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Graduate Program

graduate students

The Department of Physics is dedicated to advancing the forefronts of knowledge in both pure and applied physics, thus providing an exciting intellectual climate for our graduate students. The research activities or our over 40 research faculty members include astrophysics (particle astrophysics, gravitation and cosmology), condensed matter and materials physics (experimental, theoretical and computational), low temperature physics, elementary particle physics (experimental and theoretical) and biological physics. With such diversity in research offerings all of our 120+ graduate students will have an opportunity to pursue research in many areas of contemporary physics. We are committed to designing a program of graduate study that is tailored to your experience and interests. Our Graduate Coordinator sees that all of our graduate students receive personal attention and advice as they progress toward their advanced degree.

The following table displays the standard schedule for a graduate student in our program. This schedule assumes the student enters our program with a bachelor of science in physics and continues to make satisfactory progress towards their degree.

YearRequired ActivityRequired
Year 1Preliminary exam
Core Courses/Explore research opportunities
Pass latest early Spring of second year
GPA > 3.3 (B+ average)
Year 2Additional course work
Find research group
Meet distribution requirements
Form supervisory committee
Year 3Qualifying ExamTwo attempts allowed
Pass latest in Year 4
Year 4+Annual meetings with supervisory committee Satisfactory progress
Final yearFinal examTwo attempts allowed

Core Courses (Department requirement)

All students have to pass each core course unless it is waived by the graduate coordinator (see exceptions below). The student has to achieve a GPA in these courses of 3.33 (B+ average) or higher by the end of the second year.

Note: The graduate school requires that each graduate student maintains a 3.0 GPA throughout his/her career.

Fall CoursesSpring Courses
PHY 6246 Classical MechanicsPHY 6347 Electromagnetic Theory II
PHY 6346 Electromagnetic Theory IPHY 6536 Statistical Mechanics
PHY 6645 Quantum Mechanics IPHY 6646 Quantum Mechanics II
Exceptions regarding the core courses
  • Some incoming teaching assistants will be required to take the English class in order to teach. To meet the requirement of 9 credits, the student will typically take PHY 6346 (EM I) and PHY 6645 (QM I) in addition to the speak class, in their first semester and should plan to take PHY 6246 (CM) in the fall of their second year. However, if the student’s GPA is adequate following spring semester, the graduate coordinator might waive the requirement for PHY 6246.
  • Students might not feel prepared enough to take all three courses in one semester. In this case, the student should meet with the graduate coordinator to discuss taking only two core courses and a less demanding third course.
  • Students who transfer from other universities, where they have taken similar courses before, may be eligible to waive a subset of the core courses if they fulfill certain conditions. These conditions will be set by the coordinator after a discussion with the student.

 Additional course work (Department requirement)

Students are required to take at least three advanced level courses (3 credit courses at 6000-level or higher). Two of these courses have to cover two different sub-fields of physics as defined by the first four columns in table 1; note that not all courses are listed in the table. A third course can be from a third sub-field, from a different relevant discipline, or from an already covered sub-field but it has to address a different aspect of that sub-field. Exceptions can be made but require prior approval from the graduate coordinator.

Fundamental and Particle PhysicsCondensed Matter PhysicsGravitationSpecial Topics (Examples)Courses in related fields (Examples)
6648 QFT I6426 Solid State I6607 Special and General Relativity6555C CryogenicsMAP 6506 Mathematical Methods for Physics and Engineering
7669 QFT II7427 Solid State II7608 Special and General Relativity II7097 Quantum OpticsEEE6397 Semiconductor Device Theory I
6355 Elementary Particle Physics I7428 Modern Condensed Matter7097 Inflationary Cosmology7097 Introduction to Biological PhysicsSTA 5325 Fundamentals of Probability
6358 Standard Model I7429 Phases of Condensed Matter6156 Computer Methods in PhysicsSTA 5328 Fundamentals in Statistical Theory
7357 Elementary Particle Physics II7097 Advanced Topic in Condensed Matter6247 Chemical Physics
7359 Standard Model II7097 Optical effects in Solids6166 Qualitative Methods of Theoretical Physics

