This document summarizes the graduate Ph.D. program in physics at Washington University. (Students are occasionally accepted to work towards the M.A., but they typically have to find their own financial support; for Master’s degree requirements, see the degree requirements page).
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences (GSAS) has its own additional policies and requirements that students should be aware of: see the GSAS website.
Further explanation and help is available from
- Ms. Sarah Akin, Graduate Secretary
- Prof. Dickhoff, Graduate Student Advisors for first and second year students
- Prof. Carlsson, Director of Graduate Studies
The typical graduate student career
- Course work: 3 or 4 courses, plus 582 and 597.
Course work: 3 or 4 courses. Look for a thesis advisor.
- Course work: 3 or 4 courses. Find a thesis advisor.
Course work: 3 or 4 courses. Complete the qualification procedure.
- Thesis research. Students will be manually registered for LGS9000 beginning in their third year.
- as above
- Complete research, write dissertation and undergo oral defense. Graduation!
Registration for courses
- A Diagnostic placement examination is taken by every entering student immediately before their first semester begins. This is a take-home, open-book, undergraduate-level examination. The results are only used by the graduate advisor to help the student choose appropriate first-semester courses; they are promptly discarded and play no part in later evaluations of the student's progress.
- Permission to enroll in courses.
Each semester, before registering for courses, students should meet their advisor to discuss their planned course load. Once the advisor has given approval, the student can register.
- Taking non-artsci or non-physics courses.
Physics students are enrolled in the school of Arts and Sciences: to take courses in other schools (Engineering, Business, Medical School, Law, Design, Social Work, etc) a student must get permission from the director of graduate studies. Students should consult with their graduate advisor before taking non-physics courses.
- Permission to drop courses.
Students must get permission from their graduate advisor before dropping any course. This applies to English Language Program courses as well as physics courses. A student who drops a class without permission will be charged the tuition on the portion attended, which could amount to many thousands of dollars, and may lose their financial support (UF or TA) for the next year.
Finding a thesis advisor
- Course 582. (Fall of first year, 1 credit course). This consists of weekly lectures by different faculty members introducing their research.
- Colloquium. Students should regularly attend the department colloquium (every Wednesday at 4pm), and hear invited speakers give introductory talks about a wide variety of research areas.
- The graduate student seminar series. These regular talks, on Friday at 4pm, are given by upper-level graduate students who explain the work they are doing with their thesis advisors.
- Research seminars. Students are welcome to attend research seminars (advertised on the department events web page and on the noticeboard outside Compton 245) to get an idea of what work is being done in the department.
- Talking to professors. Students are encouraged to make appointments to meet with professors and talk with them about their research.
- Graduate peer mentors. They organize regular social events for first-year students and offer their advice and experience.
Ph.D. Degree Requirements
Thesis advisor and faculty mentoring committee
- A current physics department faculty member with the title of Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor.
- One of the specially designated tenured faculty in other departments. This list currently consists of Prof. Sobotka (Chemistry) and Prof. Sarentites (Chemistry).
Resources for students with concerns
- not sure if you are on track to meet the program requirements
- feeling that you are not being treated properly or fairly by someone
- feeling that things are not going well; anxiety; depression
- any other issues that are worrying you
- the Graduate Secretary
- the Graduate Student Advisors for first and second year students
- the Director of Graduate Studies
- any other faculty member with whom you feel comfortable
Here are some specific suggestions.
Students who are interested in mentored research experiences in other departments (i.e. with a professor who cannot be their formal thesis advisor) should first discuss their plans with the Director of Graduate Studies. Summer fellowships, such as the Hughes Fellowships, can be used outside the Physics Department only with the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies.
Detailed information is available on the degree requirements page.
The thesis advisor must be one of the following:
If a student wishes to perform research in collaboration with a professor who does not meet these criteria, then that professor cannot be their formal thesis advisor, but should be a member of their faculty mentoring committee.
Apart from the thesis advisor, the faculty mentoring committee must contain at least one person whose name appears on the physics web site faculty listing, as Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, or Emeritus Professor (or research or joint faculty of these ranks). The other member(s) of the mentoring committee can be faculty members from any department of Washington University.
The student should meet with his/her faculty mentoring committee at least once a year to review progress in thesis research. Every November the committee sends a report on the student's progress to the chairman (via the graduate secretary). More frequent meetings may be appropriate in some cases. If a student's progress is deemed unsatisfactory by the committee, it may meet more frequently and require continuing progress reports. In the unusual case of unsatisfactory progress, the committee may recommend that the student withdraw from the graduate school, that the chairman or research supervisor cut off funding, or that the faculty remove the student from candidacy.
please come and talk with someone. It could be one of the graduate student mentors or one of the staff or faculty responsible for grad students:
Counseling is also available from Student Health Services.