Degree Requirements

This document summarizes the physics department's degree requirements. These are in addition to the requirements imposed by the graduate school.

Students are normally accepted for graduate work towards the Ph.D.
Students are occasionally accepted to work towards the M.A., but Masters students do not receive financial support from the department, nor, typically, from the graduate school.

Requirements for M.A.

  1. 36 semester hours of course credits, of which at least 30 semester hours must be in classroom or seminar courses at the 400 level or higher. Classroom and seminar courses include reading courses, for which students should register for 589/590 "Selected Topics in Physics," and supervised research, for which students should register for 593/594 "Introduction to Methods in Physics". The latter can be used for a maximum of 6 units of credit.
  2. The student must get permission from their advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies to take courses outside the physics department.
  3. The student must maintain an overall grade average of B (GPA 3.0) or better.
  4. Among the student's coursework there must be at least 12 semester-hours of the "core" courses required for Ph.D. qualification (see below), passed with an average grade of B (GPA 3.0) or better. A given core course may be taken only once. In the event that more than four different core courses (more than 12 semester-hours) are taken, the average grade will be determined from the best four core-course grades.


Requirements for Ph.D.

  1. Outline of requirements

    • Complete 36 units of "academic credit" (see below) maintaining an average grade of B (GPA 3.0). Once the academic credit is completed, a student may take up to a total of 72 units of additional lecture courses.
    • Pass the Ph.D. qualification procedure. This must be done before a student can formally join a research group, and is normally completed before the start of the third year.
    • Teaching requirements.
    • Write a thesis ("doctoral dissertation").
    • Pass an oral thesis defense examination.

    Details of these requirements are given below. Failure to make satisfactory progress towards timely completion of requirements may result in loss of standing in the program.

  2. 36 unit "academic credit" course requirement

    Courses that count towards academic credit are

    • any regular 400- or 500-level lecture courses in the physics department, including 597/598 "Teaching Methods" and 582 "Research Seminar".
    • courses outside the physics department, if approved by the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies.
    • reading courses, for which students should register for 589/590 "Selected Topics in Physics".
    • mentored research, for which students should register for 593/594 "Introduction to Methods in Physics". This can be used for a maximum of 6 units of academic credit.

    Students can take up to four 400-level physics classes towards their academic credit without special permission from the graduate studies committee. However, they should discuss the merits of doing so with their advisor.

  3. Ph.D. qualification: course requirements

    For qualification, students must pass six core 500-level physics courses. In those courses the student must maintain an average of a B (GPA 3.0), with no more than one grade lower than B-. A given core course may be taken only once. In the event that more than six different core courses are taken, the average grade will be determined from the grades in the four required core courses and the best two other core courses.

    Must take plus at least two of
    501 (Theoretical Methods 1) 502 (Theoretical Methods 2)
    505 (E&M 1) 506 (E&M 2)
    523 (QM 1) 507 (Classical Mech) or 509 (Nonlinear dynamics)
    529 (Stat Mech 1) 524 (QM 2)

    These requirements can be modified or waived for students with previous graduate work, e.g., a Master's degree in physics.

  4. Ph.D. qualification: oral examination requirement

    To qualify, the student must give a presentation to a committee of three physics faculty members (the prospective research advisor and two others). The student should demonstrate a basic understanding of a major topic of current research in the selected area of study, chosen in consultation with the student’s prospective thesis advisor. One week before the oral exam, the student must prepare a written paper (approximately 1500-3000 words) summarizing the content of the presentation, and give it to the committee. The student’s responses to questions raised by the examination committee are graded as adequate or not. Students have a chance to answer inadequately answered questions in writing within 48 hours after the examination. The student is not allowed to receive assistance in preparing the written response from any other individuals. The answers should be either given in person to the Chair of the examination committee, or emailed to the Chair as a pdf file so that they have a time stamp. The committee will determine whether the written answers are sufficient.

    The committee must be chosen and approved by the department chairman by the end of a student's third semester (typically in December of the second year). The oral examination should be taken by the end of a student's fourth semester (typically in May of the second year). If a student fails it, then they can take it again one more time.

  5. Teaching requirements

    These requirements must be completed before the student submits his/her doctoral dissertation to the graduate school.

    1. Take Physics 597.
      Graduate students are required to take Physics 597 "Teaching Methods in Physics", prior to serving as an Assistant in Instruction. Students typically take Physics 597 in their first fall semester.
    2. Be an Assistant in Instruction for two semesters.
      Each graduate student is required to serve as an Assistant in Instruction for at least two semesters. Students are expected to devote 10-15 hours per week to the AI. They are required to be conscientious and to complete all grading tasks accurately and promptly.
    3. Four hours of oral presentations.
      Graduate students must give a total of 4 hours of "specialized oral presentation". For example, teaching a class (e.g. when substituting for a professor); giving seminars such as the weekly graduate seminar; giving oral presentations at conferences, journal clubs, etc. Certain outreach activities sponsored by the department may also count towards this requirement.

    Each student must submit to the Graduate Studies Committee a form (available here) detailing how the teaching requirement was completed. Students with substantial teaching experience who have received a Master's degree prior to entering the program may petition the graduate studies committee to be excused from one or both of the first two requirements.

  6. Thesis requirements

    See the graduate school's Doctoral Dissertation Guide.

  7. Oral defense of thesis

    See the graduate school's Doctoral Dissertation Guide.

    Note: the rules for the oral defense committee will change on Jan. 1, 2014. In brief, committees that meet after that date are only required to have a total of five members, at least three of whom must be from the student's department, and at least one of whom must be from outside the department. This is a reduction from the pre-2014 requirements, which call for six committee members, with at least two from outside the department. If your defense takes place after Jan. 1, 2014, you may use the new rules, but it is not necessary to change a committee already set up under the old rules. The graduate school's Doctoral Dissertation Guide (link above) will be updated after Jan. 1, 2014, and you should make sure you have the document that is "Revised January 2014" in order to find the detailed new rules.