Postgraduate degrees in the School of Physics, UNSW

Information for international students interested in applying for a postgraduate degree

Thank you for your interest in a postgraduate degree in the School of Physics, UNSW. The word "international" in the title means that you DO NOT fall in the category of being an Australian citizen, a permanent resident, or a New Zealand citizen.

STEP 1: which course is right for you?

The first step is to determine which one of the several degrees we offer is appropriate to you, considering your existing experience and your aspirations. You may find this quick summary of the various Postgraduate degrees helpful. It includes information on the entry requirements, how to apply, and application deadlines.

The UNSW Graduate Research School also has a description of the various degrees.

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

A PhD is a 3-4 year programme during which you will make significant and original contributions to knowledge, as evidenced by a PhD thesis. After graduation you can call yourself "Dr". A PhD can be thought of as proof of your ability to conduct independent scientific research.

To obtain admission for a PhD you will normally require an undergraduate degree in science with some additional evidence of your research potential. For domestic students the additional evidence will normally be an Honours year, a Master of Philosophy, or Master by Research. For international students, a similar level of research experience will be expected, and will be assessed by the Higher Degree Committee. If your qualifications aren't suitable for direct entry into a PhD programme, then you may be able to enrol in a Master by Research, and may then be able to transfer to a PhD following completion of the first year of study.

Master by Research

A Master by Research is a 1.5-2 year programme. It is not as advanced as a PhD, but still requires an original contribution to research and a thesis. This degree can be taken as an end in itself, or can be used as a stepping stone to a PhD. To gain entry to a Master by Research, you will normally have an Honours degree or equivalent.

Master of Philosophy (MPhil)

A Master of Philosophy is a 1-2 year programme. Is quite similar to the Master by Research, except that it has a coursework component that represents up to one-third of the work. It is similar to an Honours year component of an Australian undergraduate degree. In the School of Physics, the MPhil normally takes three semesters (1.5 years). During the first two semesters you will take four 6 Unit of Credit (UOC) courses, which is half a full-time course load. You must pass these courses at the first attempt in order to continue in the MPhil. The courses can be chosen from our Honours offerings, or from 3rd year courses in Physics (related courses in Maths may be possible too). If you choose a 3rd year course, your supervisor must assign additional assessment to bring the course up to a postgraduate level. The MPhil thesis is external examined by two referees, much like a PhD thesis.

An MPhil has some disadvantages when compared to Honours. For example, you can't be awarded a University Medal for your MPhil degree. Also the MPhil thesis examination process is more rigorous and takes longer (perhaps a couple of months, compared with a week). Since the MPhil thesis is not awarded a numerical mark, like an Honours thesis, it becomes difficult to compare students with MPhils and Honours - this is relevant to the award of an APA scholarship for a PhD, where First Class Honours is required. All in all, it is probably simpler to do the Honours degree. However, this means you have to take the Honours courses, which in turn requires familiarity with the material taught in 3rd year at UNSW.

What is an "Honours" year?

In Australia, undergraduate degrees in science are normally 3 years in length and can be followed by a 4th "Honours" year. The Honours year is part coursework and part research thesis, typically in the ratio 50:50. The purpose of the Honours year is to give the student a feeling for research work, and to provide sufficient grounding for entry into a PhD programme. A Master of Philosophy can be substituted for an Honours year.

STEP 2: consider the question of fees, living expenses, scholarships

For international students, there are substantial fees charged by UNSW (and all Australian universities). Any questions regarding fees are best addressed to the UNSW Graduate Research School.

In addition to fees charged by UNSW, you will need to provide living expenses for yourself. Sydney is quite an expensive city in which to live. A single person living frugally may require about $22K per annum.

There are various scholarships available. In addition, you can suppliment your income by teaching part-time in the School of Physics.

Please note that the scholarships are very limited in number and are highly competitive. You would typically have to rank in the top few percent of applicants to stand a good chance. The factors taken into account when considering the award of a scholarship include:

  1. your undergraduate record;
  2. the international ranking of the university you studied at; if your university is outside the world's top 400-500 as ranked by The Times and ARWU then you will need an absolutely exceptional record to be within range of a scholarship;
  3. your research experience;
  4. whether you have published peer-reviewed journal papers, preferably as the first author;
  5. your referee reports, particularly those that comment on your research potential;
  6. the quality of the interaction between yourself and your proposed supervisor (see the next section).

To be very competitive for a scholarship for a PhD you would be from an excellent university (within the top 500 in the world), have a 3 year BSc and a 2 year MSc with a substantial research component, have been in the top few percent in your class, and have published one or two papers in peer reviewed journals as first author. You may have had several years of research experience subsequent to your MSc.

STEP 3: consider English language requirements

Click here for the official UNSW policy on English language requirements. You may need to do a formal test (e.g., TOEFL) and reach a minimum standard.

STEP 4: consider, visas, medical insurance, etc

Click here for information from the UNSW Graduate Research School.

STEP 5: make contact with a suitable supervisor and obtain an agreement from them to take you on as a student

All postgraduate degrees in Physics at UNSW involve conducting research in physics under the supervision of a supervisor. It is your responsibility to locate a suitable supervisor. One way to do that is to look at the list of academic staff in the School of Physics and the list of research staff. Choose someone who is in your field of interest and email them directly. You might like to search for recent publications by the staff using Google scholar. Another good resource is the list of research projects offered to our Honours students.

STEP 6: apply

Click here for information from the UNSW Graduate Research School. The application form will ask for a program code, for Physics these are 1890 (PhD), 2930 (MSc), 2475 (MPhil), and 5533 (GradDip).

This page is maintained by the Postgraduate Coordinator: Professor Michael Ashley m.ashley@unsw.edu.au