Degree Requirements

Adviser Selection

It is the goal of the graduate program to have all students engaged in real research as soon as possible upon arrival and all students settled on a thesis topic and a thesis adviser by the end of the second year. 


The Physics Department offers a large number of graduate courses every year. We recommend that students take the introductory courses they need to fill gaps in their basic physics background. They also should attend the advanced courses appropriate to their chosen specialty. In between, they should satisfy the core curriculum requirement for the general examination. 

In the first fall semester, the students take the prelims-prep courses or advanced undergraduate courses to supplement their basic physics background and prepare for the preliminary exam. Students are then encouraged to take other, more advanced courses to expand their knowledge in their chosen specialty. Students sign up for all these courses through TigerHub.

General Exam

The preliminary examination, the experimental project and the required minimum number of core courses constitute the general examination. All sections of the general examination must be completed by the end of the second year.

Students generally take the preliminary examination, in January or May of the first year. The preliminary examination covers topics of electromagnetism, elementary quantum mechanics, mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics.

The experimental project consists of a written report and oral presentation on experimental work that the student has either performed or assisted others in performing at Princeton. The report is due and the presentation is scheduled in October of the second year.

Passing the Generals and Qualifying for the M.A.

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully completes all components of the general examination. It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.  To apply for this, contact the Graduate Program Administrator.


A wide range of teaching opportunities are offered, from laboratory work to recitation sessions in core undergraduate and advanced graduate courses.  All students are required to take a dedicated course, Communicating Physics, that is designed to strengthen the skills necessary to communicate effectively as a teacher and researcher in physics. While teaching is not a requirement, we offer the opportunity for students to teach at least one semester during their graduate tenure. 

The Responsible Conduct of Research Training

Researchers at Princeton are expected to undertake research with the highest moral and ethical standards. To ensure graduate students conducting research are educated in research ethics, the University and the Graduate School expect all graduate students in the divisions of social science, natural science, and engineering receive training in responsible conduct in research.   Physics Graduate students are required to take the on line "CITI" training (instructions below) by January of their first year.  Once you have completed the on line training email the Graduate Program Administrator a copy of your completion report.  The Graduate Program Administrator will update your RCR Milestone as completed.

Please enter the training via the following link: type in Princeton University, select "continue to SSO login/instructions, login using your Princeton Netid and take the "RCR: Physical Sciences Researcher" course.


The Pre-Thesis Project

The pre-thesis project is a research project in the student's area of interest, conducted under the supervision of a faculty adviser who is likely to become the Ph.D. adviser for the student. The final product is a written report and an oral defense in the presence of a pre-thesis committee, which is strongly encouraged to comprise faculty who will also serve as the student’s Ph.D. committee. The report's length and format are typically comparable to a journal article. It is advisable to include an introduction aimed at physicists who are not expert in the field.

 The goals of the pre-thesis projects are:

  • to give the student a serious introduction to his or her final area of specialization
  • to get the student involved with the faculty in the research group of interest
  • to get the student known by the faculty in the research group of interest

In order to get a rapid start on their thesis research, students are expected to start actively working on their pre-thesis project as soon as possible. The evaluation by the pre-thesis adviser will be an essential part of the reenrollment process at the end of the third year. The pre-thesis defense should take place no later than the fall of the third year. 

It is the student's responsibility to schedule the oral defense and to choose (in consultation with the advisor) the pre-thesis committee which will conduct the oral defense of the pre-thesis project. The pre-thesis committee should consist of at least three faculty members: the advisor, at least one other faculty member expert in the field of the project, and at least one member drawn from the faculty at large. For students whose primary advisor is from outside the department, the other two committee members must be from inside the department. It is the committee's responsibility to ensure that the pre-thesis project and the thesis have a strong physics component. 

The written report should be no more than ~20 pages long:  the format of the report is flexible.  You will provide your advisor and the Graduate Administrator with a final draft of your write-up three days before you present. Your presentation at the defense should be no longer than 30 minutes.  You will get frequent questions. In this oral especially, we are looking for a depth of understanding that is indicative of independent research. You should know far more than you are able to present and that should come across in the presentation.  Once you have a date and time, please contact the Graduate Administrator to reserve a room for you.  

The pre-thesis committee will, under normal circumstances, serve as a standing committee to review progress toward the Ph.D. and to provide advice as appropriate up to and including the student's FPO. In cases where a student changes advisors or research directions, the committee may be reconstituted. Although the pre-thesis committee need not meet again until the FPO, it can be called into session at the request of the candidate, the advisor, or the Director of Graduate Studies. This can be done to review a student's progress towards the Ph.D. or to provide advice on other issues that may arise in the course of a student's research.


Finding a thesis advisor is, of course, a matter of individual negotiation. All students are expected to have advisors and to be embarked on thesis research by the end of their second year.

Procedures concerning primary dissertation advisors

The physics departments is open to interdisciplinary thesis work, as long as this work has a strong physics component. If the student decides to work on his/her pre-thesis or thesis project with a faculty member outside of the department, he/she must receive approval from the DGS. The DGS then requires that the student contact a faculty member in the physics department who will act as second advisor and will guarantee that the pre-thesis project has a strong physics component.

Dissertation and FPO

The Ph.D. is awarded once the dissertation is accepted and the final public oral (FPO) has been completed.