Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

2008-09 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.

In spring 2005, the faculty voted to make some significant changes to the qualifying exam. The written exam was reduced to two days from three, and the number of oral exams was reduced to one from two. The material on the written exam was restricted, as discussed in detail below. The separate astronomy exam was eliminated, and the third day of material, which covered nuclear, particle, and condensed matter physics, was eliminated.

The material tested on the written 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: Introduction to Electrodynamics by Griffiths and Chaps. 1-7 of Classical Electrodynamics by Jackson

Statistical Mechanics: Chapters 1-13 of Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics by Reif

Quantum Mechanics: Introduction to Quantum Mechanics by Griffiths

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. However, the material from the third day (part C) of earlier exams will not be tested on the current exam. 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.

The Ph.D. candidacy exam has both a written and an oral part. The written examination is given in two sessions on two non-consecutive days. Each of the two components is designed as a three hour examination but students may take up to seven hours to finish. The first day of the written exam will cover classical mechanics and electricity and magnetism. The second day will cover quantum mechanics and thermodynamics. The exam will contain questions of varying difficulty. The exact number of questions may vary from year to year. The oral exam consists of a one-hour session before a panel of three faculty members. The oral exam is given shortly after completion of the written exam. The oral examination committee will have at its disposal the results of the written examination and may wish to base some of its questions on those results. The oral exam may also include questions on general knowledge. 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, deciding, generally after extensive discussion, 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 will be allowed to repeat the exam at each offering until the start of the fourth semester of study. Thus a student entering in September 2008 must normally pass the exam no later than the January 2010 offering of the exam. Students not admitted to candidacy by the start of the fourth semester 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.

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 May, 2008