Requirements for the Ph.D.

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. Additional details are in the Physics Graduate Program Handbook.

2) Core Courses

Students are required to pass the graduate introductory program of studies consisting of 6 qualifying courses. Typically these are the same as the core courses listed below, although under certain conditions (see Advancing to Candidacy) a student may substitute a research course to replace one core in the process of qualifying as a Ph.D. candidate. A grade of B- or above is considered passing for purposes of the graduate school; however note that a B- does not automatically qualify a student in that subject (see Advancing to Candidacy). The core courses, and semesters in which they are offered, include the following (links are to the corresponding syllabus):

Students should organize their course schedule each year in consultation with their academic advisor. A typical course sequence is as follows:

  • First semester: P605 Mathematical Methods, P601 Classical Mechanics.
  • Second semester: P606 Classical Electrodynamics, P614 Quantum Mechanics I.
  • Third semester: P602 Statistical Mechanics, P615 Quantum Mechanics II.
  • Fourth semester and beyond: completion of the three research-area courses

More advanced students, or those with Fellowships permitting more time to devote to classwork, may opt to take three courses some semesters. Students should always discuss course choices with their academic advisors.

Waiving Core Courses: Core courses may be waived if a student has a record of similar coursework at the appropriate level from another university. Waiver is not automatic, and students requesting a waiver must petition the Graduate Program Director at least one week before the mid-semester add/drop deadline, and preferably much earlier. To request a course waiver:

  • Check the course syllabus linked above to compare with prior work.
  • Meet with your academic advisor to discuss the waiver request.
  • Collect as much information as possible about the prior course(s), including at least the name of the text used (if a text was used), chapters covered, and/or a course syllabus from the instructor. Blank course exams are also useful. 
  • For each requested waiver, put the collected information into a single pdf file and email this to the Graduate Program Director.
  • The Director will forward the form to the instructor currently or recently teaching the equivalent course at UMass, and to the chair of the Graduate Curriculum Committee for their input. Based on that input, the Graduate Program Director will make a decision on the waiver and inform you by email, typically within a week.
  • If the decision is to waive, please fill out a course waiver form and forward this to the Graduate Program Director, who will sign the form and forward to the Graduate Program Manager with a cc to you, so that you have a copy of the signed waiver.

3) Admission to Candidacy (Qualification Procedure)

There are two components to the Doctoral Qualifying Procedure: a component based on graduate-level physics coursework and an oral component covering a research area chosen by the student.  More information can be found here, and a complete discussion is in the Physics Graduate Program Handbook.

4) Research 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.

Rules Governing the Research Course Requirement:

  1. Research area courses are usually those given at the 700 - 800 level, although other courses, such as Physics 651, Instrumentation, may also qualify (check with GPD if unsure).
  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. 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.

To complete this requirement, students must receive Graduate Program Director approval by filling out the Research Area Course Requirement Form.

5) Residency

A minimum of two consecutive semesters in residence at the University, each with eight credits, is required.

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 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

Doctoral degree checklist

Degree Requirements