This Graduate Student Handbook is designed to give you information that will facilitate a rewarding graduate career. It covers general information about our program, of what to expect each year during your physics graduate studies at the University of Minnesota, and summarizes the various requirements to completing a degree program.
The main goal of graduate education is to help you become a productive and independent researcher so that you will be able to have a creative career whether it is in an academic or an industrial setting. To accomplish this goal, we provide students with a wide variety of learning and research opportunities. In addition to conducting independent research, you will also develop other skills such as effective mentoring, aptitude to work with others collaboratively, the ability to give good talks and prepare written materials appropriate for a target audience, and time management. To become an excellent researcher in the broadest sense, you will need to develop all of these skills during your time in graduate school.
It is quite likely you will work as a teaching assistant (TA), and this will be a great opportunity to further develop your ability and techniques to mentor effectively those who have not understood physics as well as you do.
In order to make sure that you are making adequate progress, and not missing any opportunities to acquire and develop the skills listed, we have a number of evaluation mechanisms and milestones during your graduate career. If progress is not satisfactory, you will be advised to focus on areas that need improvement, and sometimes, you may be advised to pursue different career paths as the life of “researcher” is not for everyone. This Overview Chapter presents general information on what to expect each year during your physics graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. The first year in graduate school is very important in getting you started on the right track. It is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. Some aspects of subsequent years are covered in Chapter 3. Chapter 4 outlines the specific requirements for a Master of Science degree (M.S.) in physics. The requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Physics are discussed in Chapter 5. The policies of the Physics Graduate Program concerning graduate students, including those concerning the written qualifying and oral preliminary examinations and financial aid, are contained in Chapter 6.
We have made every effort to make this handbook consistent with the University Catalog Graduate School Catalog. In the event of any conflict, you should always refer to the Graduate School Catalog. If you find any errors or misleading statements in this Handbook, please bring them to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS).
This Handbook is not a substitute for detailed discussions with your faculty adviser. When you first arrive, you are assigned an academic adviser to guide you in course selection and other related academic matters. Communicate with him/her as often as you feel necessary to make sure you are on the right track, but you should see him/her at least once every semester. If your academic adviser is not available, contact the DGS. This should continue until you find a research adviser.
Before classes begin at the University, you will have an extensive formal orientation period. This time is meant to give you the opportunity to become familiar with your new environment, colleagues, and duties before you enter the daily routine of studying, going to classes, attending colloquia and seminars, and teaching. During this period, you will take care of the administrative requirements of filling out necessary forms, getting your office space and keys, getting your picture taken, and arranging for your computer account. We will make clear what the School expects of you and what you should expect of the School. Classes, credit requirements, exams, and research opportunities will be discussed so please bring any questions you have. You will be assigned a faculty academic adviser who will help you plan an initial course schedule. In addition to formal orientation sessions, there will be informal opportunities to meet members of the faculty and experienced graduate students to help you become more familiar with the School.
The Teaching Assistant portion of the orientation is designed to give you the background necessary to be an effective and efficient instructor. It is officially a course that you are required to pass if you have a Teaching Assistant appointment or think that you might like one anytime during the year. During the TA orientation, you will be introduced to the techniques of instruction that you will use to teach your classes. You will get practice teaching laboratories and recitation sections and evaluating students' written work to determine their learning difficulties. The orientation will also address typical student learning difficulties in physics, classroom management techniques, and how to handle difficult situations such as those involving discrimination or dishonesty. You will also be introduced to the experimental and theoretical basis for the teaching techniques used. The entire orientation program occurs during the two weeks prior to the beginning of classes for about 6-8 hours per day. Teaching assignments will be made during this time.
Teaching Assistants whose native language is not English are required by the University to take an additional three-week University Orientation earlier in the summer. This program provides intensive instruction in communication skills and basic teaching strategies geared to American students. To be qualified to teach you must pass a communications test given during that time. If you do not pass the test at a sufficiently high level, you will be required to take a communications skills course during your first term. At the end of that course you will again take the communication test. If you again do not pass the communication test, you must re-take the course. The School will pay your tuition for the course the first time you take it. For any additional term the tuition will be your responsibility.
