Formal Requirements for Graduate Study

A. The Master of Arts Degree

(See section C below for full details)

  1. Prerequisites: A Bachelor’s degree in Physics or a closely related field.
  2. Course Requirements: 8 courses (32 credits, exclusive of the teaching fellow course, PY 699 and the Scholarly Methods courses PY 961 and 962) including Quantum Mechanics I & II (PY 511-512), Electrodynamics I (PY 521), Mathematical Physics (PY 501), Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics I (PY 541), a physics elective (e.g., PY 543, PY 551, or a similar-level course), and Advanced Lab (PY 581).
  3. Written Comprehensive: a student must obtain at least a pass grade on the comprehensive exam. The comprehensive exam must initially be taken no later than September of the second year of study.
  4. Miscellaneous Requirements: Deadlines and Registration requirements. A terminal Master’s program must be completed within 3 years.

B. The Doctor of Philosophy Degree

(See section D below for full details)

  1. Prerequisites: Completion of the Boston University Master’s Degree requirements or admission to the Post-Master’s PhD program.
  2. Course Requirement: 8 courses (32 credits) beyond those used to fulfill the Master’s degree requirements. These must include Advanced Lab (PY 581), if not already taken to fulfill Master’s requirements, and at least 2 distribution courses from the course category outside the student’s area of specialization. For post-Master's students, the 8 courses must include at least 5 lecture courses numbered between 500 and 850 (excluding PY 699), and up to 3 non-lecture courses (850 level and above), but no more than 1 directed study course and 1 seminar course. Post-Bachelor's students may take up to 6 non-lecture courses total for the PhD course requirement, with no more than 2 directed study courses and 2 seminar courses. First year students are required to take the Scholarly Methods courses PY 961 and 962.
  3. Qualifying Examinations: A student must pass the written comprehensive examination with distinction and pass the preliminary oral examination.
    1. Post-Bachelor’s students must initially take the comprehensive exam no later than the September of the second year of study. Post-Master’s students must initially take the comprehensive exam no later than January of the first year of study.
    2. The preliminary oral examination should be taken within 1 year of completing the written comprehensive exam, but no later than January of the 3rd year for post-Bachelor’s students and May of the second year for post-Master’s students.
  4. Advisor and Thesis Committee: After passing the preliminary oral exam, the student must choose an advisor and, subsequently, the student and advisor should form a thesis committee.
    1. A student must have a research advisor within 6 months and an entire committee within 1 year of passing the preliminary oral examination, or no later than the end of the third year for post-Bachelor’s students and no later than the end of the second year for post-Master’s students.
  5. Interim Progress Report: The student must prepare a three to five page description of their research activities. The report should be read and signed by the student’s research advisor. The report will include a description of the research activities being done by the student, and the anticipated research scope and time-scale for completion of the PhD. The report is to be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies after passing the Oral Qualifying Exam, and no later than the Spring semester of the student’s fourth year of physics graduate studies.
  6. Departmental Seminar and Dissertation Prospectus: A student must present a research seminar (which will be attended by the thesis committee and is open to all members of the Department) on their thesis topic. The student, in consultation with his/her advisor will submit a dissertation prospectus to the committee at least 2 weeks before the seminar.
    1. The Departmental Seminar must be presented within 2 years of passing the preliminary oral examination, and at least 6 months before the final oral examination.
    2. The committee will meet privately with the student following the seminar to provide guidance on completing the PhD project.
  7. Dissertation and Final Oral Examination: A student’s research must be presented in a written PhD dissertation and defended at the Final Oral Examination.
  8. Miscellaneous Requirements: Deadlines and Registration requirements.
    1. The PhD program must be completed within 7 years for post-Bachelor's students and within 5 years for post-Master's students.

Note: Students who wish to follow an academic program that departs from the requirements given here must consult with their faculty advisor or the Director of Graduate Studies. Where appropriate, a petition for waiving a particular requirement may be submitted to the Graduate Committee.

