Requirements for the Ph.D.

This page describes the requirements for those students who enter the graduate program in 2012 or later.

On this page:

1) Statute of Limitations

Students entering with a bachelor's degree in physics should complete all of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree within six years, although under exceptional circumstances this statute of limitations can be and has been extended.

2) Core Courses

Students are required to pass the graduate introductory program of studies consisting of 6 courses: P601 Classical Mechanics, P602 Statistical Physics, P605 Mathematical Methods, P606 Classical Electrodynamics, P614 Quantum Mechanics I and P615 Quantum Mechanics II. (Note that a passing grade is B- or above in the graduate program.) Exemptions to this requirement can be granted by the Graduate Program Director (see Contacts and follow the instructions at introductory program of studies). The successful completion of an equivalent course at the graduate level at another institution will generally be acceptable for an exemption of this requirement.

3) Candidacy Examination

There are two components to the Doctoral Qualifying Exam: a written component on graduate-level physics and an oral component covering a research area chosen by the student. The written component is offered in January (and again in April if a second attempt is necessary). This written exam is normally taken in January of the second year. The exam consists of two parts, classical and quantum, which may be passed separately. In addition, there is an oral component, consisting of a presentation on a research area, to be passed by 15 November following the successful completion of the written exam. Exceptions to the timeline may be granted in special cases by the Graduate Program Director (see Contacts).

Please see the following link for further details regarding both the written and oral components of the exam: Doctoral Qualifying Exam.

4) Research Area Courses

Students earning a Ph.D. in physics must take three research area courses. At least one of these courses must be from a research category different from the student's dissertation category. While two may come from the dissertation category, they should represent significantly different research areas. For example, condensed matter physics has expanded to include traditional solid-state physics and low temperature physics, but also statistical physics, polymer physics, nanostructure physics, complex systems, and more. For a student doing a dissertation in superfluid helium, advanced statistical physics is a very different area of research. Further, general relativity is far removed from the actual work of a student involved in an experiment on electron scattering of nuclei.

Rules Governing the Research Course Requirement:

  1. Research area courses are usually those given at the 700 - 800 level.
  2. Advanced courses can be divided into four categories.
    1. Condensed Matter Physics (including Biophysics): any 700 - 800 level course taught by a faculty member identified with the Condensed Matter or Biophysics Group.
    2. Particle/Nuclear/Gravitational Physics: any 700 - 800 level course taught by a faculty member identified with the Nuclear Group, the High Energy Experimental Group, or the Particle and Gravitational Theory group.
    3. Technique courses: courses in which the primary emphasis is to provide students with a useful skill. Examples: advanced computational techniques courses like Astronomy 723.
    4. Advanced courses (600 - 800 level) taken outside the Department.
  3. Courses in categories (a) and (b) automatically qualify as research area courses. The Graduate Program Director can accept a course from categories (c) or (d) upon review of the course syllabus.
  4. Graduate students are required to take three research area courses with a minimum of 3 credit hours each. At least one of them must come from the research area "outside" that being pursued by the student. For example, condensed matter students must take at least one course from category (b). The other two research area courses may lie within the student's broad area of research, but only one of them can be directly related to the student's research project. If there is doubt about the appropriateness of a particular course, the Graduate Program Director makes the decision.

5) Residency

A minimum of two consecutive semesters in residence at the University, each with nine credits, is required. (Waivers are possible for 8 credits.)

6) Teaching

All degree candidates are required to perform teaching (via a Teaching Assistantship) in the department. A waiver of this requirement may be requested from the Graduate Program Director.

7) Research Advisor

Students are expected to acquire a research advisor no later than September after passing the written component of the Qualifying Examination. The student should request the relevant faculty member to inform the Graduate Program Director (or Graduate Program Office) upon arriving at this mutual decision between student and advisor, using the Research Advisor Confirmation form. (Note: If a student wishes to choose a thesis advisor outside of Physics for physics related research, approval must be received from the Graduate Program Director.)

8) Dissertation Committee

Students are expected to form a dissertation committee no later than twenty months after passing the written component of the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination and submit the information to the Physics Graduate Program Office by email. The Committee should consist of the research adviser, two other members of the physics faculty, and one university faculty member from outside the student's program. After the members have agreed to be on the Committee, submit the names to the Physics Graduate Program Office to prepare the required memo to the Graduate School.

9) Dissertation Prospectus

Students shall submit a dissertation prospectus (original hard copy), sometimes called a dissertation proposal, to the Graduate Program Office no later than twenty-four months after passing the written component of the Ph.D. Qualifying examination.

The prospectus is presented as a brief seminar (30-45 minutes, with additional 15-30 minutes allotted to questions) to the dissertation committee and other interested members of the department. The committee must fill out the Dissertation Prospectus Checklist and sign the signature sheet (in black ink). Once the prospectus is approved and the signature sheet is signed (in black ink) by the student's dissertation committee, the original document and signature sheet can be either sent electronically to kjbryant@physics.umass.edu or delivered to the Graduate Program Office. It will then be hand delivered to the Graduate School. The document must follow the dissertation format, as required by the Graduate School (see websites below), and consist of the following: title, abstract, signature sheet, project description (maximum of ten pages), bibliography (full citations).

  • For doctoral students, the dissertation prospectus must be defended and submitted at least seven months before the dissertation defense.
  • For master's students, the thesis proposal must be defended and submitted at least four months before the thesis defense.

10) Thesis Credits

The Graduate School requires that students register for 18 or more dissertation credits before their completion of the Ph.D. program.

11) Dissertation

A written dissertation must be prepared and submitted to the dissertation committee. See website below for required format. The dissertation is a scholarly work containing a written record of the original work of the student. It places the student's contribution to knowledge in perspective. The dissertation must be unanimously approved by the members of the committee. Students must pass a final examination consisting of an open oral presentation of the principal results of the dissertation research.

Ph.D. Defense Announcement - A month before the final defense, email the Physics Graduate Program Office (Katie Bryant) your defense details (date, time, room, thesis title) to be forwarded to the Graduate School. The information needs to be received by the Graduate School (from the Graduate Program Director) at least four weeks before the defense.

The dissertation must be submitted electronically. The original signature sheet (signed in black ink) should be submitted to the Graduate Program Office along with the eligibility form. See websites below. The Graduate Program Office will deliver all documents to the Graduate School.


Graduate School Resources

Graduate school policies and forms

Dissertation and other information