When you first arrive, you are assigned an academic adviser to guide you in course selection and other related academic matters. Communicate with him/her as often as you feel necessary to make sure you are on the right track, but you should see him/her at least once every semester. If your academic adviser is not available, contact the DGS.
As soon as feasible, you should find a research adviser, who will replace your academic adviser, and will be responsible for guiding you during the research phase of your education as well. A research adviser is required in order for you to be supported during the first Summer at the School. This is a temporary assignment meant to give you some exposure to a research group, and can be changed. We do expect that you will find a permanent research adviser by the end of your second year. Although changes can and do occur after that, the ideal arrangement involves you having settled in a particular research group by the end of the second year.
Many of you will work as a teaching assistant (TA) for a few years, helping with our undergraduate program. Teaching requires new skills compared to research that you also need to develop. One of the most important characteristics of a good teacher is the ability to mentor students, which is different from just being able to explain difficult concepts clearly. Rather effective mentoring requires the ability to assess the level of a given student, and come up with strategies to help him/her learn more effectively. Since this ability is important in anyone’s professional life by allowing you to influence people around you positively and to learn from you, teaching is an important part of your professional training in the graduate program. For this reason, and also because the department’s reputation in undergraduate education depends significantly on the effectiveness of your teaching, it is important that you take your TA assignment seriously.
Keep in mind, however, that since your primary role in our program is to learn to conduct research, you need to learn to balance your effort in teaching and doing research, even if you get great pleasure out of teaching. Balancing among different efforts is another component of your professional training.
Assessment of students’ performance toward a PhD is done in order to ensure progress, and if not successful, to help identify the causes of any problem. No student should stay in the program if he/she lacks sufficient academic and research progress, and does not show evidence of developing important characteristics for success such as enthusiasm and persistence to carry out research, as well as Physics aptitude.
We have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.3 in the core classes (Classical Physics, Quantum Physics, and Statistical Mechanics). Students must pass a Graduate Written Exam (GWE) to make sure they have working knowledge of undergraduate physics prior to entering the research phase of their studies. Students must also pass a Preliminary Oral Exam. Finally, students must complete an annual report of progress.
Scientific and technological advances have had a large impact in the development and welfare of modern society, including our standard of living, travel and communication, increases in life expectancy, medical advances and the eradication of many preventable diseases. As a consequence, society is investing heavily in supporting basic and applied research to further promote these advances, yet allowing a significant amount of freedom on how the research enterprise is organized and managed. In some form or another, yourself and your research in graduate school at the University of Minnesota will be supported directly and indirectly by public funds.
Therefore it is expected that your efforts while in graduate school will be driven not only by your passion for Physics and research more generally, but also by your commitment to ethical principles, and mindful of your contribution to the public trust being placed on you. During your graduate career, you will undergo a quick transition between an academic life dominated by externalities such as assignments, grades, exams, and deadlines, to a research phase which is largely self-motivated and driven by your own interests and efforts. In this new phase, a professional conduct of research involves strict adherence to ethical principles, together with a responsible effort in return for the public trust and investment, and your participation in the shared commitment to progress by all of us at the University.
During the Introduction to Research seminar in your first year, a few of these topics will be covered explicitly. However, we suggest that you also consult the American Physical Society Guidelines for Professional Conduct, the article American Association for the Advancement of Science, Social Responsibility and Research Ethics, and other related publications. Conversations with your adviser and with your graduate school peers are also good ways to develop a life long appreciation of the ethical principles that underpin modern research.
The first year acts as a transition period between your undergraduate and graduate experiences. The main activity is still taking classes to solidify your understanding of Physics, but you are also encouraged to start solidifying your research interests and find a suitable research adviser for your first Summer in our program. Towards this goal, you need to learn about what research is done in the department, and start talking to those professors whose research you are most interested in.
You should expect to take two or three regular courses per semester, including our core courses. In general, you are expected to be enrolled in between 6 and 14 credit hours per semester. In addition, you will take the Graduate Research Seminar which introduces you to the research being done in this School and people doing it. If you are a TA, you will also take the course Best Practices in Physics Teaching. This course explores techniques designed to make your teaching more efficient and successful.
