Ph.D. Degree

The basic requirement for the Ph.D. degree is the successful completion of significant, original research in physics. This research is presented in a written dissertation and defended in a final oral examination. To prepare for this work, Ph.D. candidates are required to take courses in core areas [classical mechanics (CM), quantum mechanics (QM), electromagnetism (EM), and statistical physics (SM)] as well as electives in other areas. Completion of the Ph.D. program requires passing three formal examinations described in detail below.

In addition to the formal requirements, students are encouraged to participate in departmental activities. These include a departmental colloquium and weekly seminars theoretical physics, nuclear physics, atomic, condensed matter physics and astronomy as well as social events such as departmental picnics and social gatherings before colloquia.

Specific Requirements:

  1. A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution.
  2. Course requirements:
    a) Core courses: Classical Dynamics (PHYS 701), Quantum Mechanics I (PHYS 721), Statistical Mechanics (PHYS 741) and Electromagnetic Theory (PHYS 712). Math methods (PHYS 631) offered in fall is recommended, but not required.
    b) Five electives, which must be 700-level courses or above in PHYS or ASTR, or in related departments if approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. One of the electives must be in an area of physics other than the student’s specialty area, as approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. For available electives, see Graduate Electives. The specific of electives depends on a student’s research field and should be chosen in consultation with the research advisor. See Tracks for more information.
    c) If any of the courses in a) above were completed prior to enrollment, mastery of the material must be demonstrated by passing the corresponding section of the Doctoral Written Exam.
    d) Students should register for PHYS510 and PHYS885 (the TA Seminar and Introductory Graduate Seminar) in the fall of their first year, except if the student will not be a TA in the fall due to an RA or fellowship. In that case, PHYS510 should be deferred.
  3. The equivalent of two semesters teaching experience is required of all Ph.D. degree candidates. See Teaching Requirements for details.
  4. All work credited toward the doctoral degree, except transferred coursework, must be completed within a period of eight years from the date of first registration in the program. If more time is required, the student must submit a request for extension of time to the Graduate School for approval.
  5. Students are required to form their thesis dissertation committee (see Committee Composition, The Graduate School Handbook) by the end of spring in their second year, and are required to meet with this committee at least cone a year, providing a written progress report in years without exams. The progress report will include a written summary of past year’s activities. The thesis committee will provide feedback to the student.
  6. A doctoral student must pass the following examinations:
    1. The Doctoral Written Examination (DWE);
    2. The Thesis Proposal presentation (TPP);
    3. The Final Oral Examination (“final exam” or “defense”).

    The first two exams constitute a comprehensive examination to assess the extent and currency of the candidate’s knowledge of physics and/or astronomy and to determine the candidate’s fitness to continue to work toward the doctorate.

    The DWE

    As part of this exam, students must pass the in-class course finals for the four core courses, and a written research paper is to be submitted to and approved by the student’s thesis committee. The four core course exams can be taken individually, and each can be taken once. If a student is reinstated to graduate school because of failing a specific exam twice (say, CM), he or she has one more try available after reinstatement. The DWE research paper is used as a diagnostic and source for student feedback and guidance regarding research and writing capabilities. The research paper can be turned in at any point before the thesis proposal presentation (TPP).

    The TPP

    The TPP is a presentation of the candidate’s proposed research project to a faculty committee in order to receive broader guidance than that which is available solely from the research advisor. Before the student takes the oral exam she or he must have fulfilled (or will have fulfilled by the end of the semester in which the examination is to be taken) all core coursework and the minimum residence requirement for the doctorate.

    Whether or not a student passes the TPP is decided by the Doctoral Dissertation Committee, composed of at least five members of Graduate Faculty, which is appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with the student’s Dissertation Advisor. The majority of members of the committee must be permanent faculty members of the Physics and Astronomy Department, while one member must be from a research group outside the candidate’s specialty area. The Dissertation Committee Chair must be a tenured or tenure-track faculty member of the department.

    Ten days before the oral exam, the candidate needs to submit to all committee members a self-contained prospectus of her or his research project. This summary should include a detailed description of project’s goals and list methods (experimental, computational, etc.) intended to be used to accomplish those goals. The summary should state clearly why this project is important and what it will contribute to the general body of knowledge. Easily accessible references to relevant previous work, and the timeline leading to the completion of the project, should also be part of this summary. Experimental projects should include an adequate description of relevant theoretical models.

    The “final exam” or “defense”

    The final oral exam completes the student’s work and includes a presentation of the main points of the Ph.D. candidate’s dissertation and other topics as the examining committee may determine.
    Two weeks before the scheduled date of the exam, the text of the dissertation must be submitted to members of the committee and the defense must be advertised department-wide.

Typical sequence

The following chart exemplifies a typical sequence that students may follow. Note: you are not required to follow the timing of this particular sequence; for instance, you may very well do the TPP in your 4th year instead of in your 3rd year.

Year Courses Doctoral Exams/Reports Notes
1 CM, EM, QM, SM, 2 electives DWE Course Finals
2 Electives Progress report (or DWE Research Paper) Thesis committee formed by year’s end
3 Electives Thesis Proposal Presentation DWE Research Paper must be done before TPP
4 Electives Progress report
5 Electives Final Oral Exam

 
 
 
 

Thus, in a typical sequence the student would pass the TPP by the end of the third year of studies, then have his or her research progress meeting by the end of the fourth year, and have the final oral exam one year later. After the meeting the student should write a brief summary of the discussion and of the research plans for the next year, which will be given to the members of the student’s committee and to the Director of Graduate Studies to be placed in student’s file. Once the TPP is completed, the student should meet every year with his/her Doctoral Dissertation Committee to discuss progress towards graduation. Each student must notify the Graduate School and the Director of Graduate Studies of their plan to graduate by submitting an application for graduation no later than the deadline shown on the University Registrar’s Calendar for the semester in which they expect to graduate.

