For my undergraduate degree, I mainly focused on experimental particle physics. However, ultimately I want to become involved with phenomenology, which also requires a good grasp on theory. I felt that Oxford’s Mathematical and Theoretical Physics Master would both help me fill the gaps in my background and give me an excuse to take more math classes. And I definitely believe this program benefited my studies going forward as a PhD student. The course of study was intense, but I prefer it that way. Though balancing the pacing of courses with the depth at which the material is covered is always a challenge, I think it worked out well. Admittedly a lot went over my head, but I also demonstrably understand way more Quantum Field Theory than before. It was a great, if exhausting, time. Living in the UK as an American has also been exciting. Naturally, you hardly ever hear people complaining about studying abroad- at the very least, there is the appeal of novelty- but Oxford really is a beautiful city. It’s wonderful how very cyclable it is. I love cycling, but in my hometown it’s not really a practical mode of transportation. Here, I could go basically anywhere by bicycle, and as a bonus I lost my fear of being run over by a bus.
The Oxford MMathPhys is one of the few programmes in the world that allows you to specialise in string theory and hereby understand the universe at a fundamental level including learning how all physics can be unified mathematically. The MMathPhys was my fourth year at Oxford. Since I started to study I have always intended to ultimately specialise in string theory as the theory of quantum gravity.The MMathPhys has providedme with exactly the right courses: QFT, Advanced QFT, SUSY&SUGRA, Groups & Representations, Differential Manifolds, CFT, gauge string duality and of course 2 great courses on bosonic and superstring theory itself respectively.When starting a career in string theory research its essential to choose exactly the right research area that both fascinates you and has potential for exciting breakthroughs.Being the theory of everything there is an enormous set of open research areas: F-theory model building, strings on G2 manifolds, topological string theory, moonshine and black holes, AdS/CFT, mirror symmetry, nonperturbative string theory and matrix models …The knowledge I gained during the MMathPhys courses and my dissertation containing black hole entropy derivations in interesting type IIB compactifications enabled me to understand publications to the extent that I could decide to go for the mathematical areas – I will start my PhD in topological string theory and BPS quivers next year. I have had many interesting discussions with like-minded students from all over the world and would highly recommend the MMathPhys to any aspiring string theorist.
Studying in Oxford is, in general, a unique experience. However, studying in Oxford about the secrets of our universe in the biggest and smallest scales is a life-changing one. I had the chance to be chosen to attend the MMathPhys programme, after my bachelor degree in Physics in Greece. As an undergraduate student I had great professors who prepared me to correspond to this journey. Still, it has been a challenging Master that required a lot of effort and love to science. I couldn't be more grateful for the people I met during that year; great minds from all over the world collaborating and helping each other, sharing their passion for discovering nature's laws through maths and at the same time having fun. Studying theoretical physics is not just about choosing a job. It is about deciding to become a scientist, looking the world around you with critical thinking and never stop searching for a simpler -but not always obvious- explanation to problems. The mathematical institute in Oxford is a truly inspiring environment to do so, having the chance to attend lectures by great professors and tutorial classes by gifted young scientists. I will never forget the last MMathPhys seminar in my college -a weekly afternoon gathering with port and maths discussions. We were ten people -some MMathPhys students, a PhD candidate and two professors of our programme- coming from eight different countries, lost in a castle built around 800 years ago, smelling the wet grass out of the window and arguing whether our world is algebraic or geometric and wondering.. what more could I ask for?
I think the MMathPhys is best viewed as an optimisation problem. One should attempt to (a) maximise the amount of physics learned, while (b) minimising the time spent preparing for and taking exams, subject to the constraint (c) that one still gets a distinction. In my case, I took courses on Groups and Representations, Kinetic Theory and QFT in Michaelmas term, meaning that after January I never did another written exam (and never will). I'm very happy that I took this route; with the solid theoretical foundation of those Michaelmas courses, and free of the shackles of syllabi and mark schemes, I attended an eclectic mixture of Galactic and Planetary Dynamics, Fluids, Astroparticle Physics, Beyond the Standard Model, CFT and Plasma Physics (indeed, an advantage of the MMathPhys over rival courses is the strength of Oxford's Plasma sector.)By far the highlight for me though was the two-unit dissertation I took in the kinetic theory of self-gravitating systems. This sparked collaborations with people outside Oxford, and my results are the genesis of an upcoming publication. Aside from the fascinating conceptual and technical adventure my dissertation took me on, to a great extent it also taught me how to do research. That is why I am very glad to have chosen the MMathPhys, and would recommend it to others who see the elegance and fun of theoretical physics as its own justification.
The MMathPhys was a very demanding and intensive course, but I really enjoyed it because it offered me a wide range of options to learn in theoretical physics, and at the same time allowed me to pursue my interests in depth. My primary interest was Cosmology when I started the MMathPhys course. The Cosmology lectures paved my way from basic concepts to research level topics, and the Astroparticle Physics lectures introduced me to various open questions that await to be solved in the near future. They gave me a general picture of the research field today. Moreover, I had the opportunity to see what is outside of my primary interest. The Advanced Quantum Field Theory for Particle Physics lectures opened up a new fascinating world that was not familiar to me before, and it was really intriguing to listen to ongoing explorations in particle physics at the Beyond Standard Model lectures. I have learnt a lot during the year, and I am happy to share the rewarding experience with interested students. As a female student, I would also like to encourage female students who want to study more about theoretical physics to apply. During the course, I have never felt that my gender hinders my academic study or social life. On the contrary, I am grateful that during this course, I met so many brilliant friends who shared the same passion for theoretical physics.
Being part of the very first MMathPhys cohort in 2015/16 was one of the highlights of my academic career. When I learned that I'd get to attend Oxford University for my M.Sc., I knew that this would be an amazing experience! Choosing the particle physics pathway gave me a solid foundation for embarking on a PhD programme afterwards. This Oxford course offers so many highly interesting lectures that it became very difficult for me to decide between them. In addition, I was welcomed into a strong academic and social support network consisting of lecturers, academic advisors, and of course my fellow MMathPhys students whom I happily represented as the course representative.