Students must plan their curriculum after consultation with and approval by their graduate advisor. In addition to their other classes, all first-year graduate students should enroll in Physics 582 "Research Seminar" and Physics 597 "Teaching Methods in Physics" in the fall of their first semester. Their other coursework should be chosen with a view to completion of the qualification procedure and the beginning of research. Students who want to take advanced graduate courses should note that these are sometimes offered only once every two or three years.
Registration for courses
- A Diagnostic placement examination is taken by every entering student immediately before their first semester begins. This is a take-home, open-book, undergraduate-level examination. The results are only used by the graduate advisor to help the student choose appropriate first-semester courses; they are promptly discarded and play no part in later evaluations of the student's progress.
- Permission to enroll in courses: Each semester, before registering for courses, students should meet with their advisor to discuss their planned course load. Once the advisor has given approval, the student can register.
- Taking non-artsci or non-physics courses: Physics students are enrolled in the school of Arts and Sciences; to take courses in other schools (Engineering, Business, Medical School, Law, Design, Social Work, etc) a student must get permission from the director of graduate studies. Students should consult with their graduate advisor before taking non-physics courses. Audited courses and courses taken pass/fail are not eligible for tuition remission.
- Permission to drop courses: Students must get permission from their graduate advisor before dropping any course. This applies to English Language Program courses as well as physics courses. A student who drops a class without permission will be charged the tuition on the portion attended and may lose their financial support for the next year.
The typical PhD graduate student career:
- Fall: Take 3 or 4 courses, plus 582 and 597.
- Spring: Take 3 or 4 courses. Assistant in Instruction for one course. Look for a thesis advisor.
- Fall: Take 3 or 4 courses. Assistant in Instruction for one course. Confirm your thesis advisor and form your qualifying committee.
- Spring: Take 3 or 4 courses. Complete the qualification procedure (below).
- Thesis research. Students no longer enrolling in 9 units of academic courses must enroll in LGS9000.
PhD qualification: oral examination requirement
To qualify for PhD candidacy, the student must give a presentation to a committee of three physics faculty members (the prospective research advisor and two others). The student should demonstrate a basic understanding of a major topic of current research in the selected area of study, chosen in consultation with the student’s prospective thesis advisor. One week before the oral exam, the student must prepare a written paper (approximately 1500-3000 words) summarizing the content of the presentation, and give it to the committee. The student’s responses to questions raised by the examination committee are graded as adequate or not. Students have a chance to answer inadequately answered questions in writing within 48 hours after the examination. The student is not allowed to receive assistance in preparing the written response from any other individuals. The answers should be either given in person to the Chair of the examination committee, or emailed to the Chair as a pdf file so that it is time stamped. The committee will determine whether the written answers are sufficient.
The committee must be chosen and approved by the department chairman by the end of a student's third semester (typically in December of the second year). The oral examination should be taken by the end of a student's fourth semester (typically in May of the second year). If the student fails the oral examination, they can take it again one additional time.
After obtaining the required grades in specified core courses and passing an oral qualification exam, students are said to have "qualified" or been "admitted to PhD candidacy." They are then ready to focus on their research.
Thesis advisor and faculty mentoring committee
In their first and second years, students learn about the research groups and begin making contact with potential research advisors with whom thesis research will be performed. It is up to students to take the initiative to find an advisor by the end of their second year.
The thesis advisor must be one of the following:
- A current physics department faculty member with the title of Professor, Associate Professor, or Assistant Professor.
- Students who are interested in mentored research experiences with faculty in other departments (i.e., with a professor who cannot be their formal thesis advisor, but should be a member of their faculty mentoring committee) should first discuss their plans with the Director of Graduate Studies.
Here are some specific suggestions for finding a thesis advisor.
- Course 582: (Required in the Fall of the first year, 1 credit course). This consists of weekly lectures by different faculty members introducing their research.
- Colloquium: Students should regularly attend the department colloquium (Wednesdays at 4pm), and hear invited speakers give introductory talks about a wide variety of research.
- Graduate student seminar: These regular talks, on Friday at 4pm, are given by upper-level graduate students who explain the work they are doing with their thesis advisors.
- Research seminars: Students are welcome to attend topic specific seminars.
- Talk to professors: Students are encouraged to meet with professors and talk with them about their research.
- Graduate peer mentors: They organize regular social events for graduate students and offer their advice and experience.
After choosing a thesis advisor, the student nominates a faculty mentoring committee consisting of the thesis advisor and at least two other faculty who are well-qualified to evaluate and help the student in his/her thesis research. The student should give the completed form to the graduate secretary. Typically the chairman of the oral examination committee will become the student's thesis advisor and the other members of the oral examination committee will become the rest of the faculty mentoring committee.
Apart from the thesis advisor, the faculty mentoring committee must contain at least one person whose name appears on the physics web site faculty listing, as Professor, Associate Professor, Assistant Professor, or Emeritus Professor (or research or joint faculty of these ranks). The other member(s) of the mentoring committee can be faculty members from any department at Washington University.
The student is required to meet with their faculty mentoring committee at least once a year to review progress in thesis research. Every November the committee sends a report on the student's progress to the chairman. In the unusual case of unsatisfactory progress, the committee may recommend that the student withdraw from the graduate school, that the chairman or research supervisor cut off funding, or that the faculty remove the student from candidacy.
In addition to the teaching requirements listed in the Bulletin, each student must submit an Oral Presentation Form to the Graduate Studies Committee detailing how the oral presentation requirement was completed. Certain outreach activities sponsored by the department may also count towards the oral presentation requirement. Students are expected to devote 10-15 hours per week to their mentored teaching experience and are required to be conscientious and to complete all grading tasks accurately and promptly.
Resources for students with concerns
If you have any problems, such as
- not sure if you are on track to meet the program requirements
- feeling that you are not being treated properly or fairly by someone
- feeling that things are not going well; anxiety; depression
- any other issues that are worrying you
please come and talk with someone. It could be one of the graduate student mentors or one of the staff or faculty responsible for grad students:
Counseling is also available from Student Health Services.