By Mingjun Chen
Just 22 years ago, the first conferring ceremony of a doctorate degree was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Nowadays there are hundreds of physics graduate schools since the first one was set up by the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) in 1978. Since then, more and more funds have been devoted to both basic research and applied research; physics research in China has been widely developed and now covers almost all fields. Quantum computation, optics, nano-materials, and string theory are among the research issues currently receiving intense scrutiny in China.
In the physics departments of universities such as Nanjing University, USTC, and Peking University, about the top one-third of undergraduates may enter the university's graduate school without being required to take the entrance examination. Most students, however, do sit for the examination in January. The entrance exam is usually comprised of four parts: English, Political Theory, and two specilized courses corresponding to the particular field of graduate study one is applying to enter. For example, if your specialty is Optics, the two courses will be quantum mechanics and college physics. The English and Political Theory examinations are standardized throughout China, while the specialized parts are written by each school. Before a formal offer of admission, each student (whether having sat for the exam or not) will be vetted by an admissions committee comprised of professors.
A PhD in physics usually takes five years to complete (typically, two years for studying the basic courses, and three years for research). Beside taking specialized courses in physics, each student is required to pass several courses in English, including Oral English, Writing, Reading, and Listening. In addition, most departments require graduate students to serve as a teaching assistant for an undergraduate course for one term. Graduate programs also require students to publish one or two papers in the journals collected by the Science Citation Index or Engineering Index.
Currently, tuition and dormitory housing are free for physics graduate students. Basic living expenses, around $100-$200 per month depending on the school, are provided by either the government or the student's research group. In addition, there are also about ten prestigious scholarship programs in each school which attract competition from the best students. Award of these lump-sum scholarships comes in addition to the basic stipend.
The international student exchange programs are also popular in many universities. Some graduate students have the opportunity to go abroad for research collaborations through this program.Overseas students are also encouraged to study in China, and are usually provided with prepratory Chinese language classes.
Many top PhD-recipients seek postdoctoral positions in Europe, USA, or Japan. Some take a domestic postdoc or work in the colleges or institutes. In general, it is not difficult for physics PhD recipients to find a satisfying academic position.
China Education and Research Network:
China Academic Degrees & Graduate Education Development Center:
School of Science, USTC:
Mingjun Chen is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Modern Physics, USTC, and a visiting student at the Beijing Institute of High Energy Physics. His thesis topic concerns the Very Long Baseline Neutrino Oscillation Experiment, whose research and development is located in Beijing.