I think I understand the general difference between US and European PhD.


  1. GRE is compulsory to get admitted to any PhD programs.
  2. First we get admitted to the institution.
  3. Need to do extensive course work though if one has masters.
  4. Will decide about the area of PhD only after completing the course work.

Europe & Australia

  1. GRE is not compulsory, but might help to improve the chance of getting an admission.

  2. We will know the research area in the beginning.

  3. Most seems to have no course work or little course work.

If I am right it seems both have its own advantages and disadvantages.

I want to apply for a PhD with extensive course work (in the beginning of PhD) but I must know which area I'll be doing my PhD when i get admitted and the PhD duration must be more than ones without any course work (i expect around 1+4 years of funding).

What are my best options considering the above concerns ?

Note: I am looking for PhD in Theoretical Physics

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    Why do you want to do extensive course work? For example, I have to take a number of credits during my PhD, but nothing stops me from sitting in as many extra classes over that number as I see they will help me. – Davidmh Feb 23 '16 at 14:03
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    @Davidmh thts right. but i have reasons to believe that it'd be the best option for me in the long run, if the first one year (atleast) is only course wok and it is funded, quite like the US. – Sooraj S Feb 23 '16 at 14:10
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    But why? I have the feeling this may be another instance of the XY problem. – Davidmh Feb 23 '16 at 14:27
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    I think the usual solution in non-US systems would be to take a second masters (for coursework) before embarking on a PhD (and thus going into research). It sounds like your focus on a PhD is mainly because PhDs are usually funded, and so maybe the question you should really ask is "How can I find a funded masters program in theoretical physics?" – Nate Eldredge Feb 23 '16 at 17:30
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    It isn't necessarily "wasted", in all probability you'll have to take more or less the same courses in a PhD if you didn't do them before (because you'll need them for your research). – vonbrand Feb 24 '16 at 13:49

I have a PhD in theoretical physics obtained in Germany: in particular

GRE is not compulsory, but might help to improve the chance of getting an admission.

GRE is totally irrelevant.

We will know the research area in the beginning.

this is mainly true all across Europe but however there are some departments whose research projects are to be decided on your way throughout graduation (it happens in Italy, for example). I had a very strict and detailed project to fully adhere to, but it might not always be the case (with corresponding advantages and disadvantages). Also notice that sometimes, for whichever reason, PhD students change projects along the way (mostly because they do not like it or because it is a dead end line of research).

Most seems to have no course work or little course work.

Wrong. I had heavy teaching duties (three-four semesters), mandatory classes to attend and corresponding exams to take (it happens in other European countries too). Besides that, compulsory seminars and conferences to take part to.

As a general rule always determine with the department you are applying to what the local rules are: it is very department dependent and even in the same department different scholarships may get treated differently and have different loads. I would personally go for a research project I like and then manage the extra curricular activities accordingly: after all, the chances to get a position afterwards will only depend on your final PhD thesis (and related papers); nobody ever looks at the exams marks and classes you have taken.

  • good to know this. so u mean one has to do course work and exams mostly graduate level, before starting research work ? – Sooraj S Feb 23 '16 at 14:41
  • but in that case what is the PhD duration (funding) ?.. is it more than typical european PhD's without any course work ? – Sooraj S Feb 23 '16 at 14:54
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    Before, after or during depends on the local rules: in my case it was in parallel. PhD duration is officially three years, practically as long as your supervisor decides to award you the grant. – gented Feb 23 '16 at 15:01
  • thanx. That is what i am concerned about. If the duration is same and one needs to do course work in parallel, is different. Is it possible that the course work is in the beginning and the duration is one more year considering the course work period, than the typical european PhD's ? – Sooraj S Feb 23 '16 at 15:04
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    Again, there's no such thing as typical European PhD: Europe is not one big country, rather it is the collection of many different things and each department has their own regulations. However, yes, the example you mention is typical in Italy, in some university, where you have 1+2 (1+3), the first year being devoted to course only. – gented Feb 23 '16 at 15:16

Depending on the area, you might be required to take an MPhil or Research Master. This is the equivalent to the coursework in the US, and then some electives related to your research area. Again, depending the Area, you will find that there are many universities that (at least try) to implement the US standard. In Business and Economics for example you have BGSE, Bonn, Toulouse, EUI, among many others that have a very "US" style doctoral program, just hidden by a (almost always mandatory) Master of Research plus the Doctoral Program which is mostly research.

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