Physics Academic Program

General Overview

As you navigate toward a PhD or MSc degree, there are a number of rules and regulations that you need to be aware of, which are outlined here. Additional information concerning Graduate School Rules is available in the Graduate Student and Faculty Handbook.

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The course work requirement for the PhD Degree is a minimum of 54 graduate credits beyond the Bachelor's degree, of which at least 27 must be earned at UWM. Coursework must include 501, 515, 531, 532, 711, 720 and 721 and a minimum of 12 credits in physics graduate courses selected from 651 and 700-999 levels (excluding 990). Students must complete the core courses (501, 515, 531, 532, 711, 720, and 721) within three years of enrollment into the physics graduate program. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or greater in these core courses. Students must achieve a grade of B- or greater in each core course; if a student fails to meet this requirement, the student must either retake the course or demonstrate equivalent proficiency (as determined by the departmental academic graduate committee) in order to continue in the doctoral program.

You must also pass the Written Qualifying Exam (WQE) and, subsequently, the combined oral Doctoral Preliminary Exam and Proposal Hearing (prelim). Students have a maximum of 3 attempts to pass the exam and must take the exam each time that it is offered until passing the exam or exhausting the 3 allowed attempts. The prelim must be taken within four years of enrollment in the physics doctoral program and must be passed within 5 years of enrollment in the program. Finally there is the oral PhD dissertation defense. The WCE is described in Sec. II and the oral exams are described in Sec. III. (Continued financial support as a TA or RA depends upon satisfactory progress towards your degree, and in many instances, professors will require that a student pass the WQE before providing RA support.)

The normal sequence of steps to the PhD degree is as follows.

  1. Pass the WQE and explore the possibilities of research projects with potential PhD advisors.
  2. Choose a PhD advisor (major professor) to supervise your PhD dissertation. You must identify a PhD advisor before the end of your second calendar year in the PhD program.
  3. Pass the prelim oral exam which is a combined Doctoral Preliminary Exam and Proposal Hearing based on your proposed PhD dissertation work. You must take this exam within four years of enrollment into the doctoral program and must pass it within the five years of enrollment in the doctoral program.
  4. Obtain “dissertator status” by meeting the Residence Requirement that after the Master's degree (or equivalent level of study) you complete 8 to 12 graduate credits in each of two consecutive semesters, excluding summer sessions, or by completing 6 to 12 credits in each of 3 consecutive semesters excluding summer sessions.
  5. Completion of PhD dissertation, and successful defense of dissertation.

The expectations of the Department concerning the PhD candidates' presentation of their research work are set out below. Graduate students should consult these guidelines at least one year before they plan to complete their Doctoral studies.

The MS Degree requires 24 graduate credits, 18 of which must be in physics and 6 of which may be in related fields. Of the 18 credits earned in the Physics Department 6 must be in physics courses above 700 and the remainder in courses at least above 500. The remaining requirement for the M.S. degree is passing the Master's oral exam.

PhD Written Comprehensive Examination

The exam will be given annually. Students have a maximum of 3 attempts to pass the exam and must take the exam each time that it is offered until passing the exam or exhausting the 3 allowed attempts.  

Copies of previous exams may be obtained from the Graduate Secretary in Room 442.

The PhD Written Comprehensive Exam is designed to test a student's physics problem solving capabilities assuming a knowledge of physics equivalent to an advanced undergraduate at a premier institution. Here is a sample of textbooks at the requisite level for the new written comprehensive exam:

  • Quantum Mechanics:
    Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by D. J. Griffiths Prentice Hall [1994].
  • Classical Mechanics:
    Classical dynamics of particles and systems by J. B. Marion New York, Academic Press [1970]; Mechanics by K. R. Symon Reading, Mass., Addison-Wesley Pub. Co. [1960].
  • Electromagnetism:
    Introduction to Electrodynamics by D.J. Griffiths Prentice Hall [1994].
  • Thermodynamics and Statistical Physics:
    Heat and Thermodynamics by R.H. Dittman & M.W. Zemansky McGraw-Hill Higher Education [1996];
    Classical and Statistical Thermodynamics by A.H. Carter.
  • Modern Physics:
    Modern Physics by P.A Tipler & R.A. Llewellyn, W H Freeman & Co,[1999];
    Modern Physics by K.L. Krane, John Wiley & Sons.

