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Physics Ph.D Requirements

Residency Requirement

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

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. 

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.  By LGS standards, a student will also be placed on probation if their GPA falls below a 2.75.

Link to LGS Handbook

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 requirements include the following: 

  • (1) TATT 600, a two-day teaching instruction workshop; 
  • (2) TATT 605, a teaching assistantship, which is comprised of two semesters.  Teaching Assistants are responsible for two laboratory sections for two semesters of an introductory physics course, such as Physics 141-142 or Physics 151-152; and
  • (3) TATT 610, a one semester Co-Teaching assignment involving a close interaction with a faculty member in teaching an undergraduate course. 

Teaching Assistant (TA) assignments are organized by Dr. Tom Bing at the beginning of each semester depending on availability and need of the department’s teaching requirements, as well as on the graduate student’s TA ability.  Students with a particular teaching preference should talk with Dr. Tom Bing. 

Completion of TATT 600 and 605 are required to declare candidacy, while TATT 610 is required prior to graduation.  Along with TATT 600 and 605, students must also complete PHYS 590A/B Seminar in Teaching during the semesters they TA.

Physics Course Requirements

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

Physics 503aClassical Mechanics I(3 hr)
Physics 506aQuantum Mechanics I(3 hr)
Physics 511aElectrodynamics I(3 hr)
Physics 526Statistical Physics(3 hr)

To remain in the Physics graduate program, each of these four core courses must be passed with a minimum grade of B-.  Students may be given the opportunity to retake one or two of these courses to meet this standard at the discretion of the faculty. 

The Physics 544 Advanced Laboratory may also be required if the student has not previously taken an advanced laboratory course during their undergraduate degree.   

In meeting additional requirements, it is assumed the student will primarily complete their elective courses in Physics, although Physics related courses in other disciplines may also count with approval from the PhD Advisor or DGS.

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.

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.

Download the PDF Guidelines for a detailed description

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.

Declaring Candidacy

Students who pass the Qualifier Proposal and meet the Physics coursework graduate requirements may apply for candidacy to the Ph.D. degree.  Students are typically eligible to apply for candidacy in the fall of their third year.  

To declare candidacy, students must have completed the following:

  • the four physics core courses (PHYS 503A, 506A, 511A, 526) earning a B- or better in each
  • four additional physics related 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 program-based ethics training
  • 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, they must declare candidacy no later than September 15th of their 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.

Dissertation Research

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.

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

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.

Grievance Policy

The Department of Physics recognizes that a fair and rigorous assessment of student performance and progress towards the PhD is vital to the mission of the graduate program. The PhD necessitates a close, working relationship between the student and the advisor, and involves and checkpoints of assessment where the student is evaluated by individual faculty instructors and faculty committees. Disagreements arising over assigned grades or other academic matters that may arise should be handled promptly and professionally. For a full description of the Graduate Program's grievance policy, please click below.