Physics PhD Requirements

This is intended to be a user-friendly version of the "Graduate Student Guide and Degree Requirements" page ( that is written in the required 'legalese' to match the Laney Graduate School handbook degree requirements.


Graduate Program in Physics general timeline:

Physics Graduate Program Timeline

Course Requirements

The Physics PhD degree requires the completion of 8 courses (4 core courses + 4 electives).

Core courses (to be taken during your first two semesters)

PHYS 503A Classical Mechanics I (Fall semester)

PHYS 506A Quantum Mechanics I (Fall semester)

PHYS 511A Electrodynamics (Spring semester)

PHYS 526 Statistical Physics (Spring semester)

You must pass each of the four core courses with a grade of B- or better.  Any C grade must be retaken.  Retaking of courses is dependent on the evaluation of the student’s overall performance in the program including research, teaching, and overall coursework.

Elective courses

2 electives are taken during your first year, with the remaining 2 taken at any other point during your degree prior to declaring candidacy. Descriptions for all physics graduate courses can be found at:

If you do not have a senior advanced lab course from your undergraduate BS Physics degree, then you will need to take PHYS 544 Advanced Lab in your first year.

Electives can be any physics related course (500 level or above), which can include relevant courses in math, biology, or chemistry. Your PhD advisor or DGS should approve your course selection if outside the department. (Only one of the electives can be a Directed Study such as PHYS 597R).

A full course load for a semester is 3 courses (9 credit hours with each course counting for 3 credit hours). If you are not taking 3 courses in a semester, your remaining credit hours should be filled with PHYS 599R Thesis Research to total 9 credit hours for the semester. (For example, if you are only taking one course counting for 3 credit hours, you would then register for 6 credit hours of PHYS 599R Thesis Research.)  You must always register for a minimum of 2 credit hours of PHYS 599R (or 799R) Research, even if you are taking 9 credit hours of courses.


Other “Administrative” Requirements

(Note these all count as credit hours on your transcript on top of the usual 9 credit hours per semester of physics related courses or research.)

Teaching Assistant

The Laney Graduate School expects each student to get 3 semesters of teaching experience. These show up on your transcript as:

TATT 600 (first semester, including the 2.5 days of intensive instruction in August)

TATT 605 (second semester)

TATT 610 (third semester)

You must complete TATT 600 & 605 prior to declaring candidacy, and TATT 610 prior to graduation.

Dr. Tom Bing handles organizing the teaching assignments. During your first two semesters of teaching, you will also register for:

PHYS 590A Seminar in Teaching (first semester)

PHYS 590B Seminar in Teaching (second semester)

These are part of the teaching preparation during which Dr. Bing discusses the physics teaching literature and common misconceptions students get from traditional teaching methods.

There are also other opportunities for gaining teaching experience if you are interested in pursuing a teaching career. Make your PhD Advisor or Tom Bing aware of your interests.

ESL Courses (English as a Second Language). International students often need to take some ESL courses before they can be approved to be teaching assistants. Thus, they often only start as teaching assistants during their second year.

Jones Program in Ethics

The Laney Graduate School (LGS) as developed a program to teach students about doing researching in an ethical manner. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), which are the major funders of our department's research efforts, require that students receive training in ethics.

This program occurs in three parts:


1) JPE 600 (first year, a 6 hour seminar covered in August)

2) Program-Based Instruction: Minimum of 6 hours covered within the physics department. These are primarily collected in the form of 1 hour journal club discussions of relevant topics.

3) JPE 610 (attending a minimum of 4 workshops on campus). These are 1.5 hours sessions held by the LGS throughout the year. You are responsible for finding and attending these. You will register for these sessions individually when you attend, and then completion of this part is recorded on your transcript as JPE 610. The schedule of sessions can be found here:

You must complete (1) and (2) before you can declare candidacy, and (3) prior to graduation.


Research Requirements (the most important)

Finding a PhD Advisor – Research Rotations (first year)

In your first month you will be encouraged to talk to many faculty about their research. By the end of September, you will need to identify two possible PhD Advisors. You then get to try out both of these advisors and research areas during two research rotations between the beginning of October and middle of April . For a full description of the requirements for the research rotations, please read these guidelines (RotationsandFirstSummerResearch.pdf).

Note you will register for PHYS 599R Research (2 credit hours) graded as S/U each semester for the research rotations. On your transcript, this will show up as an additional 3 credit hours on top of your 9 credit hours of physics related coursework (3 courses).  Note, if the student is unable to identify a PhD Advisor from the Rotations, a grade of U will be given placing the student on probation.  In such a circumstance, a third rotation may be tried during the month of May.  If a student does not identify a PhD Advisor in the summer another U will be given in 599R Research terminating them from the program.

First Summer of Research and Preparation for Qualifier

Now that you have identified your PhD Advisor, you will formally start work on your PhD research. During your first summer you will register for 9 credit hours of PHYS 599R Thesis Research. You should spend this summer learning and carrying out your research project, including extensive reading of the research literature.

In September of your second year, i.e. right after your first summer, you will be giving a 20 min APS-style talk to the department about your research.  By November 15th, you will submit a written research literature summary of your chosen PhD field. Details and requirements for the report are included in the document RotationsandFirstSummerResearch.pdf. To assign a grade for your literature summary, presentation, and qualifier preparation, you will register for 3 credit hours of PHYS 598 Research Summary in the fall semester of your second year.