 

C. THE MASTER OF ARTS (MA) DEGREE

1. Prerequisites

A student should have completed a Bachelor’s degree, typically in physics with a GPA of 3.0 or higher.

2. Course Requirements

Eight courses (32 credits) are required with grades of B- or higher. These include Quantum Mechanics I & II (PY 511-512), Electrodynamics I (PY 521), Mathematical Physics (PY 501), Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics I (PY 541), a physics elective (e.g., PY 543, PY 551, or a similar-level course), and Advanced Lab (PY 581). A student with more than 2 failing grades (C+ or lower) will be terminated from the program.

A student with a strong background may petition the Graduate Committee to be excused from specific courses. A successful petitioner must still satisfy the overall 8-course requirement. Up to 2 qualifying lecture courses may be transferred from other universities, if they have not been used previously for degree credit.

PY 699 must be taken each semester by all students serving as Teaching Fellows that semester. PY 961 and 962 must be taken by all first year students.

3. Written Comprehensive Examination

To qualify for the Master’s degree, a student must pass the written comprehensive examination.

3.1 Examination Option

A full description of the written comprehensive examination appears in the outline of the PhD program. A student must initially take this examination in September of the second year. A passing grade qualifies a student for the degree of Master of Arts; a pass with distinction is needed to qualify for the PhD degree.

3.2 Deadlines

M.A. degrees are awarded in September, January, and May. There are four important deadlines preceding graduation; the diploma application deadline is pertinent to all students who wish to receive the M.A. degree, while the remaining deadlines apply to students who are pursuing the thesis option. The diploma application is always due on the first of the month; however, only the month of the remaining deadlines are given, since the actual dates vary from year to year. Consult the Department Office for the precise dates.

Graduation date January May September
Thesis title approval to GRS May November April
Diploma Application 1 November 1 February 1 July
First draft of Thesis October March July
Thesis due at GRS December April August

4. Miscellaneous Requirements

A terminal Master’s program must be completed within 3 years. Students must be registered both in the preceding semester and in the semester during which the degree requirements are fulfilled. Up to 2 semesters of leave of absence is permitted for appropriate cause. The authorized leave period is counted towards the time allowed for completion of degree requirements.

 

D. THE DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY (PhD) DEGREE

1. Prerequisites

A student must fulfill MA degree requirements in physics at Boston University, or be admitted to the post-Master’s PhD program in the Physics Department.

2. Course Requirements

Eight courses (32 credits) beyond those used to fulfill the M.A. degree requirements are required (with grades of B- or higher). These must include Advanced Lab (PY 581), if not already taken to fulfill M.A. requirements, and at least 2 distribution courses from outside the student’s research specialty (see the Appendix for details and course listings). For post-Master students, the 8 courses must include at least 5 lecture courses numbered between 500 and 850 (excluding PY 699), and up to 3 non-lecture courses (850 level and above), but no more than 1 directed study course and 1 seminar course. Post-Bachelor students may take up to 6 non-lecture courses total for the Ph.D. course requirement, with no more than 2 directed study course and 2 seminar courses. A student with more than 2 failing grades (C+ or lower) in all Boston University graduate courses will be terminated from the program.

A student who has taken an advanced undergraduate laboratory course may petition to be excused from PY 581. A successful petitioner must still satisfy the overall 8 course/5 lecture course requirement. For post-Bachelor students, up to 4 qualifying lecture courses may be transferred from other universities, if they have not been used previously for degree credit. Of these, only 2 may be credited toward an M.A. degree. There is no provision for transfer credit for post-Master’s students. Courses transferred from other universities cannot be used to fulfill the distribution requirement.

