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  • Ph.D. in Physics
  • M.S. in Physics
  • Ph.D. in Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • M.S. in Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Physics
  • Ph.D. with dual major in Physics and Mathematics
  • student with cap and gown 

Ph.D. in Physics

To receive the Ph.D. in Physics a student must:

1. Pass the Qualifying Examination (see Sec. V) on undergraduate Physics at the Ph.D. level (grade of A) before the end of the student's first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam. Alternatively, a student may qualify for the Ph.D. program by taking a sequence of undergraduate courses approved by the graduate advisory committee, and by achieving at least a 3.5 average on these courses, with no course grade below 3.0.

2. Complete a program of basic coursework. Graduate students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in their coursework and satisfy the other Graduate school requirements concerning grades. The following courses must be completed for the Ph.D. in physics, provided they have not been completed at another accredited graduate school.

Methods of Theoretical Physics, PHY 810 (Fall)
Classical Mechanics, PHY 820 (Fall)
Statistical Mechanics, PHY 831 (Fall)
Quantum Mechanics I, PHY 851 (Fall)
Quantum Mechanics II, PHY 852 (Spring)
Electrodynamics I, PHY 841 (Spring)
Electrodynamics II, PHY 842 (Fall)
Frontiers in Physics, PHY 901 (Spring)

3. Satisfy the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam Requirement which in PA is fulfilled through a series of Subject Exams (see Sec. VI). The requirement must be completed by the end of the first semester of the third year of a student's Ph.D. program. A student will be given two attempts at each of the parts of this requirement.

4. In addition to the basic courses listed above, the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee may prescribe advanced courses, in a consultation with the student and the student's research advisor. These courses will be principally from the student's area of research specialty. In addition at least two two-credit courses (or regular courses) outside of the student's specialty are recommended. This breadth requirement may also be satisfied by courses taken at other universities.

5. Form a Ph.D. Guidance Committee (see Sections VII and VIII) no later than six months after fulfilling the Comprehensive Exam Requirement. The Guidance Committee must meet with the student at least once every year. Prior to the formation of their Guidance Committee the students are mentored by the Director of Graduate Studies and by the Graduate Advising Committee. Each interest group also has two faculty advisors.

6. Write a dissertation on original research, followed by an oral examination based on the dissertation and related material. A student's research program is determined in consultation with the student's research advisor and guided by the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee.

7. Register for a minimum of 24 credits of doctoral dissertation research (Physics 999).

8. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.

9. The student should serve as a Teaching Assistant for at least one semester. This requirement may be satisfied by prior TA work at other universities. In order to be a TA international students who are not native English speakers must pass the SPEAK test at the appropriate level (see Sec. XII)

10. Students in the Virtual University VUBeam Ph.D. program are exempt from enrolling in the core courses mentioned in (2) at MSU and acquire the corresponding knowledge through equivalent studies and courses at local universities. They also do not have to satisfy the requirement (9). All other requirements, in particular concerning the qualifier and the subject exams covering the core courses, hold unchanged. Written exams can be administered by mutually agreeable local proctors upon prior arrangements with the Director of Graduate Studies. The final student thesis defense must be at MSU.

M.S. in Physics

To receive the M.S. in Physics, a student must:

1. Pass the Qualifying examination (see Sec. V) on undergraduate Physics at a M.S. level (a grade of B or above), before the end of the student's first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on the exam.

2. Earn 30 credits with a grade point average of at least 3.0 and satisfy the other graduate school requirements concerning grades. The 30 credits are subject to the following requirements:

- A minimum of 16 credits must be at the graduate level (800- and 900-level courses).
- Up to 14 credits of undergraduate senior level courses may be counted in the total of 30 credits needed for the M.S., provided these courses have not been used previously in the credit total toward another degree. Senior level courses include all of the Physics and Astronomy courses with course numbers in the 400-499 interval.
- In addition to Physics and Astronomy courses, with specific approval by the Director of Graduate Studies or his/her designated representative, mathematics courses at the 400- level and above, some Engineering, Biophysics and Geology courses may be included in the 30-credit total.
- A maximum of 9 semester credits may be transferred from other accredited graduate schools.

3. If the student chooses Plan A (with thesis), 4 to 10 credits of thesis research, Physics 899 are to be included in the total of 30 credits. Students choosing Plan A must form a Guidance Committee of three regular faculty members, including the student's Master's thesis advisor. This committee will meet with the student yearly and will act as examiners of the student's thesis and oral defense (see form in Appendix E).

4. In Plan B (without thesis) PHY 899 does not count towards the 30 credit requirement. S/he will still need to have accumulated 30 credits with 16 of the credits at the 800-900 course level.

5. Research credits (PHY800) may also contribute toward the degree. 3 credits per semester up to a total of 6 credits can be counted towards the 30 credits necessary for the M.S. degree in physics.

6. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.

