PhD in Physics Wake Forest University
The typical incoming student has taken senior-level classes in Classical Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Physics & Thermodynamics, and has a strong Math background (comfortable with multivariable calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, complex numbers, vector calculus, statistics). Deficiencies may be removed in the first year of study by taking the appropriate 600-level classes (graduate/undergraduate classes).
PhD Degree Requirements
Residence Requirement. A minimum of three years of full-time study, of which at least two must be in full-time residence at the University. The total allowable time for completion of the degree must not exceed seven years. Extensions may be granted given extenuating circumstances.
Course Requirements and Research Advisory Committee (RAC). The number of required courses is not prescribed by the Graduate School for Master’s and PhD programs. However, the Physics program does have specific course requirements, as detailed below. Required classes cannot be taken S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), unless they are only offered S/U.
- Physics 711 (Math Methods and Classical Mechanics); Physics 712 (Electromagnetism); Physics 741 & 742 (Quantum Mechanics I & II); Physics 770 (Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics); and participation in the Department seminar Physics 601 (Physics Seminar) for seven semesters.
- Three more elective courses (3 credit class) at the graduate level (600 and 700 level), at least one of which must be in Physics. Coursework is arranged by the student’s research advisory committee with the approval of the departmental or program graduate committee to provide mastery of appropriate fields of concentration. The advisory committee is appointed by the program director and consists of the student’s advisor and two members of the department or program. Outside the department members are allowed with the approval of the program director. Committee members need to be members of the graduate faculty.
- Physics 891 (Dissertation research). Physics 891 is taken on a S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) basis. While U (unsatisfactory) does not explicitly affect the GPA, a student earning a grade of U is not making satisfactory research progress and may be dismissed from the program (see dismissal below). If a U is assigned, the course must be repeated and an S earned before the degree can be awarded.
- A full time student must sign up for at least 9 credit hours (classes and/or research).
Once a student has joined a research group, he/she should discuss his/her planned course work with his/her advisor.
Grade Point Average (GPA). To graduate, students must achieve a GPA of 3.0 in Physics courses, and an overall GPA of 3.0. Students will be dismissed from the program if the overall GPA is below 2.5 for two semesters.
Preliminary Exam. The preliminary exam consists of two parts, a written exam and an oral exam. Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 to take the exam.
- Written exam. This exam is offered once a year, typically five weeks after spring semester finals week; thus, typically it is offered the second week of June. The written preliminary exam is usually taken at the end of the first year of graduate study. Each of the four parts of the written exam may be retaken once, and each part must be passed before the third year of graduate study. Extensions, for example for part-time students, may be approved by the Department. This four day exam (3 hours each day) tests four subject areas, Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Quantum Mechanics and Statistical Physics/Thermodynamics at the senior undergraduate/first-year graduate level. Each subject is evaluated separately and a score of at least 60% is required to pass that subject exam. In case a student does not pass one or more subject exams the first time, he/she is allowed to once retake the exams that were not passed (during the next round of exams a year later). If a student fails one or more particular subject exams twice, he/she will be dismissed from the PhD program, but may continue in the Master’s program.
- Oral exam. A research advisory committee (RAC) is appointed for each student by the program director after the student passed the written qualifying exam. Within eighteen months of completing the preliminary examination, the student submits to his or her individual advisory committee, and defends orally, a dissertation research plan. The advisory committee is appointed by the program director and consists of the student’s advisor and two members of the department or program. Members from other departments are allowed with the approval of the program director. Committee members must be members of the graduate faculty. The examining committee passes or fails the student. In case of failure, the committee can recommend that the candidate be dropped or reexamination be allowed no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination. The student may be reexamined only once.
Annual Research Advisory Committee (RAC) Meetings. The research advisory committee meets annually in the late summer or early fall with the student to ensure timely progress toward the degree.
Admission to Degree Candidacy. A student is admitted to degree candidacy by the dean of the Graduate School after recommendation by the Physics chair or program director. The student must have passed the preliminary exam (written and oral part), and is expected to complete the degree requirements within one semester.
Dissertation requirement. Under the supervision of the research advisory committee, the candidate prepares a dissertation embodying the results of investigative efforts in the field of concentration.
Upon completion of the research in the approved plan, the student writes his or her dissertation, presents it to the Department, and defends it orally as prescribed by the Graduate School. The student formally declares the intention to graduate, with the advisor’s approval, to the graduate school (deadlines apply), and distributes a copy of the dissertation to the formal examining committee no later than 2 weeks before the examination. The advisor should have formally reviewed the dissertation document before it is distributed. A week before the examination, the student should insure that the title and an abstract of the talk is distributed to the faculty and announced on the departmental webpage.
