Graduate Student Guide and Degree Requirements

Preliminary Requirements

Graduate Teaching Assistant Preparation

Students attend a 2.5 day teaching training workshop to qualify as a Graduate Teaching Assistant. This workshop is given by the Graduate School in the third week of August, and is required of all Emory graduate students before they teach. Domestic students attend the workshop prior to their first academic year. International students who require English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) courses attend the workshop prior to their second year.

English Proficiency

English proficiency is required of all Emory Graduate Teaching Assistants. All international students are given an English Proficiency Examination before the start of their first year (late August). Based on the performance on written and oral examinations, students are exempted from further ESL training, or may be required to take up to two ESL courses in the first two semesters.

Undergraduate Preparation

It is assumed that the entering physics graduate student has completed an undergraduate program which is equivalent to that of a student who obtained the Bachelor's degree in physics at Emory. This means undergraduate work in mathematical physics, mechanics, optics, electricity and magnetism, thermodynamics, modern physics, quantum mechanics and experimental physics.

Students who are not fully prepared in one or more of these fields will be required to take the necessary introductory courses. This situation might arise as a consequence of a more interdisciplinary undergraduate experience for certain individuals, who later decide to pursue an area in Physics for their advanced degree.

Texts indicating the required level of understanding are the following:

  • Mathematical Physics - Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences, Boas.
  • Mechanics - Classical Mechanics, Barger and Olsson.
  • Optics - Optics, Möller.
  • Electricity and Magnetism - Introduction to Electromagnetic Fields and Waves, Corson and Lorrain; Foundations of Electromagnetic Theory, Reitz, Milford, and Christy.
  • Thermodynamics - Thermal Physics, Kittel and Kroemer.
  • Modern Physics - Modern Physics, Krane.
  • Quantum Mechanics - Principles of Quantum Mechanics, Ohanian.

General Requirements

General Course Requirements

A full course load is four courses (12 hours of credit total) per semester for an entering graduate student who has no teaching or ESL responsibilities.  A full course load is three courses (9 hours total) per semester for a graduate student who is fulfilling the teaching or ESL requirement.

To remain in the physics graduate program, a student must maintain a GPA of B (3.0) or better in Physics graduate courses.

Courses on the 100 or 200 level may not be applied for M.S. or Ph.D. degree requirements.

Language Requirement

The Physics Department has no foreign language requirement for either the M.S. or Ph.D. degree. Students for whom English is a second language will be required to pass an English Proficiency Examination (see Section 1).

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in Physics

Residency Requirement

The Graduate School requires that students must be enrolled in at least 9 hours of credit in each semester.


Students admitted to the Physics Ph.D. program with a Bachelor's degree begin with FULL standing. Following one year (minimum of 18 hours of course work credit, 6 courses), students move to ADVANCED standing. Courses applied to FULL standing must be at the 300 level or above.  Students admitted to the Physics Ph.D. program with a Master's degree may enter with ADVANCED standing on recommendation by the Director of Graduate Studies.

In ADVANCED standing, students must be enrolled in courses for 4 semesters, and accumulate a minimum of 36 hours of credit: 24 hours of which is research based (599R) and 12 hours is coursework (4 courses, one of which may be a Directed Study 597R). Courses applied to ADVANCED standing residency requirements must be at the 500 level or above.

Physics graduate students must be registered for at least 2 credit hours of Research (PHYS 599R or 799R) each semester and demonstrate satisfactory progress towards the PhD degree.  Earning an Unsatisfactory (U) grade in Research (PHYS 599R or 799R) will automatically place a student on probation regardless of GPA.  [LGS Handbook]  Students that are on probation for two consecutive semesters will be terminated from the graduate program unless extenuating circumstances suggest improvement is likely forthcoming soon, as appealed to the DGS.

As many as two semesters of residence credit may be spent on research and study elsewhere upon recommendation of the student's advisory committee and with the approval of the Executive Committee of the Graduate School, provided the program is not available at Emory. Credit for work completed elsewhere cannot exempt the student from any part of the doctoral examinations at Emory.


All physics Ph.D. students are required to teach for three semesters. The teaching requirement is satisfied by Teaching Assistantship (two semesters; corresponds to course designations TATT 600 and TATT 605) and a Teaching Associateship (Co-Teaching) assignment (one semester; corresponds to TATT 610). Teaching Assistants are responsible for two laboratory sections for both semesters of an introductory physics course, such as Physics 141-142 or Physics 151-152. The one semester Co-Teaching assignment involves a close interaction with a faculty member in teaching an undergraduate course.