3. Qualifying Examinations

A student is required to demonstrate proficiency in Physics on the Written Comprehensive Examination that covers a range of fundamental topics, and a more specialized Preliminary Oral Examination. The written exam must be completed with distinction before a student is eligible to attempt the oral exam. The oral involves presenting the results of a limited-scale research project. In this oral exam, the candidate is expected to demonstrate both research competency and mastery of the basic knowledge. The detailed requirements for each examination are outlined below. The written and oral examinations together constitute the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination required by the Graduate School. Upon successful completion of both sections, the student is formally advanced to Ph.D. candidacy and may begin a doctoral research project.

3.1 Written Comprehensive Examination

The Written Comprehensive Examination consists of two sessions that are given twice each year, in September and January, generally on the Wednesday and Friday mornings prior to the beginning of instruction. The examination tests knowledge of five basic areas of physics at approximately the M.A. degree level in the United States, corresponding to the 500-level physics courses at Boston University. These areas are: (i) Classical Mechanics, (ii) Electromagnetic Theory, (iii) Quantum Mechanics, (iv) General Physics, (v) Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics. The possible examination grades are fail, pass, or pass with distinction (high pass). While a pass grade is sufficient to qualify for the Master’s degree, a Ph.D. degree candidate must attain a pass with distinction.

3.1.1 Post-Bachelor’s Program

Post-Bachelor’s students are expected to take the examination initially no later than September of the second year of study at Boston University. The exam deadlines for January admittees are the same as if admission had occurred in the previous September. Students not achieving a high pass on the first attempt are expected to re-take the examination when it is next offered. Generally, only two examination attempts are permitted.

If a high pass is not achieved by the second attempt, a student who has satisfied the appropriate course requirements may receive a terminal M. A. degree if the comprehensive examination was passed at the Master’s level.  The student is expected to leave the program at the end of the second academic year at Boston University. Teaching Fellow support or other types of financial aid are normally discontinued at this time.

A single early attempt -- "free shot" -- may be taken by all students immediately upon entering the BU graduate physics program in August at the start of the first year. The exam results will not count toward the two official attempts.  However, if a high pass is achieved, then the exam shall be counted. Each time the exam is taken, students must attempt all days that are not yet "high passed."

3.1.2 Post-Master’s Program

All post-Master’s students are expected to take the examination initially in September of the first year (immediately upon arrival at Boston University). This attempt is regarded as ``free’‘ and will not be counted as one of the two allowed formal attempts if the result is not a high pass. If a high pass is not achieved, the exam results will be used to advise students of an appropriate course curriculum.
The first official attempt should occur no later than January of the first year after admission into the program. Exam deadlines for January admittees are the same as if admission had occurred in the previous September. Students not achieving a high pass on the first attempt are expected to re-take the exam when it is next offered. Generally, only two exam attempts are permitted. Each time the exam is taken, students must attempt all days that are not yet "high passed."

If a high pass is not achieved by the second attempt, a student is expected to leave the program at the end of the second academic year. Teaching Fellow support or other types of financial aid are normally discontinued at this time.

3.2 Preliminary Oral Examination

The Preliminary Oral Examination has four purposes: (i) to enable faculty to judge a student’s ability to carry out Ph.D.-level research, (ii) to allow a student to explore a research field and possible thesis topic, (iii) to allow a student and faculty member to test a working relationship, and (iv) to test the student’s breadth of knowledge, awareness of literature, and understanding of the relation of the research to other physics fields. Completion of the oral exam is a crucial first step in beginning a physics research career.

3.2.1 Prerequisites

A pass with distinction in the Written Comprehensive Examination and completion of the Advanced Laboratory requirement.

3.2.2 Deadlines

The Preliminary Oral Examination is normally taken within 1 calendar year of successful completion of the Written Comprehensive Examination, but no later than January of the third year after admission for post-Bachelor’s students, and no later than May of the second year for post-Master’s students.

