Ph.D. Qualifying Procedure for Admission to Candidacy

There are two components to the qualification procedure.

Written Component

The purpose of this written/coursework component of the qualification procedure is to assure that all students admitted to candidacy in the Department have a certain core competency necessary for success in a physics career.

Oral/Research Component

The purpose of the oral/research component of the qualification procedure is to help students transition from formal coursework to engagement in research, and to develop specific skills necessary for success in research. This component can be scheduled any time after the completion of the coursework component, but no later than the 5th semester in the program. To satisfy this requirement, students must do the following:

  • Choose a Chair. Before the first day of the 5th semester, students shall choose a faculty member to serve as Chair of their Research Qual Committee. Except in rare cases, this should be the same faculty member who serves as the Dissertation Committee Chair.  Identifying an appropriate chair is the responsibility of the student.  The chair will select one other faculty member to serve on the Research Qual Committee. The name of the chair will be communicated to the Graduate Program Director No later than September 1 before the beginning of the fifth semester.  If a student has difficulty identifying a chair, they must speak with the Graduate Program Director before the beginning of the fifth semester.
  • Propose a topic for the presentation. The student shall identify in consultation with the Chair, a research topic that is related to the anticipated subfield. They shall consult with the Chair of their Research Qual Committee to ensure that the topic is reasonable and the proposed presentation is of appropriate nature and scope.
  • Schedule a presentation.The presentation is expected to reflect careful study of a current topic and to demonstrate that the student has understood both the important physical concepts, and the larger scientific context of the topic under investigation. A key element is the requirement that the student consult multiple research papers to put together a cohesive discussion of contemporary work or an open problem in physics. In other words, summarizing a textbook discussion is inappropriate, as is simply giving a summary of research that the student has already completed.
  • A list of references used in the study must be provided to the Research Qual Committee.
  • The length of the presentation should be 30-45 minutes, and students should expect additional time, typically 15-20 minutes, devoted to discussion with the committee. It may be scheduled any time after completion of the written component of the qualifying procedure and no later than the end of the fifth semester in the program.
  • Following the presentation, the Chair of the student’s Research Qual Committee will send to the GPD the Oral Qualifying Exam Checklist. If the presentation is deemed inadequate, the committee may ask the student to perform additional work, such as preparation of a short document or a second presentation, which must be completed by 15 December.


Note that the role of the Research Qual Chair is not to supervise the study, but to be a source of advice and help.

With mutual consent of the student and research advisor, the Research/Oral component of the Quals may also serve as a Dissertation Prospectus presentation. In that case, the full dissertation committee must be formed and a written prospectus document prepared on the same timeline as above, but in the format and with the content of the prospectus (see Sec. II.9). Students are strongly encouraged to use this opportunity to complete their prospectus by the end of the fifth semester.