The examining committee for the dissertation, which is appointed by the dean of the Graduate School, consists of at least the following five members of the graduate faculty: 1) The chair of the major department/program or a faculty member chosen by the chair; 2) the student’s advisor; 3) another member of the major department/program; 4) a representative from a related area from within or outside the department/program; and 5) a member from outside the major department, who represents the Graduate Council and who serves as chair of the committee. (With approval of his/her advisor, a student may recommend a person who is not on the graduate faculty to serve on the examining committee as a voting member; the selection must be justified; details, see graduate bulletin).
Number of publications. Typically, a PhD student would have about a total five peer-reviewed publications of which three are first author publications. However, this amount can vary considerably depending on the research field, and should be discussed in conference with the advisor and the research advisory committee.
In case a dissertation chapter consists of a published paper of the student candidate and the student is the sole primary author, then no addendum to that chapter is required, unless the advisor deems it helpful. In the case a thesis chapter consists of a published paper of the student candidate and the student is one of multiple primary authors, then an addendum needs to be added at the beginning of the chapter delineating for which parts the student candidate was responsible in the paper. In the case a thesis chapter or a part of a thesis chapter consists of a published paper of the student candidate, and the student is not a primary author, an addendum needs to be added at the beginning of the chapter delineating the contribution of the student candidate. If the student’s contribution to a paper is minor (not a primary author), it is more appropriate to use the paper as an appendix. Which approach is best will be decided by the advisor and the research advisory committee.
About half a year before the student plans to defend his/her dissertation, the student should check the academic calendar with the graduate school to make sure that all deadlines are met!
Final examination. The student presents the work of his dissertation in a public talk. The public talk should last 45 minutes to one hour. After the public talk, the examining committee examines the student for about one hour in a closed session. The committee may ask probing questions about the work presented in the dissertation, the research area of the dissertation, and physics in general.
After the examination, the chair will ask each of the examining committee members whether the candidate has passed unconditionally, passed upon rectifying minor deficiencies, passed upon rectifying major deficiencies, or failed. If a student fails, he/she may be reexamined only once. (See graduate bulletin for specific actions (signing ballot, etc) for each of the recommendations.)
The committee chair will sign the ballot and submit it to the graduate school.
Pass. The student shall be recommended for award of the degree.
Pass with minor or major deficiencies. The deficiencies are communicated to the student and the dean of the Graduate School. The student and the advisor are jointly responsible for ensuring that the dissertation is modified to adresse the committee’s reservations. When the dissertation has been modified, the student passes the examination and the student will be recommended for award of the degree.
Fail. The reasons for failure are communicated to the student by the committee. The student can be reexamined once. If the student resubmits a dissertation, at least three members of the new committee have to be drawn from the original committee.
- Students are expected to spend 40 hours per week on graduate work (classes, TA assignments, research). PhD students are highly motivated, so it is not uncommon for students to exceed this amount. Students should understand that, in the end, they work for their own advancement, and they are responsible for their careers. Holding a PhD means that a person is an expert and a leader in a research field, capable of identifying and solving problems independently. Postdoctoral and faculty appointments as well as industrial jobs are very competitive. Thus, the more productive a student is during their graduate career, the better his/her chances to secure a top position after graduation. Productivity in a graduate career is usually judged in terms of publications, participation in conferences, and the production of theoretical or experimental results. It is essential to discuss field-specific expectations with your advisor and RAC, then work to meet those expectations.
- Students’ class schedules have to be discussed and approved by their advisor. If students want to take classes that are unrelated to their research or beyond the requirements of the program, they may have to do that on their own time.
- Researchers sometimes work odd hours, and policies may vary widely across research groups. Nevertheless, it is generally expected by most research advisors that students are in the building during core business hours, Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. Differing hours and absences from the office or lab during these hours should be reported to and approved by the advisor.
- Graduate students are expected to be here year-round; that is, the time between semesters is not off-time. If students want to take time off (vacation), they need to discuss the time period with their advisor. A normal amount of vacation time is around 15 – 20 work days (three to four weeks) per year. Specifics should be discussed with the advisor. For official holidays, students should refer to the official WFU holiday schedule holiday. If the time off exceeds the number of days allotted by the advisor, the student may not receive pay for this period, or may have to withdraw from the program.
- Many research groups may have more specific rules, and when a student joins the research group, the student has to abide by those rules.
General professional behavior. Graduate school is preparation for a professional career and the expectation is that students in the program have reached a high level of maturity and motivation. Graduate students are expected to behave in a professional manner, meeting all appointments and obligations. In the event of illness or emergency, the student is expected to inform the interested parties as soon as possible. Graduate students are expected to keep their study areas neat and clean.
Desks. Every student will get a desk and is expected to keep it clean.
English Language Requirements
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