PhD Program

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree requires a thorough understanding of the foundations of physics and mathematical methods as evidenced by performance on the written Preliminary Exam and the oral Qualifying Exam, as well as submission of a dissertation which must include an original contribution to fundamental physics. There is no foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree.

Ph.D. students must complete the graduate core courses in classical physics (200ABC), statistical physics (219A), and quantum mechanics (215AB). Most students are also required to take either field theory (230A) or a third quarter of quantum mechanics (215C), with the choice usually depending on the student's planned research area. The required curriculum can be tailored to fit an individual student's preparation and needs. Students who have completed graduate classes elsewhere may have certain requirements waived, while students who have gaps in their undergraduate preparation or who have taken time away from school may begin their studies with advanced undergraduate courses. A faculty adviser consults with each incoming student about possible deviations from the standard coursework. First-year students must also enroll in the Colloquium (290), in which outside speakers give broad overviews of topics of current research, and an introduction to department research (295), in which UC Davis faculty members discuss their own research. Physics 295 is especially useful for students as they pick a specialization and Ph.D. adviser.

Each research area requires a cluster of more specialized classes, which students normally take during their second year of graduate school.

The Preliminary Exam is given twice a year, in Fall before the start of classes and during the Spring quarter. The exam covers Upper Division undergraduate physics, and students are expected to pass the exam by the end of their second year.

After beginning their research, students prepare for the Qualifying Examination, which should be taken during the third year of graduate school.This exam consists of a research talk by the student and a question session. Questions often emphasize the candidate's broad field of specialization but can address any area. After the student passes the oral exam, the only remaining requirement is the dissertation itself.

Typical time for completion of the Ph.D. degree is five to seven years, although we see times outside range in both directions. The duration depends on the student's preparation, the research area, and how fully the student devotes him/herself to the work. Events outside the student's control can also have significant influence, from the weather during scheduled telescope time to problems with a particle accelerator.

Students making good progress towards their degrees usually have funding through teaching, research, or fellowship positions for their entire time in graduate school.

This timeline outlines the expected progress.