PhD in Physics Requirements (as of Fall 2015)

1) Preliminary Examination

Applicants who achieve a score of 800 or higher on the Physics GRE Subject Test are excused from Preliminary Exams. Students already enrolled in the PhD program will not be granted a waiver from one or more sections of the Preliminary Examination based on retaking the GRE subject test and achieving a score above 800.    

After entry into the graduate program a PhD student in Physics must pass 1 section of the Preliminary Examination by the second sitting, 2 sections of the Preliminary Examination by the third sitting, and must pass all 4 sections by the fourth sitting. The PhD level of passing on each section is a grade of 60%.

After passing the Preliminary Exams at the Masters level, students are eligible to receive a MS degree "on the way" to PhD provided they fulfill the course requirements for a Masters.

For more information, see the page Preliminary Examination.

2) Course Requirements

To remain in good academic standing, a graduate student must maintain a cumulative grade-point average of at least 3.0 in all courses taken for graduate credit after admission to a graduate degree program at the University of New Mexico.

2a) Core Course Requirements.

  • 466 Methods of Theoretical Physics I
  • 505 Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics
  • 511 Electrodynamics I
  • 521 Quantum Mechanics I
  • 522 Quantum Mechanics II or 537 Advanced Astrophysics II

A grade of B- or above is required in each core course. A PhD student must maintain progress through the five mandatory core courses (466, 505, 511, 521, and 522 or 537) at the following minimal rate:

End of Semester 1 1 core course completed
End of Semester 2 2 core courses completed
End of Semester 3 3 core courses completed
End of Semester 4 4 core courses completed
End of Semester 5 no requirement
End of Semester 6 all 5 core courses completed

2b) Elective Course Requirements.

Four advanced graduate courses. All regular (three-hour) 300 or 400-level courses that are available for graduate credit* for P&A students and all regular (three-hour) 500-level courses are eligible as electives, except 406, 491/492, and courses taken to satisfy the core-course requirements for the Physics PhD**. Different courses taken as Advanced Topics in Optics (569) or Advanced Topics in Physics and Astronomy (581) count as different electives. The four advanced graduate courses must be listed as a standard grade mode and not on a credit/no credit basis. Additional electives taken to fulfill credit hours may be on a credit/no credit basis.

* To receive graduate credit for eligible 300 or 400 level courses, the course must have an asterisk (one) beside the course number as depicted in the UNM Catalog at link: http://catalog.unm.edu/catalogs/2014-2015/colleges/arts-sciences/physics-astronomy/index.html       Double check your transcript after the semester to be sure graduate credit was received, it should be automatically assigned as GR not UG.  
NOTE:  a double asterisk is available for graduate credit except for graduate majors in the department

** Science, Engineering, and Mathematics courses that are available for graduate credit may be taken as electives, with permission of the Academic Advisor.

2c) Seminar Course Requirements.

  • Overview of Research in PandA (under Physics 500.002)
  • One semester of Colloquium (under Physics 500.003)
  • One other advanced one-hour research seminars (under Physics 500.0xx), in which an oral presentation is required

3) The Candidacy Exam (which also serves as the "Comprehensive Exam" in OGS rules/terms)

After passing the Preliminary Examination and completing the core and elective course requirements, a PhD student's next task is to find a potential dissertation supervisor and to begin exploratory research with that faculty member. After about a year of initial exploratory research, the student is generally prepared to advance to doctoral candidacy by taking and passing the Candidacy Exam (formerly Dissertation Proposal Defense), which also serves as the Comprehensive Exam in OGS rules. The faculty member who has supervised the student's initial research is the Chair of the Candidacy Exam Committee and becomes the student's dissertation supervisor upon successful completion of the exam. Please note that the student's Academic Advisor continues to advise the student on all academic matters until the student has passed the Candidacy Exam and submitted the Program of Studies.

The Candidacy Exam is an oral examination to ensure a student's readiness to enter into research and to demonstrate his/her proficiency in graduate-level physics in his/her subdiscipline.

  • The Candidacy Exam Committee consists of four members:
  • A Chair, who has supervised the student's initial research and who becomes the student's dissertation supervisor upon successful completion of this exam;
  • Two members chosen in consultation with the Committee Chair;
  • A fourth "outside" member appointed by the Chair of the Graduate Committee. The role of the outside member is to ensure a departmentwide standard of PhD qualification. Since this outside member is not meant to be an expert in the candidate's subdiscipline, it is essential that the student demonstrate a clear understanding of how his/her research fits into the broader context of physics/astronomy.
  • The candidate gives a presentation of about one hour that consists of:
    1. A description of the initial research project and
    2. A brief description of the research project(s) planned for the PhD dissertation
      The presentation is followed by a question-and-answer session wherein the student is expected to demonstrate advanced knowledge in the subdiscipline of the proposed dissertation, at a level determined by the Committee.
  • A student must attempt the Candidacy Exam before the end of his/her seventh semester. In the case of failure, the student must make a second attempt and pass before the end of the eighth semester.
  • A student can petition the Graduate Committee for an extension of the deadlines for the Candidacy Exam on the grounds of special, extenuating circumstances.
  • The student is required to have the candidacy forms completed at the time of the candidacy exam and to provide them to the Coordinator for Program Advisement, Alisa Gibson, immediately following the successful completion of the exam.
  • On passing their Candidacy Exam students have until the end of the following semester to form a dissertation committee and file for doctoral candidacy by submitting an Application for Candidacy to OGS. At this stage the student should be finished or close to finishing the formal course requirements. The Application for Candidacy must list at least 18 post-Master's credit hours, exclusive of dissertation, earned in courses (>500) taken at UNM. After OGS approval the transfer from the Academic Advisor to a Research Advisor will take place.
  • After passing their Candidacy Exam, students will be required to give a 30 minute talk on their research once a year to their dissertation committee (external member not required to attend), starting with the academic year after the Exam, until they graduate.

4) The PhD Dissertation Defense: See OGS for official rules.

5) Overall Schedule and Deadlines for Physics PhD Students:

Preliminary Examination Core Courses Candidacy Examination Dissertation Defense
End of Semester 1 1 course completed
Beginning of Semester 2 1 section passed
End of Semester 2 2 courses completed
Beginning of Semester 3 2 sections passed
End of Semester 3 3 courses completed
Beginning of Semester 4 4 sections passed
End of Semester 4 4 courses completed
End of Semester 6 5 courses completed  
End of Semester 7 Candidacy Exam attempted  
End of Semester 8 Candidacy Exam passed  
End of Semester 10-12 Suggested dissertation defense date
Candidacy + 5 years OGS deadline for dissertation defense

P&A Policy on Graduate Student Leaves of Absence

Graduate students wishing to take a leave of absence of a duration longer than 1 month during the academic term are required to notify the department's Academic Programs Coordinator in advance to request approval from the Graduate Committee. Failure to obtain advance written approval from the department may result in dismissal from the degree program. Approval of a leave of absence does not necessarily grant a postponement in the mandatory schedule for completion of preliminary examinations, candidacy examination, and core courses. Students holding assistantships prior to beginning leaves of absence are not guaranteed assistantships upon their return to the academic program without prior approval from the Graduate Committee.