Please note that, from the academic year 2011/12, the Cambridge/MIT exchange
programme is no longer in place, except for students enrolled in the
Information prior to 2011
The Cambridge/MIT exchange allows Cambridge undergraduates to spend
one year at MIT. Information and application procedures are available
on the CME
webpages. For Cambridge students taking the four-year
physics course, the exchange takes place during the third year -
i.e. the Part II year is spent at MIT (see the Part II Physics course
handbook for further details). The FAQ below is intended for current
Cambridge physics students who are considering applying
for the MIT exchange.
[Answers are from Cambridge physics students who went to MIT on this exchange.]
Do physicists who went to MIT
find Part III more challenging than those who took Part II?
Is it possible to prepare well for Part III Physics and not to miss out on things
If you're judicious about subject choice, you can return very well prepared for
Part III major options. I was two-thirds judicious: most of Particles was
revision from 8.701 and QFT followed on nicely from 8.322, but QCMFT with only IB
knowledge of solid state physics was not much fun. There's no need to worry about
finding minor options if you've enjoyed three or two (or one!) major options, and
I imagine Part III projects are unaffected.
It is true that CME physicists typically cover fewer areas of physics than in
Part II because they take classes outside of physics (and perhaps go into more
depth in particular areas by taking graduate classes). You can strike your own
balance between gaining comprehensive knowledge of physics, really mastering a
single part of the subject, and pursuing other intellectual interests.
Since MIT is strongly focused on engineering, technology and
applied science, I wonder if this might be reflected in their teaching.
I am very interested in theoretical physics and I
love being taught things rigorously.
Is it possible to take classes that are rigorous as well as doing some more focused on applications? I know that you can
cross-register for Harvard courses and that these are meant to be more
"pure". Are there good Harvard courses in
physics and maths which one can take?
I don't want to generalize too much on this, since I have relatively little
knowledge of how Part II is taught. The physics courses that I took were, in
order of increasing emphasis on application:
8.311 Classical Electromagnetism;
8.333 Statistical Mechanics;
8.321 & 8.322 Quantum Theory (2 semesters, very well taught in my year);
8.701 Introduction to Nuclear and Particle physics.
Only in the last one did I always feel like I was studying an experimental
science. It may be that undergraduate classes are more focused on application;
often notes and examples sheets will be on the web and/or a textbook will be
followed, so it should be possible to check this out beforehand. If abstract
theory bores you I would strongly recommend getting a UROP project and more
cautiously recommend looking into 8.13-8.14, which is apparently a very thorough
lab course in return for a very large time commitment.
I don't know much about maths and physics at Harvard, I'm afraid; CMEers have
taken such classes in the past, but I don't think anyone did in my year. The rule
for Harvard classes is that you're only meant to take those which do not have an
equivalent at MIT, but I think this is interpreted loosely.
Is it usually a problem to get into UROPs?
I think it is quite straightforward
to set one up. I talked to a potential supervisor in my second semester,
but then decided that I probably wouldn't be able to commit enough time to
Some UROPS are advertised online, but you can also just email potential
supervisors and ask if they are willing to help you set up a project.
The best time to start a project is at the end of the first semester and
work on it over IAP.
How many courses outside physics/maths would I need to take?
There are no requirements for CME students to take classes outside of their
major, although everyone does in practice. As for the subjects you mentioned, I
had a good time learning music composition and I've heard that Economics at MIT
is up there with the best (partly because everybody has the background for
grown-up maths). Since indigenous MIT students do have HASS (humanities arts &
social science) requirements to fill, you can't rely on everyone in your class
being passionate about the material, but this wasn't problematic for me and the
standard of teaching was fine. The best humanities classes I took were intensive
Spanish over IAP and a class on rhetoric in science in the second semester; they
had a much more lasting effect on my thinking than most physics classes.
How will my grades at MIT affect my degree grade back here? Will there
be a conversion from the GPA received at MIT to a 1st/2nd/3rd?
There is no official conversion from MIT GPA to Cambridge class. Your Part II
result is simply "Deemed to have deserved honours (Studied at MIT)". At least
some colleges make an unofficial conversion for the allocation of rooms or filthy
lucre. Part III results are based solely on the fourth year, so no change there.
Any other comments?
I think one of the difficulties with taking part in the exchange is
that you don't cover as many areas of physics at MIT as you would have
in part II in Cambridge. For example, there isn't really any course
that covers the material in the soft matter course, so it's difficult to
have a feel for whether these are courses you might be interested in
taking in part III. I think it's worth looking at the part III options
and trying to plan ahead for part III before leaving!
One thing worth mentioning is that I don't think the graduate classes
are necessarily harder than their undergraduate equivalents. For
example, the graduate astrophysics class (8.901) just seemed to cover
different material and it used the same computational problem sets as
the undergraduate version (8.284). In general the difficulty of the
classes seems to fluctuate a lot depending on the instructor!
It can be difficult to find courses pitched at the right level. For
example the undergraduate condensed matter class (8.231) didn't cover a
lot of the material taught in Cambridge, however, taking the graduate
version (theory of solids, 8.511) without having seen any of the
concepts before may have been hard. I found the style of learning quite
difficult to adapt to at first, so I tended to go for courses that
started at about the level of 1B, but part III seems ok so far!
The exchange is very flexible, so you have a lot more choice of
classes/level of difficulty than you would if you stayed in Cambridge
and there are a lot of opportunities to take classes in other subjects.
I am very grateful to former MIT exchange students for their helpful input
to this FAQ and in other ways, including Alastair Currie, Will Buttinger,
Lars Boyde, Katie Atkinson and Lukas Witkowski.