3.2.3 Procedures

A candidate finds a faculty advisor and together they formulate a test project. The nature of the project and the degree of faculty supervision should be determined by mutual agreement. Generally, a student enrolls in a directed study or research course with the faculty advisor and engages in a research project. An experimental project might consist of a feasibility study, a study of the implications of published experimental results, or an actual experiment. A theoretical project might entail concentrated study on a specific topic, or a theoretical calculation based on newly-acquired knowledge. It is strongly recommended, though not required, that the project involve original research. The nominal duration of the project is 1 semester.

When the project is completed, the student undergoes an oral examination that is conducted by a committee of four faculty members, including the faculty supervisor. The committee is proposed by the supervisor and must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. The committee will include at least one faculty member familiar with the subject matter of the project (other than the advisor), one member from outside of the candidate’s research field, and one member in the opposite technical discipline (theory or experiment) of the candidate. The committee should be finalized at least 3 weeks prior to the examination. At least 2 weeks before the examination, the student must submit a one-page abstract to the examination committee. The examination is open only to members of the Graduate School faculty.

The preliminary oral examination consists of two parts. The first is an oral presentation of the project that should last no more than 45 minutes. The presentation should be in a seminar style that is accessible to a non-specialized audience. By tradition, only interruptions for minor points of clarification are permissible. During the second part of the exam immediately following, the student may be questioned about details of the presentation, his/her understanding of related fields of physics, the basic physical principles underlying any aspect of this project, and the relevance of the project to a broader context. The questioning may be far-ranging, as befits a qualifying exam. The entire exam normally lasts 1.5 to 2 hours.

At the end of the exam, the student is excused and the examining committee decides on either a passing or failing grade. A student who passes the preliminary oral examination is advanced to Ph.D. candidacy and should continue with dissertation research. In the case of a failing grade, the committee will submit its assessment of the student’s performance to the Director of Graduate Studies. Based on this, as well as a review of the student’s academic status, a recommendation to the student will be formulated. Generally, a student is allowed one additional attempt to pass the oral examination.

4. Selection of Advisor and Thesis Committee

The work leading to a Ph.D. dissertation should be carried out under the guidance of a faculty member in the Physics Department at Boston University. A student wishing to work with a faculty member outside the department should contact the Director of Graduate Studies for advice. The determination of a suitable advisor is a critical decision that requires careful investigation by the student. Often, a student continues his/her association with the faculty supervisor from the Preliminary Oral Examination. The student’s advisor becomes the first reader of the Ph.D. dissertation. The advisor must be chosen within 6 months after successful completion of the preliminary oral exam. In some cases, however, the association between the student and the faculty supervisor may be dissolved. Such an action does not affect the student’s Ph.D. candidacy; however, the student is expected to find another research supervisor within the overall 6-month time limit.

Within 1 year of a student’s successful completion of the Preliminary Oral Examination or no later than the end of the third year for post-Bachelor’s students and no later than the end of the second year for post-Master’s students, the advisor, in consultation with the student, should propose a Thesis Committee for approval by the Director of Graduate Studies. The Committee consists of the First and Second Reader, and three additional faculty members, one of whom will serve as formal Committee Chair. Normally three committee members are in the candidate’s research field, while one committee member should be in a disjoint research field, and the remaining committee member must be in the opposite technical discipline (theory or experiment) of the candidate. Where appropriate, the committee may include faculty from other departments of Boston University and up to one member outside Boston University. The external member receives a special one-day appointment for official service at the dissertation defense.

5. The Interim Progress Report

The student must prepare a three to five page description of her/his research activities. The report should be read and signed by the student’s research advisor. The report will include a description of the research activities being done by the student, and the anticipated research scope and time-scale for completion of the PhD. The report is to be submitted to the Director of Graduate Studies after passing the Oral Qualifying Exam, and no later than the Spring semester of the student’s fourth year in Physics Graduate Studies.

