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 of Australia, or a New Zealand citizen. If you are in one of these categories, please see this webpage instead.

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 Research Training 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. This makes it similar to the 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 each course 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 externally examined by two referees, much like a PhD thesis.

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 $25K per annum.

There are various scholarships available. In addition, you can supplement 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 quartile 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 (conference papers, abstracts, posters do not count), 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 STEP 5, below).

To be highly 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.

Scholarships come in two basic types: a Tuition Fee Scholarship (TFS) that cover tuition fees only, and full scholarships such as the International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) and University International Postgraduate Award (UIPA) that pay the tuition fees and provide you with living expenses. Scholarships are usually limited to 4 years, and it is vitally important that you complete your degree before the scholarship runs out, since otherwise you will have to pay at least one semester of full tuition fees.

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.

Note that the Graduate Research School (GRS) is very strict with the English language requirements.

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 and decide on the general research topic before you apply for admission. 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.

Please note that our academics receive lots of emails, and it is possible that they will not reply to you if your email is not sufficiently interesting. E.g., if you say "hey, i'm really intersted in you research topic, will you supervise me in Qantum Thermodynamicks? and give me a scholarship? jack" then you won't hear back.

STEP 6: maximising your chances of a scholarship

When applying for a scholarship, you need to provide proof of your communication with your proposed supervisor. This can simply be an email from the supervisor stating that they agree to supervise you. However, it is much better if you can have a video interview (e.g., using Skype) with the supervisor and attach evidence of this (e.g., an email from the supervisor confirming that the interview occurred) with your application. Better still if you have some existing collaboration with the supervisor and/or visit UNSW to work with them.

One or two published (or "in-print", or "accepted", but not just "submitted" or in "preparation") peer-reviewed papers makes a substantial difference to your chances of a scholarship. So, if, for example, you have a paper from your undergraduate research project that is almost finished, it would be a very good idea to wrap it up and publish it.

STEP 7: apply

You apply for admission and a scholarship on-line here. More information about the process is available from the GRS here.

Questions and answers

I've emailed lots of supervisors and no one has replied, what do I do? If the academics haven't replied, it usually means that they are not interested in supervising you. Please remember that our academics are very busy, and they receive numerous requests for supervision.

The application form asks for the "program code", what is this? For Physics the program codes are 1890 (PhD), 2930 (MSc), and 2475 (MPhil).

Can I take courses after-hours? In general, no. The courses invariably run during normal business hours.

Can I work part-time while doing a postgraduate degree? A limited amount of paid work is OK. A reasonable limit would be 8 hours a week. Working longer hours is a recipe for almost certain failure.

When can I start? You can start in first semester (around 1 March) or second semester (around 1 August)

When is the application deadline? This changes from year to year, please ask the GRS (Graduate Research School).

How much will the degree cost? Unfortunately, we can't provide a simple answer to this, please ask the GRS (Graduate Research School) about fees.

This page is maintained by the Postgraduate Coordinator for Physics: Professor Michael Ashley