Degree Requirements

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

A typical sequence for a student accepted into the Ph.D. program can be found on the admitted students page. The requirements to obtain a Ph.D. Degree are listed below.

  • Achieving a Ph.D. level passing grade on the Comprehensive Exam (CE) before the end of the second year.
  • Advance to candidacy by passing the Research Proposal Exam (RPE) within one year of passing the Comprehensive Exam.
  • Pass the following graduate courses
    • Classical Mechanics
    • Statistical Physics I
    • Electromagnetic Theory I
    • Quantum Mechanics I
    • Mathematical Physics I
    • Quantum Mechanics II
    • Statistical Physics II
    • Physics Graduate Seminar I
    • Physics Graduate Seminar II
  • Pass four of the following graduate courses
    • Solid State I
    • Solid State II
    • Techniques of Experimental Physics
    • Seminar: Topics in Physics
    • Other Electives offered periodically by the department.
    • No more than one comparable graduate course offered in other departments.
  • Completion of the Thesis Research and Defense.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is a written exam that covers all of physics that a physics graduate student can be expected to know at the end of one year of formal course work in the curriculum; however, it will stress classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, and statistical physics. The examination is prepared and administered by a faculty committee, appointed by the Chairperson, and the examination is evaluated by this committee with approval of the faculty of the department.

The examination is offered twice a year, the week before the beginning of each semester. The student must pass one of two possible attempts in order to continue in the graduate program before the end of their second year. A student, who fails the first attempt, MUST make their second attempt the next time the exam is offered. The FIRST Attempt would typically be a fall exam taken a week before the beginning of the student’s second fall semester. If unsuccessful, the second try would be a spring exam, one week before the beginning of their second spring semester. Exceptionally well­-prepared and qualified students can make the FIRST Attempt of the exam either by arriving one week early to take a fall exam or taking a spring exam during their first year. A student choosing to do this who does not pass their first attempt must take the CE before the next semester begins.

Research Proposal Examination

Within one year of passing the comprehensive examination, a student shall take the Research Proposal Exam (RPE). The purpose of this oral examination is for the student to assimilate work done in an area of research and to define a research project that addresses one or more open important questions in this area.

The RPE will be a 40 minute, public presentation followed by 20 minute of questions by the exam committee in private. The proposal should include a detailed explanation for how it proposes to address the open questions and preferably include preliminary results. The topic of the RPE will be chosen by the graduate student's research adviser and will not necessarily be the student's ultimate thesis topic. The questions will not be restricted to RPE topic but will also require the student to demonstrate some breadth. The examination will be evaluated by a committee prepared by the student’s doctoral thesis adviser and will consist of at least two additional department faculty. The student will have at most two opportunities to pass this exam. Those who do not pass the RPE on the first try must make a second attempt within six months of this time. Students will not advance to Ph.D. candidacy without passing the RPE, and after two unsuccessful attempts will not receive additional TA support from the department.

Thesis Defense

Upon the student's passing performance of the RPE, the Chairperson shall recommend to the dean the appointment of a doctoral thesis committee consisting of the student’s adviser who will chair the committee and at least three tenure track faculty members, with at least two from the physics department. The committee will read and evaluate the completed thesis and conduct an open meeting at which the thesis is defended in an oral examination. The thesis is accepted when endorsed on the official title page by the Doctoral Thesis Committee after the oral examination.

Master of Science in Physics (MS)

Students who are accepted into our Ph.D. program have the option to obtain a Master’s degree. Interested students should fill out the Master's Degree option form and will need to complete the requirements listed below.

  • Achieve a Master’s passing score on the comprehensive exam
  • Pass the following graduate courses
    • Classical Mechanics
    • Statistical Physics I
    • Electromagnetic Theory I
    • Quantum Mechanics I
    • Mathematical Physics I
    • Quantum Mechanics II
    • Physics Graduate Seminar I
    • Physics Graduate Seminar II
  • Pass three of the following graduate courses
    • Solid State I
    • Solid State II
    • Statistical Physics II
    • Techniques of Experimental Physics
    • Seminar: Topics in Physics
    • Other Electives offered periodically by the department
    • A Master’s Thesis to be submitted to and approved by the Graduate Program Director (counts as two courses)

Master of Science in Teaching

The Master of Science in Teaching (M.S.T.) degree is administered through the Lynch Graduate School of Education in cooperation with the Department of Physics. It requires admission to both the Lynch School of Education and to the Department of Physics. This program requires at least fifteen (15) credits from graduate or upper division undergraduate courses in physics. These credits will most often include two of the following courses: PHYS7711, PHYS7721, PHYS7732, PHYS7741.

All Master's programs leading to certification in secondary education include practical experiences in addition to course work. Students seeking certification in Massachusetts are required to pass the Massachusetts Educators Certification Test. The M.S.T. qualifying examination in physics will be based on the student's actual course program. A research paper supervised by a full­-time member of the graduate faculty is required. For further information on the M.S.T., please refer to the Lynch School of Education section entitled "Master's Programs in Secondary Teaching" or call the Office of Graduate Admissions, LSOE, at (617) 552­-4214.

Good Academic Standing

To continue enrollment as a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Physics, students must maintain acceptable levels of performance and progress towards their degree in all three aspects of their graduate work: courses, teaching and research duties. A student must maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 (B) consistent with the policies of the Graduate School of the MCA&S. In addition, students should be on track to complete all of their coursework by the end of their third year, consistent with the requirements that Ph.D. students should also be making progress towards passing the Comprehensive and Research Proposal Exams according to the time-line provided by the department. Students must perform all of their assigned duties satisfactorily as a teaching or research assistant. The duties are defined by their teaching and/or research supervisor(s) in accord with the assigned hours. This includes making timely progress to graduation by the end of their sixth year in the program, as determined by the thesis adviser. During their meetings with their academic adviser, the Academic Standing of the advisee should be discussed at least once an academic year. Students in jeopardy of losing their status of good academic standing shall receive notification in writing, with a follow up meeting scheduled within one month. A time-line for improvement and consequences will be clearly stated in the letter.