The Department offers comprehensive programs of study and research leading to the degrees of Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), with an interim Master of Science. Students may also obtain a Master of Science in Teaching (M.S.T.) in conjunction with the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. Courses emphasize a strong foundation in the basic principles of physics, preparing the student to undertake advanced research under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Graduate students are encouraged not only to collaborate closely with their research advisor, but also to draw upon the experience of the entire faculty and other graduate students. Our students are trained primarily to carry out independent research at the Ph.D. level, and our graduates have gone on to successful careers in many areas.
A student enters the doctoral program upon faculty recommendation after passing the Doctoral Comprehensive Examination and the Research Proposal Examination (RPE). Upon the student's passing performance of the RPE, the student and their advisor, in consultation with the Chairperson, shall establish a doctoral thesis committee consisting of the student’s advisor, who will chair the committee, and at least three additional tenure-track or tenured faculty members, with at least two from the physics department.
Twelve courses are required for the doctorate degree. These include seven courses that cover the fundamental areas of classical and quantum physics, a graduate seminar, plus four additional distributional courses in distinct areas chosen from the graduate electives of the department or from other graduate departments with the approval of the chairperson. Two courses in condensed matter physics are strongly recommended as two of these four elective courses.
Some teaching or equivalent educational experience is required. This requirement may be satisfied by at least one year of service as a teaching assistant or by suitable teaching duties. Arrangements are made with each student for a teaching program best suited to their overall program of studies.
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. With approval, exceptionally well-prepared and qualified students may make their 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 comprehensive examination 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 minutes of questions by the exam committee in private. The proposal should include a detailed explanation for how the student 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 advisor and will not necessarily be the student’s ultimate thesis topic. The questions will not be restricted to the 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 advisor 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.
Upon the student's passing performance of the RPE, the student and their advisor, in consultation with the Chairperson, shall establish a doctoral thesis committee consisting of the student’s advisor, who will chair the committee, and at least three additional tenure-track or tenured faculty members, with at least two of these 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.
Financial support for qualified students is available in the form of teaching assistantships. Research assistantships are also available during the summer and academic year, depending on the research area and the extent of current funding. Please see our website regarding requirements related to the GRE Aptitude Test and Advanced Test. Students whose native language is not English must provide evidence of English proficiency.
Waivers of departmental requirements, if not in violation of graduate school requirements, may be granted by recommendation of the Graduate Affairs Committee with approval of the Chairperson.
The Physics Department is strongly research oriented with faculty involved in both experimental and theoretical areas. The department is one of the strongest in materials and optics research, of both fundamental and applied topics. Some areas of current interest are in the condensed matter physics areas of superconductivity, photovoltaics, thermoelectrics, nanomaterials, plasmonics, plasmas, topological states, quantum information science, 2D atomic crystals, and other strongly correlated electron systems. Cutting-edge research facilities are available to our graduate students, including: Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM); thin film growth; Raman and Infrared microscopy; thermal and electrical conductivity at low temperatures and in the presence of high magnetic field; Near-Field Scanning Optical Microscopy (NSOM/A-NSOM); x-ray; NMR; materials/nano-materials; (Clean Room) preparation laboratories; graduate and undergraduate computational facilities; and access to the University computing system.
The Department of Physics is constantly enhancing and supplementing these facilities. In addition, the Department has developed strong ties to many outside facilities, including Los Alamos National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, the Institute for Complex Adaptive Matter (ICAM), Brookhaven National Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory, and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory. Boston College’s participation in the Boston Area Graduate School Consortium enables students to cross-register for graduate courses at Boston University, Brandeis University, and Tufts University. Students wishing for more detailed information can write to the Physics Department or visit bc.edu/physics.