Graduate Program Policies

Below we provide synopses of several important program policies. Please read them carefully.

All Ph.D. students must fulfill the experimental physics requirement during their first year, either by taking the Advanced Experimental Physics course (PHYS 334) or by carrying out an Advanced Experimental Physics Project (PHYS 335). Students must make a decision as to which of these options they will choose very early in the academic year.

PHYS 33400: Students electing to take PHYS 334 (instead of 335) must register for Physics 334 in the spring quarter of their first year. Students taking PHYS 334 will perform two experiments and will produce independently written, formal reports for each experiment. Students will give an oral presentation for one experiment, and all students will attend the oral presentations of their colleagues in the course.

Students who feel that they have done work in an instructional laboratory elsewhere at the level of PHYS 334, may appeal to the Experimental Requirement Committee to be excused from a portion of PHYS 334. (The Experimental Requirement Committee consists of the Department Chair, the Department Executive Officer, the PHYS 334 instructors, and the faculty member assigned to the oversight of PHYS 335.) To be excused, a student must show documentary evidence (e.g., lab reports) of very good quality work done at the graduate level. Traditionally, successful appeals have been very rare.

PHYS 33500: In order to carry out an Advanced Experimental Physics Project, the student must find a faculty sponsor who agrees to supervise the work. The project must introduce the student to several aspects of an experiment---building the equipment, data taking, data analysis, and presentation. It is not necessary that the project involve the student with all of the above aspects, but it is essential that the student get some "hands-on" experience with apparatus and that some analysis be performed of the data taken with the equipment. If the student holds an RA, the project must be separate from the RA work. The work on the project will normally be spread out over 2 or 3 quarters, but the total amount of work should correspond to a single one-quarter course. The major portion of the work is normally done in the winter quarter.

The faculty instructor for PHYS 335 will meet very early in the Autumn Quarter with all first-year students who are potentially interested in pursuing the Advanced Experimental Physics Project option. At this meeting, the instructor should explain all of the requirements for the project as stated in the previous paragraph, and should offer guidance and advice for linking students with potential faculty supervisors. After a student has obtained the agreement of a faculty member to supervise a proposed project, the student must submit a written abstract of the proposed project to the PHYS 335 instructor. The PHYS 335 instructor will set a deadline for receipt of such abstracts, which should be no later than mid-November. Only those students whose abstracts are approved by the PHYS 335 instructor will be allowed to take PHYS 335. Such students must register for PHYS 335 in both the Winter and Spring quarters (but not in the Autumn quarter). Any student who does not obtain approval to take PHYS 335 must take PHYS 334 in the Spring Quarter. If a student who has registered for PHYS 335 decides to switch to PHYS 334 he/she must obtain approval to do so from the PHYS 335 instructor.

It is the responsibility of the PHYS 335 instructor to closely monitor the progress of all students performing the Advanced Experimental Physics Project, to ensure that the project is being carried out in a manner consistent with the original, approved proposal. If the project depends on contingencies not entirely under the control of the student (such as the arrival of certain equipment or the completion by others of another part of the experiment), it is essential that good "back-up" plans be in place. Any "problem cases" that may arise should be discussed with the Experimental Requirement Committee before a final decision is reached.

The results of the Advanced Experimental Physics Project will be presented in a poster session late in the Spring quarter, which will be open to the entire Physics Department. 

Before embarking formally on Ph.D. thesis research, a student must become a candidate for the doctorate degree. The purpose of our candidacy system is twofold. First, it assures that the student has the requisite knowledge to undertake independent research at the Ph.D. level. Second, it assures that the student has the broad competency in physics that a doctoral degree implies.

A student will advance to candidacy after displaying graduate-level proficiency in core areas and techniques of physics. This proficiency can be demonstrated by satisfactory performance on the graduate diagnostic exam (GDE), by satisfactory performance in core graduate courses, or by a combination of the two. Advancement to candidacy must be achieved by the end of the spring quarter of the student's second academic year in the program.

Graduate Diagnostic Examination

A committee of faculty members and the department's Executive Officer, the Candidacy Committee, are responsible for making up the GDE. It is generally administered two weeks prior to the beginning of the autumn quarter. The problems on the exam will be of the type and level expected on assignments and exams in the core graduate courses.

Entering graduate students are encouraged, but not strictly required, to take this examination. Taking the exam will help us better identify areas of strength and weakness, and allow students to place out of courses in subjects where they have sufficient knowledge. The exam will take place over four (4) days, four hours per day, with each day focused on one of the four subjects: classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical mechanics.

While students are encouraged to attempt the examination in all four areas, they are free to choose only certain areas if it seems appropriate. Based on the results of the GDE, the Candidacy Committee will make one of the following determinations:

  • The student has sufficient mastery in all subjects and is immediately advanced to Ph.D. candidacy
  • The student has sufficient mastery in some, but not all, specified areas. The student will advance to candidacy after satisfactory performance in graduate courses to be specified by the committee.
  • The student has not displayed sufficient mastery in any subject and must take the full slate of core graduate courses to achieve candidacy.

To prepare for the exam, we recommend that students review the highest level of coursework done in each subject of the core graduate courses.

Core Graduate Courses

The core graduate courses, often referred to as the standard first year courses, are the following:

PHYS 31600: Advanced Classical Mechanics PHYS 34100: Graduate Quantum Mechanics I
PHYS 32200: Advanced Electrodynamics I PHYS 34200: Graduate Quantum Mechanics II
PHYS 32300: Advanced Electrodynamics II PHYS 35200: Statistical Mechanics

The Candidacy Committee may require a student to take all, or any subset, of these courses to achieve candidacy. If a student does not take any part of the GDE, that student must take all six courses. Whether or not a student has displayed sufficient mastery in any particular course will be determined by the professor teaching that course in consultation with the Candidacy Committee. Students taking a course to achieve candidacy will receive feedback partway through the course about their progress.

It is strongly encouraged that any required courses be taken during the first year. Delaying a course to the second year is allowed, but eliminates the opportunity to repeat that course if needed. Repeating the exam is not allowed; but exceptions may be granted in unusual circumstances.

For those interested in seeing exams from the previous system, you can find them in the Crerar Library Archive.

Information regarding our post-candidacy course requirements can be found here.

Information regarding the formation of thesis and advisory committees can be found here.

Information regarding the PSD time-to-degree policies can be found here.

Begining with the year 5 thesis committee meeting, the report of the meeting must contain a written plan for the remainder of the student's graduate program.  Each committee member's signature on the report certifies his or her agreement with the written plan.  This plan will be reviewed by the department for all 5th year and beyond students.  The department will conduct its own review for cases for which either the student or a committee member believe there are serious issues, or if the department deems it necessary based on the written plan.