Other notes

The M.S. degree is research oriented and oral presentation of results is required. The M.S. degree may be taken with or without thesis. However, even if a thesis is not submitted, a student must work with a research group for at least one semester, in order to learn the research techniques in a field of physics or astronomy. Students are encouraged to obtain a
M.S. degree on the way to a Ph.D. Those students who bypass the master’s degree should be evaluated by their Doctoral Dissertation Committee no later than at the completion of 30 hours of coursework and recommended to the Graduate School for work beyond this level.

M.S. Degree

The M.S. degree is purely optional, and may be obtained by students en route to their Ph.D.
We do not offer a terminal M.S. degree. The degree is research oriented and oral presentation of results is required. The M.S. degree may be taken with or without thesis. However, even if a thesis is not submitted, a student must work with a research group for at least one semester, in order to learn the research techniques in a field of physics or astronomy. The equivalent of one semester teaching experience is required of all M.S. degree candidates. The students are encouraged to obtain a M.S. degree on the way to a Ph.D.

Specific requirements:

  1. A bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited institution.
  2. A minimum of 30 semester hours of graduate course credit, 24 of which must be taken in residence. Upon approval by the Graduate School, up to six of the 30 minimum hours may be transferred from another accredited institution, or from UNC for courses taken before admission to the Graduate School, or from a different graduate program at UNC. At least 21 hours of course work must be in the Physics Dept. The M.S. Astrophysics track must include in addition to Astrophysics 701 a minimum of six hours from Astrophysics 519, and Astrophysics 702, 703, or 704.
  3. M.S. Written Exam. After the end of the Spring semester a student who does not already have a master’s degree in Physics or Astronomy and has not passed a similar examination elsewhere must take a comprehensive M.S. Written examination. The examination, which also serves as Part I of the Ph.D. written examination, is based upon the graduate student’s first year course work and covers Dynamics, Statistical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics I and E&M I.
  4. Student may not register for M.S. thesis research (P993) until he or she passed the M.S. Written exam.
  5. The M.S. degree in Physics may be taken with or without a thesis. However, even if a thesis is not submitted, a student must work with a research group for at least one semester, in order to learn the research techniques in the field of Physics or Astronomy and give a formal oral presentation on his or her research. If the M.S. degree is taken with a thesis, a final oral defense is required in addition to the M.S. Written exam. The oral examination, given by three members of the graduate faculty, is concerned mainly with the student’s M.S. research project. For a M.S. degree with a thesis, major course work must include at least three credit hours of thesis registration (P993). A maximum of six credit hours of thesis registration may be counted as part of the required 30 credit-hour minimum for the degree.
  6. A minor is not required for the M.S. degree, but one may be chosen in accord with the regular graduate requirements for this option. Nine credit hours are required for a minor.
  7. The equivalent of one semester teaching experience is required of all M.S. degree candidates.
  8. A minimum residence credit of two semesters is required. Rresidence Credit refers to UNC-Chapel Hill registration (i.e., no transfer credit). All work credited toward the M.S. degree, except transferred course work, must be completed within a period of five years from the first date of registration in the master’s program.
  9. Each student must notify the Graduate School of their plan to graduate by submitting an application for graduation no later than the deadline shown on the University Registrar’s Calendar for the semester in which he/she expects to graduate.

Examinations for M.S. Degree

A student must be registered during the semester(s) in which the comprehensive examination(s) are taken. Registration is also required during the semester in which the thesis or master’s project (if required) is defended, submitted, and accepted by the Graduate School.

M.S. Written exam

At the end of the Spring semester a student who does not already have a master’s degree in Physics or Astronomy and has not passed a similar examination elsewhere must take the M.S. Written examination. The examination is based upon the graduate student’s first year course work and will cover Dynamics, Quantum Mechanics I, Statistical Mechanics and Electromagnetic Theory I.

M.S. Final Oral exam

The oral examination is concerned mainly with the student’s M.S. research project. The examination may not be taken until all course work is completed or until the final courses are in progress. A committee of at least three members of the Graduate Faculty evaluates the student’s work for the master’s degree, approves any thesis required and administers any oral examination that may be given. A majority of the people signing a master’s thesis must be regular members of the graduate faculty and at least two members of the committee must be in the Physics Dept. The committee normally is appointed by the Director of Graduate Studies. When a thesis is required, at least one committee member is named M.S. thesis advisor. If the student has a minor field of study, at least one member of the student’s committee must represent the minor program. If a final oral defense of the thesis is required, it should be held only after all members of the committee have had 10 days to review a draft of the master’s thesis. The thesis adviser is responsible to the members of the student’s committee for determining that the draft is in an appropriate form for their evaluation. If substantial revisions are necessary, they should be completed before the final oral defense is scheduled. The committee may, at the time of the final oral but no later, require alterations and corrections, but they should constitute relatively minor changes agreed to by a majority of the committee members. The thesis adviser is responsible for verifying that the changes required by the committee have been made and may delegate the responsibility to the committee member(s) who imposed the requirements. The vote of the examining committee is considered by the Graduate School to be final.

Exam Failure

A master’s candidate who fails either a comprehensive written or oral examination may not take the examination a second time until at least three months have elapsed. A student who fails an examination for the second time becomes ineligible for further graduate work. No student may continue in a program or take an examination a third time without approval by the Administrative Board of the Graduate School.