MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics | University of Oxford
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Students and staff in mathematical physics
(Image Credit: Department of Mathematics)

MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics

About the course

The course provides a high-level, internationally competitive training in mathematical and theoretical physics, right up to the level of modern research. It covers the following main areas:

  • quantum field theory, particle physics and string theory
  • theoretical condensed matter physics,
  • theoretical astrophysics, plasma physics and physics of continuous media
  • mathematical foundations of theoretical physics

The course concentrates on the main areas of modern mathematical and theoretical physics: elementary-particle theory, including string theory, condensed matter theory (both quantum and soft matter), theoretical astrophysics, plasma physics and the physics of continuous media (including fluid dynamics and related areas usually associated with courses in applied mathematics in the UK system) and mathematical structures underlying physical theory. If you are a physics student with a strong interest in theoretical physics or a mathematics student keen to apply high-level mathematics to physical systems and their underpinning mathematics, both pure and applied, this is a course for you.

The course offers considerable flexibility and choice; you will be able to choose a path reflecting your intellectual tastes or career choices. This arrangement caters to you if you prefer a broad theoretical education across subject areas or if you have already firmly set your sights on one of the subject areas, although you are encouraged to explore across sub-field boundaries.

The MSc offers a substantial opportunity for independent study and research in the form of an optional dissertation which may be worth a single or double unit depending on the amount of work involved.

Pattern of learning and teaching

You will have to attend at least ten units' worth of courses, where one unit corresponds to a 16-hour lecture course or equivalent. 

Depending on how many courses you take in total and how they split between terms, you can expect to attend two, three or four (or, in exceptional cases, five) lecture courses per term. Each lecture course has roughly two one hour lectures per week supplemented by roughly four 90 minute classes per term.

Outside of the dissertation, the remainder of your study time in the first two terms should be spent on self-study, consolidating on the material covered in lectures, working through the problem sheets set for each class and working independently on your dissertation.

Dissertation

You can opt to offer a dissertation as part of your ten units. 

The dissertation is undertaken under the guidance of a supervisor and will typically involve investigating and writing in a particular area of mathematics or physics, without the requirement (while not excluding the possibility) of obtaining original results. A dissertation gives students the opportunity to develop broader transferable skills in the processes of organising, communicating, and presenting their work, and will equip students well for further research or for a wide variety of other careers.

For single unit dissertations you can roughly expect a one hour meeting with your dissertation supervisor at the end of the first term, followed by a further three one hour meetings in the second term. Double unit dissertations would have roughly twice this number of meetings.

Supervision

The allocation of graduate supervision for this course is the responsibility of the Mathematical Institute and Department of Physics and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Mathematical Institute and Department of Physics.

Assessment

Your performance will be assessed by one or several of the following means: 

  • invigilated written exams
  • course work marked on a pass/fail basis
  • take-home exams
  • mini-projects due shortly after the end of the lecture course.

The modes of assessment for a given course are decided by the course lecturer and will be published at the beginning of each academic year. As a general rule, foundational courses will be offered with an invigilated exam while some of the more advanced courses will typically be relying on the other assessment methods mentioned above. In addition, you will be required to give an oral presentation towards the end of the academic year which will cover a more specialised and advanced topic related to one of the subject areas of the course. At least four of the ten units must be assessed by an invigilated exam and, therefore, have to be taken from lecture courses which provide this type of assessment. A further three units must be assessed by invigilated written exam, take-home exam or mini-project. Apart from these restrictions, you are free to choose from the available programme of lecture courses.

Graduate destinations

Research in mathematical and theoretical physics or industry.

Changes to this course and your supervision

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. The safety of students, staff and visitors is paramount and major changes to delivery or services may have to be made in circumstances of a pandemic (including Covid-19), epidemic or local health emergency. In addition, in certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include illness, sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information please see our page on changes to courses and the provisions of the student contract regarding changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Entry requirements for entry in 2021-22

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in mathematics, physics, or a related discipline.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.6 out of 4.0.

If your degree is not from the UK or another country specified above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

  • Publications are not expected.

Extenuating circumstances

If your ability to meet the entry requirements has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (eg you were awarded an unclassified/ungraded degree) or any other exceptional personal circumstance (eg other illness or bereavement), please refer to the guidance on extenuating circumstances in the Application Guide for information about how to declare this so that your application can be considered appropriately.

