PhD in Physics Requirements (as of Fall 2023)

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.

The Course Requirements below show the minimum requirements to remain in good academic standing in the program. If at any time you have not met them, you will be ineligible to hold an Assistantship, except with special exemption from the Graduate Committee. In order to request an exemption, you must work with your academic advisor to submit a petition to the committee.

1) Course Requirements

1a) 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

A grade of B- or above is required in each core course. In addition, a PhD student must demonstrate good performance in at least three of the five core courses by obtaining a B grade or above. A PhD student must maintain progress through the five mandatory core courses (466, 505, 511, 521, and 522) 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
At least 3 courses completed
with a B grade or above.
End of Semester 5 no requirement
End of Semester 6 all 5 core courses completed

1b) 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:       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.

1c) Seminar Course Requirements

  • Overview of Research in PandA (Adv Sem: New Grad Students PHYS 500.002)
  • One semester of Colloquium (Adv Sem: Colloquium PHYS
  • One other advanced one-hour research seminars (under Physics

1d) Research Course Requirements

  • 3 credit hours of PHYS 650 Research (usually started in 3rd or 4th semester but in some cases sooner)
  • Give seminar on research by the start of the 5th semester:
    • It is a scientific talk, publicly announced with its title and date.
    • It takes at least 30 minutes.
    • A faculty member should attend.
      • (NOTE: a personal or group informal meeting with a research advisor is not counted)

2) The Candidacy Exam

(listed as the "Comprehensive Exam" in Graduate Studies (GS) rules/terms)

After completing the core courses, electives, and research 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. 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 Application for Candidacy paperwork for PhD.

After passing the candidacy exam, submit the Application for Candidacy (AC) to Graduate Studies for their approval and processing in order to advance to candidacy.  The AC must be submitted no later than the semester prior to graduation, but ideally soon after passing the exam. You need 48 hours of coursework (400 & 500 level graduate classes, 500 & 581seminars, 650 Research, 551-552 Problems) on the AC.  If you plan to or already have received a MS Plan II "on way to PhD", you need a total of 50 hours of coursework (including the 32 for MS Plan II). In addition to the required coursework hours, you also need a minimum of 18 hours of 699 Dissertation.  If not all required hours have been taken, the AC provides a field for “future courses to be used to fulfill degree” in which any remaining coursework hours and the required dissertation may be entered one semester at a time up until the semester you expect to graduate.

Announcement of Exam is due a minimum of 2 weeks prior to exam date. See Academic Programs Coordinator for further details.

The Candidacy Exam is an oral examination with a 10 to 15 page written component to ensure a student's readiness to enter into research and to demonstrate his/her proficiency in graduate-level physics in his/her subdiscipline.

Once you prepare the written component in consultation with your research advisor, send it directly to your candidacy exam committee at least 14 days prior to the exam.

Candidacy Exam Committee

  • 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;
  • The Chair must have a UNM appointment or a letter of title, but need not be faculty in the Physics department see Candidacy committee guidelines, and MOU for LANL and SNL members or MOU for AFRL, NRAO, SNL members if pertinent;
  • Two members chosen in consultation with the Committee Chair, at least 2 members must reside in the department;
  • 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 committee must be selected prior to scheduling the day/time/date for the exam.

Candidacy Exam Description

  • The candidate submits a 10-15 page written component to the committee 2 weeks prior to the exam. The candidate should consult with their research advisor for guidelines about the style and content of the written component, which may depend on the candidate's research experiences and the standards of their research subfield.
  • 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.

Additional Candidacy Exam Rules

  • 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.
  • 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 GS. 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 credit hours in addition to Master's degree requirements, exclusive of dissertation, earned in courses (>500) taken at UNM. After GS approval, the transfer from the Academic Advisor to a Research Advisor will take place.
  • After passing their Candidacy Exam, students are 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. A registration hold will be placed if the student has not completed their Candidacy Exam or Annual Research Talk during the previous Academic Year. This requirement must be satisfied even if the student intends to defend soon. Thus, if the candidacy exam or research talk is given in academic year 2019/2020, then an annual research talk is required by the end of Spring semester 2021 in order not to have a hold put in place.
  • For dissertation committee members: Please print and fill out the Annual Research Talk Form, then submit to the Sr. Academic Advisor. You can also save this file, open in Adobe Acrobat, and fill it out as a digital form to be sent as a pdf attachment to the Sr. Academic Advisor.

3) The PhD Dissertation Defense:

Announcement of Exam is due a minimum of 2 weeks prior to exam date. The candidate must submit the dissertation to all Committee members at least 2 weeks prior to the defense date for review. Please follow the Graduate Studies Dissertation Manuscript Submission Procedures. To form a dissertation committee per GS, see Dissertation Committee guidelines, plus MOU for LANL and SNL members or MOU for AFRL, NRAO, SNL members if pertinent. See Sr. Academic Advisor for further details. Dissertation Formatting guidelines may be found on the GS site, the tab Formatting Aids has a link to a template for LaTeX.

4) Overall Schedule and Deadlines for Physics PhD Students:

Overall Schedule and Deadlines for Physics PhD Students:

Core Courses


Candidacy Exam

Dissertation Defense

End of Semester 1

1 core course completed


End of Semester 2

2 core courses completed

End of Semester 3

3 core courses completed

 PHYS 650 (3rd or 4th)

End of Semester 4

4 core courses completed
 *PhD pass 3 at ≥ B 

 PHYS 650 enrollment

By the Start of
       Semester 5


Give seminar on Research



End of Semester 6

5 core courses completed



End of Semester 7

Candidacy Exam-attempt


End of Semester 8

Candidacy Exam-passed


End of Semester 10-12

Suggested dissertation defense date

Candidacy + 5 years

GS deadline for dissertation defense

Graduate Studies Completion Checklist and Deadlines

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 core courses and the candidacy exam. 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.