Ph.D. Overview and Milestones

What can you expect your path to a Ph.D. in physics from NC State to look like?

Suggested Ph.D. Program Schedule

1stPY 781, PY 783, PY 785
PY elective/minor
PY 721, PY 782
PY elective/minor (e.g., PY 786)
2ndOther PY 700-level course
PY elective/minor
PY elective/minor
Research (PY 895)
Form committee/Plan of work
3rd9 credit hours of PY 8959 credit hours of PY 895
Preliminary oral exam
Thesis submission/Final oral exam


Written Comprehensive Exam

The qualifying exam consists of the final exams of four core graduate classes: Electricity and Magnetism (PY 785), Classical Mechanics (PY 783), Quantum Mechanics (PY 782) and Statistical Physics (PY 721). The exams also cover information from preparatory classes such as PY 501, 502, 512, 515 and 781.

The four parts of the exam have to be passed separately. The exam can be repeated once. Nearly all students find mastery of the material in these graduate courses to be the best preparation for the examination. Exceptionally well-prepared students, such as those with a prior master’s degree, have passed comprehensive the exam without taking the coursework at NC State and been able to test out of the courses here. Deficiencies at the 500 level should be corrected before taking the classes and the exam.


Required Courses

  • Advanced E&M I (PY 785)*
  • Statistical Mechanics (PY 721)*
  • Advanced Quantum Mechanics II (PY 782)*
  • Advanced Classical Mechanics (PY 783)*
  • A fourth course at the 700 level (PY 781 can not be used toward this requirement.)
  • Four more courses (12 hours) in physics or related fields
  • PY 601 (M.S. students) or PY 801 (Ph.D. students) during the first year, which requires attendance at the weekly departmental colloquium
  • One semester of research ethics

* Unless comprehensive exam passed at start of Year 1


Optional Minor and Electives

Four more courses in physics or related fields are required in addition to the core courses. A minor is optional. The most popular approach is the interdisciplinary minor: four or more courses in three different departments. The minor representative certifies the collection of courses as comprising a coherent minor.

A number of intermediate-level courses provide introduction to the various research areas of physics. These courses (e.g., PY 506, 507, 516, 517, 543 and 552) should be used to broaden the student’s intellectual base. More advanced courses in addition to these core courses are normally within the student’s field of research interest.


Plan of Work and Committee

Once a student has selected a research adviser, a thesis committee comprising four faculty is formed, consisting of the chair/adviser, two other physicists and the minor representative (or Graduate School representative). At least one committee member must be from a department other than physics.

A plan of work is required, which must be approved and signed by the committee, the director of graduate programs, and the Graduate School. If all of the committee members are from the physics department, a graduate school representative is appointed by the Graduate School.


Oral Preliminary and Final Exam

Official advancement to doctoral candidacy follows the successful completion of the oral preliminary examination. To take this examination, you must have an approved plan of work, a passing score on the written preliminary examination and a request to schedule the exam that has been approved by the Graduate School. Normally, the department qualifying examination serves as the written part of the preliminary examination, although additional written examinations may be required by the advisory committee.

The preliminary oral examination should be taken by the end of the third year and must be taken by the end of the fourth year if you want to remain eligible for TA and RA support. Scheduling of the final oral exam has to be approved by the Graduate School. The final exam requires submission of a thesis.