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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. This handbook is a guide to the rules and practices of direct concern to physics graduate students at the time of publication. Students also should consult the University catalog for general Graduate School requirements.

Some of the following requirements have time limits and need to be satisfied before other requirements can be met. Students should satisfy the core course and the oral examination requirements as quickly as possible and within the deadlines specified below, so that they may devote full-time to their research activities. The most formidable requirements are related to the dissertation which requires years long research work, scientific writing, and oral presentation skills.

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

These are the departmental requirements for a student to be considered to be in good Academic Standing. 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-. Per university policy, failure of two graduate courses will, in all cases, result in dismissal from the graduate program.
  • Core Courses: Graduate students are required to take a minimum of six core courses chosen from Physics 301 (Classical Mechanics), Physics 302 (Classical Electrodynamics), Physics 305 and Physics 306 (Quantum Mechanics), Physics 309 (Statistical Physics), Physics 310 (Condensed Matter Physics), Physics 319 (Electronics), Physics 327 (Computer Simulations), Physics 351 (Statistical Physics), and Physics 367 (Fluid Mechanics and Applications). A student is required to pass the six core courses, within their first three years, with a grade of B- or better. Students who do not complete the core cores within three years, 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, during their first semester at Clark. 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 on their research potential. At the conclusion of each apprenticeship, which lasts from ten to fourteen weeks, students submit a written report of their work.
  • Additional Courses: Additional courses are needed to satisfy University residency requirements. These courses may include several units of Physics 317 (Research) or 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 by the end of the second year of residency. The three examinations are in classical physics (mechanics and electricity & magnetism), quantum mechanics, and statistical and thermal physics, and are typically taken after passing the corresponding core courses. Qualifier exams are offered during the second week of the Fall semester, the second week of the Spring semester, and also during the week leading up to Commencement of each academic year. If a student initially fails to pass an oral examination, they may retake the examination at the next exam period. 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 dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

Writing Requirement

Students present to the faculty an example of their written work during their first year. A typical example of this work is the written report students are required to submit at the conclusion of each apprenticeship. If a student is judged to have deficient writing skills, the Department will ask the student to take appropriate remedial action including working with the university writing center and/or 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 a teaching component, 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 their dissertation research and must be completed at least one year prior to their doctoral dissertation defense. The dissertation research proposal can be presented only after the 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 (each who have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree) 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. For the first part of the dissertation defense, the student presents a summary of their dissertation at a departmental seminar.  Following this presentation, the student is examined further by members of the committee in a closed session, who may suggest modifications to the dissertation.

Section 2: Advanced Standing

If a student enters Clark with advanced graduate standing, they may be excused from some of the required core courses but will be required to complete those courses at Clark if they do not pass the corresponding oral exam. The graduate student advisor will determine which of the core courses the student has satisfied through work completed prior to the student joining Clark.

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

The M.A. degree is awarded to students who complete their Master’s degree requirements in route to the Ph.D. degree. Master’s degree students must satisfy the general University residence and course requirements, and are expected to pass (with a grade B- or better) 4 core graduate courses which can be chosen among Physics 301, Physics 302, Physics 305,  Physics 306, Physics 309, Physics 310, Physics 319, Physics 351, and Physics 367. Students are also expected to pass at least 5 research or thesis units. Remaining units can be chosen among the core graduate courses listed above, Physics 303, or a thesis unit. Master’s degree candidates also must 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 (presentation at a department seminar with subsequent committee examination), 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 graduate student advisor 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


A doctoral student is unable to continue in the program without a departmental faculty research advisor. The period of transition between advisors is expected to last no longer than one month. In the event that the student is unable to find a faculty advisor in the department to work with for longer than one month, the Department Chair will convene a meeting of the department faculty with the purpose of determining whether the student will be allowed to continue in the overall graduate program.

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 sign up for the seminar course and attend the weekly department every fall and spring semester.

Dismissal from Ph.D. program

Those who do not fulfill the requirements as dictated in Section 1 above will be dismissed from the program. The decision will be made by the Physics department faculty at a department meeting. Dismissal may include conferral of a Master’s degree, pending completion of the requirements detailed in Section 4 above. In such a case, a student dismissed from the Ph.D. program must complete the requirements for the Master’s degree within one academic semester of dismissal. Otherwise, the student will be dismissed without receipt of a degree. The advisor/committee are not obligated to accept work for a M.A. Appeals against dismissal should be addressed to the Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, following the procedure as stated in the academic catalog.

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 August 2020