In general, graduate students in the Ph.D. program of the Department of Physics are appointed
either as Teaching Assistants (TA), or as Research Assistants (RA). Typically, a new Ph.D.
graduate student in Physics will be appointed as a TA and later move into a RA position when
their interest becomes focused on a specific research topic. However, because RA positions are
supported by external funding and are not readily available in all research areas, some graduate
students remain on TA appointments for the duration of their graduate studies. The appointment
of TAs in Physics is closely linked to graduate admissions into the Ph.D. program. Admission
into the Ph.D. program is by competitive application following procedures published by the
University Graduate Admissions Office in the Graduate School Bulletin. Currently consisting of
seven Physics faculty members, the Graduate Admission Committee makes recommendations
regarding graduate admissions. These recommendations are passed on to the University Graduate
Admissions Office which makes the final decision on all graduate admissions.
Typically about 8 students are admitted into the Physics Ph.D. program, but the number can vary
appreciably according to the applicant pool and the availability of funds for supporting new TAs
and RAs. With few exceptions, successful applicants into the Ph.D. program are offered Teaching
Assistantships for their first year of study. TA appointments are guaranteed for subsequent years
provided three conditions are met:
• Satisfactory progress is made towards the Ph.D.,
• The student has not exceeded their Statute of Limitations date, and
• Their teaching is satisfactory.
At the start of their first semester, successful applicants receive this information in writing from
the Chair of the Graduate Admission Committee or from the Chair of the Graduate Assistantships
Committee. For TAs satisfying the three conditions, reappointment is generally routine and
requires no new application.
The Department of Physics defines satisfactory progress towards a Ph.D. in Physics according to
the attachment, a copy of which is distributed to each new graduate student. Particularly
important is the need to pass both the Comprehensive and the Qualifying Examinations by the
second attempts. Graduate students approaching second attempts of either of these exams will not
be reappointed until the examination is passed. If circumstances permit, students who fail for the
second time may receive TA appointments for one additional semester only in order to complete
a M.S. degree. However, such support is not assured. TAs in peril of being denied reappointment
for reason of unsatisfactory progress are usually reminded of the conditions to be met for
reappointment by the Graduate Program Director.
For any graduate student beyond their original Statute of Limitations date, continuation of the TA
appointment is negotiated following discussions with the student and the dissertation supervisor.
Furthermore, in order to be reappointed, written approval to extend the Statute of Limitations date
must be received from the Graduate School. Even in such circumstances, further support is not
guaranteed and, moreover, if provided, may be for a fixed duration, and/or at a lesser stipend.
It is exceedingly rare for a graduate student to be denied reappointment for failure to satisfactorily
execute teaching duties, however this may occur when there are, for example, repeated instances
of absenteeism, lateness, or ill-preparedness with regard to teaching. Appointments may also be
terminated in cases where a TA fails to submit on time grading records to the course instructor as
requested, or who, without written approval from the Chair of the Graduate Assistantships
Committee, is absent from campus during the first week of semester, including Registration Day.
The Department of Physics strives for excellence in teaching, and will not reappoint TAs who are
unsatisfactory in their attendance to teaching duties. Graduate students denied reappointment for
this reason are notified at least two months in advance by the Chair of the Graduate
Occasionally, students may be admitted into the Ph.D. program without the assurance of a TA
appointment. Such students may have private resources, be supported by an independent
Fellowship, or have an offer of an immediate RA position. Students admitted under these
circumstances are entitled to make one subsequent application for a TA appointment. When this
is made, in writing to the Graduate Program Director, the student will be considered for a TA
position in competition with new applications for graduate admissions during the next Fall
admissions period. Successful individuals are guaranteed continued financial aid provided they
meet the three conditions previously noted.
Students admitted into the M.S. program in Physics are not normally considered for TA positions.
However, in the rare case that funds remain after all commitments to Ph.D. students are met, M.S.
candidates may be offered full or partial TA appointments. Such appointees are selected primarily
on the basis of teaching performance or potential; grades in 600- and higher level courses may
also be taken into account. There is no guarantee of continuation of such support in subsequent
semesters. M.S. students may also compete for Teaching Assistantships by transferring to the
Ph.D. program. Indeed, any graduate student in good standing in the Ph.D. program, within their
Statute of Limitations date, and who has passed the Ph.D. qualifying examination, will be offered
a Teaching Assistantship to begin as soon as funds are available. The only exception to this
would be a student who was previously unsatisfactory in attendance to teaching duties.
