity.

Philosophy of Physics runs through the first three years of the course. In the first year students delve into 18th-century investigations into matter and motion; in Years 2 and 3 they investigate the philosophical foundations of relativity and quantum mechanics. The fourth-year MPhysPhil options bring you to the threshold of current research. In this year students may specialise in either Physics or Philosophy, or continue with a combination, including advanced study in the Philosophy of Physics. Alternatively, students may complete the course in three years, leaving with a BA.

 students socializing“Philosophy has an effect on how you view physics; how we look at where the theories came from. For example, if we're asking, ‘does time exist?' as a physicist you have some idea of what time is, and it brings a different attitude to the whole question.”
JAMES

A typical week

Your work will be divided between independent study, tutorials, two or three classes and about ten lectures each week. Independent study (reading for and writing essays, completing problem sets) will take up the majority of your working time. Tutorials typically take the form of 2-4 students discussing themes arising from essays or problem sets with a tutor in the students’ college. Lectures and classes are typically held in either the Department of Physics or Faculty of Philosophy. 

Tutorials are usually 2-4 students and a tutor. Class sizes may vary depending on the options you choose. There would usually be no more than around 10 students though classes for some of the more popular papers may be up to 20 students. Most tutorials, classes, and lectures are delivered by staff who are tutors in their subject. Many are world-leading experts with years of experience in teaching and research. Some teaching may also be delivered by postgraduate students who are usually studying at doctorate level.

To find out more about how our teaching year is structured, visit our Academic Year page.

Course structure

YEAR 1

CURRENT COURSES

  • Physics
    • Mechanics and special relativity
    • Differential equations and matrix algebra
    • Calculus and waves
  • Philosophy
    • Elements of deductive logic
    • General philosophy
    • Introductory philosophy of physics

ASSESSMENT

First University examinations: three written papers in Physics; two written papers in Philosophy

YEAR 2

CURRENT COURSES

  • Physics
    • Thermal physics
    • Electromagnetism
    • Quantum physics
    • Mathematical methods
    • Physics practicals
  • Philosophy
    • Early modern philosophy or Knowledge and reality
    • Philosophy of special relativity

ASSESSMENT

Final University examinations, Part A: three papers in Physics; satisfactory lab work


YEAR 3

CURRENT COURSES

Core topics:

  • Physics - choose two of the following:
    • Symmetry and relativity
    • General relativity
    • Classical mechanics
  • Philosophy - compulsory topics:
    • Philosophy of science
    • Philosophy of quantum mechanics
Extra subjects, choose:
  • Either two Physics papers from:
    • The remaining core subject not chosen
    • Atomic and laser physics
    • Computational and experimental projects
    • Condensed matter physics
    • Fluids
    • Nuclear and particle physics
  • Or one Philosophy paper from a range of options

ASSESSMENT

Final University examinations, Part B: three or four written papers in Philosophy; one or two written papers and one short paper in Physics

YEAR 4

RESEARCH

Three units chosen in any combination from the lists for Physics and Philosophy, including an advanced philosophy of physics option.

ASSESSMENT

Final University examinations, Part C: a mix of three written papers and essays, or thesis (in Philosophy), or project (in Physics)

The options listed above are illustrative and may change. More information about current options is available on the Physics and Philosophy websites.

The content and format of this course may change in some circumstances. Read further information about potential course changes.

MMathPhys YEAR 4

The Physics and Mathematics Departments jointly offer an integrated master’s level course in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics. Physics and Philosophy students are able to apply for transfer to a fourth year studying entirely mathematical and theoretical physics, completing their degree with an MMathPhys. The course offers research-level training in: Particle physics, Condensed matter physics, Astrophysics, Plasma physics and Continuous media.
mmathphys.physics.ox.ac.uk

Academic requirements 

A-levels:A*AA to include Mathematics and Physics. The A* must be in Mathematics, Physics or Further Mathematics.
Advanced Highers:AA/AAB
IB: 39 (including core points) with 766 at HL (the 7 should be in either Physics or Mathematics)       
Or any other equivalent (see other UK qualifications, and international qualifications

Wherever possible, your grades are considered in the context in which they have been achieved.  (See further information on how we use contextual data.) 

Subject requirements

  Essential: Candidates are expected to have Physics and Mathematics to A-level, Advanced Higher, Higher Level in the IB or another equivalent.
 Recommended: The inclusion of a Maths Mechanics module would also be highly recommended.
  Helpful: Further Mathematics can be helpful to candidates in completing this course, although it is not required for admission.

If, and only if, you have chosen to take any science A-levels, we expect you to take and pass the practical component in addition to meeting any overall grade requirement.

If English is not your first language you may also need to meet our English language requirements.

Applying

All candidates must follow the application procedure as shown in applying to Oxford. The information below gives specific details for students applying for this course.

Admissions tests

Test: PAT
Test date:30 October 2019            
Registration deadline:                   6pm 15 October 2019                                                                                                      

All candidates must take the Physics Aptitude Test (PAT) as part of their application. Separate registration for each test is required and it is the responsibility of the candidate to ensure that they are registered for these tests. We strongly recommend making the arrangements in plenty of time before the deadline. 

Everything you need to know, including guidance on how to prepare, can be found on the PAT page

Updates to PAT: The test consists of maths and physics questions, which are mixed in sequence (there are not separate maths or physics sections). Formula sheets, tables and data books are not permitted. Calculators will be permitted from 2018. Guidelines about the use of calculators along with details of the syllabus and links to supporting materials which candidates are encouraged to look at for preparation are available on the PAT page

Written work

You do not need to submit any written work when you apply for this course.

What are tutors looking for?

