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Physics M2 – Frequently Asked Questions

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Entrance applications

Validation of modules, semesters and ECTS credits

Research placements

ENS Lyon's specific thesis scholarships and PhDs

Entrance applications

Is it possible to apply to directly enter the M2?

External applications for the M2 year are welcome, whether submitted by students from another M1, from an engineering school or from abroad. Generally speaking, about a third of a given year's student body comprises students from outside the Physics & Chemistry programme.

What is the required academic level?

We remain very attentive to the academic level of entering students. As part of their initial coursework, our students take numerous fundamental courses, notably in quantum mechanics, mathematical physics, group theory, condensed matter, statistical physics, etc. Our M2 is very demanding, and each year we must turn down many applications so as to maintain a reasonable number of students and ensure a good success rate for those students selected: we do not admit students for whom we predict excessive difficulties vis-à-vis our programme, so as to avoid their "wasting" an academic year. For students applying from a French university other than ENS Lyon, we typically expect them to have completed a M1 programme with honours ("mention bien" or a minimum average of 14/20), having earned good marks in the core subjects of our M2. These criteria are even stricter for students from foreign universities, for they must have not only an excellent understanding of physics, but also a great capacity for adaptation in order to rapidly and successfully integrate the ENS programme, which relies heavily upon an extreme formalism in instruction.

As a foreigner, can I apply to enter the M2?

Applications by foreign students are welcome. Academic registrations are usually carried out during the spring; however, it is always a good idea to plan ahead so as to best prepare your application and, if need be, search for financial aid for your studies in France, obtain your visa, etc. To this end, our academic registration site is open early, and we send out our replies at the beginning of June. You can also send us a CV, indicating the courses you have taken, as well as your marks, so as to receive an opinion on the likelihood of your application dossier's being accepted.

Do you offer financial aid?

Since June 2012, our master's degree programme has offered Université de Lyon scholarships for international students, ranging from €400 to €800 per month. Contact the programme directors for more information.
ENS Lyon also offers specific grants: the Ampère scholarships. Contact the international relations office at ENS Lyon for more information.

Validation of modules, semesters and ECTS credits

Is it possible to validate course options from another training programme?

For 4th semester course options, if our M2 offers no module in the domain of interest to you, you can propose courses from other training programmes (Lyon-based M2s, M1 courses, summer schools, etc.). It is important to submit your request early in order to obtain prior approval by the directors, who will carefully consider your proposal in terms of the proposed course's instruction level and content. Pay careful attention to the number of ECTS credits: Sometimes more credits are required for exterior courses to compensate for the 4 ECTS credits of an ENS Lyon course.

Is it possible to validate ECTS credits in another training programme for the 3rd semester?

We study each proposal very carefully; however, we only very rarely accept a course from another training programme as a substitute for a 3rd semester module of the Physics M2. Indeed, our common-core courses are very diverse and must meet strict academic standards, while we naturally have no control over the academic standards of other programmes.

I completed a module with a very average mark. Can I retake the exam during the second session to improve my mark?
I excelled at my re-sit exam, so why is my final mark only 10 out of 20?

There is no real "second session" in our master's degree programme, only the possibility to retake or re-sit an exam, for which the maximum allowed mark is 10 out of 20: either the student understood and so validates the course, or the student did not understand and so cannot validate this UE. In this manner, students are evaluated on an equal footing, for they are all assessed via the same exam, and "second session" students do not benefit from additional preparation time which would allow them to earn better marks.

Is it possible to validate the M2 "with compensation" among the different courses or semesters?

No: the Physics M2 allows for no "compensation" among courses or semesters. A minimum of 30 ECTS credits must be validated for the 3rd semester and 30 ECTS for the 4th semester. The 4-month research placement must also be validated.

Research placements

When should I start looking for a research placement?

Start thinking in September, to determine your interests. In October, seek advice. In November, get active: send out emails, visit laboratories, etc. Find a research placement by the end of February and have your choice validated by the directors. Fill out and sign the placement agreement before the end of March.

Where should I look for a research placement? Whom can I ask for advice?

At the studies portal, you'll find a dossier gathering together all research placement and thesis proposals that we receive. This extensive list can be a good place to start if you have no avenue to explore. Placement proposals from previous years, even if they haven't been renewed, can also serve as interesting points of departure. Take advantage of the physics laboratory seminars to discover current research themes and actors. Take advantage of any laboratory visits that are offered you. Discuss your project with the M2 directors or with your many teachers, who won't hesitate to share their contacts with you. Contact researchers active within the fields or at the laboratories that interest you, even if they do not explicitly offer you a research placement: initiative and motivation are the driving forces behind research, so you'll open many doors! If you've decided on a placement, stop by to discuss it with the programme directors, or send them more details by email. It is important to visit the laboratory in question and meet with its students, but it is also important to visit other laboratories by way of comparison.

What should I ask during visits to laboratories?

Subject and methods? (Experimental, analytical, digital, etc.)
Financial assistance for research placements or theses?
Number of students pursuing a thesis?
Opinions of previous students?
Possibility of complementary instruction or training ("ACE")?

