Doctor of Philosophy in Physics
School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Sciences
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.
The required 48 credit hours of course work are divided into the following four categories:
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
University requirments for all PhD students can be found in the University Catalog.
General questions and requests for additional information should be directed to Dr. Robert Weigel, the program director.