Anyone who has an interest in general questions about the nature of science, mathematics, mind, knowledge or truth has an interest in philosophy. No more than that is needed – you are not disadvantaged if you have not studied Philosophy before. Philosophy tutors will be looking for a critical and analytical approach to abstract questions and an ability to defend a point of view by reasoned argument. The Physics tutors will ask you the same style of questions about mathematics and physics as they ask Physics applicants, to determine your mathematical and problem-solving ability and potential for further study (see Physics).

For more detail on the selection criteria for this course, please see the Physics and for Philosophy websites. 

Careers

Graduates in Physics and Philosophy offer an unusual and valuable combination of skills to employers in commerce and industry. Almost 40% go on to study for a higher degree; some will enter science professions such as research and development, or technical roles in industry; many others enter professions unrelated to the course, such as the public sector, including the Civil and Diplomatic Services.

Oxford University is committed to recruiting the best and brightest students from all backgrounds. We offer a generous package of financial support to Home/EU students from lower-income households. (UK nationals living in the UK are usually Home students.)

Latest information for UK and EU undergraduates who will begin their course in 2020 can be found here. Further information for EU students starting in 2020 is available here.

The fees and funding information below relates to those who will start at Oxford in 2020.

Fees

These annual fees are for full-time students who begin this undergraduate course here in 2020.

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU£9,250
Islands
(Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£9,250
Overseas£28,330

For more information please refer to our course fees page. Fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Living costs

Living costs at Oxford might be less than you’d expect, as our world-class resources and college provision can help keep costs down.

Living costs for the academic year starting in 2020 are estimated to be between £1,135 and £1,650 for each month you are in Oxford. Our academic year is made up of three eight-week terms, so you would not usually need to be in Oxford for much more than six months of the year but may wish to budget over a nine-month period to ensure you also have sufficient funds during the holidays to meet essential costs. For further details please visit our living costs webpage.

Financial support

Home/EU

A tuition fee loan is available from the UK government to cover course fees in full for Home (UK)/EU students undertaking their first undergraduate degree*, so you don’t need to pay your course fees up front.

In 2020 Oxford is offering one of the most generous bursary packages of any UK university to UK and EU students with a family income of around £42,875 or less, with additional opportunities available to UK students from households with incomes of £27,500 or less. This support is available in addition to the government living costs support.  See further details.

Islands
(Channel Islands and Isle of Man)

Islands students are entitled to different support to that of students from the rest of the UK.

Please refer the links below for information on the support to you available from your funding agency:

States of Jersey
States of Guernsey
Isle of Man

Overseas

Please refer to the "Other Scholarships" section of our Oxford Bursaries and Scholarships page.

*If you have studied at undergraduate level before and completed your course, you will be classed as an Equivalent or Lower Qualification student (ELQ) and won’t be eligible to receive government or Oxford funding

Fees, Funding and Scholarship search

Additional Fees and Charges Information for Physics and Philosophy

There are no compulsory costs for this course beyond the fees shown above and your living costs.

Contextual information

The Key Information Sets provides applicants with statistics about undergraduate life at Oxford. But there is so much more to an Oxford degree that the numbers can’t convey.

The Oxford tutorial

College tutorials are central to teaching at Oxford. Typically, they take place in your college and are led by your academic tutor(s) who teach as well as do their own research. Students will also receive teaching in a variety of other ways, depending on the course. This will include lectures and classes, and may include laboratory work and fieldwork. However, tutorials offer a level of personalised attention from academic experts unavailable at most universities.

During tutorials (normally lasting an hour), college subject tutors will give you and one or two tutorial partners feedback on prepared work and cover a topic in depth. The other student(s) in your college tutorials will be from your year group, doing the same course as you and will normally be at your college. Such regular and rigorous academic discussion develops and facilitates learning in a way that isn’t possible through lectures alone. Tutorials also allow for close progress monitoring so tutors can quickly provide additional support if necessary.

Read more about tutorials and an Oxford education

College life

Our colleges are at the heart of Oxford’s reputation as one of the best universities in the world.

  • At Oxford, everyone is a member of a college as well as their subject department(s) and the University. Students therefore have both the benefits of belonging to a large, renowned institution and to a small and friendly academic community. Each college or hall is made up of academic and support staff, and students. Colleges provide a safe, supportive environment leaving you free to focus on your studies, enjoy time with friends and make the most of the huge variety of opportunities.
  • Each college has a unique character, but generally their facilities are similar. Each one, large or small, will have the following essential facilities:
    • Porters’ lodge (a staffed entrance and reception)
    • Dining hall
    • Lending library (often open 24/7 in term time)
    • Student accommodation
    • Tutors’ teaching rooms
    • Chapel and/or music rooms
    • Laundry
    • Green spaces
    • Common room (known as the JCR).
  • All first year students are offered college accommodation either on the main site of their college or in a nearby college annexe. This means that your neighbours will also be ‘freshers’ and new to life at Oxford. This accommodation is guaranteed, so you don’t need to worry about finding somewhere to live after accepting a place here, all of this is organised for you before you arrive.
  • All colleges offer at least one further year of accommodation and some offer it for the entire duration of your degree. You may choose to take up the option to live in your college for the whole of your time at Oxford, or you might decide to arrange your own accommodation after your first year – perhaps because you want to live with friends from other colleges.
  • While college academic tutors primarily support your academic development, you can also ask their advice on other things. Lots of other college staff including welfare officers help students settle in and are available to offer guidance on practical or health matters. Current students also actively support students in earlier years, sometimes as part of a college ‘family’ or as peer supporters trained by the University’s Counselling Service.

More about Oxford colleges and how you choose