Depending on your background or preparation, you may want to consider taking advanced undergraduate classes (4000 level classes) during this first year, or have some of the required classes waved and directly take more advanced coursework. In either case, you should consult your academic adviser. If you wish to have some of the required course work waived on account of classes that you have already taken before joining the University of Minnesota, you need to contact the DGS for written approval.
You are also encouraged to enroll and attend our weekly Physics Colloquium. This seminar features prominent physicists across a variety of fields, and present their research in a way that is meant to be accessible to beginning graduate students.
Since you are expected to have made arrangements to do research with a faculty adviser during the Summer after your first year, you should do a few things before then besides attending the Research Seminar (Phys 5980) and colloquia. You need to begin discussions with individual faculty members about doing research with them by the Spring Semester. Get into the habit of browsing through some of the more important Physics journals so that you will become familiar with what kind of work is being done in various sub-fields of physics. Periodic seminars in specialized research areas (announced in the department Weekly Calendar) will give you the flavor of current research in more depth. Some of the groups offer informal “Lunch” seminars which are a good way to learn about the basics of a research area, and are often given by senior graduate students. Take every opportunity to ask faculty members, research staff, and students about the research they are doing.
The process of finding a research adviser is quite informal, and we expect you to take the lead in probing areas of research in the School that interest you. It is understood that finding mutually agreeable arrangements takes time, and that you may wish to switch between fields as you become more acquainted with them during the course of your first two years. Be sure to ask about potential for funding, as this is the main constraint that all groups have in accepting new students.
You are expected to take the GWE at the end of your first academic year (after the Final exams in the Spring semester). This is a comprehensive exam that probes your knowledge of the basic subjects in Physics at the advanced undergraduate level. Tips on how to prepare for the exam, are given here, including links to prior exams.
In summary, by the end of the first year you should be well-acquainted with many faculty members and graduate students, you should be working in a research group during the Summer, you should have finished at least 24 credits of coursework with mostly A's, and you should have passed the GWE.
PhD student: During the second year, you should take advanced courses in your chosen research area and learn enough about it so that you can focus on research by the third year. You should attempt to finish most advanced coursework by the end of this year. However, some of the specialized courses are only offered every other year so they might have to be taken during the third year. You will have a second chance to pass the GWE at the end of the second year if you failed your first attempt. However, should you fail again, you will have to finish a terminal M.Sc. degree no later than the Summer of your second year. In terms of research, if your first Summer research worked out well, you certainly want to spend some time during the year on research with your adviser. Some students take their Oral Preliminary Exam in their second year, although it is not necessary. Before you schedule your Oral exam, you need to file a Degree Plan Form. If you, on the other hand, want to explore a different research area or adviser, you really want to do it before your second Summer, and have a new adviser in place by then. Otherwise, you may not be funded during the Summer.
M.Sc. student: Plan A, Plan B. You should find a research adviser early in this year and select either a Plan A, Plan B, or Plan C Master's Degree (see Chapter 4 for more details about various “plans”). Before the beginning of Spring Semester you should be deeply involved in a M.S. thesis or project/paper (plans A or B) with the goal of finishing before the end of Spring Semester. A three-member faculty committee will review the thesis or project/paper and administer a final oral examination for the M.Sc. degree.
By the end of the third year, students are required to file a Graduate Degree Plan form with the Graduate School, and to pass the preliminary oral examination. The exam consists of two parts: a presentation and defense of a thesis proposal, and a second consisting of open questions related to the presentation, and about general issues in Physics related to the research that has been presented.
After completing the Preliminary Oral Exam, a student is eligible to take Ph.D. thesis credits. 24 thesis credits are required for a Ph.D., and should be completed as soon as possible (not exceeding the 14 credit limit in any given semester). After these credits 24 are earned, the student is is designated as “All But Dissertation” (ABD) status.
The third and subsequent years are dominated by research activities, which will conclude with the writing of a thesis, and searching for a job. During this period, students should have regular discussions with their research adviser about their progress. Take every opportunity to talk with seminar and colloquium speakers, post docs, more advanced graduate students, and members of the faculty. The average time for completing a Ph.D. in our School is about 5.7 years. The precise duration depends on many factors, including preparation, perseverance, and sometimes factors outside of the student's control.
