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Information for Current Graduate Students

As a graduate student who has been admitted to our Ph.D. program, you have already demonstrated the potential to develop into a scientist of high caliber. The Department will provide many research opportunities, and will do its best to maintain an environment in which you can realize your potential. Please keep in mind, however, that the factors most important for success in this endeavor are your own initiative, intelligence, creativity, and capacity for hard work.

Progress in Graduate School

The typical steps for a graduate student seeking a Ph.D. in Physics or Astronomy are:

  • Learn about the fundamentals of physics and astronomy in formal courses, and about current research activities in seminars and colloquia and through personal contact with faculty.
  • Learn to teach physics and/or astronomy by serving as a teaching assistant
  • Join a research group, begin conducting research.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in the fundamentals of physics in the qualifying examination.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in a specialty area, and a capability for performing research, by passing the General examination.
  • Conduct extensive research, write and publish articles describing the work, and identify as soon as possible a specific thesis subject that would require independent and original work that could be included in a dissertation.
  • Write and defend a dissertation, a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in physics or astronomy.

It usually takes 5-7 years to travel this trajectory. Along the way, one gradually masters a research specialty, and develops into a professional scientist: an independent and critical thinker, capable both of conceiving and conducting innovative research programs that advance the frontiers of physics or astronomy, and of disseminating the resulting knowledge widely and effectively.

The Graduate Studies Committee

The Graduate Studies Committee is the faculty’s principal point of contact for most first-year and second-year graduate students. You should feel free to consult with the committee’s members about course work and schedules, research opportunities, the choice of field for a Ph.D. thesis, or indeed any other matter on which a professor’s input would seem helpful. The committee eventually passes most of these responsibilities on to each student’s Thesis Adviser, but continues to monitor each student’s progress, with the help of the student’s Thesis Adviser and Dissertation Advisory Committee. The 2020-21 Graduate Studies Committee members are:

The Red Book

To continue in the Ph.D. program, a student must demonstrate continuous progress toward the degree. This progress must be manifest in the academic benchmarks: good performance in classes and on the Qualifier Examinations; good performance in research; timely scheduling and good performance on the Specialist Examination; and steady progress in the composition of the Doctoral Dissertation. Detailed information about departmental requirements is found in the Departmental Graduate Student Handbook (also called the "Red Book") is available online as a PDF.

Graduate studies in Physics and Astronomy are formally carried out in the Graduate College, under the supervision of the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Dean of the Graduate College.


The following checklists will guide you through the steps necessary to receive a master’s degree, to take the graduate college general exam, and to earn a Ph.D. These checklists must be maintained and filled out as you progress through each of these phases of your graduate school career, and the completed checklist must be returned to the chair of the Graduate Studies Committee according to the timeline outlined in each checklist.

Mentoring Program

To help facilitate graduate students' success The Homer L Dodge Department of Physics and Astronomy has a formal mentoring program for incoming graduate students who are paired with both a more senior graduate student mentor and a faculty mentor. The documents linked below provide an overview of the mentoring program and a more detailed mentoring handbook.