Postgraduate degrees in the School of Physics, UNSW

Information for domestic 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 "domestic" in the title means that you fall in the category of being an Australian citizen, a permanent resident of Australia, or an NZ citizen. If you aren't in one of these categories, please see the guide for international students 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 (full-time equivalent) 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 (full-time equivalent) 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 (full-time equivalent) 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.

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, takes longer (perhaps a couple of months, compared with a week), and you may be required to do extra work if the examiners aren't entirely happy with your thesis. 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.

A Graduate Diploma (Research)

The Graduate Diploma (Research) is a one year (full/time equivalent) program: half coursework, half research project. It is similar to an Honours year, and can be used for entry into a PhD or Masters. In general, we recommend Honours or an MPhil over a GradDip.

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 students a feeling for research work, and to provide sufficient grounding for entry into a PhD programme. A Master of Philosophy of a Graduate Diplola can be substituted for an Honours year.

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

The Research Training Scheme (RTS), introduced in 2001, provides Commonwealth-funded higher degree by research (HDR) students with an "entitlement" to exemption from tuition fees for the duration of an accredited HDR course, up to a maximum period of four years' full-time equivalent study for a Doctorate by research and two years' full-time equivalent study for a Masters by research (including a Master of Philosophy).

You may have to pay fees if you exceed the times above, or if you have already taken advantage of the RTS scheme.

The question of fees is complex, and you are best to examine the UNSW Graduate Research School website on fees, and to contact the GRS if you have questions.

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.

STEP 3: 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 4: 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

The application form asks for the "program code", what is this? For Physics the program codes are 1890 (PhD), 2930 (MSc), 2475 (MPhil), and 5533 (GradDip).

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

Can I take the degree part-time? All of our postgraduate degrees can be taken part-time. However, in most cases we recommend against this, particularly in the case of a PhD: it is almost impossible to complete a PhD without a full-time commitment.

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 while taking a full-time degree. Working longer hours is a recipe for almost certain failure. And don't even think about working full-time and trying to manage a part-time postgraduate degree on the side.

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