Qualifier Proposal (second year)

Our department's qualifier process involves the writing, presenting, and defending of an independent research idea you develop that is related to your PhD research. Students start developing ideas for their qualifier proposal during their first summer as they are reading the research literature of their chosen PhD field and in discussions with their PhD Advisors.

On November 15th of their second year, students submit a brief summary (300 words) outlining the problem, hypothesis, and approach they have identified for their qualifier proposal. The viability of this idea will be reviewed by the PhD Advisor and Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the Physics Graduate Program.

Over the coming months, the student then develops this research idea into a full research proposal. The Qualifier process culminates with an oral presentation and defense of the student's research proposal given to their Qualifier Committee before Spring Break of the second year (typically early March). A copy of the written proposal is submitted to the committee by noon at least one week prior to the defense. For full details and requirements of the Qualifier process please see the Qualifier guideline document, QualifierGuidelines.pdf.

The Qualifier Committee consists of 4 faculty members (the PhD Advisor, three faculty members within the Physics Graduate program one of which is in a different research area, one of these may be replaced with an external faculty member familiar with the research area). The members of the Qualifier Committee must be identified and the date of the proposal defense set by December 15th.  Students will register for PHYS 796 Qualifier Proposal in the Spring of their second year.

Research towards your PhD

Note that whenever you are not taking courses, you will be registered for PHYS 599R Thesis Research (pre-candidacy), or PHYS 799R (post-candidacy) [see below]. For example, in the summers you register for 9 credit hours of PHYS 599R. To declare candidacy you need a minimum number of 24 credit hours of PHYS 599R research credit.  Note Research courses PHYS 599R (pre-candidacy) and PHYS 799R (post-candidacy) are graded Satisfactory (S) / Unsatisfactory (U) based on whether the student is progressing satisfactorily towards the PhD.  Students given a U for Research (regardless of the number of credit hours) will automatically be placed on probation.  Two consecutive semesters on probation is sufficient to terminate the student from the PhD program.  Students must always be registered for a minimum of 2 credit hours of PHYS 599R or 799R Research, regardless of the number of courses they are taking.  


Declaring Candidacy (third year)

Declaring candidacy means you have completed all of the above requirements for the PhD degree and all you have left to do is complete a body of research worthy of a PhD. Students should typically declare candidacy in their third year of study. Details and forms can be found on the LGS website:


Once you have declared candidacy and it has been approved by the Laney Graduate School, you are officially a PhD Candidate. You now register for PHYS 799R Advanced Research (instead of PHYS 599R), always 9 credit hours for a full semester unless you decide to take another course for fun.

In the fall of your third year, you should ensure that you hav all the requirements and apply for candidacy.  To declare candidacy you need:

  • completed the 4 core courses and 4 physics appropriate elective courses
  • completed PHYS 598 Research Summary
  • passed the qualifier, PHYS 796 Qualifier Proposal
  • completed two semesters of TAing (TATT 600 & 605), plus PHYS 590A&B
  • completed JPE 600 and 6 hours of Ethics Journal Club
  • Earned at least 54 credit hours at the 500 level or above, and be in good academic standing with a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.70, with no unresolved Incomplete (I) or In Progress (IP) grades

For students that start in Fall 2017 or later, you must declare candidacy no later than September 15th of your fourth year. Students who do not meet this deadline will be placed on probation by the Laney Graduate School, will not be eligible to apply for PDS funding, and may forfeit financial support. These sanctions will be lifted when the student enters candidacy.


PhD Dissertation Committee and Yearly Committee Meetings

Once students have successfully completed the qualifier process, they should form their PhD Dissertation Committee. This consists of 5 faculty members (the PhD Advisor, three faculty members within the Physics Graduate program one of which is in a different research area, and a faculty member external to the Physics Graduate program that is familiar with the research area). These can be the same or different people from the Qualifier Committee.

You are expected to meet with your PhD Dissertation Committee once a year to provide an update and discuss your progress towards the PhD degree. Your PhD Dissertation Committee are the faculty that decide what is an appropriate “body of research worthy of a PhD”. You must get approval from your PhD Dissertation Committee prior to setting a PhD Defense date.

Students must file their Dissertation Committee forms with LGS and have it approved by no later than March 15th of their fourth year. 


PhD Defense and submitting your Dissertation

To officially graduate you must defend your PhD Dissertation Research in front of your PhD Dissertation Committee and submit a completed dissertation that is approved by the committee to the Laney Graduate School. Forms and details are listed on the LGS website:


As part of the defense, students will give a seminar talk to the department, followed by the oral defense portion with your PhD Dissertation Committee. At least by noon one week prior to your defense date (ideally two weeks, it is a long document), you should submit your completed thesis (approved by your PhD Advisor) to your PhD Dissertation Committee for reading and review.

Once all corrections have been completed and approved by your PhD Advisor and PhD Dissertation Committee, you can submit your completed and approved dissertation to the Laney Graduate School along with all the required forms and signatures. Note that the LGS deadlines for dissertation submission and degree completion in any given semester are actually quite early. For example, to meet a May spring convocation deadline, you typically need to defend your PhD by the end of March to allow for enough time for corrections and submission before the LGS deadline in early April. So plan accordingly.

You must always register for a minimum of 2 credit hours of PHYS 599R (or 799R) Research, even if you are taking 9 credit hours of courses.