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Graduate Study Degree Programs


 Overview
All students admitted to graduate studies in Physics and Astronomy at Rice enter the Ph.D. program. The department also participates in the Professional Masters Program through its Nanoscale Physics option, the Applied Physics PhD Program, and the Master of Science Teaching programs; the requirements for these degrees are summarized on their respective websites.

To obtain a Ph.D. in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Rice,students complete certain course work, demonstrate their ability to do research by fulfilling the requirements for the MS degree, and then undertake a research program culminating in the defense of a doctoral thesis. Unlike many similar programs around the country, our graduate program offers a great deal of flexibility. Students may choose from awide variety of research topics and take courses that are most suited to their interests, while still obtaining the fundamentals needed by any scientist in their chosen subdiscipline. Our graduate students become involved in research as soon as possible, always by the end of their first year in the program. There is no foreign language requirement, and no comprehensive written qualifying exam on coursework.

REQUIREMENTS FOR CANDIDACY AND DEGREES

  

M.S. Candidacy
  Ph.D. Candidacy
  Course Requirements
  Advisors
  Teaching
  Previous Graduate Work
  

 

Please Note: The following summarizes the Ph.D. and M.S. degree requirements and Department policy regarding admission to candidacy for these degrees. These requirements are given here as a convenience for prospective and enrolled graduate students in our program. While we make every effort to keep the following current and accurate, this web page is not the official document that governs policy. The official Rice University advanced degree requirements are those described in the General Announcements. Thesis requirements are summarized in the Graduate Students area of the Rice pages. It is Rice policy that if requirements change while a student is enrolled, the student may choose to graduate underthe rules in effect when they were admitted to the program, or under those in effect when the student graduates. Related documents of potential use to students are the course requirements for the Ph.D. and M.S. degrees, the listing of courses by research area, and course recommendations for the different groups within the Department.

M.S. Candidacy
The candidate must obtain acceptable grades in 30 semester hours of approved advanced courses, including thesis research, or be enrolled at the time of the recommendation for candidacy in a program which will insure completion of the 30 semester hours by the time that the student completes the M.S. degree. The candidate must engage in a research project involving the candidate's own independent and original work. Awritten statement from the student's research advisor stating that the progress in research is satisfactory and that the research can reasonably be expected to lead to an acceptable M.S. thesis certifies the student for candidacy.

M.S. Degree
The M.S. project is intended to demonstrate that the student is capableof undertaking research and presenting the results in written form.  It is the research advisor's responsibility to limit the scope of the project in such a way that the student can demonstrate reasonable progress in the time allowed.

The committee for the M.S. degree and for Ph.D. candidacy is normally composed of three members of the department with the rank of Faculty or Faculty Fellow. One member is the thesis advisor, one member is appointed by the Graduate Committee to represent the department, and the third is chosen by mutual agreement of the student and thesis advisor. The formal requirements for the M.S. degree are:

  • The student must complete, with acceptable grades, 30 semester hours of approved advanced courses, including thesis research.
  • The student must complete with acceptable grades, or otherwise satisfy the requirements of, at least four of the basic courses for the doctoral degree, as specified below, plus two other approved courses. An average grade of B or better will normally be expected in the student's graduate level physics and astronomy courses, excluding research and teaching.
  • As described below, the student must successfully defend the M.S.thesis, or, at the discretion of the examining committee, a research paper of which the student is a principal author.
  • The student must complete a minimum of one year of graduate study at Rice.
        

M.S. Defense
To obtain an M.S, a student must successfully defend the M.S. thesis. The thesis defense, which is public, is administered by the M.S.committee. Typically the candidate gives a presentation about the work,and the committee examines the candidate on the thesis topic and physical principles related to the thesis. A thesis must be submitted to the Dean of Graduate Studies. A research paper must be submitted to a refereed journal. 

The degree name, either Physics or Astrophysics, will be specified by the student in consultation with the examining committee.

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Ph. D. Candidacy
Achieving candidacy for the PhD implies that a graduate student has (a) completed required coursework, (b) passed required exams to demonstrate his/her comprehensive grasp of the subject area, (c) demonstrated the ability for clear oral and written communication, and (d) shown the ability to carry on scholarly work in his/her subject area.

The requirements for candidacy in the Physics and Astronomy Department are:

  • The candidate must successfully complete the work required for theM.S. degree at Rice, or demonstrate equivalent accomplishment elsewhere.
  • The student must complete with acceptable grades, the courses required for the student's matriculating class. An average grade of B or better will normally be expected in the student's graduate level physics and astronomy courses, excluding research and teaching.
  • The student must submit a list of any courses required by the thesis advisor in addition to the departmental requirements.
  • The student must be enrolled in Graduate Research (PHYS 800) and be progressing satisfactorily toward completion of the Ph.D. thesis.
  • The student must pass an oral candidacy exam, described below, and the research advisor and examining committee must certify the student as an acceptable candidate for the Ph.D.

Ph. D. Candidacy Exam
The Ph.D. candidacy exam is administered by the M.S. committee, and is distinct from the M.S. thesis defense even though the two exams are often conducted sequentially. In the candidacy exam, which is typically not public, committee members ask questions of the student that relate to the underlying physics/astrophysics that is relevant to the proposed thesis area. The body of knowledge that a student is expected to know is determined by faculty in that sub-field. Questions on the qualifying exam will derive from the list of topics summarized below by reasearch group, plus any specialized areas that relate directly to the proposed thesis. Topics are openly available and are not changed too close to the exam. The department delegate on the committee should note which of the subfield knowledge topics were addressed and briefly summarize how the student responded to questions on those topics.

