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.

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:

PHYS210Classical Mechanics


PHYS212Electromagnetism I


PHYS214Electromagnetism II


PHYS215Introduction to Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


PHYS216Advanced Topics in Non-Relativistic Quantum Mechanics


PHYS219Statistical 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:

PHYS205Introduction to Research in Physics


PHYS202Introduction to Teaching in Physics


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



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 here.