Physics: Earning the PhD degree

For a comprehensive description of the PhD in Physics, consult the program requirements.

Students are required to pass the written comprehensive examination at the PhD level. If students fail to pass the examination at the PhD level, they may take it a second time the next session it is given.

Course Requirements

For the PhD, students are required to enroll in a minimum of 12 units each quarter and maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Doctoral Committee

Doctoral committees are arranged by the student before the oral qualifying examination. Students are encouraged to consult with their advisor for recommendations on committee members.

To nominate a doctoral committee, please consult the minimum standards for doctoral committees and complete the nomination of doctoral committee form. The doctoral committee must be approved by Graduate Division before the oral qualifying examination.

Oral Qualifying Examination

The oral qualifying examination is an oral presentation of the student’s proposed dissertation problem.

To schedule the oral qualifying exam, contact your advisor’s administrative assistant to book a room and time for the exam. After you have scheduled the exam, complete the preparation for oral qualifying exam link ( at least two weeks prior to the date of the actual exam.

Upon the successful completion of their oral qualifying examination, students are advanced to candidacy. Full-time students are expected to advance to candidacy by their 9th quarter in residence.

General Guidelines for the Oral Qualifying Exam

The qualifying oral exam is an opportunity to demonstrate to your committee that you have acquired an adequate command of your field and resources to produce original and significant work. The time frame of the exam may vary between one to two hours depending on the discussion time for the committee. The presentation lasts about 30 minutes (about 15 slides, 2 minutes per slide). Expect interruptions from committee members in order to ask questions/clarify points and remember to leave time for questions at the end as well.

The presentation itself should cover the following key topics:

1. An introduction to the science of your topic (i.e., why should someone be interested in what you are about to say?)

2. What you've done so far. You will want to discuss background literature and preliminary results, if you have them. It is important to make clear what *you* did when you are giving the background information.

3. Next steps (i.e., what’s your plan for completing the project?). If there are any resources you are counting on (such as the repair or delivery of a big laser) you should talk about that and if there is a chance you won't get it, what is your Plan B?

4. Timeline for completion of project

It is highly recommended that the student consult closely with the advisor about the contents of the examination.

Other general advice:

1. Never have any words, phrases, or plots that you do not understand at least "one sentence deeper".   Anything on your slides is fair game for someone to ask "What is xxx?"   If you don't know at all, that does not look good.

2. Have nothing on the slides you do not need.  They only distract and waste the time of the person in the audience trying to figure it out.   So if for example you take a slide from a publication and it has four curves on it but you only want to talk about one, white-box over the lines or points you are not going to talk about.

3a. *ALL* text and plots on your slides should be clearly legible.  If axes numbers cannot be read, you can white-box them over and rewrite your own large numbers.  Or use arrows and big numbers for values.    If an axis is labeled with a complicated formula but you only need to say something simple such as "emittance", replace it.     If something is not legible and is not necessary, just remove it by cropping or white box.  The person in the audience will be annoyed trying to read fonts that are too small.  If they are totally unreadable that is a bit insulting to the audience. (The only exception to this rule is if your point is to show something is hopelessly complicated)

3b. The corollary to rule #3 is that you should only have at most two plots per slide, but keep to one.  *Extra* plots can go into backup slides.

4. Slide area is valuable.  Don't waste it with large repetitive designs etc. from the master.   Make sure your plots use all available space even if it means dragging a corner 10% bigger.  Legibility goes as the square of the plot area.

5. You need to give a practice talk at least twice.   Preferably do it once with a friend and once with your advisor.   If you advisor is asking basic questions about your slides and it becomes clear he or she has not seen them before, that will really annoy the other committee members.

Good luck!


Every doctoral degree program requires the completion of an approved dissertation that demonstrates the student's ability to perform original, independent research and constitutes a distinct contribution to knowledge in the principal field of study.

Final Oral Examination

A final oral examination (i.e. defense) is required for all students in the program. Full-time students are expected to defend and submit their Ph.D. dissertations by their 18th quarter in residence. To schedule your defense, consult and complete the preparation for final oral exam form.

Filing Your Dissertation

When you are ready to file your dissertation, please consult with Graduate Division for deadlines, formatting and other regulations.