You may be eligible for a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, awarded by the Graduate School in a University-wide competition. These Fellowships support your last year of research before graduation, and are generally awarded to students with both a good academic background (e.g., a graduate GPA of 3.5 or higher) and significant research accomplishments (e.g., publication of papers). Deadlines for application are typically in February of the year before your expected graduation.
When you are about a year from completion of your degree, there are some additional items to consider. By now you should have a realistic idea of what type of job you are interested in after Graduate School. It is highly desirable that you have submitted research papers to an appropriate journal, and have given some talks or posters at scientific meetings. Meeting attendance is an excellent way to meet prospective future employers. Most research groups support the travel of graduate students to give presentations at meetings. The School also has some funds to supplement graduate student travel for that purpose. Contact the DGS about this.
Your final task in Graduate School is writing the thesis and defending it. Make sure you have the latest information about the Graduate School thesis format requirements. The thesis defense consists of a public seminar, followed by questions from committee members in a closed session. A well-prepared thesis defense will be a celebration of your achievements and congratulations for a job well done.
Students who make satisfactory progress should not have to pay tuition. Almost all graduate students in our School have an assistantship or a fellowship. Tuition is paid by the School for all teaching assistants (TA's), by a research grant for all research assistants (RA's), and by the University or other organization for fellowships. The fraction of tuition that will be paid is equal to twice the percentage time of the appointment. Thus, 100% of the tuition will be paid for a half-time TA or RA (or a combination of the two). A 100% tuition waiver covers up to 14 semester credits. There is no extra benefit for an appointment greater than 50%. More details about tuition and registration policy are given in Chapter 6.
After completing the Preliminary Oral Exam a student is eligible to take Ph.D. thesis credits. It is important to complete these (24 credits for the Ph.D.) as soon as possible after passing the Oral Exam.
Our program allows formal leave of absence requests for medical or personal issues. It is also possible to take some time away from School activities by registering for “GRAD 999” for no credit (up to 4 semesters). This possibility is open only to US citizens and permanent residents who can maintain “active” student status with the Graduate School in this way. This option does not require a tuition payment, but it does not allow graduate assistant employment nor does it provide health insurance coverage. This option is not possible for non-US citizens because they are required to maintain “full time” status for visa purposes. There is instead a “Reduced Course Load” form provided by ISSS for International Students who wish to register for GRAD 999.
After completing 24 research thesis credits, the student's status becomes “All But Dissertation” (ABD). A student who has achieved ABD status only needs to register for 1 credit per semester to maintain graduate standing. Such students should register for Physics 8444 to facilitate student loan deferment and, for international students, visa requirements. Some students start working outside the University before they finish their theses.
It is important to keep in touch with physics outside of your immediate responsibilities. The School has a number of events and activities. Although other commitments might make participation in these informal activities difficult, they are crucial to your full development as a physicist.
The most important of these activities is the weekly Physics and Astronomy Colloquium. In this colloquium, invited speakers talk about state-of-the-art research in their field. The main purposes of the Colloquium are to learn about the hot topics in your own field of interest and to become knowledgeable about the connections between fields of physics. The Colloquium is followed by a half-hour of coffee, tea and cookies, which is a good opportunity for students to meet other students and faculty members informally.
Once a year the School hosts the Van Vleck Lecture. In this series of lectures, a physicist who has made a significant contribution to the progress of physics gives both a public lecture and a physics colloquium. The speakers in this series are of the highest quality, with many of the speakers being Nobel Laureates. Students have an opportunity to meet with the speaker in an informal setting.
An important part of graduate education is to develop the ability to communicate research results and knowledge at many different levels. Seminars offer students the opportunity to listen to, and sometimes present, research ideas and results.
The graduate students have an organization, ∇Φ (Grad Phi), that organizes social events and disseminates information useful for graduate students. The success of this organization depends on the efforts of the grad students themselves. All graduate students are encouraged to get involved. The ∇Φ nominates graduate students to serve on some of the committees which recommend policies to govern the School. This is an opportunity to learn and practice the skills necessary for a responsible professional in any organization.