The current list of knowledge topics by subdiscipline is shown below:

Ph. D. Degree
To complete the Ph.D. degree a candidate must write a doctoral thesis and publicly defend it in the final oral examination. The committee that administers the final oral examination for the Ph.D. is composedof two faculty members or Faculty Fellows from the department, and an additional Rice faculty member from outside the Physics and Astronomydepartment. The formal requirements are:

  • The student must complete all course work specified for their matriculating class and any additional courses required by the thesis advisor.
  • The student must satisfactorily complete five semesters of teaching assistance (PHYS 700).
  • The transcript must show at least 90 semester hours credit, including research and teaching, beyond the Bachelor's Degree. At least 60 semester hours of this study must be done as a full-time student in residence at Rice.
  • The student must successfully complete a research project involving independent and original work. The work must be reported in an approved thesis, and defended in a public oral examination.

The degree name, either Physics or Astrophysics, will be specified by the student in consultation with the examining committee.

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Departmental Course Requirements
All degree programs in Physics and Astronomy require students to complete certain courses with satisfactory grades. Since course content changes from time to time, these requirements are subject to modification and students should be careful to fulfill the requirements in effect for their class. Requests for modification of the course requirements must be addressed to the graduate committee. If a petition is necessary, students are stronly encouraged to submit the request in advance of taking the course. For students matriculating after 1 August 2002 the requirements are:

a. At least 8 full (3-credit) graduate courses, other than teaching or research, in the Physics and Astronomy Department.


b. At least four of the courses must be chosen from a basic group consisting of:
            ASTR 451 Sun and Stars
            ASTR 452 Galaxies and Cosmology
            ASTR 470 Solar System Physics
            PHYS 480 Introduction to Plasma Physics
            PHYS 515 Classical Mechanics
            PHYS 521 Quantum Mechanics I
            PHYS 526 Statistical Physics
            PHYS 532 Classical Electrodynamics
            PHYS 541 Radiative Processes

c. At least one of the eight courses must be outside the student's immediate research area.

d. Teaching: 5 semesters of PHYS 700.

e. The thesis advisor may require additional course work.

Students should consult the appended  list of course recommendations by research area to ensure that their course work provides optimal preparation for thesis research. A list of courses approved to satisfy requirement for each research disciplineis also appended. Grades of B or better are considered evidence of satisfactory performance. An average grade of B or better will normally be expected in graduate level physics and astronomy courses, excluding teaching and research. Some research groups may have additional expectations.

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Affiliation and Research Advisors
Thesis research is the heart of the doctoral program. Students are therefore encouraged to learn about research opportunities within the department, beginning early in the first year of graduate study. At the end of the first semester, the faculty reviews the performance of all beginning students. Those who are making satisfactory progress will receive written notice that they should make a research affiliation during the second semester. Those showing unsatisfactory or marginal classroom records will be so advised and their eligibility for research affiliation will be considered by the faculty on a case-by-case basis.Once approved to start research, each student is responsible for selecting a suitable research area and making arrangements to join the research group of a faculty member (including Faculty Fellows) within the department. Students may need to be somewhat flexible in their choice because not all faculty can take additional students in any particular year. Students desiring to work with someone who is not a regular faculty member or Faculty Fellow in Physics and Astronomy may do so with the permission of the Graduate Committee. They will be required to submit a brief outline of the proposed work and to obtain the support of a faculty member within the department who will act as departmental advisor. The proposed topic must be appropriate for a degree in physics or astronomy, and the thesis director must be qualified to supervise the project. Approval will initially be granted only for the MS, with an additional petition and review required for the Ph.D. All research expenses in the department, including most student stipends, are paid by grants and contracts held by faculty. Thus, a student must make a research affiliation well before May 15 of their first year in order to continue in the program and to receive further support.

Teaching
The department considers teaching experience an essential part of graduate training. Thus, full-time graduate students should expect to assume some teaching duties (e.g., teaching labs, grading papers,grading exams, etc.) for the department in addition to research. The amount of time required for any individual student for such tasks will normally not exceed an average of six hours per week. Assignments will be made for 5 semesters, beginning with the second semester at Rice. Students involved in teaching register for PHYS 700 (TeachingPracticum), which indicates on their transcript that they have had teaching experience. Questions about teaching assignments should be directed to the associate chair. Up to two semesters of required teaching may be waived for students who have had significant experienceteaching physics or astronomy elsewhere. Service as a graduate TA would generally qualify for exemption, but work as an undergraduate grader would not. Requests for a waiver should be discussed with one of the chairs of the Graduate Committee soon after arrival at Rice.

Previous Graduate Work
Certain requirements may be modified for students who have done equivalent graduate work elsewhere. Students should consult with one of the chairs of the Graduate Committee to verify the application of the guidelines described below to their particular case. Graduate-level courses taken elsewhere will be evaluated by means of an interview with an appropriate faculty member. Courses will be waived in areas where the student has sufficient background. A research-oriented masters degree, including either a thesis or published paper, may substitute for the thesis portion of the Rice M.S. as qualification for Ph.D.candidacy. The faculty, with the advice of the Graduate Committee, will decide if the previous work is equivalent to that expected for a RiceM.S.. If so, the student desiring to make such a substitution must affiliate with a research group and find an advisor within the department. After at least one year in residence the student must form an examining committee and give an oral defense of the previous work to become a Ph.D. candidate. It is not necessary for the student to resubmit the thesis to the Graduate School, and the student will not receive a Rice M.S.. Similar procedures will apply to students holding an equivalent degree from a foreign institution, regardless of the degree title. Note that a masters or similar degree based only on course work is not equivalent to the Rice M.S.. Students holding such degrees must still demonstrate research ability and defend a thesis or research paper to qualify for Ph.D. candidacy.

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