In all cases, however, it is University policy that assistantships can be offered only to degree
candidates; non-degree graduate students are restricted to hourly or contract employee
appointments, made by completing a Graduate Student Personnel Action form. Non-degree
students are therefore not entitled to tuition or fee waivers.
The Chair of the Graduate Assistantships Committee notifies all TAs of their teaching assignment
at the start of each semester. Requests by graduate appointees to teach specific courses are always
welcome, but the final TA assignments depend on various manpower issues including class
schedules, the needs of specific courses, and the experience and strengths of individual
Funds for RA positions are derived from various external sources and are awarded not to the
Department of Physics, but to individual Principal Investigators (PIs) who are responsible for
administering their grants. Decisions regarding appointment and reappointment of RAs are
therefore made by PIs, who have much freedom in this process. Graduate students seeking RA
appointments may make direct application to PIs at any time. Frequently, before receiving an RA
appointment a graduate student would spend some initial time working on a research project
under the PI’s supervision. Graduate students previously on Teaching Assistantships continue
their appointments during this period provided they continue to progress towards the Ph.D. and
adequately fulfill their teaching duties.
All graduate students in Physics are eligible for RA appointments, irrespective of whether they
are enrolled in the Ph.D. or the M.S. program. All Ph.D. graduate students admitted with the
initial promise of financial support and who meet the three conditions previously noted is assured
a total stipend that is not less than the prevailing departmental TA stipend. Thus any graduate
student on a RA appointment at less than the prevailing Teaching Assistantship stipend may seek
a partial TA appointment to supplement the RA stipend.
From time to time, other opportunities for graduate student employment become available, for
example, teaching during the summer session or teaching in institutions such as Community
Colleges. Information regarding such positions is distributed electronically to graduate students.
Satisfactory Progress Towards the Ph.D. Degree in Physics
1. Students shall take the Comprehensive Examination in September of their first year and pass
it by September of the second year.
2. Foreign students who do not receive a passing grade English Language Proficiency test must
remain continuously enrolled in ESL courses until a passing grade is obtained. Failure to
attend ESL classes will result in the termination of Teaching Assistant support. Foreign
students are expected to attain at least a Level 1 evaluation in English communication by the
end of their second semester.
3. Students shall attempt both parts of the Qualifying Examination no later than January of their
second year and pass it by end of their second year.
4. Upon passing the Qualifying Exam, each student will be provided an individual schedule
indicating their deadlines for meeting all remaining requirements for the Ph.D. If a particular
deadline is delayed for any reason, the student will be provided a new revised schedule.
Research Advisor and Dissertation Committee
1. Students shall acquire a preliminary thesis advisor no later than eight months after passing the
Qualifying Examination. The academic advisor will notify the Graduate Program Director
when this requirement has been satisfied.
2. Students shall form a dissertation committee no later than twenty months after passing the
Ph.D. Qualifying Examination.
Indication of Progress
1. Students shall submit a dissertation prospectus to the Graduate Program Director by twentyfour months after passing the Ph.D. Qualifying examination. Part of the process of preparing
the prospectus will include an oral presentation to the dissertation committee.
2. Each year, on the anniversary of their passing the qualifying exam, students shall submit to
their academic advisor written documentation describing progress in research. The document
should carry the comments and signature of the thesis advisor. Copies of this material will be
sent to the members of the student’s dissertation committee.
3. For advanced students (fifth year and beyond) the documentation of satisfactory progress
should include an estimated time of completion.
1. If, due to failure to pass the Comprehensive Examination or the Qualifying Examination or
due to illness, a need to change research advisors, or some other major problem, the above
schedule may be revised by the Graduate Program Director upon recommendation of the
student’s academic advisor.
2. If a student enters the program with advanced standing, the Graduate Program Director will
determine the status of the student and set the schedule by which satisfactory progress is to be
judged. The determination should be based upon the recommendation of the student’s
academic advisor and should be set before the end of the first semester after admission.
Impact of Schedule upon Status and Financial Support
1. Requests for extension of the Statute of Limitations (SOL) will not be processed by the GPD
as long as one of the above conditions remains unsatisfied.
2. Forms for re appointment to a research or teaching assistantship will not be processed by the
GPD as long as one of the above conditions remains unsatisfied.