Another activity is the Physics picnic that is held in September. This picnic is organized by ∇Φ .
The organization Women in Physics and Astronomy (WiPA) group was established to raise awareness throughout the entire school of not only the important contributions women have made and continue to make in physics and astronomy, but also about the various mechanisms that make it difficult for women to make those contributions. Planned activities raise the visibility of women within the school and encourage interactions amongst female graduate students, faculty and/or research associates. It is hoped that the WiPA group will encourage a respectful climate for women in the school.
A physics degree opens many doors in academia, industry, and in government laboratories. One year before graduation, students should discuss possible job options with their advisers. In a survey of 106 recent graduates, we found 35% went into research at an academic institution (postdoc), 27% worked in industry, 6% worked in government laboratories, 24% went into teaching positions at colleges and universities, while 6% went into the financial industry. The type of job you seek depends on your own goals and aspirations as well as the experience you have gained as a graduate student.
Publications such as Physics Today contain extensive advertisements for available academic positions. These ads generally draw a great number of applicants. In order to stand out, it is generally preferable to make personal contact with prospective employers. Your adviser may know of colleagues who have job openings available, and such contacts are frequently the best way to find jobs. Publishing papers and giving talks or poster presentations at scientific meetings are also excellent ways of making important contacts. It is important to have good contacts with a number of members of the faculty in addition to your adviser so that you can have a good set of letters of recommendation.
The College of Science and Engineering maintains a Career Services Office at 50 Lind Hall (624-4090). If you are interested in an industrial position at either the M.S. or the Ph.D. level, you should register with the Placement Office. They are continually visited by recruiters from high technology companies (and others) both locally and nationally.
|Requirements||M.S. (Plan A)||M.S. (Plan B)||M.S. (Plan C)|
|Total Credits Required (not including thesis credits)||20||30||30|
|Thesis Credits Required||10||0||0|
|Major Courses Required||14 credits, including either 5001/2 or 5011/2||14 credits, including either 5001/2 or 5011/2. 8500 Plan B Project||5001/2, 5011/2, 5201|
|Graduate Written Exam||Take Once||Take Once||Must Pass|
|Preliminary Oral Exam||NA||NA||NA|
|File Graduate Degree Plan||After 10 credits||After 10 credits||After 10 credits|
|Time Limits||*Must complete and have the degree awarded within 5 years after initial enrollment in program||*Must complete and have the degree awarded within 5 years after initial enrollment in program||*Must complete and have the degree awarded within 5 years after initial enrollment in program|
|Transfer credits||Not more than 40% of program||Not more than 40% of program||Not more than 40% of program|
|Preliminary and Final Oral Committee||3 members: 2 from major field, 1 from minor or related fields||3 members: 2 from major field, 1 from minor or related fields||NA|
|Thesis reviewers||All members of oral committee||NA||NA|
*Applies to students admitted after 1/1/13. Students admitted before 1/1/13 will follow old time limit policy of not more than 7 years.
|Total Credits Required (not including thesis credits)||40 (including 8 credits from 8000 level classes, two of which must be research seminar credits)|
|Thesis Credits Required||24 (should be taken after passing the Oral Preliminary Exam - even if it is a pass with reservations- and within two semesters).|
|Major Courses Required||5001/2, 5011/2, 5201, and 5072 for TAs (unless equivalent courses have been taken at another institution, and and the substitution is approved by the DGS in writing).|
|Minimum GPA||3.3 in the required courses|
|Graduate Written Exam||Pass by the Spring of the second year. A second attempt in the second year is conditional on prior completion of all credits and other requirements for a M.Sc. Plan A or B.|
|Preliminary Oral Exam||Pass by end of 3rd year|
|File Graduate Degree Plan||Before taking the Preliminary Oral Exam|
|Time Limits||*Must complete the degree and have the degree awarded within eight calendar years of the initial enrollment in the graduate program|
|Transfer credits||No limit, must be approved by DGS|
|Preliminary and Final Oral Committee||At least 4 members: 3 from major field (adviser plus an experimentalist and a theorist in the same subfield of physics) and 1 with an appointment outside physics.|
|Thesis reviewers||3 reviewers, including committee member from outside physics. Thesis must be approved one week before defense|
*Applies to students admitted after 1/1/13. Students admitted before 1/1/13 will follow old time limit policy of not more than 5 years after completing the Preliminary Oral Exam.
