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Degree Requirements

Please consult the Course Catalog for specific Ph.D. or M.S. course requirements.

A short sample summary of the degree requirements is provided below. For more detailed information about the courses listed below, please refer to the graduate syllabus.

The doctor of philosophy degree (Ph.D.) is awarded to students who:

  • complete a minimum of 48 course credits. This total credit requirement is composed of the required courses listed below together with three approved courses which may be physics courses or other courses associated with the student's degree program. This formal coursework requirement totals 30 course credits. The remaining 18 credits can include formal coursework and/or dissertation credits (PHY 999).
  • pass a two-part written qualifying examination.
  • pass a research oral exam before the middle of the third year of graduate study (e.g. end of Fall semester, if student entered in Fall).
  • complete a written thesis based on original research.
  • pass a thesis defense examination.

The normal sequence of coursework includes 7 required courses. Six of those are generally taken in the first year in the following sequence:

Fall of first year:

PHY 581Methods of Theoretical Physics I

PHY 621Classical Mechanics

PHY 661Quantum Mechanics I

Spring of first year:

PHY 641Advanced Electromagnetic Theory I

PHY 662Quantum Mechanics II

PHY 731Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics

Right before the beginning of the Fall semester of the second year, students take the PhD Qualfying Exam. After passing this exam, students are encouraged to join a research group and start working on a research project. In exceptional cases a student may already have had graduate-level material as covered in the above six courses. Such students may take the PhD Qualifying Exam at the beginning of their first year of graduate studies. If they pass the exam they may request a waiver of the above six courses. If they fail, they will be asked to take the courses and retake the exam the following year.

After passing the PhD Qualifing Exam, students are required to take one of the following courses. It is generally taken in the second year of graduate studies:

PHY 614Graduate Laboratory
PHY 651Modern Instrumentation

After completing the seven required courses, students must still take at least 3 advanced courses of their choice as elective courses offered annually or biannually by the department. Each student's selection must be approved by his/her academic advisor. Students must maintain a B average in course work.

A research oral examination must be taken before the middle of the third year of graduate study (e.g. end of Fall semester, if student entered in Fall). The student should have a tentative arrangement for a thesis advisor prior to this examination. The examining committee will consist of three physics faculty members, usually with the tentative thesis advisor as chairman. This examining committee is selected by mutual agreement among the student, thesis advisor and the chairperson. The tentative thesis advisor should arrange the examination. The choice of topic for the examination is primarily up to the student, subject to approval of the committee chairman. The student will prepare a short paper on this topic and distribute it to the committee one week prior to the examination. The oral examination will be based mainly on this paper and related questions. The student will be informed of the decision immediately after the examination.

All entering graduate students must take a comprehensive examination. Depending on the outcome of this exam, students may be required to take and pass remedial courses. However, admission and any associated offer of financial support are not contingent upon passing this examination. New graduate students are assigned an academic advisor to help them choose appropriate coursework, to consult on various issues, and to allow them to form a personal relationship with one of the faculty. The academic advisor will follow the student's progress and assist if difficulties arise. Academic advisors may or may not have expertise in the particular field in which the student wishes to study, but should be able to help the student make contacts with those who do. A student's academic advisor typically does not become their research advisor, although this may happen from time to time. See Advising for more information.

A minimum of 30 credits is required for the Master's Degree (M.S.). All of these must in courses numbered 500 and above.

These courses generally include:

PHY 581Methods of Theoretical Physics I

PHY 614Graduate Laboratory  or  PHY 651Modern Instrumentation

PHY 621Classical Mechanics   

PHY 641Advanced Electromagnetic Theory I

PHY 661Quantum Mechanics I

PHY 662Quantum Mechanics II

A B average in course work must be maintained for the student to be eligible for the degree.

The degree can be obtained in any of three ways:

a. A thesis (involving 6 credit hours of PHY 997) in addition to 24 hours of regular course work.
b. 30 hours of course work including a minor problem (PHY 890) and passing the qualifying examination.
c. 36 hours of course work and passing the qualifying examination.

Note: not more than one semester of PHY 690 or 990 (3 credits each) can count towards a Master's degree.

It is up to the student whether she/he wishes to obtain a Master's degree in route to the Ph.D. As can be seen from the above requirements, obtaining the Master's degree need not require any coursework or projects outside of that required for the Ph.D. There is, however, some paperwork to be filled out. Students interested in a Master's degree should contact Prof. Duncan Brown ( about this as soon as soon as possible.