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Doctor of Philosophy in Physics

School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Sciences

Curriculum Requirements

Doctoral Students accepted into the Physics Ph.D. program choose one of two separate tracks in their study: Physics or Astronomy. By working with the Dissertation Committee, a student can further specialize into different concentrations such as astrophysics, biophysics, nonlinear physics, planetary sciences, material physics, space weather physics, or others according to his or her particular interests. By the end of their first year, all students will pair with a faculty advisor who will guide them toward candidacy.

Summary of Requirements

All students in the Physics Ph.D. program must earn a minimum of 72 graduate credits. Of these, 48 are required course work and preliminary research credits, and 24 are doctoral dissertation proposal (PHYS/ASTR 998) and doctoral dissertation research (PHYS/ASTR 999) credits. For students entering the doctoral program with previous graduate work, the 48 credits of course work may be reduced by a maximum of 30 credits.

Required Coursework

The required 48 credit hours of course work are divided into the following four categories:

  1. Core Courses (12 credits)

    All students must successfully complete the following four core courses:

    • PHYS 684 Quantum Mechanics I
    • PHYS 685 Electromagnetic Theory I
    • PHYS 705 Classical Mechanics
    • PHYS 711 Statistical Mechanics

    Doctoral candidacy (qualifying) examinations will be given on the topics covered in these core courses (see the section on qualifying examinations for details). This requirement ensures basic competency in the fundamentals of physics for all students and forms the foundation for later studies.

  2. Physics and Astronomy Elective Courses (6 credits)

    To prepare students for research in different fields, a student should complete two out of the following four physics and astronomy electives:

    • PHYS 784 Quantum Mechanics II
    • PHYS 785 Electromagnetic Theory II
    • ASTR 680 Physics of Interstellar Media
    • ASTR 730 Stellar Astrophysics

    These electives must be approved by your Graduate or Dissertation Advisor.

  3. Seminar Requirement (3 credits)

    PHYS 703 Seminar in Physics (1:1:0). This is a general seminar course which combines invited seminars from faculty (both internal and external) with graduate student seminars. Students must complete three (3) credits of PHYS 703.

  4. General Elective Courses (27 credits)

    A student may choose the remaining course work as general electives from physics and astronomy or other related disciplines. These elective courses may include preliminary research credits (PHYS/ASTR 796, PHYS/ASTR 798) in preparation for the Doctoral Dissertation. These research courses may be repeated with the approval of the studentís advisor or Dissertation Committee in order to be applied towards the degree requirements.

  5. Possible Concentrations and Sample Courses (intended only as examples)

Concentration in Physics

  • PHYS 784 Quantum Mechanics II (3 credits)
  • PHYS 785 Electromagnetic Theory II (3 credits)
  • PHYS 701 Theoretical/Mathematical Physics (3 credits)
  • PHYS 780 Topics in Computational Physics (3 credits)

Concentration in Astronomy

  • ASTR 701 Planetary Sciences
  • ASTR 730 Stellar Astrophysics
  • ASTR 767 Galactic Astronomy
  • ASTR 680 Physics of the Interstellar Medium

Concentration in Biophysics

  • BINF 740/PHYS 630 Introduction to Biophysics
  • BINF Protein Structure Analysis
  • BINF 741 Intro Computer Simulation of Biomolecules
  • NEUR Applied Dynamics in Neuroscience

Concentration in Materials Physics

  • PHYS 784 Quantum Mechanics II
  • PHYS 785 Electromagnetic Theory II
  • PHYS 512/CSI 687 Solid State Physics and Applications
  • PHYS 614 Thermodynamics and Kinetics of Materials

To help you to plan your courses, you can download the Curriculum Overview Form [doc][pdf] when planning with your Graduate and Dissertation adviser.

For a tentative offering schedule for the required core classes and Physics and Astronomy Electives, please take a look at this [pdf].

Qualifying Examinations

All students must successfully pass the four individual sections (Quantum Mechanics, Electromagnetic Theory, Classical Mechanics, and Statistical Mechanics) of a qualifying examination. The four topics in the qualifying exam are covered in the four core courses (PHYS 684, PHYS 685, PHYS 705, and PHYS 711). All four sections of the qualifying exam will be offered twice a year typically in the week before the start of the fall and spring semesters. Students can choose to take a particular section or a combination of sections at one sitting. Grades of “Pass” or “Unsatisfactory” will be given individually for the four separate sections of the exam. If a student receives a grade of “Unsatisfactory” in a given section of the exam, he/she is allowed to retake that section in the next cycle but a student must satisfactorily pass all sections of the exam by the end of the third year from the date of enrollment in the PhD program. Students entering the program with equivalent courses taken at another institution can satisfy the core requirement by taking the qualifying exam directly. For more information about the qualifying exam and the upcoming exam schedule, please go to the "qualifying exam" tab on the right.

