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Graduate Student Handbook

Below is the current handbook. The requirements in this latest version of the handbook apply by default to all graduate students in the Physics Department. However,

  • students who entered in Fall 2005 through Summer 2006 may choose to follow the requirements in the September 2005 handbook.
  • students who entered in Fall 2006 through Summer 2008 may choose to follow the requirements in the September 2006 handbook.
  • students who entered in Summer 2008 through Summer 2011 may choose to follow the requirements in the May 2008 handbook.
  • students who entered in Fall 2011 through Fall 2015 may choose to follow the requirements in the April 2011 handbook.
  • students who entered in Fall 2015 through Summer 2016 may choose to follow the requirements in the August 2015 handbook.

The above options are offered only for completeness and consistency. The Department believes that all students will find it advantageous to simply follow the requirements of the current handbook.

Department of Physics Graduate Student Handbook
(from Summer 2018)

Requirements for Master’s Degrees in Physics

Students obtaining a master’s Degree in Physics must satisfy both general University requirements and departmental requirements.

The Physics Department awards either a “General Master’s Degree” or an “Applied Master’s Degree” depending on course of study. (See the Director of Graduate Studies for the department requirements for the Applied Master’s Degree).

In addition to satisfying the general University requirements (see link) and the general Department requirements (detailed below), candidates complete the physics department requirements by one of the following methods, each of which is described further below:

  1. Submitting a written thesis in accordance with Graduate School requirements
  2. Taking specific physics graduate courses. Waivers of departmental requirements may be obtained by applying to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Those candidates who can demonstrate competence in a foreign language equivalent to that attained at the end of two years of college study of a foreign language may receive a M.A. degree, if they wish. All others receive a M.S. degree.

General Department Requirements:

  • Prior training equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in physics.
  • A total of 45 graduate credits of which at least 30 credits are earned University of Oregon courses. The grade point average for all graduate work at the University must be 3.0 or better.
  • At least 32 credits must be in physics, including at least one full-year sequence at the 600 ‘core’ course level (listed under Specific Course Requirements Option below). The 32 credits in physics must be graded.
  • The remaining credits may be earned in related fields, such as mathematics, chemistry, biology, geology or other courses approved by the Director of Graduate Studies.
  • At least 3 term-length courses in mathematics are required. This requirement usually is met totally or in part by previous courses taken in a mathematics department. However, courses selected from the following list will satisfy the requirement provided that they include a two or three term sequence. Other courses may also be acceptable, but they must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies prior to registration.
    • MATH 511, 512: Functions of a Complex Variable I, II
    • MATH 513, 514, 5l5: Introduction to Analysis I, II, III
    • MATH 521: Differential Equations II
    • MATH 522, 523: Fourier Series and Orthogonal Functions; Fourier and Laplace Integrals
    • MATH 531, 532, 533: Introduction to Topology; Differential Geometry
    • MATH 541: Linear Algebra
    • MATH 544, 545, 546: Introduction to Abstract Algebra I, II, III
    • MATH 551, 552, 553: Introduction to Numerical Analysis I, II, III
    • MATH 561, 562, 563: Introduction to Mathematical Methods of Statistics I, II; Mathematical Methods of Regression Analysis and Analysis of Variance


Options for completion of the General Master’s Degree:

The general department requirements described above are required of all General Master’s candidates. In addition, a student can either submit and defend a written thesis, or successfully complete specific courses. These two options are described below.


Master’s Thesis Option:

Students who choose to submit a Master’s Thesis must complete the following:

  1. Secure a thesis advisor.
  2. Inform the Director of Graduate Studies, who will appoint an advisory committee consisting of three physics faculty members including the advisor as chairman.
  3. The candidate will meet with the committee, which will judge the proposed scope and content of the thesis. Both of these should be reasonably well-defined at the outset. The thesis should be worthy of at least 9 graduate credits and should require some original contribution by the student. Submission of the thesis to the committee members (step 5) may occur no earlier than three months after this committee meeting.
  4. Complete 9 credits of Thesis (PHYS 503) or 6 credits of Thesis and 3 credits of Research (PHYS 601).
  5. Submit the Master’s Thesis to the committee members. If the committee agrees that the thesis does not require major revisions in its scope or content, it will schedule an oral defense.
  6. Present a short oral defense of the thesis to the committee.
  7. Submit the thesis in a form acceptable to the Graduate School.
  8. Students must complete the Master’s thesis within three years of the date of admission to the graduate program.


Specific Physics Courses Option:

Students may also choose the specific physics course option. The courses that are used to satisfy the general requirement may also be used to satisfy this requirement.

  • Students must take at least 40 credits in graduate physics courses at the University of Oregon. The 40 credits in physics must be graded and a GPA of at least 3.0 must be achieved
  • Six courses must be chosen from the three groups below.  Each of these courses must be completed for a B- grade or better (this may entail retaking courses).
    • Group 1 : PHYS 631, 632, 633 Quantum Mechanics
    • Group 2 : PHYS 611, 612/613, 614 Theoretical Mechanics/Statistical Physics [612 (2 Credits) & 613 (2 Credits) count for one 4-credit course]
    • Group 3 : PHYS 610 Mathematical Methods, PHYS 622, 623 Electromagnetic Theory
  • Students must take twelve credit hours of laboratory or related courses. Courses taken from the following list will satisfy the requirement:
    • PHYS 510 (Scientific Computation)
    • PHYS 510 (Modern Optics Lab)
    • PHYS 581 (Design of Experiments)
    • {we should offer?} PHYS 591, 592, 593 (Advanced Projects lab)
    • Any physics special topics class that is primarily lab or data oriented

Other laboratory courses may be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The approval for these laboratory courses other than those listed above must be made prior to the time of registration. These laboratory courses also must be taken as graded courses.

