Rutgers University Department of Physics and Astronomy

2016-17 Handbook for Physics and Astronomy Graduate Students

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

Course Requirements

The following courses must be completed before the Ph.D. degree is awarded: 502 Quantum Mechanics, 504 Electricity and Magnetism, 507 Classical Mechanics, and 611 Statistical Mechanics. It is understood that students will take appropriate lower level courses, if necessary, to prepare themselves for these courses. Students who have taken equivalent courses elsewhere may have some requirements waived with the permission of the Graduate Director.

In addition to these core courses, each Ph.D. student shall complete at least four additional graduate courses of 3 credits or more, 2 advanced in area and 2 advanced out of area courses. These will normally be chosen from the department's offerings, but courses in related fields such as mathematics, chemistry, computer science, or engineering may also be used.

Students must take two courses outside the student's research area including courses from two of the five groups: Group A - 601 Solid State I or 627 Surface Science I; Group B - 605 Nuclear or 613 Particles; Group C - 514 Radiative Processes; Group D - 617 General Theory of Relativity; Group E - 567 Physics of Living Matter. The 2 courses must be in 2 different areas. Alternative courses are possible, with permission from the Graduate Director.

Usually students will take additional courses beyond the 10 required courses. Common choices include 615 Overview of Quantum Field Theory or 620 Many-Body Theory. Finally, 511 Math Physics and 506 Modern Experimental Techniques are strongly recommended for each candidate.

Students may continue after their first year only if they have received at least two grades of B or better in their first year courses.

In addition to these formal courses, all first year students will be required to take 633,634 Seminar in Physics, a weekly one hour seminar in which a professor discusses his or her research area. The aim of this seminar is to familiarize students with the department, to ease the search for a research advisor, and to inform students about long-term career opportunities.

Astronomy Option

The following courses must be completed before the Ph.D. degree is awarded: 501 Quantum Mechanics, 504 Electricity and Magnetism, 507 Classical Mechanics, and the astronomy curriculum consisting of 514 Radiative Processes, 606 Stars and Planets, 607 Galaxies, 608 Cosmology, and 610 Interstellar Matter. Students who have taken equivalent courses elsewhere may have some requirements waived with the permission of the Graduate Director.

In addition to these core courses, each Ph.D. student in the astronomy option shall complete two distribution courses, but not from Group C, as described above.

Research Requirements

It is the student's responsibility, with the help of faculty advisors and mentors, to talk with members of the faculty about their research interests and then to determine a research advisor by mutual agreement. Students are encouraged to begin this process early in their careers here. After attending the first year seminar, reading about the research programs of individual faculty in this booklet, and talking with senior graduate students and their current faculty advisor and mentor, students should systematically discuss possible research topics and opportunities with individual faculty members. Sympathetic faculty members and experienced students can be very helpful in arranging appropriate contacts. Students who are having difficulties should seek the advice of the Graduate Director. By the end of the first semester after advancement to candidacy, students will be expected to have at least tentatively identified a research advisor. It is common for the qualifying examination mentor to become the research advisor, but it is not required for the student or the mentor to continue to work together.

Once a research advisor has been chosen (and the student has been admitted to Ph.D. candidacy), the Graduate Director will appoint a Ph.D. committee with four members; the committee chairperson is usually the student's research advisor. The committee exists to help continuously the student in research and to monitor progress toward the degree on a periodic basis.

Students are expected to have the first meeting with the research committee within one year of advancement to candidacy. This first meeting will function as a research test. It will be used to help the student and the advisor assess the talents and potential for research of the student in the chosen area with the chosen advisor.

Several months before the first meeting, the student and advisor will have chosen a trial project which may consist of a trial problem, background reading, preliminary experiments, design of apparatus, data analysis, etc. A written summary of progress on this project should be given to each committee member two days before the meeting. During the meeting, the student will make a short oral presentation and the committee will focus their questions on the project. At the end of the meeting, the committee will decide whether the student should continue to work in the chosen area with the chosen advisor. If the committee feels the student is not prepared or does not have the potential for research in this area, the student will have to repeat this research test, no later than the end of the following semester. The committee and the student's advisors and mentors will work with the student to help identify a more appropriate area of research and/or advisor. In all cases, the student will be expected to complete satisfactorily this test within 18 months of advancement to candidacy in order to remain in good standing.

