Physics Graduate Student Curriculum


It is very important to keep in touch. Department faculty and personnel are here to help, and informal discussions are encouraged. Let your advisor and the department know when you encounter problems before they become crises. You should also inform the department when you choose your advisor, research topic, and research committee. Make sure your records are accurate and up to date. 

The Physics Department’s email address is: [email protected].



Each graduate student is initially assigned an "academic advisor." Later, the Ph.D. and Thesis-based-MS students will replace their academic advisor with a "research advisor." You and your prospective research advisor must agree that collaboration will be in your best interest. Students are encouraged to work on different research projects for short time periods before making final decisions about their research and advisor.
An academic advisor should be accessible, sympathetic, and helpful. A research advisor should possess these same virtues, and also offer the finest possible scientific guidance and support. If your advisor lacks any of these desirable qualities, or if you have changed your mind about your research interests, change advisors. The choice of research area and a style of advisement suited to your personality is more important than the risk of hurting an advisor's feelings. There is no rule against changing an advisor at any time, although changing research areas will add additional time to complete a dissertation.


Overview of Program requirements

Some substitutions are allowed, but university rules do not allow substitutions for core courses to be made after the course is attempted.

Placement exams are given during the summer before the first semester to establish readiness to take those courses during the first year of graduate study, or whether some alternative preparation courses will be recommended.  Some courses may be transferred from previous graduate programs.  Discuss any special circumstances with your advisor and the Graduate Committee Chair.

International students should communicate with International Student Services to ensure that their program is considered full time.  PhD students with teaching assistantships should be aware that the assistantship will only cover 9 credits, and all must be graduate courses.

Additional information is available at the university graduate office website and its physics page.

Overview of M.S. Requirements

There are two different M.S. degrees, Physics and Computational Physics, and two different routes for the physics degree, a thesis-based or a course-based option. See the graduate bulletin

For the thesis-based option, a thesis committee is required, which must include at least three members, of which at least two must be regular physics department faculty.


Overview of Ph.D. Requirements

Doctoral students typically spend a couple of years taking core courses, getting to know the faculty, and possibly taking some independent research projects. During this time, students select a research advisor and research project, and begin the process of research which should end in a dissertation. All degree students, even those without assistantships, will be required to perform some Department service, such as proctoring exams.

All graduate students are expected to attend the Tuesday student seminars and Friday colloquia every semester.


Elective Courses

A list of elective courses in physics may be found in the Graduate Bulletin:
Other graduate courses may be used to satisfy the elective requirements if approved by the graduate studies committee.


Oral Qualifying Exam

The oral qualifying examination consists of a presentation on a topic approved by the research advisor that demonstrates knowledge of the literature of the field. The exam must be taken by the end of the fifth semester. Extensions may be requested in writing from the physics graduate studies committee in extenuating circumstances. Your research committee judges the Oral Qualifying Exam. The committee is usually chaired by the research advisor. However, if the advisor is from outside the physics department, a physics department faculty member serves as chair. You and your research advisor choose the committee members. The committee must include: 


  1. At least three members, including the research advisor.
  2. At least two members from the physics department.



The final step to the Ph.D. is the submission of a written dissertation or thesis to the dissertation committee, followed by a public presentation and defense. The dissertation or thesis must be approved by the research advisor, a majority of the committee, a majority of the physics department members of the committee, the department chair, and the Dean of Graduate Studies.

The thesis or dissertation must satisfy University requirements regarding preparation and submission. This information is available at the Graduate School Page.
The PhD dissertation committee must include: 


  1. At least five members, including all members of the research committee, when possible.
  2. At least three members from the physics department.
  3. At least one member from outside the physics department.


Assistantships and Fellowships

Graduate Teaching Assistantships or Fellowships are awarded only to students in the Ph.D. program, and generally include tuition waivers. United States citizens must become New York State residents to be eligible for waivers on a continuing basis.Students with Assistantships must satisfactorily complete 9 credits per semester. The tuition waiver associated with a teaching assistantship will not cover more credits than this. The tuition waiver will not cover undergraduate courses. Graduate Assistantships can be either Teaching Assistantships (State funding), or Research Assistantships (External funding). In many cases, a student changes from a Teaching Assistant to a Research Assistant after becoming involved with a funded research project.

Assistantships can be terminated for failing to perform the required teaching duties, or failing to maintain satisfactory academic progress. A Teaching Assistantship is expected to require approximately 20 hours per week, on average, throughout the semester.


Conflict of Interest

Students with assistantships are expected not to have other jobs, even part-time jobs, sales for commissions, etc. Students with jobs are expected to resign their assistantships. Some amount of paid tutoring in physics is generally allowed. More details on conflict of interest are available from the University.


Non-degree students

Students may be admitted into "non-degree" or degree programs. Non-degree students who wish to work towards a degree, and MS students who want to work towards a Ph.D. must apply to the Office of Graduate Studies for admission into the appropriate program. Non-degree students can transfer no more than 12 credits to their degree program.



Physics Department Chair:                 Professor Keith Earle
[email protected]

Graduate Studies Committee Chair:      Professor Jon Petruccelli
[email protected]