All forms are found in OneStop.
|Form (with proper link to where the forms are)||When||What's in it and why|
|Graduate Degree Plan (https://onestop.umn.edu/node/136601/attachment)||After GWE and at least one semester before Preliminary Oral Exam||Courses taken; to determine whether you have satisfied the 40-credit requirement after having passed or expect to pass all the listed classes.|
|Preliminary Oral Examination Scheduling (www.grad.umn.edu/students/prelimschedule/index.html)||At least one week before Oral Exam||Scheduling Oral Exam|
|Preliminary Oral Examination Report (your adviser will get it from Grad School)||Within one business day after Oral exam||Report of result|
|Doctoral Grad Packet can be requested through (http://apps.grad.umn.edu/secure/gradpacket)||1 semester before Thesis Defense||Graduation checklist, Thesis Reviewer's Report, Application for Degree, Commencement Attendance Approval Form, Preparing Doctoral Dissertation, Deposit Agreement Form|
|Final Oral Exam Scheduling is done online at (www.grad.umn.edu/students/finalschedule/index.html)||One week before exam||Schedule Thesis Defense|
|Form (with proper link to where the forms are)||When||What's in it and why|
|Graduate Degree Plan (https://onestop.umn.edu/node/136601/attachment)||One term prior to degree clearance||Courses taken; to determine whether you have satisfied the 20-credit requirement after having passed or expect to pass all the listed classes.|
|Graduation Packet (http://apps.grad.umn.edu/secure/gradpacket/)||When Graduate Degree Plan has been accepted. Allow 2 weeks for readers to read thesis. One semester before final oral. Application for Degree Form must be submitted on the first business day of the month you will graduate||Application for Degree Form and Thesis Reviewer form|
|Final Examination Report Form||Last business day of the month in which you graduate|
|Form (with proper link to where the forms are)||When||What's in it and why|
|Graduate Degree Plan (https://onestop.umn.edu/node/136601/attachment)||One term prior to degree clearance||Courses taken; to determine whether you have satisfied the 30-credit requirement after having passed or expect to pass all the listed classes.|
|Graduation Packet (http://apps.grad.umn.edu/secure/gradpacket/)||When Graduate Degree Plan has been accepted. Allow 2 weeks for readers to read reports. One semester before final oral. Application for Degree Form must be submitted on the first business day of the month you will graduate||Application for Degree Form and Final Examination Report/Final Report Form|
|Final Examination Report Form||Last business day of the month in which you graduate|
|Form (with proper link to where the forms are)||When||What's in it and why|
|Graduate Degree Plan (http://policy.umn.edu/forms/otr/otr198.pdf)||One term prior to degree clearance||Courses taken; to determine whether you have satisfied the 30-credit requirement after having passed or expect to pass the listed classes.|
|Graduation Packet (http://apps.grad.umn.edu/secure/gradpacket/)||When Graduate Degree Plan has been accepted. Application for Degree Form must be submitted on the first business day of the month you will graduate||Application for Degree Form|
|Form (with proper link to where the forms are)||What's in it and why|
|Graduate School Petition Form (http://policy.umn.edu/forms/otr/otr190.pdf)||To request changes to coursework on approved Graduate Degree Plan (GDP). Or request to add or remove a minor.|
|Change of Status/Readmission Request Form (www.grad.umn.edu/admissions/registration/readmission/index.html)||For readmission or change of major/degree objective|
|Special Purpose Forms (www.grad.umn.edu/students/forms/doctoral/index.html)||Application for Advanced Doctoral Status, Letter of Certification, Thesis or Dissertation Hold, Conservancy Deposit Agreement|
|Registration Exception Form (http://onestop.umn.edu/special_for/graduate_students.html)||Submit a request to change your registration (e.g., add, drop, change your grade basis) after a deadline|