Physics Graduate Student Curriculum

Communication

It is very important to keep in touch. Department faculty and personnel are here to help, and informal discussions are encouraged. Let your advisor know 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].  

Research can isolate a student. Regular communication with faculty, fellow students and your research committee can generate new ideas, avoid errors, and help you see a broader scope of physics.  

 

Exceptions

Some of the requirements described below cannot be changed, others can. If you have a special problem, discuss it with your advisor, the Graduate Studies Committee, or the Department Chair. Someone may be able to help. Rules described in the Graduate Bulletin are generally Official University or State Education Policy which cannot be ignored.

 

Advisors

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.

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

Overview of Ph.D. Requirements

Doctoral students typically spend a couple of years taking core courses, studying for and passing the comprehensive examinations, 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. The list of requirements below is a summary. Official rules are in the graduate bulletin. All degree students, even those without assistantships, will be required to perform some Department service, such as proctoring exams.

 

Course Requirements:

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 with an average grade of B or higher, 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 advanced to candidacy, and Phy 810 for doctoral candidates who have not met the credit requirement. 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.

 

Typical Course Sequence.

All graduate students need to take 9 credits a semester to be considered full time students. This is particularly important for International students to maintain their student status. If there are any questions, international students should verify their status with the International Student Office.

 

REQUIRED CORE COURSES ARE IN BOLD.

  Year 1: Fall Credits   Year 1: Spring Credits
Phy 527 Classical Mechanics 3 Phy 517 Statistical Mechanics 3
Phy 537 Electrodynamics 1 3 Phy 539 Electrodynamics 2 3
Phy 547 Quantum 1 3 Phy 557 Quantum 2 3
(Phy 680) Seminar in Physics*
(informal audit)
0      

 

All graduate students are expected to attend the Tuesday student seminars and Friday colloquia every semester.
Comprehensive Exams (see description below) are generally the week after final exams in the spring, and must be taken the first year.

 

  Year 2: Fall Credits   Year 2: Spring Credits
Phy 587 Solid State 1 3 Phy 577 Computational Physics 3
Phy 680 Seminar in Physics 1      
Phy 5XX Elective 3 Phy 5XX Elective 3
Phy 695 Research 2 Phy 695 Research 3

 

  Year 3: Fall Credits   Year 3: Spring Credits
Phy 5XX Elective 3 Phy 5XX Elective 3
Phy 695 Research 6 Phy 695 Research 6

 

  Year 4: Fall Credits   Year 4: Spring Credits
Phy 5XX Elective 3 Phy 899 Doctoral Dissertation 1
Phy 695 Research 6      
Phy 810 (If admitted to candidacy)        

 

 

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.

 

Comprehensive Exams

The exams are designed to test the basic material which is prerequisite to more advanced courses. By the end of the first year, PhD students must take at least two parts of the comprehensive examination with minimum progress toward passing demonstrated in at least two parts of the comprehensive examination (typically around a 50% score).  PhD students must achieve a PhD-pass in all three parts of the exams by the end of the second year. 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.
Classical Physics
including classical mechanics, electromagnetism, including optics, radiation, special relativity
Quantum Physics
including standard applications to atomic, molecular, solid state, particle and nuclear physics
Statistical and Thermal Physics
thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, statistics and probability including applications from materials and solid state physics


 

Academic Progress Requirements

  1. Academic progress is evaluated by satisfactory performance in graduate courses, in the written comprehensive examination, and in research. Students who are failing to make progress may be discontinued from the program.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. Students must pass a final oral examination, which is a defense of the dissertation.

 

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.

 

Dissertation

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.

 


A dissertation or thesis reports the results of a substantial research effort. The committee reading this work deserves at least two weeks to review its contents. The thesis or dissertation must satisfy University requirements regarding preparation and submission. This information is available at the Graduate Admissions office. Writing a good dissertation or thesis is more difficult and more time consuming than one ever imagines. Don't assume it can be done in a month.
The PhD dissertation committee consists of the research committee with additional members. It is usually chaired by the research advisor and 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.
 

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.

 

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, which includes 60 credits of coursework and research;
  3. completed the research skill requirement;
  4. passed the comprehensive exam sections and the oral qualifying examination.

 

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. Typically, teaching assistants will direct undergraduate labs, serve as tutors, help with the administering and grading of exams, or grade problem sets.


Graduate Assistantships are not a form of permanent employment. Teaching Assistantships will be terminated after four years. Assistantships can be terminated for other reasons, like 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.

 

Continuous registration and leaves of absence

A doctoral student must be registered each semester from admission until graduation. When this is not possible, a student should apply for a leave of absence for up to four semesters. The duration of a leave does not count against deadlines for the comprehensive exam or degree requirements. Being on leave means a student is not working with University personnel to complete his degree. A student who simply "drops out" and tries to return may have difficulty obtaining retroactive leave and readmission.

 

Overview of M.S. Requirements

Master's students have a variety of different goals. Two different sequences exist: one for those students who choose to pursue research culminating in a Master's thesis, and another for those who wish to complete additional courses and pass a portion of the comprehensive exam(see description in the Overview of Ph.D. Requirements). Some students begin their graduate study intending to stop at a Master's degree, and then decide they enjoy graduate study and continue to the doctoral program. Some students begin the doctoral program, decide they don't enjoy graduate study, and opt for a Master's degree.

Option A (30 credits):

  1. Six core courses in Physics (18 credits) with an average grade of B or higher: Phy 517, 527, 537, 547, and two of Phy 539, 557, 577, 587

  2. Twelve credits of electives or research in Physics (Phy 695 or 699), with at least one of those credits in Phy 699.

  3. Successful defense and final approval of a master's thesis.

  4. Demonstration of proficiency in one of various research skills. Examples of appropriate skills are: foreign languages, computer programming, numerical analysis and technologies such as electronics. This may be demonstrated with Phy 577.

Option B (32 credits):

  1. Eight core courses in Physics (24 credits) with an average grade of B or higher: Phy 517, 527, 537, 547, 557, 577, 587.

  2. Six credits of elective courses approved by advisor.

  3. Demonstration of proficiency in one of various research skills. Examples of appropriate skills are: foreign languages, computer programming, numerical analysis and technologies such as electronics. This may be demonstrated with Phy 577.

  4. Two credits of Physics seminar (Phy 784 and/or Phy 680).

  5. Satisfactory performance on comprehensive exams.

 

Thesis for Option A MS Students

The final step is the submission of a written dissertation or thesis to the appropriate committee, followed by a public presentation and defense. The 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 Dissertation Committee for the MS Thesis must include:
1.    At least three members, including all members of the research committee, when possible.
2.    At least two members from the physics department.
For these committees, a member from physics means only regular faculty. Outside the physics department means any qualified individual subject to approval by the Graduate Studies Committee.

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.

Contacts

Physics Department Chair:                 Professor Keith Earle
[email protected]

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