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement. The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are detailed in the table below.

Minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level requirement
TestMinimum overall scoreMinimum score per component
IELTS Academic (Institution code: 0713) 7.57.0

TOEFL iBT, including the 'Home Edition'

(Institution code: 0490)

110Listening: 22
Reading: 24
Speaking: 25
Writing: 24
C1 Advanced*191185
C2 Proficiency191185

*Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English or Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE)
Previously known as the Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English or Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE)

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. Our Application Guide provides further information about the English language test requirement.

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

Interviews are not normally held as part of the admissions process.

Supervision

Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.

Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS)

Some postgraduate research students in science, engineering and technology subjects will need an Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) certificate prior to applying for a Tier 4 visa. Further information can be found on our Tier 4 (General) Student visa page. For some courses, the requirement to apply for an ATAS certificate may depend on your research area.

Resources

The Mathematical Institute's home is the purpose-built Andrew Wiles Building, opened in 2013. This provides ample teaching facilities for lectures, classes and seminars. The Mathematical Institute provides IT support.

There is also a cafe in the Andrew Wiles Building.

The Department of Physics provides the following facilities:

  • teaching space in the Denys Wilkinson building and the Clarendon Laboratory
  • use of the canteens in either building
  • IT support.

Funding

The University expects to be able to offer up to 1,000 full or partial graduate scholarships across the collegiate University in 2021-22. You will be automatically considered for the majority of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. 

For further details about searching for funding as a graduate student visit our dedicated Funding pages, which contain information about how to apply for Oxford scholarships requiring an additional application, details of external funding, loan schemes and other funding sources. Please ensure that you visit individual college websites for details of college-specific funding opportunities using the links provided on our college pages.

Further information about funding opportunities for this course can be found on the department's website.

Costs

Annual fees for entry in 2021-22

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home (UK, Republic of Ireland,
Channel Islands & Isle of Man)
£10,550
Overseas (including EU)£27,460

Course fees are payable each year, for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay course fees). For courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our detailed fee status information and the Oxford and the EU webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU.

Additional information

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs. However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2021-22 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,175 and £1,710 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our living costs page. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2021-22, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

College preference

All graduate students at Oxford belong to a department or faculty and a college or hall (except those taking non-matriculated courses). If you apply for a place on this course you will have the option to express a preference for one of the colleges listed below, or you can ask us to find a college for you. The Colleges section of this website provides information about the college system at Oxford, as well as factors you may wish to consider when deciding whether to express a college preference. Please note that ‘college’ and ‘colleges’ refers to all 45 of the University’s colleges, including those designated as Permanent Private Halls (PPHs). 

For some courses, the department or faculty may have provided some additional advice below to help you to decide. Whatever you decide, it won’t affect how the academic department assesses your application and whether they decide to make you an offer. If your department makes you an offer of a place, you’re guaranteed a place at one of our colleges. 

The following colleges accept students on the MSc in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics:

How to apply

You are welcome to contact academics involved, however this is not a necessary prerequisite to the application process. If you are unsure of who to contact, you should send an email to the Academic Assistant.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.

CV/résumé

A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Personal statement:
A maximum of 600 words

Your statement should be written in English and explain your motivation for applying for the course at Oxford, your relevant experience and education, and the specific areas that interest you and/or you intend to specialise in.

If possible, please ensure that the word count is clearly displayed on the document.

This will be assessed for your reasons for applying, evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study, commitment to the subject beyond the requirements of the degree course, capacity for sustained and intense work, reasoning ability, the ability to absorb abstract ideas and at a rapid pace and an indication of your intended pathway through the programme.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must be academic

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.

Your references will support your intellectual ability, academic achievement, academic potential, and motivation, particularly with regard to mathematical and theoretical physics. These will normally be academic references, but one of them may be a professional reference if you have relevant professional experience.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Read our guide to getting started, which explains how to prepare for and start an application.

Step 2: Check that you meet the Entry requirements and read the How to apply information on this page.

Step 3: Check the deadlines on this page and the deadline information in our Application Guide. Plan your time to submit your application well in advance - we recommend two or three weeks earlier.

Step 4: Check if you're eligible for an application fee waiver. Application fee waivers are available for:

Step 5: Start your application using the relevant button below. As you complete the form, consult our Application Guide for advice at each stage. You'll find the answers to most common queries in our FAQs.

Application GuideApply

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