6. The Departmental Seminar and Dissertation Prospectus

The Ph.D. candidate is required to give a generally-accessible presentation related to the thesis project as part of a regularly scheduled ``Graduate Seminar Series’‘. The seminar must be scheduled so that the entire thesis committee is present; all faculty and students are encouraged to attend. The seminar should be given within 2 years of completing the preliminary oral, and at least 6 months before the final dissertation defense. At this stage of a student’s career, research work may still be incomplete; this may be reflected in the seminar itself.

At least 2 weeks prior to the seminar, the student must submit a written dissertation proposal to the thesis committee. This proposal must:

  1. Be at least 2 pages and no more than 4 single-spaced pages;
  2. Provide a clear statement of the problem being studied and a self-contained discussion of the investigative techniques being applied;
  3. Contain the main headings and all the subheadings of the thesis. Each section and most of the subsections should be augmented by several explanatory sentences.

A primary goal of the graduate seminar is to provide a student with an opportunity to practice delivering a professional research talk. In contrast to the preliminary oral, the student should anticipate that challenging questions will be asked throughout the talk. This experience is meant to provide useful practice for job interview talks or presentations at professional meetings. Questions that are not answered competently may form the basis for constructive suggestions for the candidate.

At the conclusion of the seminar, the thesis committee should meet privately with the student to provide feedback regarding: (i) suggestions for the written thesis proposal, (ii) weaknesses in the student’s background, (iii) specific shortcomings in the research work that, if not addressed, could prevent approval of the dissertation at the final defense. There is no formal grade associated with the seminar and no provision for a second seminar. The Departmental Seminar is both practice for the professional world and an opportunity to apply mid-course corrections that increase the likelihood of a positive outcome at the dissertation defense.

The thesis proposal, as modified by suggestions from the committee and after official certification by the First and Second Readers and the Director of Graduate Studies, constitutes the “Dissertation Prospectus”. This document must be filed with the Graduate School approximately 7 months preceding the dissertation defense (see section 7.4 for deadlines).

7. Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

When the faculty supervisor determines that the research has matured, the student writes a first draft of the dissertation and submits it to the supervisor and the second reader. This should occur approximately 2 months before the thesis defense (see section 7.4 for deadlines). Revisions may be requested. Once approved, a final draft should be prepared and distributed to the full dissertation committee.

7.1 Dissertation Contents

An acceptable Ph.D. dissertation must:

  1. Contain an account of original physics research work, carried out by the candidate, that leads to a definite new result.
  2. Critically evaluate previous research in the candidate’s field.
  3. Present the results of a scientific investigation in an intelligible and logical manner. It should be a cohesive and comprehensive document rather than a compilation of disjoint publications.

It is expected that one or more papers based on the dissertation project will be submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. If the results of the dissertation represent collaborations with faculty members or with other students, the portion that is the candidate’s research work should be identified, and this component of the research should fulfill the criteria listed above.

For detailed regulations concerning the dissertation typographical format, the number of copies required, micro-filming and binding arrangements, and related questions, please refer to the pamphlet entitled ``Regulations on the Preparation of the Dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy’‘, that is distributed by the Graduate School Office.

7.2 Dissertation Abstract

The dissertation abstract is limited to 350 words and should succinctly describe the subject of the dissertation, the methods used, and the basic results. The abstract must be approved by the First Reader, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the Department Chair. After departmental review, the abstract is reviewed by the Dean’s office and the Provost’s office. Due to the public nature of the dissertation abstract, the following guidelines should be followed to ensure a positive external review.

  1. The abstract should contain clear statements of: (a) the problem studied, (b) the investigative methods used, and© the results. Use lay terminology to the maximum extent feasible.
  2. Acronyms and jargon, except the most universal, must be defined at their first appearance.
  3. The abstract should be written in the first person, where appropriate, so that the contribution of the student is clearly delineated.

The dissertation abstract is due at the Graduate School at least 3 weeks prior to the Final Oral Exam.

