Physics Ph.D.


The Physics Department welcomes students interested in the Ph.D. degree. Doctoral candidates can perform research in any of the areas covered by the department, including experimental and theoretical astrophysics, biophysics, condensed matter physics and materials science, cosmology, and particle physics theory and experiment. Each doctoral student is assigned a faculty adviser who helps to design a research project suited to the interests of the student. 

The UC Santa Cruz Physics Department is committed to providing an excellent education to a diverse population of graduate students and we encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply.  We employ a holistic process to assess candidates’ knowledge and passion for physics, as well as whether or not they have the perseverance and tenacity required to complete the doctoral program. Of particular importance is the alignment between the research interests of the candidate and those of the department. While taking into consideration a candidate's undergraduate grade point average (GPA), letters of recommendation, student statements, and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores (if provided), we do not disqualify applicants based on any single factor. In particular, the department recognizes the documented limitations of the GRE as an equitable predictor of success in graduate studies and research. 

Admission Process

Required application materials:

  • Recommendations
    Three letters of recommendation are required. Additional letters, up to five total recommendations, will be reviewed but will not help or hurt your application.
  • Statement of Purpose
    The candidate is asked to describe plans for graduate study or research and for future occupation or profession, and to include any information that may aid the selection committee in evaluating your preparation and qualifications for graduate study at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Recommended length is a concise 1-2 pages.
  • Personal History Statement
    This statement will be used in conjunction with your application for graduate admission and financial support. Note that the Personal History Statement should not duplicate the Statement of Purpose. Recommended length is a concise 1-2 pages.
    UC Santa Cruz is interested in a diverse and inclusive graduate student population. In an essay, discuss how your personal background informs your decision to pursue a graduate degree. Candidates should include any educational, familial, cultural, economic, or social experiences, challenges, or opportunities relevant to your academic journey; how you might contribute to social or cultural diversity within your chosen field; and/or how you might serve educationally underrepresented segments of society with your degree.
  • Resume
  • Research Interests
    Candidates are asked to indicate the three research areas they are most interested in studying. This information will be used to ensure that the faculty in your areas of interest have an opportunity to review your application. 
    Fields of studies include:
    • Applied Physics
    • Astrophysics and cosmology experiment
    • Astrophysics and cosmology theory
    • Biophysics
    • Condensed matter experiment
    • Condensed matter theory
    • Material Science
    • Particle physics experiment
    • Particle physics theory
  • GRE Scores (Educational Testing Service offers a fee reduction program)
    Please note that the we have recently changed our policy concerning application materials and the GRE: 
    • General Exam—Optional 
    • Physics Subject Exam—Recommended  
  • English Language Competence
    • Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Exams. For those choosing to take the TOEFL, a minimum score on the paper-based TOEFL of 550, or 220 on the computer-based test, or 83 on the Internet-based test is required for admission. Any international students who wish to be considered for teaching assistant opportunities must score a 26 or higher on the spoken word portion of the Internet-based test.
    • International English Language Testing System (IELTS) Exams. For those choosing to take the IELTS, a minimum overall score of 7 from the IELTS test is required for admission. A speaking portion score of 8 from the IELTS test is required for all new international students who may serve as a teaching Assistant at any time during their graduate career.
  • Grade Point Average
    • Undergraduate GPA and Scale
    • Upper-division GPA. Calculate your GPA in your junior and senior level physics and mathematics courses. 
    • Graduate GPA and Scale (if applicable)
  • Transcripts 
    Unofficial transcripts must be uploaded to the application before you can submit this application. You must upload at least one transcript to your application. For review and decision purposes we accept electronic versions (PDF) of your academic records, which we consider to be "unofficial." If an offer of admission is made, you will be required to send us official paper documents for verification. Admission offers will not be considered final until we have received the official documents that match the uploaded record.
  • Academic Information (publications, teaching experience, etc.)
    List articles, books, or any other materials published, with dates of publication. Provide URLs to publications where possible. List name, approximate dates, and location of any institution at which you have taught.
  • Present Occupation or Position
  • Language Proficiency
    Describe degree of proficiency (reading and speaking) in languages other than your first language.
  • Foreign Language Proficiency
  • Research Work
    List relevant advanced or research work that you have completed in your chosen field of study.
  • Research Experience
  • Diversity Fellowships
    This page is optional. The Santa Cruz campus of the University of California has a longstanding goal of achieving a graduate student population that reflects the diversity of the state. Applicants who have excellent potential as future faculty and researchers, and whose enrollment would contribute to the diversity of our graduate student population, are invited to apply for these fellowships. You should complete this form if you believe that you meet both criteria and wish to be considered for one of these awards.

