Physics PhD debate

November 27, 1998

Physicists are at loggerheads over whether PhD students should be required to complete a four-year degree before starting research, an issue debated at a meeting of the Standing Committee of Physics Professors last week.

Four-year physics degrees that lead to an MSci or MPhys were introduced following concerns that graduates were not sufficiently prepared for PhDs. "Half of the extra year is spent teaching additional material and half is spent making good the deficiency," said Brian Martin, head of physics at University College, London.

Malcolm Longair, head of physics and astronomy at Cambridge added:

"Although it is not absolutely mandatory, we very strongly encourage people to do a four-year course."

But at Imperial College, London, physicists take a very different line. "We have deliberately not gone down the route of requiring four-year degrees," said Roy Burns, admissions tutor at Imperial. "Someone with a three-year degree from Imperial College is adequately trained to do a PhD."

Dr Burns is also looking at long-term trends affecting physics departments. "I have been led to believe that only three departments, including Imperial College, are financially solvent."

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