Physics Course Requirements

Ph.D. students are required to take the following core graduate courses:

Physics 503a Classical Mechanics I (3 hr)
Physics 506a Quantum Mechanics I (3 hr)
Physics 511a Electrodynamics I (3 hr)
Physics 526 Statistical Physics (3 hr)
Physics 544 Advanced Laboratory (3 hr)

The Physics 544 Advanced Laboratory requirement may be waived, at the discretion of the Director of Graduate Studies, if the student has taken an equivalent course previously.

In meeting additional requirements, it is assumed the student will complete courses in Physics elective courses.

Research Rotation and the First Summer of Research

During the fall and spring semesters of the first year, students carry out two 13-week research rotations in different research groups, evaluating potential dissertation advisors.  Students gain in-depth knowledge and research training and a chance to participate directly in the scientific method, an experience that is not attainable in the classroom.  Each rotation culminates with a summary report that undergoes feedback and revision with the advisor to gain scientific writing experience.  During the first summer, students their PhD research project under the direction of their chosen dissertation advisor.  As part of the training for doing PhD level research, students write an in-depth report giving a review of the literature and summary of their research by November of their second year.  Students also give a presentation of their research progress to the physics faculty and students.  For a detailed description of the research rotation process of identifying a PhD advisor and the first summer of research, Click here to download PDF Guidelines for Rotations and First Summer of Research.

Qualifier Proposal

The Qualifier Proposal assesses the readiness of the student for entry into the final stage of the Ph.D. program (dissertation research). The Qualifier Proposal is researched and prepared during the student's second year, and is presented no later than before Spring Break of the second year. The Qualifier Proposal Summary (300 words), which states the problem, hypothesis and approach, is to be submitted to the DGS by October 15 of the second year (see Timetable).

The Qualifier Proposal involves the preparation of a research proposal that is conceived, literature-researched and presented by the student in the spirit of a small research proposal. In addition to its function in determining further progress towards the Ph.D., the Qualifier Proposal allows the student to gain a deeper understanding of their chosen sub-field of Physics (for example, an area in soft condensed matter or molecular biophysics), and it is an essential component of the program's effort to train students in the practical aspects of science. For a detailed description of the Qualifier Proposal, Click here to download PDF Guidelines.

The Ph.D. qualification process also requires that students have passed each of the required Physics core courses with a B- or better.  Students may be given the opportunity to retake one or two courses depending on the evaluation of the student’s overall performance in the program including research, teaching, and overall coursework.

Dissertation Research

Students who pass the Qualifier Proposal and meet the physics coursework grade requirements, are admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. The student's primary responsibility is now the research work that leads to the dissertation.  The student will specify the field of study, dissertation advisor, and specific research topic in consultation with the dissertation advisor. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will be formed within one month of the successful Qualifier Proposal presentation, and its composition reported to the DGS and the program administrator. The Dissertation Advisory Committee will act to monitor and assist the student over the entire course of progress towards the Ph.D, and is made up of at least five faculty: the dissertation advisor, at least one member from outside the Emory Department of Physics and at least three additional members of the Emory Physics faculty. The committee will always be chaired by a member of the Physics Graduate Program, usually by the dissertation advisor.

There is a formal program of supervision of the research and the Ph.D. dissertation which includes the following:

  1. The first formal meeting of the Ph.D. candidate and the Dissertation Advisory Committee will occur no later than November 30 of the third year. At this first meeting, the candidate will present a brief introduction to the dissertation research topic, the aims of the dissertation research, and the short-term and long-term plans for conducting the research. In general, the candidate will use the summer of the third year to perform research, acquire necessary literature background, and prepare for the presentation. The purpose of this meeting is to approve the topic of the candidate's research and planned research program.
  2. After the first meeting, the Dissertation Advisory Committee will meet annually with the candidate during the course of the research to review progress and to offer suggestions. Upon completion of the research, the committee will read and approve the dissertation before it is submitted to the Office of the Graduate School. The committee acts for the department in recommending the candidate for the Ph.D. degree. If progress is not deemed appropriate, the candidate may be placed on probation.
  3. The candidate is required to present one public dissertation research seminar. This seminar, which will be announced in suitable university publications, will be given after the completion of the candidate's dissertation research but not necessarily after the completion of the dissertation. In the seminar, the candidate will present research results and answer questions from any person in attendance. Following the public seminar, the candidate will be questioned by the Dissertation Advisory Committee.
The candidate for the Ph.D. degree in physics may carry on dissertation research at facilities of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Savannah River Laboratory, and the Puerto Rico National Center under the Oak Ridge Graduate Fellowship Program of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities.

Requirements for the Ph.D. in Physics/M.S. in Computational Science Joint Degree

This joint degree program is a modified program of the current Ph.D. program in physics. The Ph.D. dissertation must consist of original research on a physics topic with a significant computational aspect. All the requirements for a Ph.D. degree in physics are retained. In addition, students are required to complete a minimum of six graduate courses in math and computer science: one in system programming, five chosen from numerical analysis, parallel processing, compiler construction, networking, computer graphics, operating systems and/or distributed processing.

