I am recently graduated with a degree of MS in Physics. I am very interested in condensed matter physics, that is why I chose a topic from this field for my MS thesis. But it was very hard for me to complete this thesis because I have not taken any advance course about condensed matter physics. I had to learn many theories by myself.

I am aiming to find a PhD position in Europe, and as you know in Europe, there is no course work in PhD program. So, before going for a PhD level research project, I want to attend a pre-PhD diploma in which research level courses of condensed matter physics will be taught.

My question is: is it a good idea to spend one year just to learn advance theories? (I am not in any rush to get a PhD degree).


How should I write a motivation letter for this pre-PhD diploma? I mean everyone applying there would obviously write "I want to learn advance theories". How can my application be different than others?

2 Answers 2


I'm going to suggest that spending a year would not be a good use of your time. The end-all and be-all of doctoral education isn't the methodology, but using the methodology to do something interesting in your field.

I would answer differently if you thought your background is weak and that you would only be accepted by spending this year, but with an MS that isn't likely true. If it were a matter of a summer spent on methodology then, again, it might be worth it. But a year feels like spinning wheels.

On the other hand, the course you suggest is in your field. If it can also get you closer to the research frontier in that field then it would have value for that, rather than methodology. At some point you need to cross that frontier so you need to approach it somehow.

Of course, this isn't my field, and I don't know how difficult the methodology is, but I suspect that you can muddle through and pick it up - especially knowing that you have a need. It would probably delay your completion less than spending a dedicated year that might not even give you a benefit in your application.

  • 1
    Thank you for your reply. Honestly speaking, I have not taken even a single course about condensed matter physics. Just 3 courses about solid state physics which is closely connected to condensed matter physics. However, I can learn the the advance methodology by myself. But the pace of research would be very slow. Also I am not getting very good response of my PhD applications with these transcripts of my MS an BS.
    – Sana Ullah
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:09
  • That is a different matter, then. Perhaps it would have value, but not just for the methodology. Perhaps your stated question has the wrong focus given your needs.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:10
  • I am sorry if my question confused you. Can you please give a point or two about writing a nice motivation letter for this diploma?
    – Sana Ullah
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:14
  • Sorry, I'm no help for that. A local advisor would probably be a good source.
    – Buffy
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:15
  • @SanaUllah Solid state isn't just closely related to condensed matter, it's part of it...
    – Anyon
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:29

I know of only one program that calls itself a "pre-PhD diploma" program: The pre-PhD program at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP). This seems to likely be the program you are speaking of. This program is at least pretty well regarded from what I can determine. It would likely help formalize some of what you need to learn if you want to study condensed matter physics. If time is not an issue, then the program could be helpful.

This being said, I will add my personal opinion that doing a pre-PhD seems a bit redundant. If you are able to get into a funded PhD program, why not begin your PhD immediately? You might not be in a hurry to finish now, but I'm also not sure that you will still feel that way five years down the road. Having all the time in the world is fine when you are 25. It becomes much harder when you reach your 30s.

The finances are also of consideration here. It seems that the ICTP's program is unfunded unless you are from specific countries. (Maybe this is your case, which is fine).

Moreover, note that a pre-PhD program is probably one of two things:

  1. So fast that it covers nothing in enough depth to allow you to actually complete a PhD on the subject.
  2. So fast that you will not be able to absorb the blitzkrieg of information you are being taught.

Simply put, one does not easily learn the principles of advanced condensed matter physics in a rapid-fire program.

Also be aware that a "pre-PhD" sounds a bit like something one would get from an online pay-to-learn website. For those not familiar with the program, it may not be given much weight.

As far as convincing an admissions committee that you will be successful in studying condensed matter physics, you may have a tough time doing such if you have zero courses in the subject. In my opinion, stating "_________ really is interesting to me" never gets an applicant through the door if they have zero experience in studying the subject. (Which you have taken note of above). You could try including an explanation of the personal work you have done in studying the subject. If you can speak somewhat at length to the actual efforts you have given on the topic, that may bode more favorably for your cause. Because this pre-PhD is so niche, it is very hard to know what they are looking for.

I will add some general thoughts on getting into graduate programs on the whole:

  • Bad GPA/Test Scores are very hard to overcome. Passion is not enough.
  • Letters of recommendation matter. Immensely so, at times.
  • Expressing interest in studying a very niche field will usually result in very narrow acceptance parameters.
  • Yes exactly, I am talking about ICTP's pre-PhD diploma. And I have tried my luck with this transcript of MS which has no course about condensed matter physics, I am not able to find any PhD position. That's why the thought of diploma came into my mind. But after two answers from experts, I feel like it was a stupid thought.
    – Sana Ullah
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:25
  • I want to thank you once again for such an explained answer.
    – Sana Ullah
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:28
  • @SanaUllah Not knowing the full situation, it is hard for me to comment fully, but it may be that your not being admitted into PhD programs has less to do with your application and more to do with your choosing a (seemingly) very niche field to attempt to enter.
    – Vladhagen
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:34
  • Yes it is possible as the topic on which I have worked in MSc is not very well known. May be this is the reason behind my failure of getting a PhD position
    – Sana Ullah
    Commented Nov 1, 2018 at 20:41

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