Physics Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program

Students develop their abilities to do independent research and to communicate the results of this research to the world. The program is designed to train the student to be capable of pursuing a career in physics teaching or research, or in other areas which require extensive knowledge of physics or of physics techniques. The program requires at least three years of full-time effort.

Requirements for Admission

In addition to the general University requirements, a strong undergraduate background is needed. Most students admitted to the Ph.D. program have an undergraduate degree in physics or a closely related field. Applicants from other areas may be considered, but may need to take some undergraduate physics courses to make up for deficiencies.

Program of Study and Research

A minimum of 60 credits with an average grade of B or higher is required.

1.  Core Courses: Eight core courses (24 credits), Phy 517, 527, 537, 539, 547, 557, 577 and 587 with an average grade of B or better. Up to 24 credits may be transferred from another institution as approved by the physics graduate studies committee.

2.  Physics Electives: (12-33 credits) At least four letter-graded graduate courses in physics, or in other fields as approved by the physics graduate studies committee. Students whose native language is other than English may take ETAP 500, academic writing, as an elective. Up to 30 credits total of core and elective credit may be transferred from another institution as approved by the physics graduate studies committee.

3.  Physics Research: (3-24 credits) Research as approved by the advisor. Phy 695 for students who have not completed their comprehensive exams, and Phy 810 for those who have. Students who have advanced to candidacy may register for Phy 899 instead. A minimum of 1 credit of Phy 899, doctoral dissertation is required.

4.  Transfer or Advanced Standing Credit: Up to 30 credits of core and elective courses may be transferred from another institution as approved on an individual basis by the physics Graduate Studies Committee (GSC). Students with substantial transfer credit or advanced standing are encouraged to begin research in their first year.

Departmental Examinations and Academic Progress Requirements

1. Academic progress is evaluated by performance in graduate courses, in a written comprehensive examination, and in research. The comprehensive examination is a set of three three-hour exams on classical, statistical-thermal, and quantum physics.

2. By the end of the first year, students must show at least satisfactory progress in coursework, and take at least two parts of the comprehensive examination. Minimum progress toward passing must be demonstrated in at least two parts of the comprehensive examination (minimum progress is typically around a 50% score on each part).

3. Students must pass all three parts of the comprehensive examination by the end of the second year.

4. Students who fail to reach the requisite standard in the comprehensive examination either after the first year or the second year may petition the physics faculty for an additional opportunity to take the examination, but petitions will only be granted in exceptional circumstances.

5. By the end of their first year, students are expected to have investigated possible research areas through discussion with faculty, and to have begun at least preliminary research with a research advisor.

6. By the end of the fifth semester, students must pass an oral qualifying examination that includes a presentation on a topic approved by their research advisor, demonstrating knowledge of the literature of the field. Extensions may be requested in writing from the physics graduate studies committee. This exam may be completed before the comprehensive exam, as advised.

7. Students must pass a final oral examination, which is a defense of the dissertation.       

Research Skill Requirement

Each student must demonstrate proficiency in an appropriate research skill. Examples of research skills are a thorough knowledge of a foreign language, a computer programming language, or electronics. This may be demonstrated with Phy 577.

Full Time Study in Residence

Each student in a doctoral program must engage in full-time study beyond the master's degree or equivalent at the University in at least two sessions after admission to the advanced program. This requirement is designed to insure for each doctoral student a sustained period of intensive intellectual growth. For this purpose a student will enroll in full-time study (9 credits) taken in each of two sessions, or in a regular session and a summer session, not necessarily consecutive, which must be completed satisfactorily. In extraordinary circumstances, exceptions may be requested of the graduate studies committee.

Admission to Candidacy

Students must be admitted to candidacy at least one semester before receiving a Ph.D. An application to candidacy is accepted when a student has:

  1. a satisfactory record in course and research work;
  2. completed University residence requirements;
  3. completed the research skill requirement;
  4. passed the comprehensive exam sections and the oral qualifying examination.


A student's dissertation is expected to represent a significant and original contribution to physics. The dissertation research must be publicly presented, and approved by the student's research committee, the department and the university.