To obtain a Ph.D. in the Physics and Astronomy Department at Rice,students complete certain course work, demonstrate their ability to engage in advanced research and demonstrate their knowledge of the discipline. Each student must complete at least eight approved graduate courses, an oral Ph.D. candidacy exam, write and defend a research proposal, and complete the teaching practicum. The degree is conferred upon successful public defense of a Ph.D. research thesis. Unlike many similar programs around the country, our graduate program offers a great deal of flexibility. Students may choose from a wide 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
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 under the 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 Applied Physics 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. DegreeThe P&A department admits graduate students into the doctoral program. It is not the intent to admit students who only wish to pursue a masters degree.
Completion of a masters degree is not a requirement for the PhD. However, it is recognized that this
credential is important to some students. Students can request the awarding of a (non-thesis) MS degree
on the way to completion of the doctorate upon satisfaction of the requirements listed below.
The MS degree is conferred upon successful completion of specified coursework and engagement in original research. The type of
degree and the degree name, either Physics or Astrophysics, will be specified by the student in
consultation with the adviser and chair of the graduate program committee. The formal requirements for the M.S. degree
Back To The Top
Ph. D. CandidacyAchieving 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 research presentation and the first attempt at the candidacy exam must be completed by early in the
student’s fifth semester (no later than the end of the fifth week of the fifth semester). If needed, a
second attempt at the candidacy exam must be completed by the end of the student’s fifth semester. If
the student does not pass the second time, then the student will be asked to leave the doctoral program.
Research Progress and Proposal report:The report serves three valuable purposes: (1) To
demonstrate that the student is conducting research at an appropriate level; (2) to give students practice
at writing about their work; and (3) to provide essential context and background so that the outside-area
members and peers can understand the research plan. The report should be carefully written with
properly cited references. The RRP should contain:
Again, while this does not have to be polished like a publication, it is strongly encouraged that the
adviser should read this document and provide feedback to the student prior to the document being given
to the committee. The RPP should be no longer than 20 double-spaced pages including figures and
references (no longer than about 5 journal pages). The RPP should be given to the committee at least
two weeks prior to the presentation. The document will be retained in the student’s internal
The oral presentation should be no longer than about 30 minutes, and touch on the three main elements
above. The research presentation can be public at the discretion of the adviser.
Ph. D. Oral Candidacy ExamThe oral candidacy exam will be closed-door (just the student and the
committee members) and will be based on the subject-specific topics listed in the Graduate Handbook
and on the P&A departmental webpage. The student will demonstrate competence in the chosen
research area by being able to correctly answer questions on the topics described in the sub-discipline
exam topics list. Typical lists of important topics by specialty are given below,
although greater specificity may be defined by discussion between the examining committee and the
student in advance of the examination.
The current list of knowledge topics by subdiscipline is shown below:
The questions should cover a significant fraction of the topics on that list. The exam may also end up
covering basic core physics competency as examiners attempt to guide the student, and the student
should demonstrate competence in core physics and/or astronomy topics by satisfactorily answering
questions in those areas. The combined duration of the exam and research presentation in one session is
to be no more than two hours. The exam by itself should be no more than 90 minutes.
The outside-area member of the student’s advisory committee will keep track of the questions asked and
will write up a brief summary for internal department records.
Ph. D. DegreeTo 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 composed of two faculty members or Faculty Fellows from the department, and an additional Rice faculty member from outside the Physics and Astronomy department. The formal requirements are:
The degree name, either Physics or Astrophysics, will be specified by the student in consultation with the examining committee.
Departmental Course RequirementsAll 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 2015 the requirements are:
a. At least 8 full (3-credit) graduate courses, other than research, in the Physics and Astronomy Department. These courses must be chosen from the list given in the Graduate Student Handbook under Appendix: Graduate Courses by Topic. A student may petition the Graduate Program Committee to use courses outside of this list to satisfy the requirement.
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.
Affiliation and Research AdvisorsThesis 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. 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.
TeachingThe 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 five hours per week. Assignments will be made for 4 semesters, beginning with the second semester at Rice. 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 experience teaching 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 WorkCertain 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.
Advice and Support for Graduate Students
Further details on the program, especially on advising, is given in the Department's Graduate Student Handbook. The hanbook is meant as a resource for P&A graduate students, providing a handy , concise guide to essential information about the graduate degree program, but it is only one source of information. If you cannot find the answers to your departmental programmatic questions here, please do not hesitate to contact the departmental staff (including the graduate program coordinator, Ms. Rosa Almendarez), the Chairs of the Graduate Program Committee (currently Prof. Marjorie Corcoran and Prof. Thomas Killian), the Associate Chair of the department (Prof. Stan Dodds), or the Departmental Ombudsperson (currently Prof. David Alexander). All faculty and staff serve as part of the support network for graduate students, but the ombudsman in particular is a good person to contact for confidential discussion and advice on a wide range of topics.
For current students, faculty are specifically assigned as graduate student advisors to answer academic questions. We are available to guide you through the process. That being said, graduate students are adults, and there is a presumption that students will take responsibility and initiative – these are certainly necessary for a successful doctoral degree! Please ask questions and keep on top of deadlines and requirements. We look forward to working with you.