7.3 Final Oral Exam

After the final draft of the thesis has been distributed to the committee, the student and advisor should plan the dissertation defense. The defense is formally scheduled through the Department Office, which notifies the Graduate School. Distribution of the final thesis draft and departmental notification of the Graduate School must occur at least 2 weeks prior to the defense.

The dissertation defense consists of two parts. The first is open to the public and consists of a formal presentation of the candidate’s research that should last no more than 45 minutes. The talk should be accessible to a non-specialized audience, with emphasis on a clear presentation. By tradition, only interruptions for minor points of clarification are permissible. The second part, which follows immediately, is a question period that is open only to members of the Faculty in the Graduate School of Boston University. The candidate will be asked to defend the dissertation in detail and may be questioned on the background, scope, and limits of the work, the completeness of data or calculations, and the validity of the conclusions.

At the end of the defense, the student is excused and the examining committee decides on either a passing or failing grade. In the case of a passing grade, specific revisions may be required prior to the submission of thesis to the Graduate School. In the case of a failing grade, the committee formulates a plan that could include substantial thesis revisions and possibly additional research or study, and also determines a timetable for resubmitting the thesis and rescheduling the defense.

7.4 Deadlines

Ph.D. degrees are awarded in January and May. The diploma application is always on the first of the month; however, only the month of the remaining deadlines are given, since the actual dates vary from year to year. These dates refer to the academic year in which the degree is to be awarded. Consult the Department Office for the precise dates.

Graduation date January May
Dissertation Outline April October
Diploma Application 1 November 1 February
First Draft of Dissertation October February
Dissertation Abstract (350 words max.) Three weeks prior to the Defense
Final Draft of Dissertation Two weeks prior to the Defense
Thesis Defense Scheduled at GRS Two weeks prior to the Defense
Last date to hold defense December April
Dissertation due at GRS December April

8. Miscellaneous Requirements

The Ph.D. program must be completed within 7 years for post-Bachelor students and within 5 years for post-Master students. There is a 5-year time limit for Ph.D. candidacy status. A student must also be registered in the preceding semester and in the semester during which the degree requirements are fulfilled. Up to 2 semesters of leave of absence is permitted for appropriate cause. The authorized leave period is counted towards the time allowed for the completion of degree requirements.

APPENDIX: Ph.D. Distribution Requirements

A student whose research specialty lies within Category I subjects must take 2 distribution courses in Category II and vice versa. These distribution courses are listed below. The > indicates that only one of PY 502 or PY 621 may be used to count toward the distribution requirement. The third column indicates the frequency and the semester that the course is normally offered (A – offered annually, B – offered biannually, D – offered upon sufficient demand; 1 – fall semester, 2 – spring). Two-semester courses marked A/D indicate that the first course is offered annually, while the second is offered on demand. The actual schedule of course offerings is published annually by the department.

Category I: Elementary Particle, Computational, and Mathematical Physics

PY502> Computational Physics A/1
PY522> Electromagnetic Theory II A/1
PY621> Advanced Computational Physics A/2
PY551 Introduction to Particle Physics A/2
PY713/714 Quantum Field Theory I & II A/D
PY751/752 Particle Theory I & II A/D
PY561 Introduction to Nuclear Physics D
PY701/702 Advanced Mathematical Physics D
PY731 Theory of Relativity D
PY761/762 Nuclear and Intermediate-Energy Physics D
PY811 Advanced Quantum Field Theory D

Category II: Biophysics, Computational, and Condensed-Matter Physics

PY502> Computational Physics A/1
PY522> Electromagnetic Theory II A/1
PY621> Advanced Computational Physics A/2
PY542 Statistical Mechanics II A/1
PY543 Introduction to Solid State Physics A/2
PY741/742 Solid State Physics I & II A
PY743 Low Temperature Physics B/1
PY744 Polymer Physics B/1
PY747 Advanced Statistical Mechanics B/2
PY771 Biophysics B/1
PY841 Symmetry in Solid State Physics D
PY842 Many-Body Topics in Solid State Physics D