Read what current and former students say about their study choice and experiences with the programme.
During my Bachelor’s I really liked the combination of theory together with computer simulations, so I was looking for a Master’s that combined these area’s. In the beginning, I was kind of hesitant about experimental physics because I thought it would involve a lot of lab work - not really my field of interest. However, it readily became clear to me that with this Master’s you can choose your own path and do the things you like. If you want to be in the lab there is plenty of options for it, but if you, like me, care more about theory or simulations, you can specialize in these areas.
The thing that I like most about the Master’s is the freedom you have in choosing your courses. At the same time, this flexibility can be one of the downsides: Having a lot of freedom also means that at one point you must make a choice. Knowing what you want can be hard sometimes. After having done some general courses, I chose to specialize in the programming side of soft condensed matter. Currently, I am working on my thesis, where I try to predict the dynamics of glassy systems using machine learning techniques
The fact that the teachers are working in the fields they teach courses about, means that the physics that you learn about is developing at that moment. This adds a layer of relevance: you do not just learn about well-established theories, you also see how physics evolves and how research works. During your thesis, which takes a year, you become part of one of the research groups, which means you get to contribute to the science you just learned about.
After my Master's I want to continue with a PhD, probably in physics, but I am also looking at other research fields. I think that one of the most important things you learn during your Master's is a way to analyze and solve problems, something that will come in handy no matter where you end up.
I would definitely choose this Master's again if I had to choose again. Maybe I would pick some courses differently since I now know better what I like. On the other hand, it was also cool to see a lot of different fields in physics. If you are interested in both a theoretical and experimental approach of physics, I would really recommend this Master’s. It is quite a busy study, but at the same time, you learn a lot of really interesting things.
Rinske Alkemade, student
My story is a bit unusual! After my Bachelor in Physics at Utrecht I started with a Master's in Applied Physics at the Technical University in Eindhoven. Within short time however, I started to miss Utrecht’s extensive math’s foundation and way of explaining concepts: starting from a few simple statements and building on them until they explain the world. That's when I decided to combine both programmes, to get the best of both worlds!
Compared to Theoretical Physics, Experimental Physics teaches you a lot about an experimentalist’s point of view on research. What makes it so interesting for me is that you can see how things ‘work’ in real life, and not just on paper! You can always make it challenging on a very fundamental, theoretical level as well; but working in a lab you can see theories come to life (or not, which is also a cool thing).
With Experimental Physics you get the unique combination of studying at a really good university, doing a lot of cool theoretical courses, ánd having a good foundation for further studies. Besides, you also get to choose from a lot of different areas of physics you can focus on, like high energy/particle physics, optics, biophysics, simulation, condensed matter physics, field theory, etcetera. You can even do an internship somewhere if you want more hands-on experience in your masters.
When applying for this Master’s, I wrote in my application letter that ”I prefer to get my hands dirty and touch the things I'm working on". I like to spend time in a laboratory using and understanding the tools that help me build the experimental setup I am aiming for.
Before coming to Utrecht, I wasn’t sure whether a Master’s was the right thing for me, since the only practical studies I could find were either focusing on one specific topic, or given from an engineer’s point of view. What I wanted was to study how to build and optimize and experimental setup based on fundamental research, and learn it from a physicist’s point of view. I was really happy when I found this combination in the Experimental Physics Master’s here in Utrecht. That’s why I applied and luckily I got accepted into the programme!
Personally, I really like the approach of this Master’s: it is very theoretical when a model is presented, and very practical when you have to actually measure quantities (for instance how to use a microscope to know the size of a particle, or how to use software to track the particle's movement). I wouldn't really like to become an expert in one field without having the ability to comprehend how I can see and explain the world.
Within the programme you can choose your own track (for instance Particle Physics or Soft Matter) and take exams in that field. In addition, you can also choose a profile which is a sort of minor. I am now in the Educational Profile to become a teacher. It’s a nice opportunity to keep your options open. When I am finished with my Master’s I can decide to go on with education and get a 2nd level degree of teaching, or continue my studies in Physics (e.g. by doing a PhD).
I am also working as a teaching assistant at Utrecht University for Bachelor’s courses on topics which I followed in my previous university. It is a very good opportunity to deepen your knowledge and learn how to explain concepts, ideas and formulas you use. As a physicist you can choose to be a teaching assisting for courses from both Physics and Mathematics.
I doubted whether I should choose the Master's programme Experimental or Theoretical Physics. Eventually, I chose Experimental Physics because of the possibility to combine both theoretical and experimental courses. This would be much harder if I chose the Theoretical Physics Master's. Another reason for choosing Experimental Physics was that I wanted to write my thesis in an experimental group.
The first year is divided into two blocks. In the first block you attend courses about soft condensed matter and in the second block you attend courses about high-energy physics. Apart from a few mandatory courses like Experimental Quantum Physics, you can still choose your own way.
In the first year I had an average of 25 hours of courses a week. In addition, I also had assignments, homework and exams I had to study for. Nevertheless, I was still able to do sports twice a week.
Currently, I am in my second year and decided to focus more on soft condensed matter. I also attended more theoretical courses like Statistical Field Theory. I am doing research in the group of Peter van der Straten, where we are trapping atoms with laser beams. In order to do this, we have to adjust the lasers in the right way. This takes a great amount of time (3-4 months), but during this time I have learned a lot.
After my Master's, I started as a PhD candidate at Utrecht. Note that if you want to start a PhD in the following year, you have to start applying before April.