If the student chooses the Specific Physics Courses Option then all courses for the Master’s degree must be completed within a three year period starting from the time the student enters the physics graduate program.

Requirements for the Ph.D. Degree in Physics

To obtain a Ph.D. in Physics, a student must meet both University doctoral requirements and Departmental requirements. The Physics Department may accept for the fulfillment of any departmental requirement work at another institution, results of a special examination, or any other appropriate evidence which substantially meets the spirit of the requirement. The most important requirements are listed below:

Advisory Committees

During the first year and throughout the rest of their graduate career, students must have advisory and exam committees.

Residency, GPA etc.

The student must complete three years full-time work beyond the bachelor’s degree with at least one academic year (three consecutive terms of full-time study, with a minimum of 9 completed graduate credits per term) in residence on the Eugene campus after the student is officially enrolled in Ph.D. program. The grade point average for all graduate work at the University must be 3.0 or better.

Core Coursework

The student must complete the department’s core graduate courses: PHYS 611,612 Mechanics, PHYS 613,614 Statistical Physics, PHYS 622, 623 Electromagnetic Theory, PHYS 631, 632, 633 Quantum Mechanics and PHYS 610 Mathematical Methods. Students who can demonstrate adequate competence in one or more of these subjects based on previous study in graduate-level courses can be excused by the Director of Graduate Studies from completing the corresponding required courses here.

Minimum Core Course Grade Requirements

In place of previous requirements for passing the Unified Graduate Exam, students must now, instead, complete each core course with a minimum grade of B-.  Grades in graduate physics courses taken elsewhere, and deemed equivalent to UO courses by the Director of Graduate Studies (see previous section), must have a recorded grade of B- or better in order to count towards Minimum Core Course Grade Requirements.

Course Work Completion

The student is to round out his/her knowledge of physics by taking at least six additional graduate courses beyond the physics core courses. Normally these courses will be additional courses in physics, but they may include other graduate science or mathematics courses as approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The normal expectation is that all students will have completed this requirement by the end of their second year in residence.

Reading Courses

Whenever a student takes a reading course it will be listed as “PHYS 605”. However, the subject of that course does not appear on transcripts or elsewhere (and many different subjects are taken under the umbrella of PHYS 605). Therefore, whenever such a course is taken, it is the obligation of every student taking that course to inform the Department by sending an email to both Tiffany Stewart ( and Dean Livelybrooks ( listing the subject of the course, the term during which it is being taken, the name of the instructor and the name of the student.  Only 2 or fewer reading courses may count towards the six course ‘breadth requirement’ (described in the previous section)

Comprehensive Examination: Format and Timing

The comprehensive examination will be administered by the Comprehensive Exam Committee (see below). The purpose of the comprehensive exam is for the student to exhibit sufficient background knowledge in the area of their thesis research in order to demonstrate the feasibility of their thesis subject. It is not expected that the student will have complete mastery of their thesis subject.

Before the Comprehensive Examination, the student will prepare a written presentation of a current problem in physics and a proposal for a research project related to that problem. The Committee Chair will request this document and specify a deadline for its submission, typically one week before the exam date. At the Comprehensive Examination, the student will present this material orally. The committee will question the student on the subject of the presentation and related physics issues. The examination will be closed to the public. The student is expected to understand the background and fundamental physics of the problem area and to communicate this knowledge to physicists in other fields. The student will be judged on his or her understanding of the problem, ingenuity, and ability to apply his or her knowledge in the proposed research area. If minor deficiencies emerge as a result of the oral examination, the committee may require additional work, oral examination, or written material. Deficiencies must be rectified within six months for a successful pass of the Comprehensive examination.

In order to expedite advancement to candidacy, the Department does not require full completion of the breadth requirements at the time of the Comprehensive Exam. Realizing that some breadth courses are not taught every year and that students may need to wait to take these, the requirement for the Comprehensive Exam is that they have taken 3 or more of their breadth courses at the time of the exam.

The Comprehensive Examination must be passed before the end of fall term of the fourth year unless the Director of Graduate Studies waives this timing based on special circumstances.

At least one week prior to the date of the Comprehensive Examination the student will communicate by email to both Tiffany Stewart ( and Dean Livelybrooks ( the date and time of the examination and the list of members of the committee.

A Talk

The Physics Department believes that every student should be capable of giving a lucid talk about physics. Accordingly, sometime during his or her research work (and certainly before submitting a Ph.D. dissertation) the student must give at least one talk either in a local research seminar or at a conference. If this is a local (i.e. on Campus) presentation then it must be advertised or posted in advance and the audience must include faculty. The talk may cover an item of interest in the research literature or the student’s own work.


The student must write a dissertation. It must embody the results of research and show evidence of originality and ability to perform independent investigation. The student must take at least 18 credits of Dissertation (PHYS 603) after advancement to candidacy in order to graduate. Additionally, students are required to be enrolled in a minimum of 3 Dissertation credits the term the student applies to graduate.

Final Examination – “Thesis Defense”

The student must pass the Final Examination, which is the defense of the dissertation. For important regulations concerning the time of notices, final approval of the thesis, etc., consult the University Bulletin and the Graduate School.

As soon as the dissertation defense date is set, the student must send a copy of the dissertation title and abstract to Jodi Myers, so this can be put in an email announcement sent to the Physics Department. The student must also prepare an announcement flyer and post it on bulletin boards throughout Willamette Hall. (The dissertation defense is required to be open to the public and must be announced.)