At the beginning of each academic year, the Program Director will appoint members to the Qualifying Examination Committee (typically from faculty who most recently taught the core courses). The Qualifying Examination Committee is responsible for the creation and grading of the qualifying exam to be offered in that year.

For more information on the Qualifying Exam, please go to the Qualifying Exam page.

Dissertation Committee

Since research is a major component of the PhD program, students are strongly encouraged to start talking with different faculty members within the program as soon as possible to find a suitable research topic for his/her potential dissertation. When a student is near in completing all his/her qualifying exams (usually in the second or third year of the program), a student should work with his/her research advisor in forming a Dissertation Committee. Students needing help in identifying a faculty member as research advisor should consult with the PhD Program Director for suggestions.

The Dissertation Committee consists of a graduate faculty member from the Department of Physics and Astronomy (typically the reserach advisor whom the student has been working already) and at least two other members of the graduate faculty, one of whom must be from outside the student’s department or degree program. The composition of the committee must be approved by the program director and the Dean. Qualified individuals who are not members of the graduate faculty (i.e., faculty at another university) may serve on a dissertation committee with the approval of the Provost.

The Dissertation Committee is responsible for directing the student in his/her chosen field of research. The Dissertation Committee is responsible in advising the student in selecting specialty courses and electives to form a cohesive Program of Study. Preliminary research credits (PHYS/ASTR 796 - Directed Reading and Research and PHYS/ASTR 798 - Research Project) can be taken as a part of the electives to prepare for the student’s dissertation.

For forms related in forming your dissertation committee, please check here.

Advancement to Candidacy

Advancement to candidacy implies that a doctoral student has demonstrated both breadth and depth of knowledge in the field of study and is capable of conducting research on the boundaries of knowledge. Before a doctoral student may be advanced to candidacy by the Dean, he/she:

  • should have completed all required course work
  • should have passed the qualifying examination
  • should have the Program of Study approved by the Dean
  • should have the Dissertation Proposal approved by the Dissertation Committee
  • should have been recommended by the Dissertation Committee

In preparation for his/her advancement, a student should take PHYS 998 or ASTR 998 in preparation for his/her Dissertation Proposal. A cohersive Dissertation Proposal must be approved by the Dissertation Committee before Advancement to Candidacy. PHYS 998 or ASTR 998 (Dissertation Proposal Credits) can be taken before your Advancement to Candidacy but PHYS 999 or ASTR 999 (Dissertation Credits) can only be taken after a student has been advanced into Candidacy.

A doctoral student has six years from the time of first enrollment as a degree-seeking student to advance to candidacy.

For forms related in Advancing into Candidacy, please check here.

Doctoral Dissertation

After advancing to candidacy, a doctoral candidate will work with the Dissertation Committee to formalize his/her preliminary research into a doctoral dissertation. The dissertation research should represent a significant contribution to its scientific field and should be deemed publishable in refereed scientific journals.

  1. A total of 24 credit hours in the following two courses must be taken before graduation:
    • PHYS 998 or ASTR 998: Dissertation Proposal (3 to 12 credit hours)
    • PHYS 999 or ASTR 999: Doctoral Dissertation (12 to 21 credit hours, advancement to candidacy required).

    • (Please note that you need to have taken 3 credits of 998 before you can advance to candidacy.)
  2. Before the student may enroll in PHYS/ASTR 999 (Doctoral Dissertation), the dissertation proposal must be approved by the Dissertation Committee and evidence of its approval sent to the unit dean for approval. Before that time, the student may enroll in PHYS/ASTR 998 (Dissertation Proposal).
  3. A student working on his/her Doctoral Dissertation (999) must register for a minimum of three credit hours of 999 per semester (excluding summers) until they have completed the 12-credit-hour minimum requirement for 999, after which they must register for one credit hour of 999 until the dissertation is completed and accepted.

The dissertation must be defended in a public forum before the Dissertation Committee and other interested faculty. After the candidate successfully defends the dissertation, the Dissertation Committee recommends to the Graduate Faculty of George Mason University the awarding to the candidate the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Physics.

Students have five years from the time of advancement to candidacy to graduate.

Please read the Graduation Informaiton page for more details.
(Forms related in completing your degree can be found here)

University requirments for all PhD students can be found in the University Catalog.


Sample Curriculum


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General questions and requests for additional information should be directed to Dr. Robert Weigel, the program director.