Committee for Oral Examinations

Master's Oral

Graduate students should contact the Chair of the Academic Graduate Committee to arrange for a Master's Oral Examination Committee consisting of three faculty members appointed by the Academic Graduate Committee.# The oral examination for the non-thesis master's degree option should evaluate the student's achievements in graduate courses and fulfillment of the goals of his/her program of study. In particular students should be familiar with the materials in the “core” courses (Physics 501, 515, 531, 532, 711, 720, 721). The oral examination for the thesis master's degree option is a comprehensive oral examination, in part a defense of thesis.

Doctoral Preliminary Examination and Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing (combined examination)

Student and major professor recommend committee members of the combined Doctoral Preliminary Examination and Dissertation Proposal Hearing to the Academic Graduate Committee# for their approval. The student and major professor fill-out application+ for the Doctoral Preliminary Examination and forward it to the Graduate Advisor, who signs application and forwards it to the Graduate School for approval. After approval by the Graduate School, the warrant authorizing the prelim exam is then sent to the Department.

The Committee for the combined Doctoral Preliminary Examination and Dissertation Proposal Hearing shall be a four to five member committee chaired by the candidate's major professor. The candidate will submit a written proposal outlining the proposed dissertation research program to the Committee members and an outline of the approved proposal will be submitted to the Graduate School. The Committee will examine the candidate on his/her preparation and proposed dissertation research program. The Committee shall consider:

  • The suitability of the proposed program for a PhD dissertation
  • The candidate's preparation and potential for performing the proposed research
  • The candidate's knowledge and understanding of the literature that is pertinent to the proposed research.

The Examination must be taken within four years of enrollment into the physics doctoral program and must be passed within five years of enrollment into the program.

The Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing form+ is filled out by the student before the exam and is taken to the exam. At the conclusion of the exam, the committee members sign the prelim exam warrant and the Doctoral Dissertation Proposal Hearing form and indicate the results of the exam. The signed warrant and form are transmitted to the Graduate School.

Final Oral Examination

Oral Examination in defense of dissertation. Five or more members. Committee recommended by Major Professor to Academic Graduate Committee.# Application form is prepared by student and is signed by Major Professor and Graduate Program Advisor and sent to the Graduate School for approval. After approval of application by the Doctoral Student Specialist, a warrant is sent to the Department authorizing the Examination. After the exam, the committee members sign the warrant and indicate the results of the exam. The warrant is then given to the Graduate Program Advisor for his/her signature, and the signed warrant is transmitted to the Graduate School.

Doctoral Program Notes

Major Professor

The major professor (PhD research advisor) directs the PhD research of the graduate student, and the selection of a major professor is one of the most important steps in a student's graduate career. Students are encouraged to discuss research projects with a number of the members of the research faculty (it should not be considered unusual to arrange such discussions with all of the Physics faculty members — see research pages for descriptions of faculty interests). Students must identify a major professor within by the end of their second calendar year in the graduate program.

Admission to Doctoral Program

Graduate students originally admitted into the Master of Science program must apply for admission into the Doctoral program when they have completed the Master's program of study.

Program of Study

A PhD student must plan a proposed PhD Program of Study in consultation with and approved by the major professor.#

Dissertator Status

Doctoral students apply to the Graduate School to obtain this status. The doctoral student must have accomplished the following: passed the combined preliminary examination and doctoral proposal hearing (including submission of summary to Graduate School as outlined in Sec. III-B above), met the residency requirement (see Sec. E, below), and completed all major course requirements for the PhD degree (see Sec. F, below). (Students who elect to have a minor course of study also need to complete the minor course-requirement (See Sec. G, below). Students who have attained “dissertator status” are required to register for 3 credits of research (Physics 990) per semester. (The fee for these credits is at the dissertator rate.) All students with dissertator status must register for 3 credits in the Fall and Spring semesters. Additionally, dissertators must register for 3 credits in the Summer semester if: they receive RA or Fellowship support, they plan to graduate that summer, or if they use University facilities or faculty time. Dissertators must continue to meet these registration requirements until the final PhD dissertation is accepted by the Graduate School.

Residency

The Graduate School requires that each PhD student complete the following residency requirement: After the Master's degree (or equivalent level of study) you complete 8 to 12 graduate credits in each of two consecutive semesters, excluding summer sessions, or complete 6 to 12 credits in each of 3 consecutive semesters excluding summer sessions. Residence credit cannot be earned at the master's level or before the master's degree is awarded.

