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Department of Physics
University of Oregon

Graduate Student Handbook

April 2011

The requirements in this latest version of the handbook apply by default to all graduate students in the Physics Department. However,

The above options are offered only for completeness and consistency. The Department believes that all students will find it advantageous to simply follow the requirements of the current handbook.


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Requirements for Master's Degrees in Physics

Students obtaining a master's Degree in Physics must satisfy both general University requirements and departmental requirements.

The Physics Department awards either a "General Master's Degree" or an "Applied Master's Degree" depending on course of study. (See the Director of Graduate Studies for the department requirements for the Applied Master's Degree).

In addition to satisfying the general University requirements candidates complete the physics department requirements by one of the following methods:

  1. Passing the unified graduate exam at the master's level. This exam is offered in September and in March
  2. Submitting a written thesis in accordance with Graduate School requirements
  3. Taking specific physics graduate courses -- waivers of departmental requirements may be obtained by applying to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Those candidates who can demonstrate competence in a foreign language equivalent to that attained at the end of two years of college study may receive a M.A. degree, if they wish. All others receive a M.S. degree.

General Department Requirements:

Options for completion of the General Master's Degree:

The general department requirements are required of all General Master's candidates. The Master's requirements can be completed by either passing the Master's final exam, submitting a written thesis, or taking specific courses. These options are described below.

Master's Examination Option:
The department administers a unified graduate exam, which may be passed at either the master's or Ph.D. level. The exam must be passed at the master's level by Spring of the second year of graduate studies. Failure to pass this exam by the deadline will generally lead to program termination
Master's Thesis Option:
Students who choose to submit a Master's Thesis must complete the following:
  • Secure a thesis advisor.
  • Inform the Director of Graduate Studies, who will appoint an advisory committee consisting of three physics faculty members including the advisor as chairman.
  • The candidate will meet with the committee, which will judge the proposed scope and content of the thesis. Both of these should be reasonably well-defined at the outset. The thesis should be worthy of at least 9 graduate credits and should require some original contribution by the student. Submission of the thesis to the committee members (step 5) may occur no earlier than three months after this committee meeting.
  • Complete 9 credits of Thesis (PHYS 503) or 6 credits of Thesis and 3 credits of Research (PHYS 601).
  • Submit the Master's Thesis to the committee members. If the committee agrees that the thesis does not require major revisions in its scope or content, it will schedule an oral defense.
  • Present a short oral defense of the thesis to the committee.
  • Submit the thesis in a form acceptable to the Graduate School.
  • Students must complete the Master's thesis within three years of the date of admission to the graduate program.
Specific Physics Courses Option:
Students may also choose the specific physics course option. The courses that are used to satisfy the general requirement may also be used to satisfy this requirement.
  • Students must take at least 40 credits in graduate physics courses at the University of Oregon. The 40 credits in physics must be graded and a GPA of at least 3.0 must be achieved
  • Six courses must be chosen from the three groups below:
    • Group 1 : PHYS 631, 632, 633 Quantum Mechanics
    • Group 2 : PHYS 611, 612/613, 614 Theoretical Mechanics/Statistical Physics [612 (2 Credits) & 613 (2 Credits) count for one course]
    • Group 3 : PHYS 610 Mathematical Methods, PHYS 622, 623 Electromagnetic Theory
  • Students must take twelve credit hours of laboratory courses. Courses taken from the following list will satisfy the requirement:
    • PHYS 526 (Modern Optics Laboratory)
    • PHYS 618 (Advanced Analog Electronics)**
    • PHYS 619 (AdvancedDigital Electronics)**
    • Any physics special topics class that is primarily lab or data oriented
    • ** Note: In practice, these courses may well "piggyback" with PHYS 431 or 432

    Other laboratory courses may be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The approval for these laboratory courses must be made prior to the time of registration. These laboratory courses also must be taken as graded courses.

If the student chooses the specific physics course option then all courses for the Master's degree must be completed within a three year period starting from the time the student enters the physics graduate program.

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in Physics

To obtain a Ph.D. in Physics, a student must meet both University doctoral requirements and Departmental requirements. The Physics Department may accept for the fulfillment of any departmental requirement work at another institution, results of a special examination, or any other appropriate evidence which substantially meets the spirit of the requirement. The most important requirements are listed below:

Optimal Timeline For Completion

Averaged over the last 15 years, the average time to Ph.D degree has been approximately 7 years. The department is trying to significantly shorten this time through two principal strategies:
  1. Reducing the number of courses that is necessary to take for graduation.
  2. Tightening up the procedure for students to secure a committee and complete the Comprehensive exam sooner. (See the committee section below).

The graphic below presents a visual summary of the optimal timeline to a Ph.D. While years 1 and 2 are common to most graduate students, year 3 is the cause of variance, with some students taking up to 3 additional years to accomplish the listed goals. We encourage all grad students to be more proactive in completing these Year 3 objectives in as timely a manner as possible. In fact we strongly advise students to make a connection with a research group at the earliest opportunity.


Advisor and Advisory Committee Structure

Procedure for students to secure a committee:

Within one year of passing the Ph.D component of the unified exam, the student must obtain a dissertation research advisor and a Departmental Advisory Committee. Immediately upon passing the examination (or earlier, if possible) the student should identify a prospective advisor and by mutual agreement register for research, PHYS 601, with that advisor. Within 6 months it should be determined whether the apprenticeship should continue. If the initial pairing is unsuccessful, the student must arrange for another prospective advisor and repeat the trial process. After an advisor has been secured and the trial period has been completed, the advisor will notify the Director of Graduate Studies, who will then appoint a Departmental Advisory Committee for the student.

The Departmental Advisory Committee

This committee will promptly meet with the student to plan future studies. Thereafter, the committee will meet at least annually with the student to review progress towards the degree. These meetings will normally include an oral report and a short written progress report by the student. The written report shall be delivered to the committee at least one week prior to the committee meeting. (In the event that the student is doing research outside of the state, the committee may, at its discretion, modify these procedures appropriately). The chair of the Departmental Advisory Committee will report to the Director of Graduate studies that these progress reviews have taken place, and, based on those reviews, project the date of Ph.D completion. The Director of Graduate Studies should be notified immediately of any serious problems. This committee will normally consist of the advisor and two additional faculty members fron the Physics Department, one of which should be in a research areas related to the student's projected research. The chair of the committee, who shall have the responsibility to call and chair meetings of the committee and report to the Director of Graduate Studies, shall normally be someone other than the research advisor. Finally this committee will transition to become the Exam committee by adding one more faculty who is outside the department of physics.

Examination Rules and Student Status

Examination Committee Membership, Roles and Duties