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Physics Department Graduate700-level Core Courses

The following is a simplified guide to the departmental policies and procedures concerning M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. Graduate School requirements and regulations for the Ph.D. degree are provided in the Graduate Catalog and the Graduate School handbook. If questions remain after consulting these webpages, contact the Graduate Secretary.

Ph.D. Degree - [PDF]
M.S. Degree - Option A - [PDF]
M.S. Degree - Option B

Ph.D. Degree

The formal academic requirements for the Ph.D. degree have the following major parts:

  • mastery of material covered in four core courses (grade of B or better)
  • passing of the written departmental comprehensive exam
  • mastery in four electives classes (grade of B or better)
  • passing of a preliminary oral and final oral examination

Written comprehensive exam: The Qualifying Exam is currently made up of the final exams of the following courses: Electricity and Magnetism (PY 785), Classical Mechanics (PY 783), Quantum Mechanics (PY 782) and Statistical Physics (PY 721). The exams cover information from the following: (E&M: PY 515, 785; Mechanics: PY 512; QM: PY 501, 502, 781, Stat Mech: 721). The four parts of the exam have to be passed separately. The exam can be repeated once. - As a practical matter, essentially all students find mastery of the material in these graduate courses to be the best preparation for the examination. Deficiencies at the 500 level should be corrected first.

Core courses: Students are required to take Statistical Mechanics (PY 721) and Advanced Quantum Mechanics (PY 782). They are also required to take either Advanced E&M-II (PY786) or Advanced Classical Mechanics (PY783). A fourth course at the 700 level is required.(PY781 and PY785 can not used towards this requirement.)

Additional courses: Four more courses (12 hours) in Physics or related fields are required in addition to the core courses. These four courses could comprise an optional minor. The most popular minor is the interdisciplinary minor: four or more courses in three different departments. First-year students must enroll in PY 601 (M.S. students) or PY 801 (Ph.D. students), which requires attendance at the weekly departmental colloquium. One semester of research ethics is also required.

Minor/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. - First-year students must enroll in PY 601 (M.S. students) or PY 801 (Ph.D. students), which requires attendance at the weekly departmental colloquium. One semester of research ethics is also required.

There are a number of senior/first-year graduate courses which 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.

A typical schedule Ph.D. program with a minor




1st year





PY786 or PY721

PY Elective / MINOR

PY Elective / MINOR

2nd year

PY783 or PY7xx

PY721 or PY786

PY Elective / MINOR

PY Elective / MINOR

PY Elective / MINOR

PY895 (Research)

Committee/Plan of Work


3rd year

9 credit hours of PY895

9 credit hours of PY895


Preliminary Oral Exam

4th year



5th year



Plan of work/committee: Once a student has selected a research advisor, a thesis committee comprising four faculty is formed, consisting of the Chair/Advisor, 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. In order to take this examination, the Plan of Work must have been approved, the written preliminary examination must have been passed, and the request to schedule the exam must have 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 3rd year and must be taken by the end of the 4th year to remain eligible for TA and RA support. Scheduling of the final oral exam has to be approved by the Graduate School.

Enrollment and other requirements: All students must take 9 or more credit hours a semester until academic requirements are fulfilled. All students are expected to show normal progress towards their degree objectives. There is also a continuous registration policy which is described in the Graduate Catalog. This policy requires students to obtain written permission if continuous registration is to be interrupted. For the Ph.D. candidates, completion of the departmental written examination should be completed after the 3rd semester. Minor requirements should be completed within three semesters after passing the departmental examination. The preliminary oral examination must be successfully passed by the end of the 4th year. Renewals of assistantships are contingent upon satisfactory progress.

For students encountering academic difficulties, a decision on future academic options should be reached as early as possible. In addition to the interest of the Department of Physics in the rapid completion of a well-planned graduate program, there are stringent time limitations imposed by The Graduate School.

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M.S. Degree

General requirements for the M.S. degree are described in the Graduate Catalog. The following information is only a guide. The Physics department has two M.S. programs: one with thesis and one without. There is no language requirement for either M.S. degree in Physics.

Option A
For the thesis M.S. degree, there are rigid requirements for both the minimum number of courses and the distribution of these courses. The student must have 30 semester credits. No more than 6 credits of research may be included to satisfy the minimum requirements. A program with a minor must include 15 credits of regular physics courses (500 level or above but NOT including PY 501, 502, 512 or 515) and 9 credits outside of the Physics Department (400 level or above). A program with no minor requires 24 hours of regular courses with at least 18 hours in the Physics Department (500 level or above but NOT including PY 501, 511, or 514). Thus a standard minimum M.S. program includes 24 credits of regular courses and 6 credits of PY 695/699 Research. The advisory committee may impose additional requirements.

After a research director is chosen, an advisory committee is formed consisting of the Advisor, one other physicist, and a representative from the minor field (or another physicist for the programs with no minor). Then a Plan of Work is submitted and must be approved and signed by the advisory committee, the Director of Graduate Programs, and The Graduate School. The Graduate School regulations require that this Plan of Work be submitted before completion of one-half of the total program.

An oral examination is required - this normally emphasizes the thesis.

If the M.S. degree is a terminal degree, the major emphasis should be on breadth. In this case, courses such as Nuclear Physics, Particle Physics, Optics, Atomic Physics, Computational Physics, Astrophysics, Solid State Physics (PY 506, 507, 516, 517, 525, 543 and 552, respectively) seem suitable, in addition to the Quantum Mechanics course strongly suggested for all students. A minor in some branch of engineering would seem appropriate for most students who do not plan further academic studies. Note: Courses for minor requirements are sometimes available in summer school.

Normally the M.S. (option A) degree is completed in 2 to 2.5 years. A period of more than 3-4 years in an M.S. program demonstrates unsatisfactory progress.

Option B
Students may obtain an M.S. degree without writing a thesis through the Option B degree. This option is normally exercised by Ph.D. students who consider it to be a degree obtained en route to the Ph.D. degree. Requirements for the Option B degree include successful passing of the Departmental Examination and completion of 30 total gradaute credit hours.

  • None of these hours may be research hours (i.e. in PY695 or PY895).
  • At least 18 credit hours must be letter-graded courses.
  • No more than 6 credit hours of 400-level courses (not PY courses).

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Physics Department Graduate Programs Office
204 Riddick Hall
North Carolina State University
Raleigh, NC 27695-8202
Phone 919-515-8706, fax: 919-515-6538