Research and Individual Work Courses

In general, as the years go by, students register for fewer lecture courses. Their 9 credit hours are then filled either by seminar courses or by advanced research courses. First year students who have no advisor are recommended to fill any holes in their schedules the first two semesters with three, 1-credit seminar or colloquium courses. Once students have advisors, students need to register for one of the following course numbers:

  • PHY 6905 Individual Work (Max. 4 credits per semester) letter grade awarded
  • PHY 6910 Supervised Research (Max. 5 credits)
  • PHY 6971 Master’s Research. This is for students moving to an M.S. with thesis
  • PHY 7979 Advanced Research (no limit on credits). This is the standard research course for students before they pass the qualifying exam.
  • PHY 7980 Doctoral Research. This is the standard research course for students after they pass the qualifying exam

Research Supervisor and Supervisory Committee

The student should explore research opportunities within the department as early as possible. This is the responsibility of the student and requires that the student be pro-active.

  • The department plans to establish a student seminar where all senior graduate students will give roughly one presentation per year. The audience for these talks are our more senior graduate students and the speaker is expected to start with background material understandable to all students. Following each talk, all students have the opportunity to ask questions as well.
  • The student should talk to faculty members about their research and also talk with the more senior graduate students about their experience.
  • The department will provide a webpage with open research positions which will help you with your search. Note that not all opportunities will be listed on the website; not all groups will always report all open positions and some opportunities might evolve out of a discussion between the student and the advisor.

During year two, the main point of contact for the student should slowly shift from the graduate coordinator to their research supervisor. Once a relationship between the student and the supervisor has been established, the student should start forming the supervisory committee.

Supervisory Committee (SC) (Graduate school requirement)

The SC is chaired by the research supervisor of the student. Four members are required with two of the members part of the department. One of the other two members has to be external to the department which excludes all affiliated members well. The fourth member can be from physics or any other department of the university. The graduate coordinator has to approve the composition of the committee.

The student meets with the SC at least on an annual basis. Typically, the first meeting is the qualifying exam where the student presents his research proposal and initial results. The last meeting will be the final exam. The other meetings should be used to discuss the progress, develop plans and set milestones to guide the student towards the PhD.

Exams

Qualifying exam

Although the specific requirements vary for each sub-field, the general requirements consist of a written portion and oral portion. The written portion 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 written portion should be submitted to the supervising committee at least ten days before the oral examination is scheduled.

For the oral examination the student and the chair have to be present. All other members of the committee can participate remotely. The Chair and the external member can not be substituted. The oral portion has to include 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.

The qualifying meeting has to be announced via email to the entire department and should also appear at least a week in advance on the department website. Forms for the qualifying exam are available from Pam Marlin.

Dissertation submission

The submission of a dissertation is a fairly complex process which include several deadlines imposed by graduate school and the editorial office of the University. Let the graduate student assistant know at the beginning of the semester if you plan to graduate this semester. This is not binding, the academic assistant will let you know what process you have to follow. It is your responsibility to follow these instructions.

Final exam

The final meeting has to be announced via email to the entire department and should also appear at least a week in advance on the department website. Forms for the qualifying exam are available from the academic assistant. For the final meeting, the student and the chair have to be present. All other members of the committee can participate remotely. The Chair and the external member can not be substituted.

Annual meetings

While all members of the committee should be invited in a timely manner, only the student, the chair, and at least two more members of the committee have to be present. The chair of the committee will write a report of the meeting which includes a summary, evaluation of the student’s progress, and recommendations from the committee. The evaluation will act as the formal justification for the research grades (7979, 7980) given by the student’s advisor during the regular semester. The report has to be signed by the entire committee (including the members who were not present), the graduate coordinator, and the student himself. Download Annual Committee Meeting form (doc).

Disclaimer

A set of minimal rules and regulations are defined by the graduate school and supersede college and department rules and regulations. Additional rules and regulations are defined by the college and supersede department rules and regulations. Furthermore, the department is allowed to impose additional requirements for their graduate program. The following text is for information purposes only and we do our best to update the text as rules and regulations at the upper levels change.