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Graduate Degree Programs

See also the information from the Graduate School at http://www.gsas.harvard.edu/programs_of_study/physics.php

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

The degree of doctor of philosophy is a certificate of high attainment in both study and research. It is not granted upon the completion of routine requirements.

Requirements for Candidacy

Course Record:

The student must present a high record of achievement in graduate studies during at least two terms of advanced work. The award of the AM does not automatically qualify the student as a candidate for the PhD. Students who propose to present theses in experimental fields should demonstrate promise in experimental work and a satisfactory understanding of theoretical physics. Applicants for candidacy in theoretical physics should demonstrate strength in courses of a mathematical nature and a satisfactory acquaintance with experimental aspects of physics.

Qualifying Oral Examination:

The purpose of the examination, required of all doctoral candidates, is to aid in estimating a candidate's potential for performing research at the level required for the doctoral dissertation.

  • Each student is asked to select, prepare, and discuss in depth some topic in physics, and to answer questions about that topic and closely related problems.
  • Students are judged on the knowledge and understanding they demonstrate and on the clarity and organization of their expositions. Originality is welcomed but not required.
  • In evaluating the candidates, the examining committee may take into account other information about their performance as graduate students. Students will pass the examination if the examining committee believes that they have demonstrated adequate comprehension of physics in the area of their chosen topic and the ability to perform the dissertation research required for the doctoral degree.
  • Students who fail the qualifying oral examination on the first attempt will usually be permitted by the examining committee to take a second examination at a later date.
  • The procedures for the qualifying oral examination are as follows: the student selects a faculty member to serve as chair of his or her examining committee. The committee chair is normally one of the department members and, when feasible, a prospective dissertation advisor.
  • The student then selects a topic, preferably but not necessarily related to the proposed field of dissertation research, prepares an abstract and submits it, with a program of study (described below), and a decision as to whether the prospective doctoral research will be experimental or theoretical.
  • The student then confers in detail with the examining committee chair about the topic to be discussed, the nature of the examination, and the other faculty members who will serve on the committee. 
  • The examining committee must have at least three members, two of whom must be from the Department of Physics.
  • The committee chair will provide written approval of the topic, and the overall composition of the examination committee must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. To avoid inappropriate preparation, this conference should take place at the earliest possible date.
  • A student who wishes to change from an experimental to a theoretical dissertation topic, or vice versa, may be required to pass a second qualifying oral examination.
  • Students are required by the end of their second year to select a committee of three faculty members to advise them on their research progress. Students are expected to pass the oral examination given by this committee by the end of their second year. The committee may, upon petition, grant a deferment of the examination for up to one year. Students who have not passed their oral examinations by the end of their third year of graduate study must seek approval from the Committee on Higher Degrees prior to being allowed to register for the fourth year of graduate study.  If satisfactory arrangements cannot be made, the students will be withdrawn by the department.

Master of Arts (AM)

The AM degree is frequently taken by students who continue on for their PhD.

Eight half-courses of suitable depth and breadth are required for the AM degree. At least four of them must be physics courses, and ordinarily all must be in physics or related fields. After drawing up a tentative academic program, students should discuss it with their faculty advisors or with the Associate Director of Graduate Studies. No thesis, general examination, or knowledge of a foreign language is required for the AM degree.