Advancement to Candidacy

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

The Candidacy Committee, consisting of the Director of Graduate Studies and several faculty members, is responsible for making up the GDE. It is generally administered three 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.


Students who do not complete these requirements as noted above and who are deemed not to be in Good Standing may be placed on academic probation.