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Doctor of Philosophy in Physics

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Ph.D. Degree Requirements


To become a Ph.D. candidate, i.e. to take the comprehensive exam:

The student must spend at least 2 semesters, which may include 1 summer session, in resident study at the University of Kansas.

To earn a Ph.D.:

The student must spend at least the equivalent of 3 full academic years in graduate study at this or another approved institution or laboratory. During this period of residence, the student must be involved full-time in academic or professional pursuits, which may include an appointment for teaching or research if the teaching/research is directed specifically toward the student's degree objectives.

Graduate students with half-time assistantships usually require at least 4 years to complete all requirements. Maximum enrollment for students with no other departmental obligations is 16 hours a semester. In addition to satisfying the residence requirement, a student with a half-time assistantship must be enrolled for at least 6 hours each semester. A maximum of 12 hours is permitted if the student’s duties consist of research that partially fulfills degree requirements. A fellowship holder or full-time student with private support must be enrolled for at least 9 hours.

To be eligible for teaching assistantships, all graduate students who are not native speakers of English must achieve a minimum score of 50 on the SPEAK test. International students must pass an oral examination to demonstrate English fluency. Students who fail this examination should take courses from the Applied English Center.

Time Limits

Students entering with bachelor’s degrees have a maximum time limit of 8 years to complete the Ph.D. Students entering with master’s degrees have a 6-year limit. It is not necessary to obtain a master’s degree to begin study for a Ph.D.

Preliminary Candidacy

To be admitted to preliminary candidacy, each graduate student must satisfy department requirements:

Undergraduate knowledge of physics must be certified by the department at the advanced undergraduate level (600-level KU courses). This normally must be completed within 12 months of entering the program, in addition to required course work. Extension is possible with recommendation of the graduate admission committee. Certification can be achieved in several ways:

  1. A scaled GRE physics score greater than or equal to 600; or
  2. Determination by the graduate director and graduate adviser, based on the diagnostic examination given on entering the program combined with the student’s undergraduate record, that the student understands all major elements of undergraduate physics; or
  3. Successful completion with grade of B or better of all undergraduate courses that the graduate director or adviser recommends based on the results of (2).

A student who has not succeeded in certifying undergraduate physics knowledge could, within 12 months of starting the program, petition the graduate committee for an oral examination on undergraduate physics. The oral examination is administered by a committee of 6 faculty members assigned by the department.

A minimum grade-point average of 3.2 must be achieved in core courses. It is computed from the following 5 equally weighted elements:

  • Grade earned in PHSX 711 Quantum Mechanics I
  • Grade earned in PHSX 811 Quantum Mechanics II
  • Grade earned in PHSX 821 Classical Mechanics
  • Grade earned in PHSX 831 Electrodynamics I
  • Average grade of 2 other PHSX lecture courses numbered 700 or higher

Students entering with graduate credit from other institutions may petition the departmental committee on graduate studies to use the credits to meet KU requirements. For the core grade-point average, grades of B or higher from other institutions may be used for at most 3 of the 4 specified courses. For the remaining course, the student must obtain written certification of a B or higher from the KU instructor. Certification may be obtained by taking the course, taking the final examination (if any), or other means determined by the instructor. An appropriate higher-level course also may be used for certification in a core course. The 2 other PHSX lecture courses numbered 700 or higher must be taken at KU. Graduate students normally should complete all core courses by the end of the second year.

On admission to preliminary candidacy, the student selects a research adviser who appoints a tentative dissertation committee with the adviser as chair and at least 2 other members of the department’s Graduate Faculty. This committee serves until the student passes the comprehensive oral examination and the dissertation committee is appointed. The computing skill requirement should be met within 1 year (by taking PHSX 815), and the comprehensive oral examination should be scheduled within 2 years after the student attains preliminary candidacy.

Course Requirements

A total of 11 advanced lecture courses (33 hours) is required. In addition, 1 hour of PHSX 700 Colloquium is required.

  1. Core courses:
    PHSX 711 Quantum Mechanics I
    PHSX 811 Quantum Mechanics II
    PHSX 821 Classical Mechanics
    PHSX 831 Electrodynamics I
  2. Other required courses:
    PHSX 700 Colloquium
    PHSX 718 Mathematical Methods in Physical Sciences
    PHSX 815 Computational Methods in Physical Sciences (satisfies FLORS requirement)
    PHSX 871 Statistical Physics I
    PHSX 931 Electrodynamics II
  3. 2 additional PHSX lecture courses numbered 700 or above. The courses must be in different subfields of physics. They may not be used simultaneously to satisfy other degree requirements. PHSX 717 and PHSX 815 may not be used to satisfy this requirement.
  4. 1 additional advanced PHSX lecture course numbered 800 or above. PHSX 815 may not be used to satisfy this requirement.
  5. A Ph.D. student who has not had the equivalent of 6 credit hours of advanced undergraduate laboratory course work (junior/senior level) must take an advanced laboratory course. Other experimental work (e.g., senior thesis or undergraduate research) may be considered for this requirement. The student and the adviser select subsequent work, consisting of advanced courses in appropriate fields and seminars, based on the student’s need and intended specialization. There is no prescribed total number of credit hours. The student’s dissertation committee determines the adequacy of courses and seminars and specifies total course requirements.

Colloquium and Graduate Seminar

All students must enroll in PHSX 700 Colloquium in the sixth semester. Students should have attended at least 75 percent of the regularly scheduled colloquia during the 6 semesters to achieve a passing grade. 1 semester of the first year, students are expected to attend the graduate seminar to become familiar with research programs and to gain experience in oral presentations.

Computing Skill

Students must complete PHSX 815 Computational Methods in Physical Sciences/ASTR 815 Computational Physics and Astronomy with a grade of A or B, preferably within 1 year after admission to preliminary candidacy. This course has significant prerequisites in advanced undergraduate computer science and requires completion of a substantial computer program to solve a physical problem.

Note: Contact your department or program for more information about research skills and responsible scholarship, and the current requirements for doctoral students. Current policies on Doctoral Research Skills and Responsible Scholarship are listed in the KU Policy Library.

Comprehensive Examination

After completing a major portion of the required course work and satisfying the computing skill requirement, the student must pass the comprehensive examination. The department recommends 5 members for the examining committee to Graduate Studies. 1 member must be from outside the department. Requests to take the examination must be made at least 3 weeks before the examination. The student writes a 2,000- to 4,000-word paper relevant to thesis work. The paper must be presented at least 1 week before the scheduled oral examination. The student is examined on the oral presentation, the contents of the paper, the bibliography, the general field of physics, and other related material. The student must receive passing grades on both the written and oral examinations.

Research and Post-Comprehensive Enrollment

Upon passing the comprehensive oral examination, the aspirant becomes a candidate for the Ph.D. Graduate Studies designates the candidate’s dissertation committee, based on department recommendations. The committee establishes course requirements and directs the research project. The candidate must remain continuously enrolled, full time including summer sessions, until all requirements are met. The number of hours is determined by the committee and should accurately reflect the candidate’s demands on faculty time and university resources.

Final Oral Examination

At least 5 months must elapse between the comprehensive oral examination and the final oral examination. When the dissertation has been tentatively accepted, the committee chair requests the final oral examination to be scheduled. This request must be made 2 weeks before the examination. The dissertation committee recommends at least 5 members, 1 of whom must be from outside the department. The candidate must defend his or her dissertation in an open meeting. Rules for preparing the final copies of the dissertation are available online.

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