Formal committee meetings will continue to take place at least once a year. Students obtain the appropriate summary forms from the graduate secretary and are expected to give each committee member a well-written summary of recent accomplishments, at least 2 days before the meeting. During the meeting, the students make a well-planned oral presentation of the successes and failures of their research; this presentation should be comparable in quality to a talk before a professional society. In addition to discussing possible technical improvements in the research, the committee explores the students' breadth of knowledge in their research area. In addition to these formal yearly meetings, the student or a member of the committee may request that the committee convene at any time to discuss the student's progress. The student should feel comfortable at any time in approaching individual members of the committee or the Graduate Director for advice on handling possible problems between the student and the advisor. Finally, it is the Ph.D. committee which administers the final examination and approves the thesis.

The normal time required for completion of the Ph.D. degree is 5 to 6 years for full-time students. Students may not continue for more than 7 years without special permission from the Graduate School. Financial support from Departmental resources is generally guaranteed for three years. Support after that time will depend on availibility of resources. Most students will be supported from either departmental resources or research grants during as long as the student maintains satisfactory progress. Students not maintaining satisfactory course or research progress may be required to withdraw from the program by vote of the faculty.

Recommended Normal Programs of Study

The program listed below is to serve only as a guide, although the spirit of the course requirements is generally strictly observed. Every effort will be made to adjust programs to fit the preparation and interests of the individual student. In addition, even beginning graduate students are encouraged to work on research projects in the department, especially during the summer; research internships are often available for this purpose.

First Year

Fall Spring
501 Quantum Mechanics I* 502 Quantum Mechanics II*
503     Electricity & Magnetism I*           504 Electricity & Magnetism II*
507 Classical Mechanics* 611 Statistical Mechanics*
633 Seminar in Physics* 634 Seminar in Physics*

Second Year

Two advanced in area courses and two advanced out of area courses (in different areas) are required (for out of area astro courses, see below), such as (students generally do not take more than 1 or 2 courses each term after their first year):

Fall Spring
601 Solid State I**, or 567 Physics of Living Matter**
615 Overview of QFT*** 605 Nuclear Physics**
620 Many Body Problems I** 613 Particles**
511     Topics in Mathematical Physics***           617 General Relativity**
627 Surface Science**

* These courses or their equivalents are required.
** Two courses in areas different from each other and from the research subfield area are required. Standard courses meeting out of area requirements are noted.
*** One of these two courses is highly recommended.

Astronomy Option

First Year

Astronomy students takes the same cousrses as physics students in the fall term of the first year.

Fall Spring
501 Quantum Mechanics I* 514 Radiative Processes*
503     Electricity & Magnetism I*           607 Galaxies*, alternates with
507 Classical Mechanics* 608 Cosmology*
633 Seminar in Physics* 634 Seminar in Physics*

Second Year

Fall Spring
606     Stars & Planets*, alternates with 607 Galaxies*, alternates with
610 Interstellar Matter* 608 Cosmology*
Out of area physics elective - see above**          Out of area physics elective - see above**

* These courses or their equivalents are required. All 5 listed advanced astronomy courses must be taken. Usually either 606 or 610 will be taken in fall term of the third year.
** Two courses in two different physics areas must be taken. Standard courses meeting out of area requirements are listed in the Second Year Physics section above.


English Language Studies

Students whose native language is not English may be required to take courses in the Program in American Language Study (PALS). Satisfactory completion of these requirements is an important aspect of study here, and failure to do so in a timely fashion may result in loss of financial support. Summer teaching assistantships, for example, are generally not available to students who have not passed the PALS exams. It should be noted, moreover, that these are minimum standards. English has become the international language of physics and astronomy and students should make every effort to improve their communication skills, both written and oral. Reappointment as a teaching assistant may also be contingent upon passing the PALS exams.

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Revised August 2017.