To put this bluntly a number of our class are facing a real prospect of failing their finals myself included. By fail I mean not obtain MSc. and instead obtain a Diploma.

  • What are our options if we instead obtain a Diploma in HEP Theory and not an MSc?
    1. Will any other programmes take a student with a diploma for a repeat?
    2. Is a PhD still a reality for those of us holding offers?
    3. How can we explain this to future employers when "no-one fails a masters degree if they put the work in"

I am unsure if the reality of the volume of work we have undertaken nor the academic credentials (on paper) of those attending and potentially failing, will strike a chord with any reader who has not been in this exact situation. Consequently, I will save our despair for the MSc. coffee room chat and keep the question on its intended topic.

The reality...

  • Out of those risking failure the grade average is between 70%-95% (mine is 86%)
  • This includes a number of scholarship recipients with perfect undergraduate grades (GPAs)
  • No resits

I emphasise that if any of the concerned did fail this would be highly unexpected and possibly a bit embarrassing for the programme due to the merit of several high calibre students in this group (I would not consider myself in this list) not to mention the time invested by all. This does not change the outcome of a fail for the student.

  • More of a side comment. I'm an active participant on SO, Physics and Mathematics and wanted to keep complete anonymity to avoid connections between the programme any of us are enrolled in or the potential institutions any of us might end up in. Several of us have quite significant research roles lined up and would not want these concerns - if never materialised - to be associated with them. Apr 18, 2016 at 18:28
  • I must add that I won't be able to respond for a few weeks on this topic until finals are completed as I must do all I can to secure my future. I hope that I will never have to utilise the answers myself nor have to share them. However, inevitably this post will be highly valuable to several people and so any feedback is highly appreciated. Apr 18, 2016 at 18:42
  • I realize this is an old question (feel free to give us an update if you read this!), but for anyone familiar with the (presumably European) system -- what is meant by "obtain a diploma rather than an MSc"? Are you doing an integrated bachelor's + master's program, and the concern is that you would only get the bachelor's degree? Or is a "diploma" some kind of lower-ranked master's degree?
    – cag51
    May 24 at 20:35

1 Answer 1


To be blunt: not good. Top school or not top school, if you can't get an MSci, maybe you are just not cut for it. Yes, HEP theory is intellectually the most demanding field, but it is also currently in least demand and I've seen some very very good people leaving the field after pushing two postdocs. So really, if you insist on doing HEP theory and can't get an MSci, maybe it is good that you get cut of years of depression before it is too late. Another observation is that in HEP theory very few people push the field forward and the rest are completely irrelevant (i.e you write some stupid lagrangian, get eom, write not a very good paper and repeat; it is really not helping anyone. Very few other fields have this dichotomy)

Now, some people get into other fields and flourish. I know a person who had 1.5 postdocs in HEP theory, doing so so, some papers, some citations, but no real permanent job offers and he switched to biophysics, applied some easy peasy mean field QFT methods to neural networks and to them this was science fiction and now he is a star in that field. I also know another person, a stundent. who would do mind-boggling two loop integrals and wanted to do some data analysis and was so hopeless that it was embarrassing for all involved. So not all transplants are successful.

My advice would therefore be: if coding/data/algo is something that excites you, think seriously of moving into data science while it is still hot. If deep questions excite you but you can't get an MSci, think of transitioning to something a bit softer, maybe cosmology, nuclear physics, with some pheno/data component. But note that those fields are still very competitive. If you insist on doing HEP Theory, go ahead, but be warned that most likely you will be jobless.

  • Some hard-hitting but potentially useful advice here. My only concern is that this institution seems to be failing a large number of otherwise-qualified people, so it seems like there might not be enough evidence to conclude that "you are just not cut for it."
    – cag51
    May 24 at 22:04

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