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graduate_handbook:introduction

Overview

This Graduate Student Handbook is designed to give you information that will facilitate a rewarding graduate career. The Overview Chapter presents general information of what to expect each year during your physics graduate studies at the University of Minnesota. This includes topics such as money and jobs.

The first year is very important in getting you started on the right track in Graduate School. 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 more authoritative 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.

As soon as feasible, you should find a research adviser, who will have more effect on your graduate career than any person other than yourself. If you have questions that your adviser cannot answer, either you or your adviser should direct them to the DGS.

Goals of Physics Graduate Education: The main goal of the graduate education in our department is to mentor students so that they can lead a productive life doing independent research. To accomplish this goal, we provide students with research opportunities, which are typically done over the last three years of students' life in the department.

Students will need to take additional coursework beyond their undergraduate education. This takes two to three years.

Milestones Aptitudes to carry out productive research depend on various factors. We have several ways to evaluate them, and advise students about their path based on the outcome. Students without appropriate aptitude for physics research will be advised to conclude the program with a Master's Degree.

  • 1. We have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.3 in the core classes (classical, quantum and statistical mechanics).
  • 2. Students must pass a Graduate Written Exam (GWE) to make sure they have working knowledge of undergraduate physics.
  • 3. Students must also pass a Preliminary Oral Exam to verify their ability to start research.

In addition, we survey students' progress once a year to assess if they are making satisfactory progress towards their degree, and remedy any problem that may be present.

The First Year

The goal for your first year is to develop your talents and prepare you for research in your chosen area. This is achieved through courses that provide a sound grounding in physics, a colloquium and seminars that introduce you to current research directions, and a teaching experience that develops leadership and communication skills. You will have your first opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of physics by getting good grades in course work, and by passing the GWE.

A good way to reach your goals for the first year is to take every opportunity to learn about the research activities here by talking to faculty members, post docs, and graduate students who are involved in the research. Much of the practice of physics is passed on within the research community by oral tradition. Graduate school is the first step in becoming a member of that community. You should try to learn as much as possible from people around you. There are many different types of physics being done at the University of Minnesota by both faculty and graduate students. Your graduate career is the opportunity to specialize in one field of physics while being aware of how it fits into the broader spectrum of science.

The weekly Colloquium brings in outstanding physicists from all over the world to talk about their current work at a general level. Periodic seminars in specialized research areas (announced in a Weekly Calendar) will give you the flavor of current research in more depth. Some of the groups offer informal “Sack 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're doing.

By Spring Semester, you should begin discussions with faculty members about doing research with them. An important goal is to have a summer research appointment. The School offers a special Introduction to Research Seminar in order to help you identify those specialties in which you have an interest; you should register for these seminars (one credit of Physics 5980). Get into the habit of browsing through some of the more important journals so that you will become familiar with what kind of work is being done in various sub-fields of physics.

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.

The Second Year

During the second year, Ph.D. students should take advanced courses in their chosen research area and learn enough about it so that they focus on research by the third year. Students must pass the GWE by the Fall of this year and should have a research adviser. Students 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. Some students take the preliminary oral examination at the end of this year. Before doing so, they need to file a Degree Plan Form; required forms are listed at the end of this Chapter.

M.S. students 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). Before the beginning of Spring Semester they should be deeply involved in their M.S. thesis or project/paper 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.S. degree.

The Third and Later Years

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 average time for completing a Ph.D. in our School is about 5.5 years. The precise time depends on their preparation, perseverance, and the fortunes of research. The third and subsequent years are dominated by research. The final year will include writing the thesis and searching for a job. 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.

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 desire 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. Reference the “Advice from the DGS” wiki for more information, and how to apply.

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). This Fellowship is not only an honor which will help your resume, it also takes some financial pressure off your research group which should allow you more funds for giving presentations at meetings or research equipment for your thesis work.

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 normal 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 the 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 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. After these credits are earned the student is eligible for “All But Dissertation” (ABD) status. With this status, the tuition and the student service fees are greatly reduced. Because research budgets are limited, students with ABD status will usually find it easier to obtain Research Assistantships so that they can completely focus on their thesis research. A student who has achieved ABD status only needs to register for 1 credit per semester to maintain graduate status. 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. US citizens can maintain their “active” status with the Graduate School by registering for “GRAD 999” for no credit. This option does not require a tuition payment, but does not allow graduate assistant employment or provide health insurance coverage. This is not possible for non-US citizens because they are required to be “full time” status for their visa purposes. There is a “Reduce Course Load” form provided by ISSS for International Students who wish to register for Grad999.

School Activities

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 participate 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 in the Physics Reading Room, Room 216, 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.

Finding a Job

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 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.

Table 1.1: Outline of Physics M.S. Program Requirements

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
Minimum GPA 2.8 2.8 3.3
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.

Table 1.2: Outline of Physics Ph.D. Program Requirements

Requirements Ph.D.
Total Credits Required (not including thesis credits) 40
Thesis Credits Required 24
Major Courses Required 5001/2, 5011/2, 5201, and 5072 for TAs
Minimum GPA 3.3 in the required courses
Graduate Written Exam Pass by Fall 2nd year
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 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.

Table 1.3: Forms you need to file to the Graduate School

All forms are found in www.grad.umn.edu/students/forms/

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) After GWE and at least one semester before Preliminary Oral Exam Courses taken; to determine whether you've satisfied 40-credit requirement
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

Table 1.4: Forms you need to file to the Graduate School (Master Plan A)

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've satisfied 20-credit requirement
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

Table 1.5: Forms you need to file to the Graduate School (Master Plan B)

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've satisfied 30-credit requirement
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

Table 1.6: Forms you need to file to the Graduate School (Master Plan C)

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've satisfied 30-credit requirement
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

Table 1.7: Special forms for all degrees

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
graduate_handbook/introduction.txt · Last modified: 2017/11/14 12:21 by vinals