When should I have my research placement project validated by the M2 directors?

It is in fact preferable to submit to us your research placement project as soon as possible: the scientific quality of research teams and laboratories varies, as does the quality of the supervision and training they offer their trainees and PhD students. We can also warn you if a proposal does not seem serious to us, or presents particular challenges!

What are the administrative formalities for the research placement?

To facilitate the procedures, you should first fill out:
- The research placement project form
- The placement agreement request (note: for internal or external placements), to fill out  with your supervisor and the director of the host laboratory.
In addition, you must prepare a description of the research placement and provide an insurance certificate stipulating that you are covered during this placement.
Once this dossier is complete, you can stop by the office of Anne-Cécile Bouchet (LE 225, next to the office of Jérôme Calvet) to draw up your agreement.
These documents can be downloaded via the studies portalBe careful not to wait until the last minute to take care of these formalities!

Are the research placement dates flexible? Can we carry out a longer placement?

The period set aside for research placements is from April to July; we require a placement lasting at least 16 weeks. Of course, nothing prevents you from pursuing a longer placement! However, the 4a period courses finish up during the second-to-last week of March, with exams scheduled for the following week. It is therefore difficult to start the placement early. Likewise, the research placement report is due in mid-August, with an oral presentation in late August – early September. The flexibility of placement dates is therefore limited, especially for placements outside Lyon. Nevertheless, you can always seek out the advice of your supervisor to get an early start on your bibliographic research and thereby be operational at the start of the placement period!

I would like to pursue my thesis at the laboratory where I completed my L3 or M1 research placement. Can I carry out my M2 placement at this same laboratory?

If your thesis project and one of your previous research placements share the same laboratory and supervisor, then you enjoy the advantage of familiarity, which is excellent! However, we strongly recommend that for your M2 placement you use this advantage to discover another lab: discuss your options with your future director, share your desire to pursue a thesis with him, and ask him to advise you on a team working on a similar or complementary subject for your M2 research placement. He knows you and will most likely welcome your request, which would allow you to prepare the groundwork for your PhD by widening your horizon and expanding your list of contacts. Your 4-month placement will probably have only a minor impact on the scientific production of your future 3-year thesis; however, these 4 months can open doors for you. It is therefore a good investment to pursue your placement at another laboratory. However, if your future supervisor seems reticent, don't hesitate to explain that this suggestion comes from the M2 directors and that we would be delighted to discuss it with him/them!

Are there scholarships for carrying out a placement abroad?

You can apply for the "ExploRA'sup" regional scholarship, transport assistance, and the "ENS Mobilité" scholarship. The ENS Lyon international relations website presents the various options.

ENS Lyon's specific thesis scholarships and PhDs

Are ENS Lyon's specific PhD contracts limited geographically?

ENS Lyon's specific scholarships attributed to "normaliens" are not limited geographically to Lyon, but rather to theses pursued in France (with the possibility of co-supervised theses pursued abroad). Keep in mind that the French ministry distributing these contracts seeks to cover all of France and the directors seek to avoid too great a concentration within the Paris and Lyon regions. However, when these thesis grants are awarded to auditors, local subjects are favoured.

Are ENS Lyon's specific PhD contracts reserved for "normaliens"?

A specific channel is set aside for ENS universities to request doctoral contracts from the French ministry; these contracts are meant first and foremost – but not exclusively – for ENS students. If the number of doctoral contracts provided by the ministry is superior to the number of selected ENS applicants, the university administration has chosen to retain these supplementary contracts in order to award them to auditors. Interested students should contact Eric Freyssingeas, responsible for these thesis grants at ENS Lyon. Auditors admitted to apply for these specific scholarships must have completed their entire master's degree (M1 and M2) at ENS. In 2011, of the 87 scientific scholarships awarded, 5 were attributed to auditors (around one per master's).

What is the selection calendar for ENS Lyon's specific PhD contracts?

November: students must contact Eric Freyssingeas, in charge of these scholarships, to indicate whether they would like to pursue a thesis (to allow the university to request the corresponding number of thesis grants) and, if so, at which university (to determine the number of students seeking to carry out their thesis in the Paris region). Indeed, in 2011, ENS Lyon was sharply criticized by the Court of Auditors, for too many of our students pursue their thesis in Paris (especially in the arts, with over 50% of ENS Lyon students heading to Paris, though the percentage is a reasonable 30-35% for the sciences). December: applying students and auditors receive a dossier to fill out. February: deadline for returning the completed dossier, including a thesis subject, a CV, administrative information, signatures and the student's choice of allocation coupled with instruction ("ACE" complementary instruction/training; again, this information allows us to request the correct number of grants from the ministry). March: dossiers are ranked according to merit by the departments. May: meeting of the attribution committee (university administration, departmental directors and master's programme directors) to distribute the doctoral contracts awarded by the ministry to students and auditors. June: the names of students selected for a grant and who accept their contract are sent to the ministry, along with the location (university) of their thesis and their choice regarding the "ACE". Universities are informed of the students' "arrival" on 1 September.