DEGREES OFFERED       [PhD]       [MS]       [MST]        [Distribution Requirement]

Doctor of Philosophy (Phd) Degree

Most students entering the Physics Department as graduate students expect to obtain a Ph.D. The average length of time necessary to obtain a physics Ph.D. is around 5.5 years. The time required depends on the student’s undergraduate preparation, ability and initiative in course work and research, and the nature of his or her research program. The Graduate Catalog states that the minimum number of credits necessary to obtain a Ph.D. is 90 credits after a Bachelors of Science Degree (B.S.). As physics students usually gain credits at the rate of 24 credits a year, this means that a Ph.D. can be obtained in less than four years, but it is not usually the case that the research is completed in this time, and so the total number of credits is infrequently a limiting factor.

Credit towards this total of 90 credits can be obtained for those students who already have a Master’s (M.S.) in Physics from a recognized institution. In general, an M.S. counts as 30 credits towards a Ph.D., and the credit transfer is easy to arrange through the Physics Program Assistant for graduate affairs. If a student has prior graduate experience at another university, they can apply for some credit to be transferred. This needs the permission of the graduate coordinator, who will then make the request to the College and the Graduate school. Each decision is on a case-by-case basis. If you would like credit transferred in this way, please make the request well before you wish to obtain a Ph.D. To count towards the 90 credits, the courses should be at the 5000+ level and be in physics or associated subjects. Courses taken a second time cannot count (except for those courses, such as PHY 7979, which explicitly allow for multiple credits).

Minimum residence, period of concentration and other requirements common to all departments of the University are set by the Graduate School and are described in the Graduate Catalog. These are seldom matters of concern for doctoral students in physics. A detailed description of the graduate program is available at

Master of Science (MS) Degree

There are three options available for obtaining a Master's degree. In general, they can all be taken as a terminal degree or concurrently with a Ph.D.. The three options are a Master's with thesis, a Master's non-thesis (sometimes known as a Master's by exam), a Master of Science in Teaching (M.S.T.). All students must form a Supervisory Committee for each degree they are taking. Also, all students must have a GPA of at least 3.0 for the courses in each degree.

The Master's with thesis is generally taken by students who do not wish to continue to a Ph.D., or do not pass the academic hurdles necessary to proceed to a Ph.D. The most fundamental requirement is the research necessary for a defensible thesis. Department requirements are that the student take the first semester of graduate Quantum Mechanics and Electricity and Magnetism, and pass the preliminary examination by the end of their second year. The basic Graduate School requirements are 30 credit hours including 6 credits in PHY 6971 (Master's Research).

A Master's non-thesis requires more coursework than a Master's with thesis, but does not require research. It is often taken by students who can pass the Department's academic requirements but do not choose to proceed to a Ph.D., or taken en route to a Ph.D.. The Department requirements for a M.S. non-thesis are that the student passes the preliminary examination by the end of their second year, obtain a GPA of at least 3.0 in the 6 core courses, and satisfy the Ph.D. distribution Requirement (see Ph.D. program for details). Graduate School regulations dictate a total of 30 credits of which a maximum of 6 credits are 's/u' type credits; the above program will satisfy these requirements.

Master of Science in Teaching (MST) Degree

A Master of Science in Teaching degree requires a combination of solid coursework in physics, courses in the education department and a series of teaching-related projects. This degree is designed for graduate students who intend to pursue a career in teaching.

It is sometimes possible to obtain two Master's degrees, but this is more problematic than obtaining an M.S. en route to a Ph.D. If you are interested in this option, please make sure that you obey the stringent Graduate School regulations for M.S. degrees, in particular those concerning the sharing of credits between two degrees.

Main requirements for a MST Degree
  • 36 credit hours as a graduate student
  • Completion of the “core course” curriculum (with at least a “C” in each course)
  • 6 credits of “Internship in Teaching” (PHY 6943). These are a combination of laboratory or demonstration work, and discussion work. For the first of these a project must be completed in collaboration with the Director of Undergraduate Laboratories or with the Scientific Specialist in charge of demonstrations for lectures. For the second of these, the student should act as assistant to a lecturer beyond their job description as a Teaching Assistant. A faculty member sitting in the classroom and interviewing the students taught will evaluate the student’s teaching technique.
  • The student must, during their time as a Graduate Assistant, act both as a Teaching Assistant both in the undergraduate laboratories and in discussion sections. 9 credits of education courses. We have a list of suitable education courses.
  • The examination for the degree of M.S.T. has both written and oral parts. For the written part of the examination, it is required that the students take the “preliminary exam”. The oral part of the exam will include discussions of the experimental project used for the “Internship in Teaching” and include subjects relevant to education in physics agreed between the student and their advisor.