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. 

Courses

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 advanced part of the general examination. 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 advisor by the end of the second year.

General Examination. The core curriculum is divided in three groups, and students are required to take and pass (at least) one course in each group, within the first two years of study. Thus minimally, a student needs to pass three core courses. A passing grade is a B or higher. The three groups and associate courses are:

  Quantum Mechanics/Quantum Field Theory:

  • PHY 506 Quantum Mechanics
  • PHY 509 Relativistic Quantum Theory I
  • PHY 510 Relativistic Quantum Theory II
  • PHY 529 Introduction to High Energy Physics

  Condensed Matter/Biophysics/Atomic Physics:

  • PHY 525 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics I
  • PHY 526 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics II
  • PHY 551 Atomic Physics (not taught every year)
  • PHY 561 & 562 Biophysics

  General Relativity/High Energy Physics:

  • PHY 523 Introduction to General Relativity
  • PHY 524 Advanced Topics in General Relativity
  • PHY 529 Introduction to High Energy Physics

In the first fall semester, the students take a general physics course to supplement their basic physics background and prepare for the preliminary exam. Students are encouraged to take other more advances courses to expand their knowledge in their chosen specialty. Students can sign up for all these courses through TigerHub.

Preliminary examination

To assist in measuring progress, students take a preliminary examination covering the subjects of electromagnetism, elementary quantum mechanics, mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics in January or May of the first year.   Students should take courses in the areas they need the most work in and are encouraged to join the study groups that form during the term.

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 CITI training by January of their second year.

Experimental Project

The second section of the general examination is the experimental project, which consists of a report and oral presentation on an experiment that the student has either performed or assisted others in performing at Princeton and is completed by the fall of the second year. 

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

The Pre-Thesis Project

This is a research project in the student's area of interest, to be done under the supervision of a faculty advisor. The final product is a written report and an oral defense in the presence of a pre-thesis 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

The physics department is very eager to get the students up to a rapid start on their thesis research. Hence, during their second year, students are expected to start actively working on their pre-thesis project. The evaluation by the pre-thesis advisor will be an essential part of the reenrollment process at the end of the second 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 sit through 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 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.

Thesis

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.