Advancement to Candidacy

The following sections are meant to define all that is necessary to advance to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. 

Course Requirements

Core courses

In the first year of study, Ph.D. students are expected to take two core graduate-level courses per quarter from the following list of courses required for the Ph.D. degree:

PHYS 210Classical Mechanics


PHYS 212Electromagnetism I


PHYS 214Electromagnetism II


PHYS 215Introduction to Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


PHYS 216Advanced Topics in Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


PHYS 219Statistical Physics


One or more of these first-year courses can be waived if students have taken equivalent graduate-level courses at their undergraduate institution. However, this requires that the course covers the material in the first-year courses syllabi, that the students obtained a satisfactory grade, and that the student passes the associated written qualifying examination.

First-year students are also required to take the following two courses:

PHYS 205Introduction to Research in Physics


PHYS 202Introduction to Teaching in Physics


First- and second-year students are required to take the following course every quarter:

PHYS 292Seminar


Second-year students take advanced graduate classes in their areas of research interest, within or outside the Physics Department, and are strongly encouraged to start pursuing independent research.

Pre-Qualifying Requirements

All students in the Ph.D. program must pass a qualifying examination consisting of five written tests in the areas of mathematical methods for physics, classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, statistical mechanics, and electricity and magnetism. Students have a first opportunity to take these five tests at the beginning of their first year. Once a student passes an examination in any one of the five areas they do not need to take an exam in that area again. If necessary, each student has a second opportunity to pass the written tests at the beginning of the second year. Students with at most one or two failed tests have a third opportunity to pass their remaining tests at the beginning of the winter quarter of their second year. Students who fail any of the remaining tests at this third and last attempt, and students who have not passed three or more of the five written tests after two attempts can either transfer to the terminal M.S. program (the M.S. degree is automatically awarded to students who passed at least four of the five sections, and it requires an additional written research thesis for those who only passed three of the five sections), or appeal to the Graduate Committee to continue on the Ph.D. route. In this latter case, the Graduate Committee considers whether there is evidence of likely success in the Ph.D. program. The committee evaluates and reviews the student’s progress toward candidacy, including performance in courses and progress in research, and recommends possible remedial coursework or an oral examination, or recommends that the student transfer to the terminal M.S. route.

Qualifying Examination

After identifying an appropriate research project with their faculty adviser, students form an Oral Qualifying Examination Committee.

At a time determined in consultation with their adviser, the student takes the Oral Qualifying Examination. The student presents their research progress, outlines a path to successful completion of their dissertation work, and answers questions both about their research program and about the research area generally. The graduate adviser and/or the Graduate Committee can provide guidance as to the procedures for selection of committee membership, the format of the examination, and required reporting.




Students complete a dissertation under the supervision of their research adviser. When the student and adviser agree that the thesis is nearing completion or is complete, the thesis is examined by the student's dissertation reading committee (typically composed of the same members as the Oral Qualifying Examination Committee).

Dissertation Defense

A public dissertation defense is required. Students should work with their committee to confirm a defense date and time. The Physics Department can assist with providing a room for the defense and with publicizing the event. Students should have a final or nearly final draft of their dissertation and provide it to their committee prior to the defense. We suggest at least one month prior, but this is at the committee’s discretion. The graduate adviser and/or the Graduate Committee can provide guidance as to the procedures for selection of committee membership, the format of the examination, and required reporting.

Academic Progress

Annual evaluation ordinarily is the joint responsibility of the graduate coordinator and the assigned faculty adviser or the chair of the student's doctoral committee. An evaluation should include a brief review of the student's work to date, with particular attention to the period since the last report, describing the student's progress toward the degree, pointing out any areas in which improvement is recommended or required, and establishing academic objectives for the following period.

The results of annual reviews are committed to writing and signed by the supervisor and another faculty member. This is to ensure evaluation and consent by more than one individual faculty member, who may also be a principal source of financial and other support. Before a doctoral student has advanced to candidacy, the second signer may be the graduate coordinator; after advancement, a second thesis committee member must also sign. The annual evaluations are distributed to the student and kept in the student's file in the department office. They form the basis for decisions about continued financial support, academic probation and/or dismissal, extensions of financial aid beyond normative time, and other matters.

Normative time to degree for the program is five years. 

Applying for Graduation

Students should apply for the Ph.D. at the beginning of the term in which they will complete all degree requirements. The necessary form is called Application for the Ph.D Degree and can be found on the Division of Graduate Studies forms page.