All students admitted to the physics Ph.D. program are eligible to enter the program. Students lacking the necessary computer science undergraduate training may be required to complete the background course work before beginning the program. Students with a Bachelor's degree begin with FULL standing and can progress to ADVANCED standing at the end of one year. Students with a Master's degree begin with ADVANCED standing. Specific degree requirements are detailed as follows.

Specific Course Requirements

In addition to the course requirements for the Ph. D. in physics, minimum course requirements for the Ph. D. in Physics/M. S. in Computational Science are:

Computer Science 551 System programming (3 hr)
and five courses of the following eight:
Mathematics 515 Numerical Analysis I (3 hr)
Mathematics 516 Numerical Analysis II (3 hr)
Computer Science 555 Parallel Processing (3 hr)
Computer Science 558 Networking (3 hr)
Computer Science 556 Compiler Construction (3 hr)
Computer Science 559 Distributed Processing (3 hr)
Computer Science 560 Computer Graphics (3 hr)
Computer Science 580 Operating System (3 hr)

Additional Computer Science courses, which may be offered intermittently or as Special Topics courses, may be used for to meet the course requirement (see the Director of Graduate Studies).


The dissertation must consist of original research on a physics topic with a significant computational aspect. The Dissertation Advisory Committee, which approves the research topic and meets with the student once every year to assess the student's progress, consists of at least five graduate faculty members, a majority of whom must have their primary appointments in physics. At least one member should have his or her primary appointment in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department. The committee will always be chaired by a member of the Physics Graduate Program, usually by the dissertation advisor.

Requirements for the M.S. Degree in Physics

Students are not admitted into the Graduate Program in Physics to pursue the M.S. degree. Students may be offered the M.S. degree, if they leave the Ph.D. program.

Standing and Residence

A minimum accumulated residence in the Graduate School of two semesters in FULL standing is required for the M.S. degree. Courses may not be applied toward the FULL standing residence requirements unless they are on the 300 level or above.

Specific Course Requirements

In addition to the general course requirements, minimum specific course requirements for the M.S. degree are:

  1. Satisfactory completion of 18 hours of credit, of which 15 must be in course or seminar work, not including Directed Study (Physics 597R) or Research (Physics 599R).
  2. At least 11 of the hours in course or seminar credit must be on the 500 or 700 level.
  3. A grade of B- or better must be earned in at least 11 hours of course work taken.
  4. No course at the 100 or 200 level can be applied to the M.S. degree.

Students are required to take the following three core graduate courses:

Physics 503a Classical Mechanics I (3 hr)
Physics 506a Quantum Mechanics I (3 hr)
Physics 511a Electrodynamics I (3 hr)

It is assumed that the student will also complete introductory graduate courses in more specialized areas such as statistical physics or biophysics, depending on the master's thesis topic.

Thesis and Thesis Advisory Committee

The student must submit an acceptable thesis demonstrating an ability to use advanced methods of research. The Thesis Advisory Committee is composed of the thesis advisor, two additional physics faculty members, and one faculty member from another department. The Thesis Advisory Committee approves the topic for the candidate's research, approves both a written and oral report of the student's progress at least once a year, reads and approves the thesis before it is submitted to the office of the Graduate School, and acts for the department in recommending the candidate for the M.S. degree.

Expectations and General Advice

Personal and professional integrity, and the motivation to perform thesis research, are essential characteristics of the successful Ph.D. student. Our Graduate Program highly values each individual student. The clear mission of the Physics Graduate faculty is to develop outstanding scientists. The Emory Physics faculty are therefore extremely supportive of all graduate students who show the high level of intellectual engagement and strong work ethic that will assure their successful completion of the degree program.

The faculty meet at the end of each semester to discuss and assess the academic and professional performance of each graduate student. Students found deficient in areas relating to academic standing will be advised on how to improve their situation. In extreme cases, probation for one semester may be recommended. If performance in the area of deficiency is not corrected within the probationary time period, the student may be asked to leave the program.

Graduate students in Physics are supported by a 12-month stipend during their graduate study. A full year's commitment to the Graduate Program in Physics is therefore expected. Vacations, or time taken away from the Emory campus not associated with meetings or remote research work, should not exceed 3 weeks total, per year. Winter and summer breaks should be planned accordingly. Requests for additional time off for extenuating circumstances should be directed to the DGS. The educational and research training missions of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate Program in Physics are best served by the year-round attention of the students to their studies and their immersion in the Graduate Program on the Emory campus.