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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Ph.D. in Physics

Doctor of Philosophy in Physics

The Ph.D. in Physics is a research-based degree in which students perform perform significant new research and submit a dissertation on a topic that advances our knowledge of physics.

Our degree program is structured to quickly transition students from studying physics in the classroom to pursuing independent research under the guidance their faculty mentor.

When students enter the program, they take a diagnostic quiz that allows us to assess their grounding in undergraduate physics. Students who perform satisfactorily in the quiz will spend one year taking a mixture of 600- and 700-level graduate classes in preparation to take a written qualifying exam at the start of their second year. If the diagnostic quiz uncovers areas where a student may not be prepared for these classes, students can take a mixture of 500-, 600-, and 700- level classes to prepare for the written qualifying exam at the start of their third year. In cases where a student enters the program with an M.S. in Physics, or has otherwise had classes on the material covered by the written qualifying exam, they may take this exam at the beginning of their first year of graduate studies. If they pass, they may request a waiver of the core graduate classes. If they fail, they will be asked to take the courses and retake the exam the following year. The material covered in the written qualifying exam is described in the physics graduate syllabus.

Regardless of which of these three paths a student follows, all of our students will begin to engage in research in their first year of graduate school. After passing the written qualifying exam, our graduate student's primary focus is pursuing their doctoral research project.

After completing required core courses, students must still take at least three advanced courses of their choice as elective courses offered annually or biannually by the department. The course PHY690 “Independent Study” counts as an advanced elective. This course offers students the opportunity to explore a limited research project with a faculty member as the student looks for a research advisor in the department. Each student's selection of courses must be approved by the graduate advising committee. Details of the required courses are given in the course catalog.

Students should take responsibility for finding a research advisor and actively seek out potential advisors. Faculty are happy to talk to students about available positions and opportunities long before any firm commitments need to be made. Although some students may not enter into a formal relationship with an advisor until the beginning of their third year, students should begin exploring the various possibilities soon after their arrival in Syracuse. When exploring research groups, most students find it beneficial to speak to other graduate students and/or postdocs working with the group in addition to talking with the faculty member directly.

Students should free to ask faculty members about such opportunities at any time. It is a good idea to explore a number of fields, as students often discover a new field that they find more appealing than their original declared interest. Students are in no way restricted to the fields declared as initial interests during the application process.

Students must take a research oral examination before the middle of the third year of graduate study (e.g. end of Fall semester, if student entered in Fall). The student should have a tentative arrangement for a thesis advisor prior to this examination. The examining committee will consist of three physics faculty members, usually with the tentative thesis advisor as chair. The choice of topic for the examination is primarily up to the student, subject to approval of the committee chair. The student will be informed of the decision immediately after the examination. Students may also petition to have a talk given at a major conference (e.g. the March or April American Physical Society meeting) count as their research oral, if this is approved by the research advisor and the graduate program director.

After passing the research oral examination, a student’s primary focus will be on their independent research leading to their dissertation. Once the student has reached 48 credits of course work, usually through a mixture of classes and dissertation credit, the student receives all but dissertation (ABD) status. Students have five years after receiving ABD status to submit and defend their dissertation. The typical length of time that students take from entering to completing the Ph.D. program is five years, but this varies by research area.

Dissertations can either take the form of a monograph (a dissertation on a single topic) or a thesis by published works (a collection of research papers with an introduction and conclusion). The dissertation is submitted to a committee of six faculty members for examination. The student defends the dissertation by presenting the material in a public seminar of approximately 40 minutes in length, followed by questions from the audience and, if requested, a closed session with the examination committee. The student is informed immediately after the defense of the outcome of the examination. Options are pass with no revisions, pass with minor revisions, pass with major revisions, and fail.

Once the student addresses the results of the defense, they submit their completed dissertation to the graduate school and have satisfied all the requirements for the Ph.D. in Physics.