Masters degrees in Physical Sciences, Maths & Computing
A guide to postgraduate masters study in computing & computer science, maths, statistics, physics, astronomy & materials technology.
This discipline is for the super-numerate and seriously brainy, as some of the subjects included within are quite literally rocket science. Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, Statistics and Operational Research, Materials Technology, Information Systems and Technology and Computing and Computer Science make up this heavily scientific and technologically advanced discipline. Physics is the science that deals with the nature and properties of matter and energy; astronomy is closely related to physics but deals only with the shiny (stars, planets etc) and not-so-shiny (dark matter, black holes) stuff in the sky. Mathematics needs no introduction; statistics is the branch of applied mathematics that deals with probability and operational research is a derivative of applied maths that applies mathematical reasoning techniques to decision-making and management processes. Materials technology is the study of the composition and uses of matter and how its properties can be usefully applied. Computing and Computer Science is a massive field encompassing everything from software design to artificial intelligence. Information Systems and Technology is interested in the business applications of Computing and Computer Science.
The real world applications of the subjects in this discipline are staggering and mastery of one of them is quite likely to lead to an intellectually satisfying, publicly useful and well rewarded career. Physical scientists have achieved great fame throughout history: think Aristotle, Newton, Einstein and Queen's Brian May. Things that physical scientists, mathematicians and computer scientists have invented include computers, plastic, powered flight and the internet. And if anyone's ever going to manage to invent time travel then it's going to be a physicist. Of course physical science graduates also invented the atomic bomb and Brian May has got really terrible hair, so we shouldn't heap too much praise on them.
Behind this modest subject title lies a surprisingly glamorous and worthwhile array of courses. Chemistry has many applications in medicine, industry, environmental science and the forensic investigation of crimes and insurance claims. Take your pick from research and taught degrees in Chemical Biology and Drug Design, Air Pollution Management and Control, Environmental Geochemistry, Cancer Chemistry, Fire Investigation or Forensic Ballistics. Or keep your options open with broader courses like an MSc in Analytical Chemistry or an MRes in Chemistry by research.
To apply for these taught and research masters you will need to have an undergraduate degree in – you guessed it – chemistry, or a closely related discipline. Other non-essential requirements are looking good in a lab coat and having a brain the size of Jupiter. Potential careers include being a crime scene investigator for the police, a drug designer for a pharmaceutical company or a member of a lab team trying to create more effective treatments for cancer.
There isn’t much you can do these days without a computer and computer technology is everywhere – in our mobile phones, our televisions, and soon, no doubt, our toasters and loo seats too. So it’s not surprising that there is a vast array of courses available in this field. Whether it is Software Engineering, Games Design, Artificial Intelligence, Bioinformatics, Financial Computing, or one of the dozens of other courses on offer, there is likely to be a course that exactly fits your needs.
The masters on offer range from conversion courses for graduates with non-computing first degrees through taught and research masters to professional development courses for people already working in the industry. Potential careers are endless: how about a software designer with Google, the creator of CGI scenes in feature films, network manager in a medical research team, or the webmaster of www.FindAMasters.com
This subject area is definitely where the money is. You’ll be studying it, you’ll be working with it and ultimately you’ll be earning loads of it. That’s why the number of debt-laden university graduates applying to work in the financial sector has been rising sharply of late. Of course you don’t have to opt for one of the hundreds of MAs in Accounting, Banking or Finance. Courses such as the MA in Development Economics or the MSc in Economics and Public Policy will educate you about micro-financing in developing countries or equip you with skills you can use for the public good as an economist for local or national government.
Several MBAs are available, or you could complete an MA, MSc, MRes and various postgraduate certificates and diplomas, either taught or by research. A first degree in mathematics, economics, management or business would probably be a good start but is often not a necessary requirement. Career paths from here include becoming an auditor, accountant, venture capitalist, civil servant working for HM Treasury, investment banker, stockbroker, economist and many other very well paid professions.
The subject of Information Systems is concerned with the business applications of computing networks, software and technology. Many of the hundreds of courses available are designed to equip you with the skills to create and maintain computer networks for large organisations and businesses, and have titles such as Electronic Commerce, IT Project Management and Enterprise Information Systems. Other courses on offer include Internet Engineering, Health Informatics and Library, Archive and Information Studies.
Both taught and research masters are available, as well as an MBA and postgraduate certificates and diplomas. Entry requirements vary. Some courses are aimed specifically at people without first degrees in Information Systems, Computing or Management. Others are aimed at IT professionals wishing to extend their skills. Career paths from here might include working as an IT manager or software designer for a major banking house or insurance company or a software engineer for Google.
Materials technology involves the design and creation of the materials we use to make everything from plastic forks and silicone oven mitts to astronauts’ outfits and nuclear reactor rods. Just one small example of materials technology that has had a real impact on our lives in the last fifty years, is the invention of a lightweight breathable waterproof and windproof fabric textile that we know as Gore- Tex. Courses in this subject area cover all sorts of applications of materials technology from Textiles, Fashion and Surface Design through Nanomaterials for Nanoengineering to Biomaterials and Tissue Engineering. By far the best titled course, however, is Stickiness in the Drying of Food Powders. .
Both research and taught masters are available, as well as postgraduate certificates and diplomas. Careers from here include working for a pharmaceutical company developing, for example, a new type of plaster that doesn’t sting when you rip it off; or working in the research and development department of an environmental company designing a new form of plastic that is not derived from the oil industry.
The numbers game is a beautiful one at postgraduate level with pure maths veering off into the territory of philosophy and applied maths and statistics being able to solve incredibly complicated problems with real world applications. Many of these courses, for example MScs in Insurance and Risk Management, Mathematical Trading and Finance or Financial Mathematics, will develop the skills of a maths graduate to suit a career in the financial sector or as an actuary. Others are more geared towards scientific applications, for example the MSc in Applied Mathematical Sciences with Biological and Ecological Modelling. Operational research is a mathematically-based system for decision making and management and is inherently vocational.
Both research and taught masters are available, as well as postgraduate certificates, diplomas and PGCEs. You will need a first degree in mathematics or possibly physics or engineering. Potential careers might include becoming an epidemiologist using medical statistics to find out the causes of cancer or at the other end of the altruistic spectrum working as a stockbroker in the City.
Physics is really hard. It’s full of concepts like quantum mechanics, string theory and special relativity that only about four people in the universe can actually understand. Astronomy is a sort of physics of the stars - the ones in the sky, not famous people. (By the way, if you’re thinking: making up horoscopes isn’t that hard, you’re thinking of astrology which is not at all the same thing.) The courses on offer in this subject area can act as a bridge between undergraduate study and a PhD, which you will need if you intend to carry on in academic or other branches of research.
Both research and taught masters are available, as well as postgraduate certificates and diplomas and PGCE teaching qualifications. You will need an undergraduate degree in physics or mathematics and the brain the size of a planet. Unruly white hair and odd socks are optional. Career paths from here include being a Nobel Prize-winning research scientist, working with the Hadron Super-collider at CERN, taking over from Patrick Moore presenting The Sky At Night or designing new forms of laser-guided weaponry for a defence contractor.