Course work requirement

Coursework must include 501, 515, 531, 532, 711, 720 and 721 and a minimum of 12 other credits in physics graduate courses selected from 651 and 700-999 levels (excluding 990). Students must complete the core courses (501, 515, 531, 532, 711, 720, and 721) within three years of enrollment into the physics graduate program. Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or greater over these core courses. Students must achieve a grade of B- or greater in each core course; if a student fails to meet this requirement, the student must either retake the course or demonstrate equivalent proficiency (as determined by the departmental academic graduate committee) in order to continue in the doctoral program.

Minor

There is no minor requirement for a PhD in Physics. However, the Graduate School permits students to complete a minor as described in the two options below.

Option A: 9-12 credits in a single department with advice of the minor professor.

Option B: 12 credits in two or more departments with advice of major professor.

#Departmental form available from the Graduate Program Secretary, Rm. 442.

+Student is to obtain required application form from Graduate School, complete appropriate section of the form, and submit the form to the appropriate person.

Miscellaneous

Graduate School Course Load Requirements for Graduate Research and Teaching Assistants.

Teaching assistant+

  • Appointment of 33% or more, 6 credit minimum/semester.
  • Appointment of less than 33%, 8 credit minimum/semester.

Research assistant*+

  • 8 credit minimum/semester.
  • 2 credits for summer.

Doctoral student with dissertation status

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

There is an annual competition for University fellowships. To be successful in this competition high GRE scores are almost a necessity. All graduate students should take the GRE (aptitude and advanced Physics tests) and have their scores sent to the Physics Department. If you have already taken these exams you may also wish to retake them in order to improve your scores.

+Only full-time students will be granted non-resident tuition waivers and you need to maintain this status in order to satisfy the residency requirements.

*This applies to graduate students with RA support (any amount)

Physics Department Guidelines for the Preparation and Defense of the PhD Dissertation

For regulations and requirements of the Graduate School on the PhD dissertation, see the Doctoral Student and Advisor Manual and the Master's Thesis and Doctoral Dissertation Format Requirements. The PhD candidate must notify the Graduate School of his/her intention to graduate no later than the second week of the semester of expected graduation. Dissertation Format Requirements should be obtained from the Graduate School prior to typing the final dissertation draft.

  1. Before the session in which the candidate plans to graduate, his/her adviser will submit the following item to the departmental academic graduate committee: the list of names of proposed dissertation committee,* which is to consist of five or more members, including the adviser. (It is recognized that the final makeup of this committee is subject to the availability of the proposed members at the time of the final examination).

    At the same time the candidate will submit to the departmental academic graduate committee a brief statement of the dissertation research goals or abstract (1 to 2 typewritten pages).

    The departmental academic graduate committee will collate these items and advise the physics faculty of the following:

    • candidate's intention to graduate,
    • research adviser,
    • dissertation committee,
    • dissertation research goals or abstract.

    Note: The candidate should be aware that the physics faculty and academic graduate committee rarely meet during the summer session. Hence, those candidates planning to graduate in the fall session should complete the requirements of this guideline during the preceding spring session.)

  2. The department recognizes the general desirability of having the dissertation committee include at least one faculty member from outside the department.
  3. It is the responsibility of the PhD candidate to keep the dissertation committee members apprised of his/her progress.
  4. A complete draft of the dissertation is to be presented to all members of the dissertation committee at least 21 days before the final defense.
  5. The candidate must present an announced departmental colloquium on his/her dissertation research prior to the defense of the dissertation.
  6. The final defense of the dissertation is open to the public and is to be well advertised (announcements in mailboxes — also, for example, to other interested departments and in UWM calendar). The candidate's research adviser is the chair of the meeting for the final defense of the dissertation. After the candidate and the public have left the meeting, it is expected that the research adviser will give interested members of the university faculty an opportunity to comment on the dissertation.
  7. A closed session of the meeting chaired by the student's research adviser and comprised only of the members of the committee appointed by the Graduate School will decide on the final acceptance of the dissertation.
  8. Copies of these Guidelines are available in the departmental office and are to be given to all entering PhD graduate students. Compliance with these Guidelines is the responsibility of the candidate and the research adviser.

* Final approval of the dissertation committee is the prerogative of the Dean of the Graduate School.