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The purpose of the Graduate Student Handbook is to summarize the requirements for the Ph.D. and master’s degrees in physics. It also is hoped that the handbook will add to your understanding of the nature of graduate education in physics at Clark.

Students also should consult the University catalog for general Graduate School requirements. The graduate program in physics is flexible, and emphasizes close faculty-student contact and informal student evaluation. The Ph.D. and Master’s are research degrees and most of the student’s time during graduate school is spent in research.

The department encourages students to begin research during their first semester by enrolling in a research apprenticeship. Some of the following requirements have time limits and need to be satisfied before other requirements can be met. The most formidable requirements are related to the dissertation. Students should satisfy the core course and the oral examination requirements as quickly as possible so that they may devote full-time to their research activities.

Section 1: Requirements for the Ph.D. in Physics

The general requirements for the Ph.D. degree in physics are summarized in the following. Students with advanced standing should also see Section 2.

Course Requirements

  • Minimum Passing Grade: University credit is given for a course completed with a grade of B-, and courses that are counted toward the Ph.D. in Physics must also be passed with a minimum grade of B-.
  • Core Courses: The core graduate courses include Physics 301 (Classical Mechanics), Physics 302 (Classical Electrodynamics), Physics 305 and 306 (Quantum Mechanics), Physics 309 (Statistical Physics), and Physics 310 (Condensed Matter Physics). If a student does not pass a core course with a grade of B- or better, then they must consult with the departmental graduate student advisor. To achieve Ph.D. credit for the course, the student may be asked to repeat the course or to pass the corresponding oral examination as soon as possible. Students who fail to pass two or more core courses will be asked to leave the Ph.D. program.
  • Research Apprenticeship: As a regular part of their course work, all beginning students register for Physics 303, Research Apprenticeship. The purpose of the apprenticeship is to give graduate students an early opportunity for active participation in the research programs of the Department. The research apprenticeship also provides the faculty with an opportunity to evaluate each student informally. At the conclusion of each apprenticeship, which lasts from ten to fourteen weeks, students submit a written report of their work. Students need to pass three semesters of Physics 303, including at least one apprenticeship in an experimental group and at least one apprenticeship in a theory or computationally oriented research group. The latter requirement can be satisfied by completing a research project in the context of Physics 327, Computer Simulation Laboratory.
  • Course Outside the Area of Concentration: Students are required to pass an additional graduate course (approved by the Graduate Student Advisor) in a subject that is outside of the area of their dissertation concentration. The course may be in physics, the other sciences, mathematics, computer science, or in another appropriate field.
  • Additional Courses: Six additional courses are needed to satisfy University residency requirements. These courses may include several units of Physics 399 (Directed Study). A total of eight courses must be passed in addition to the eight course minimum required for the Master’s degree. Students who already have a Master’s degree before enrolling at Clark need to complete eight courses to meet the University residency requirement.

Oral Examinations

Three oral examinations must be passed during the first two years of residency. The three examinations are in classical physics, quantum mechanics, and statistical physics. If a student initially fails to pass an oral examination, he/she may retake the examination. However, students must take at least one oral examination before the beginning of their second year of graduate work and pass a total of three examinations (in classical physics, quantum mechanics, and statistical physics) before the beginning of their third year. Students who fail to meet this schedule will be ineligible for financial support until these three examinations are passed and may be asked to leave the Ph.D. program.

Writing Requirement

Students present to the faculty an example of their written work by the end of their first year. A typical example of this work is an extensive laboratory report. If a student is judged to have deficient writing skills, the Department will ask the student to take appropriate remedial action including passing a writing oriented course.

Supervised Teaching Experience

The department emphasizes the importance of teaching experience and requires all its graduate students to teach a minimum of two semesters or the equivalent. This requirement can be satisfied by serving as a teaching assistant or the equivalent in a physics course with the supervision of a faculty member. The experience must involve contact with students in contrast to grading papers or setting up experiments. The requirement may be satisfied at an institution other than Clark if approved by the Graduate Student Advisor.

Dissertation Research Proposal

This proposal usually is presented at the end of the third year after the student has completed the exploratory phases of her/his dissertation research. The dissertation research proposal may not be presented until three oral examinations have been passed. The proposal is presented as a short talk to faculty and students on the proposed dissertation research. At the conclusion of the talk, the student defends the importance and feasibility of the research. If the proposal is not satisfactory, the student may give another proposal at a later date.

Written Dissertation

Students write a dissertation describing their original research. The form of this work is determined in consultation with the research advisor and may be a standard dissertation, a collection of journal articles published in refereed journals with annotation, or a combination of the two. The dissertation is evaluated by a committee consisting of at least three faculty including the research advisor. Members are subject to the approval of the research adviser, the department chair, and the Graduate Board. Committee members from outside of Clark are allowed. The format of the dissertation must conform to standards set by the University.

Final Examination (Dissertation Defense)

Students defend their dissertation at a final examination. A summary of the dissertation is presented at a departmental seminar. Afterwards the student is questioned further by members of the committee, who may suggest modifications to the dissertation.

Section 2: Advanced Standing

If a student enters Clark with advanced graduate standing, he/she may be excused from some of the required core courses. In such a case, students must pass the corresponding oral examination before the beginning of their second year at Clark. Failure to meet this requirement will result in loss of financial aid until the requirement is satisfied.

Section 3: Admission to Candidacy

The departmental requirements for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. are satisfied once a student has presented a satisfactory dissertation research proposal and has passed sixteen courses of graduate work of which at least eight were taken at Clark. Under no circumstances, may a student take the final examination before being admitted to candidacy.

Section 4: Requirements for the M.A. Degree

Although the M.A. degree in physics at Clark is a research degree, the M.A. degree does not train its recipients to obtain meaningful employment in basic physics. Students are encouraged to obtain the M.A. only if they are interested in applied areas of physics or in physics education. The minimum passing grade for a course is B-. Four core courses and one semester of Physics 303 must be passed. A total of eight courses must be passed to satisfy University residency requirements. In addition, the writing requirement must be satisfied. M.A. students complete a thesis based on original research. The thesis must be defended at a final examination whose format is similar to the Ph.D. dissertation defense, except that the committee may have only two members. With the Department’s permission, students may apply for candidacy for the M.A. degree after they have passed four courses. Ph.D. students may obtain the M.A. degree after they have been admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D.

Section 5: Progress Reports

It is the responsibility of the physics faculty to monitor the progress of its graduate students regularly and to hold at least one meeting per year that is devoted to discussing the progress of each student. A report will be submitted to each student by the graduate student advisor.

Section 6: Other

Course Load

The usual course load for a student with a Teaching Assistantship or the equivalent is three course credits per semester. To ensure progress toward a degree, a teaching assistant must not hold other employment without asking for written permission from the graduate student advisor.


All graduate students are required to attend the weekly department colloquia usually held on Wednesdays at noon.

Student Government

During the last two weeks of the spring semester, all physics graduate students elect a graduate student to represent them at Department meetings. Graduate students are urged to bring their suggestions and comments to the attention of the graduate student representative and the faculty at any time.

Last updated May 2018