Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

2000-01 Handbook for Physics and Astronomy Graduate Students

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Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D.) in Physics and Astronomy


The purpose of this degree program is to train students broadly in the fundamentals of physics and in the analytical techniques of the physicist. A thesis of original research is required to give the students experience in bringing themselves up to the frontier of an important area of physics. Students are encouraged to study in several areas of physics so that they will be prepared to apply their fundamental knowledge in new areas, not necessarily directly related to the field of their thesis work.

A total of 72 credits is required, of which at least 24 must be in research. No minimum number of course credits is specified, but certain courses are required, as described below. Because this is a research degree, students are encouraged to enter research as soon as possible in their graduate program. Students are expected to graduate in about five to six years. The department will do its best to facilitate rapid completion of degree requirements. After the course credit requirement is satisfied graduate students supported by research grants should consult with the Graduate Director about reducing the number of credits for which they are enrolled, since this could reduce tuition costs charged to the grant.

Students who have taken graduate courses at another university may be able to transfer up to 24 credits after they have completed 12 credits at Rutgers. The necessary form, with more detailed information, is available in the graduate office.

Examination Requirements

Ph.D. Candidacy (Qualifying) Examination

All prospective candidates take the Ph.D. candidacy examination, normally after the equivalent of one year of graduate work. Students are required to take the examination at least by the beginning of the semester after their successful completion of Quantum Mechanics 501-502, Electricity and Magnetism 503-504, and Classical Mechanics 507, or their equivalents, or by the beginning of their second year, whichever occurs later. Students transferring into the graduate program with advanced standing may be required by the Graduate Studies Committee to take the examination earlier. In very unusual situations the Ph.D. candidacy examination may be delayed with approval of the Graduate Director. Incoming students with advanced standing may take the written exam without penalty at the beginning of their first semester at Rutgers.

Most of the material tested on the Qualifying Exam is discussed in the following textbooks which can generally be found on reserve in the Physics Library:

Mechanics: Classical Dynamics by Marion and Thornton

Electricity & Magnetism: Foundations of Electromagnetic Theory by Reitz, Milford, and Christy

Statistical Mechanics: Chapters 1-12 of Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics by Reif

Modern Physics: Quantum Physics (Second Edition) by Eisberg and Resnick

Quantum Mechanics: Introductory Quantum Mechanics by Liboff

Relativity: Special Relativity by French in addition to material in the texts above.

Some fundamental material discussed in the texts currently in use in the first year graduate courses in Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, and Quantum Mechanics may also be included.

The level and nature of the exam can be best learned by examining copies of earlier written examinations, which are available in the graduate office. The books listed above define the appropriate topics for the exam and the level of the questions; they are not necessarily the best books to use for actual study. In addition, some questions will test general knowledge, current topics, and experimental aspects related to the more formal topics.

The Ph.D. candidacy exam has both a written and an oral part. The written examination is given in three sessions on three non-consecutive days. Each of the three components is designed as a three hour examination but students may take up to seven hours to finish. The oral exam consists of two one-hour sessions before different panels of three faculty members, one session covering classical physics, the other modern physics. The oral exam is given shortly after completion of the written exam. The oral examination committee may have at its disposal the results of the written examination and may wish to base some of its questions on those results. Based on the results of the examinations, course performance (a grade average of B is normally required for promotion to candidacy), teaching, and research activities, the Graduate Studies Committee will make recommendations to the faculty concerning each examinee. At a special meeting soon after the completion of the examinations, the Graduate Faculty then considers each case separately, generally after extensive discussion, deciding whether or not the student is admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. Students who fail to be admitted to Ph.D. candidacy after the first series of examinations are normally allowed one more chance to take the examination when it is next offered. A failing student may be required to retake the entire candidacy exam or only those portions in which the student was weakest. Students not admitted to candidacy after the second attempt are normally asked to leave the program. In most cases they are able to earn an M.S. degree before leaving.

Students are allowed to see their own exams and exam scores after the exam. A student may make a written request for regrading. This request will be considered by the Graduate Director.

Astronomy Option

Students interested in Astronomy may opt to take the Astronomy Option of the qualifying exams. In this case the third day of the exam will be solely based on astronomy questions. In addition an astronomy oral exam will replace the oral exam in modern physics. Students must inform the Graduate Program Director in advance to select the astronomy option and must take both the written and oral components of the astronomy option. Students who take the astronomy option for the qualifier, and then choose to do research in physics, will not have to retake the qualifier (once advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D.), but will be required to take the courses required for the physics option. Similarly, students who take the physics option for the qualifier, and then choose to do research in astronomy, will not have to retake the qualifier, but will be required to take the courses required for the astronomy option.

The following topics will be covered in the astronomy sections of the astronomy option exams: structure and evolution of stars, observational techniques, interstellar medium, galaxies (including our own), and cosmology. Stars will be covered at the level taught in 441/541 and the other topics at the level of an upper-division undergraduate introductory astronomy course. Suggested texts include:

Stars: Astrophysics I: Stars by Bowers and Deeming
Others: Modern Astrophysics by Carroll and Ostlie

Ph.D. Final Examination

The Ph.D. final examination is a public defense of the candidate's Ph.D. thesis. It is administered by the candidate's Ph.D. committee and is open to the public. The defense typically takes the form of a seminar, in which the student presents the background, development, and results of the research. Frequent questions from the committee test the candidate's understanding of the field of research and may also probe the breadth of the candidate's knowledge in other areas of Physics and Astronomy.

The thesis itself must be a clearly written account of original research. In addition to a description of the details and results of the research, it should contain an appropriate general and historical introduction, written at a level understandable to most second-year graduate students. The quality of the writing must be comparable to that found acceptable for publication in the standard journals. If the thesis consists of more than one piece of research, the parts should be tied together in the introduction and the conclusion.

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Revised October, 2000