Information for Current Graduate Students


The typical steps for a graduate student seeking a Ph.D. in Physics or Astronomy are:

  • Learn about the fundamentals of physics and astronomy in formal courses, and about current research activities in seminars and colloquia and through personal contact with faculty.
  • Learn to teach physics and/or astronomy by serving as a teaching assistant
  • Join a research group, begin conducting research.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in the fundamentals of physics in the qualifying examination.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in a specialty area, and a capability for performing research, by passing the Specialist examination.
  • Conduct extensive research, write and publish articles describing the work, and identify as soon as possible a specific thesis subject that would require independent and original work that could be included in a dissertation.
  • Write and defend a dissertation, a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in physics or astronomy.

It usually takes 5-7 years to travel this trajectory. Along the way, one gradually masters a research specialty, and develops into a professional scientist: an independent and critical thinker, capable both of conceiving and conducting innovative research programs that advance the frontiers of physics or astronomy, and of disseminating the resulting knowledge widely and effectively.

You have been admitted to our Ph.D. program because you have demonstrated the potential to develop into a scientist of high caliber. The Department will provide many research opportunities, and will do its best to maintain an environment in which you can realize your potential. Please keep in mind, however, that the factors most important for success in this endeavor are your own initiative, intelligence, creativity, and capacity for hard work.

The Graduate Studies Committee is the faculty’s principal point of contact for most first-year and second-year graduate students. You should feel free to consult with the committee’s members about course work and schedules, research opportunities, the choice of field for a Ph.D. thesis, or indeed any other matter on which a professor’s input would seem helpful. The committee eventually passes most of these responsibilities on to each student’s Thesis Adviser, but continues to monitor each student’s progress, with the help of the student’s Thesis Adviser and Dissertation Advisory Committee. The 2015-16 Graduate Studies Committee members are:

  • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), Chair (High Energy Particle Physics)
  • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Condensed Matter Physics)
  • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (High Energy Particle Physics)
  • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Astrophysics and Cosmology)
  • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics)
  • .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Graduate Recruiting Representative)

To continue in the Ph.D. program, a student must demonstrate continuous progress toward the degree. This progress must be manifest in the academic benchmarks: good performance in classes and on the Qualifier Examinations; good performance in research; timely scheduling and good performance on the Specialist Examination; and steady progress in the composition of the Doctoral Dissertation. The Departmental Graduate Student Handbook (also called the "Redbook") is available online as a PDF.

Graduate studies in Physics and Astronomy are formally carried out in the Graduate College, under the supervision of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Dean of the Graduate College.