7. Students in the Virtual University VUBeam M.S. program have to satisfy the same requirements as other M.S. students. Usually the bulk of the credit requirements are satisfied via the VUBeam on-line courses PHY 861 and PHY961 through PHY964. The Qualifying Examination can be administered by a mutually agreeable local proctor upon prior arrangements with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Ph.D. in Astrophysics and Astronomy

The Astrophysics Ph.D. program is structured (1) to provide students with a thorough grounding in the tools of astronomy and the underlying physics used in astronomy, through a sequence of graduate level courses; but also (2) to stress an early entry of the student into research. The evaluation of students for advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. will place significant weight on their potential as research scientists.

To receive the Ph.D. in Astrophysics and Astronomy a student must:

1. Pass the Qualifying Examination on undergraduate Physics at a Ph.D. level (grade of A), before the end of the student's first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam. Alternatively, a student may qualify for the Ph.D. program by taking a sequence of undergraduate courses, based on discussions with the graduate advisory committee, and by achieving at least a 3.5 average on these courses.

2. Pass the core physics or their subject exams and the core astronomy courses with a grade averaged over all core courses of 3.375. The core courses are described below.

3. Complete the two-semester AST 805 research project satisfactorily at the Ph.D. level. The research project would be graded by a committee consisting of two members of the astronomy group and one faculty member from outside the astronomy group, who would examine the student on the research and on general knowledge pertinent to the research project. This oral examination will serve as the student's comprehensive examination. A Record of Completion Form (see Appendix F) must be signed by the committee at the end of the oral examination. A proposal for this research project must be approved by the astronomy group by the end of the first year of graduate study.

4. All Astrophysics Ph.D. students must complete the following courses. This normally will take two years.
Core physics courses:

Classical Mechanics - PHY 820 (Fall)
Statistical Mechanics - PHY 831 (Fall)
Classical Electrodynamics I - PHY 841 (Spring)
Core astronomy courses (taught alternate years, with only 2 or 3 of these courses offered in any one year):
Stellar Atmospheres, Structure, and Evolution (AST 840)
Radiation Astrophysics (AST 810*)
Galactic Astronomy (AST 825**)
Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology (AST 835 or AST 830)
Nuclear Astrophysics (PHY 983)
Elective Courses:
The core courses do not cover all areas of astronomy and physics to which graduate students ought to be exposed. Additional topics will be offered from time to time in elective courses, or in the Special Topics Seminars. Among these additional topics are (1) Observational Techniques in Astronomy. (2) Numerical Techniques, and (3) General Relativity.

5. Form a Ph.D. Guidance Committee (see Sections VII and VIII) no later than six months after fulfilling the Comprehensive Exam Requirement. The Guidance Committee must meet with the student at least once every year. Prior to the formation of their Guidance Committee the students are mentored by the Associate Chair for graduate studies and the Graduate Advising Committee.

6. Write a dissertation on original research, followed by an oral examination based on the dissertation and related material. A student's research program is determined in consultation with the student's research advisor and guided by the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee.

7. Register for a minimum of 24 credits of doctoral dissertation research (AST999).

8. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.

9. The student should serve as a Teaching Assistant for at least one semester. International students who are not native English speakers must pass the SPEAK test (see sec. XII) in order to be a TA.

* called AST 820 in Fall 2001
**called AST 820 in Spring 2003

M.S. in Astrophysics and Astronomy

Many of our Ph.D. students obtain a M.S. degree during the course of their studies. However, students will not normally be accepted into the Astrophysics graduate program unless their ultimate goal is to obtain a Ph.D. degree. To obtain a M.S. degree, students must take the same courses as for the Astrophysics Ph.D. degree. This includes taking the two-semester research course described for the Ph.D. program.

The requirements for the M.S. degree are:

1. Complete a total of 30 credits that satisfy either Plan A (with thesis) or Plan B (without thesis) of the general university requirements for a Masters degree.

2. Pass the Qualifying Exam on undergraduate Physics at the M.S. (with a grade of B or above) level before the end of the student's first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam.

3. Pass the core physics and astronomy courses with an average grade of 3.0 or better.

4. Under Plan A: complete at least 4 credits of Astronomy 899 Master's Thesis Research, and pass a final oral examination in defense of the thesis; or, under Plan B: complete 6 credits in Astronomy 805 Research Project and pass the examination on the research course at least at the M.S. level. Students choosing Plan A must form a Guidance Committee of three regular faculty members, including the student's Master's thesis advisor. This committee will meet with the student yearly and will act as examiners of the student's thesis and oral defense (see form needed-Appendix E).

5. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.

Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Physics

Many topical research areas lie at the boundary between physics and another discipline. Examples include biological physics, quantum optics and nuclear chemistry. Students working in these areas will receive a Ph.D. in Physics but may request to have their Ph.D. subject exam and course requirements modified in order to accommodate an increased course load in other disciplines. The PA department has the option of an Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in which the student completes at most 120% of the normal required course load (including courses outside physics). A specific agreement exists with the department of Biochemistry. The requirements for the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. are:

1. Pass the Qualifying Examination (see Section V) on undergraduate Physics at a Ph.D. level (grade of A) before the end of the student's first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam. Alternatively, a student may qualify for the Ph.D. program by taking a sequence of undergraduate courses, based on discussions with the graduate advisory committee, and by achieving at least a 3.5 average on these courses, with no course grade below 3.0.

2. Complete a program of basic coursework. Graduate students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in coursework and satisfy the other graduate school grade requirements. The required courses for the physics component are (provided they have not been completed at another accredited graduate school):

Methods of Theoretical Physics, PHY 810 (Fall)
Classical Mechanics, PHY 820 (Fall)
Statistical Mechanics, PHY 831 (Fall)
Quantum Mechanics I, PHY 851 (Fall)
Electrodynamics I, PHY 841 (Spring)
Interdisciplinary PhD students must also complete at least 9 credits of graduate coursework outside of physics in areas relevant to their research project.

3. Satisfy the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam requirement (see Section VI) by the end of the first semester of the third year. A student will be given two attempts at each of the parts of this requirement. For the interdisciplinary program a student may satisfy this requirement by completing three instead of four subject exams (see Sec. VI).

4. In addition to these basic courses, the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee may prescribe advanced courses, in a consultation with the student and the student's research advisor.

5. Form a Ph.D. Guidance Committee no later than six months after fulfilling the Comprehensive Exam Requirement. The Guidance Committee must meet with the student at least once every year. The makeup of the Guidance Committee for Interdisciplinary PhD students is described in Section VIII.

6. Write a dissertation on original research, followed by an oral examination based on the dissertation and related material. A student's research program is determined in consultation with the student's research advisor and guided by the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee.

7. Register for a minimum of 24 credits of doctoral dissertation research (Physics 999).

8. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has no foreign language requirement.

9. The student should serve as a Teaching Assistant for at least one semester. This requirement may be satisfied by TA experience at other universities. In order to be a TA international students who are not native speakers of English must pass the SPEAK test at the appropriate level (see Sec. XII).

Ph.D. with dual major in Physics and Mathematics

Students in the Ph.D. program with dual major in Physics and Mathematics satisfy symmetric requirements in Physics and Mathematics in which the students complete at most 120% of the normal required course load (including courses outside physics), but the requirements in Physics and Mathematics carry equal weight. The requirements for the dual Physics/Mathematics Ph.D. are:

1. Pass the Qualifying Examination on undergraduate Physics at a Ph.D. level (grade of A) before the end of the student's first semester of the second year. A maximum of three tries is allowed on this exam. Alternatively, a student may qualify for the Ph.D. program by taking a sequence of undergraduate courses, based on discussions with the graduate advisory committee, and by achieving at least a 3.5 average on these courses, with no course grade below 3.0.

2. Complete a program of basic coursework. Graduate students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in coursework. The required courses for the physics component are three of the following (provided they have not been completed at another accredited graduate school)

Methods of Theoretical Physics, PHY 810 (Fall)
Classical Mechanics, PHY 820 (Fall)
Statistical Mechanics, PHY 831 (Fall)
Quantum Mechanics I, PHY 851 (Fall)
Electrodynamics I, PHY 841 (Spring)
In addition, dual Ph.D. students must also complete at least half of a normal course load in mathematics.

3. Satisfy the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam requirement by the end of the first semester of the third year. A student will be given two attempts at each of the parts of this requirement. To satisfy this requirement, students in the Dual Mathematics and Physics Ph.D. program must pass in two instead of four Physics subject exams (see Sec. VI) and two instead of four mathematics subject exams.

4. In addition to these basic courses, the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee may prescribe advanced courses, in a consultation with the student and the student's research advisor.

5. Form a Ph.D. Guidance Committee (see Sections VII and VIII) no later than six months after fulfilling the Comprehensive Exams Requirement. The Guidance Committee must meet with the student at least once every year. The Guidance Committee for mathematics/physics PhD students contains at least three physics faculty and two mathematics faculty.

6. Write a dissertation on original research, followed by an oral examination based on the dissertation and related material. A student's research program is determined in consultation with the student's research advisor and guided by the student's Ph.D. Guidance Committee.

7. Register for a minimum of 12 credits of doctoral dissertation research (Physics 999) and 12 credits of doctoral dissertation research (Mathematics 999).

8. All dual major doctoral programs must be approved by the Dean of the Graduate School. A request for the dual major degree must be submitted within one semester following its development and within the first two years of the student's enrollment at MSU. A copy of the guidance committee report must be attached with this request. For more details see "Dual Major Doctoral Programs" in Academic Programs