Expected Progress of Physics Graduate Student to Ph.D.
This document describes the Physics Department's expectations for the progress of a typical graduate student from admission to award of a PhD. Because students enter the program with different training and backgrounds and because thesis research by its very nature is unpredictable, the time-frame for individual students will vary. Nevertheless, failure to meet the goals set forth here without appropriate justification may indicate that the student is not making adequate progress towards the PhD, and will therefore prompt consideration by the Department and possibly by Graduate Division of the student’s progress, which might lead to probation and later dismissal.
Graduate students are required to take a minimum of 38 units of approved upper division or graduate elective courses (excluding any upper division courses required for the undergraduate major). The department requires that students take the following courses which total 19 units: Physics 209 (Classical Electromagnetism), Physics 211 (Equilibrium Statistical Physics) and Physics 221A-221B (Quantum Mechanics). Thus, the normative program includes an additional 19 units (five semester courses) of approved upper division or graduate elective courses. At least 11 units must be in the 200 series courses. Some of the 19 elective units could include courses in mathematics, biophysics, astrophysics, or from other science and engineering departments. Physics 290, 295, 299, 301, and 602 are excluded from the 19 elective units. Physics 209, 211 and 221A-221B must be completed for a letter grade (with a minimum average grade of B). No more than one-third of the 19 elective units may be fulfilled by courses graded Satisfactory, and then only with the approval of the Department. Entering students are required to enroll in Physics 209 and 221A in the fall semester of their first year and Physics 211 and 221B in the spring semester of their first year. Exceptions to this requirement are made for: 1) students who do not have sufficient background to enroll in these courses and have a written recommendation from their faculty mentor and approval from the head graduate adviser to delay enrollment to take preparatory classes, 2) students who have taken the equivalent of these courses elsewhere and receive written approval from the Department to be exempted.
If a student has taken courses equivalent to Physics 209, 211 or 221A-221B, then subject credit may be granted for 209, 211 and/or 221A-221B, then subject credit may be granted for each of these course requirements. A faculty committee will review your course syllabi and transcript. A waiver form can be obtained in 372 LeConte from the Student Affairs Officer detailing all required documents. If the committee agrees that the student as satisfied the course requirement at another institution, the student must secure the Head Graduate Adviser's approval. The student must also take and pass the associated section of the preliminary exam. Please note that official course waiver approval will not be granted until after the preliminary exam results have been announced. If course waivers are approved, units for the waived required courses do not have to be replaced for PhD course requirements. If a student has satisfied all first year required graduate courses elsewhere, they are only required to take an additional 19 units to satisfy remaining PhD course requirements. (Note that units for required courses must be replaced for MA degree course requirements even if the courses themselves are waived; for more information please see MA degree requirements).
In exceptional cases, students transferring from other graduate programs may request a partial waiver of the 19 elective unit requirement. Such requests must be made at the time of application for admission to the Department.
The majority of first year graduate students are Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) with a 20 hour per week load (teaching, grading and preparation). A typical first year program for an entering graduate student who is teaching is:
- Physics 209 Classical Electromagnetism (5)
- Physics 221A Quantum Mechanics (5)
- Physics 251 Introduction to Graduate Research (1)
- Physics 301 GSI Teaching Credit (2)
- Physics 375 GSI Training Seminar (for first time GSI's) (2)
- Physics 211 Equilibrium Statistical Physics (4)
- Physics 221B Quantum Mechanics (5)
- Physics 301 GSI Teaching Credit (2)
Students who have fellowships and will not be teaching, or who have covered some of the material in the first year courses material as undergraduates may choose to take an additional course in one or both semesters of their first year.
Many students complete their course requirements by the end of the second year. in general, students are expected to complete their course requirements by the end of the third year. An exception to this expectation is that students who elect (with the approval of their mentor and the head graduate adviser) to fill gaps in their undergraduate background during their first year at Berkeley often need one or two additional semesters to complete their course work.
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