Frequently Asked Questions for Current Students
This listing has been made to address the questions that are most often asked by graduate students in our program. The answers to these questions are described in detail in the other materials that are distributed or available, but sometimes it is helpful to have them summarized in one place. From time to time, the rules and regulations change, so this document is to be used only as a guide. The official answer to the questions may still be found in the latest rules of the University of Florida, the Graduate School, and the Department of Physics. Naturally, if you have any questions or if you would like further clarification, please meet with the Graduate Coordinator or one of the Program Assistants in the Office of Student Services, NPB 1210.
FAQs are provided in the following subjects:
[Definitions] [Appointments] [PhD Program] [MS Program] [Research]
[General Advice] [Qualifying and Final Exams]
What are the requirements for the PhD degree?
Generally speaking, the requirements involve passing the Preliminary Examination, completing the Core Courses with a GPA of 3.30 or higher, completing the Distribution Requirement, forming a Supervisory Committee, passing the Qualifying Examination, writing a PhD thesis, and defending the thesis at the Final Examination.
How long should it take me to get my PhD degree?
The time necessary to reach the PhD degree depends on the unique background and abilities of each individual student and their thesis project. Generally speaking, the PhD degree should be accessible after 3 to 5 years in the graduate program. In some cases, research beyond the 5th year is required to complete the thesis project.
When am I expected to take the Preliminary Examination (Prelim Exam)?
You are expected to take the Prelim Exam at your first possible opportunity, typically a few days before classes begin in August. You are expected to take this Exam even if you do not feel prepared as it provides one of many pieces of information that are used to help formulate your academic program.
When do I have to pass the Preliminary Examination?
The Prelim Exam must be passed before the end of your second year in our program.
What Core Courses do I have to take?
The Core Courses consist of 2 semesters of quantum mechanics, 2 semesters of electromagnetism, 1 semester of classical mechanics, and 1 semester of statistical mechanics.
When do the Core Courses have to be completed?
The Core Courses have to be completed by the end of the second year. A GPA in these courses must be equal to, or greater than, 3.30 for a student to continue to a PhD degree. A GPA in these courses must be equal to, or greater than, 3.00 for a student to receive a MS without thesis degree or a MS with thesis degree.
What is the Distribution Requirement?
In summary, the Distribution Requirement is an obligation for the student to successfully complete 3 additional physics graduate courses beyond the Core Courses. A grade of B or higher is required, and each of the 3 additional courses should be from a different sub?field of physics.
When does the Distribution Requirement have to be completed?
In most cases, this requirement is completed during the second year of study. In some cases, it is finished in the third year.
When am I expected to have my Supervisory Committee formed?
The Supervisory Committee should be formed before the end of the second year. In some special cases, this committee may be formed during the Fall Semester of the third year.
Who is supposed to be on the Supervisory Committee?
The Supervisory Committee should consist of the Committee Chair, who is the faculty member who will be the day-to-day supervisor of your research. Typically 3 additional faculty members from the Department of Physics are on the Committee, and they are selected to represent a balance of expertise and theory/experiment. Finally, 1 member of the Committee must be from outside the Department of Physics. In most cases, the potential membership of the Supervisory Committee is discussed between the student and the Chair of the Committee. After some discussion, the student usually meets with potential members and asks them to serve.
What is the Supervisory Committee supposed to do?
The Supervisory Committee serves to judge the progress of the student and the student's thesis project. To fulfill this task, the Supervisory Committee examines the student at the Qualifying Examination. If the Supervisory Committee is concerned that the student is not sufficiently prepared to continue, then possible resolutions might be proposed. In short, the Supervisory Committee should work to make the student a better physicist.
How often do I have to meet with my Supervisory Committee?
The student's first formal meeting the Supervisory Committee is at the Qualifying Examination. If the student is making reasonable progress toward the completion of the thesis, then the next formal meeting might be at the student's final examination. Specifically, the student is expected to meet with the Supervisory Committee once a year.
When am I expected to have attempted my Qualifying Examination?
The Qualifying Examination must be attempted by the end of the third year. Since it is often difficult to convene a Supervisory Committee during the summer semesters, September, October, November, January, February, and March are the most popular months to schedule this Exam.
What am I expected to do for the Qualifying Examination?
Although the specific requirements vary for each sub-field, the general requirements are a written part and an oral part. The written part is typically 10 to 15 double spaced pages of text and figures that describe the student's knowledge of the field, progress to date, and proposed thesis topic. The oral part is a 15 to 30 minute description of what the student proposes for a thesis topic. The Supervisory Committee may ask a variety of questions to explore the student's preparation for advanced research and to evaluate the appropriateness of the proposed project.
What happens if my final thesis is not exactly on the topic that I presented as my thesis topic during the Qualifying Examination?
This situation arises often, and it must be judged by the Supervisory Committee. Of course, the Supervisory Committee realizes that hot topics for thesis projects evolve with time. So, if your research still extends to the "cutting edge" of the sub-field where you have been working, then the thesis topic is accepted by the Supervisory Committee. If there are any concerns, then the Supervisory Committee should be informed in advance of modifications of your project.
When am I expected to have passed the Qualifying Examination?
The Qualifying Examination must be passed by the end of your 4th year in our graduate program, but typically it is passed in the 3rd year.
When am I expected to have completed my thesis and to have presented it at my Final Examination?
Depending upon when the Qualifying Exam was passed and the rate of progress on the research topic, most students would complete these finals tasks during their 4th or 5th years.
Are there any time limitations for completing my work toward a PhD degree?
Yes, the Graduate School requires that all work for the doctorate must be completed within five calendar years after the Qualifying Examination, or the Qualifying Examination must be repeated.
Are there any other time constraints that I should know about on my way to a PhD degree?
Yes, the Graduate School requires a minimum of two semesters between the Qualifying Examination and the date of the PhD degree. The semester in which the Qualifying Examination is passed is counted, provided that the Exam occurs before the midpoint of the term.
How long will the Department support me as a TA?
Registration for each semester is contingent upon the student making reasonable progress toward a PhD degree. Although the budget that the Department receives is always fluctuating, the Department is dedicated to supporting students for at least their first two years in the program as long as they are in good academic standing. Additional support beyond the first two years is contingent upon the availability of funds, the progress that the student has made toward the final thesis, and the availability of other funding sources. Support as a TA is sometimes offered to students as late as their fourth year. However, senior graduate students are expected to be supported by RA appointments.
What does 'reasonable progress toward a PhD degree' really mean?
Reasonable progress depends on the unique program of each student, but globally it refers to maintaining a GPA above 3.00 and timely completion the requirements for a PhD degree.
Should I get a MS degree if I am working toward a PhD degree?
Only you can answer this question. Some students like to obtain a MS degree without thesis while on their road to a PhD degree. A few other students seek to obtain a MST degree on their path to a PhD degree. Some other students are not interested in filing for a MS degree while they pursue their PhD degree. The answer to this question is one of personal choice.