This section of the Graduate Student Handbook contains the policies of the School of Physics and Astronomy concerning physics graduate students.
The direction of the graduate program in physics has been delegated by the Physics Graduate Faculty to the Graduate Education Committee. The Director of Graduate Studies acts as an administrative officer of the Graduate Education Committee. Requests for exceptions to the stated policies or suggestions for policy changes should be directed to the Graduate Education Committee either through its Chair or the Director of Graduate Studies. The Committee will consider such requests and suggestions and either take action itself to accept or reject them or, as necessary, forward them with its recommendation to the Physics Graduate Faculty for action.
1. The financial aid resources of the School of Physics and Astronomy consist of teaching assistantships (TA appointments), research assistantships (RA appointments), Graduate School Fellowships awarded to the School for stipends and tuition, and a few Endowed Graduate Fellowships. RA appointments are granted by individual faculty members out of research funds subject only to review by the School Head. Such awards are contingent on the continued availability of research funds. Other awards are made by faculty committees acting through the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and are reviewed by the School Head. From time to time, the School may nominate students for various other awards. These recommendations are made on a merit basis and are subject to the policies of the unit making the award.
2. It is the policy of the School to support all graduate students making good academic progress on a 1/2 time basis. However, the resources available to the School may not permit such support in all cases. Thus, the School will generally allocate the available resources according to the policies specified here.
3. Except in unusual cases, aid to entering graduate students who do not receive fellowships will consist of a 1/2 time TA appointment. The TA appointment will be renewed for a second year subject to satisfactory academic progress by the student and satisfactory performance of the required duties. In particular, satisfactory academic progress does not require passing the written examination during the first year. It is expected that most, but not all, entering graduate students will be awarded financial aid prior to arrival at Minnesota. Graduate students who enter without financial aid but who pass the written examination will be treated in succeeding years as if they had entered with a 1/2 time TA appointment.
4. Students who are offered TA appointments will be required to accept or reject them in writing. Once accepted, the TA appointment is considered a commitment by the student for the term of the appointment. Students may be released from their TA responsibilities in the event of an equivalent RA appointment or for other reasons if approved in advance by the DGS. Such consent will only be given when it is possible to find a replacement.
5. Some TA positions will be awarded for the summer session. Applications are generally solicited during Spring Semester. Priority will be given to current TA's who do not have summer research support.
6. Graduate students in their third through fifth years and making good progress towards their Ph.D. may receive a 1/4 or 1/2 time TA appointment if requested by their adviser in advance of the term and approved by the Head of the School. Such students must have passed the written examination and, for students past their third year, also the oral examination. Students who have completed five years of graduate school are not guaranteed TA assignments, but may receive one upon recommendation of the DGS.
7. The total of the TA, grading and RA appointments for any student may not exceed a 50 percent appointment, unless a higher limit is approved by the adviser, the DGS and the Head of the School. (International students may not exceed the equivalent of a 50 percent appointment during the academic year.)
As discussed above, students holding a TA or RA appointment are eligible for a tuition waiver equal to twice the percentage of their appointment. Thus, a 1/2 time TA or RA is eligible for a full tuition waiver, and a 1/4 time TA or RA is eligible for a half tuition waiver. A full tuition waiver entitles the student to take up to 14 credits of graduate courses in a semester. Students that receive fellowships do not get a tuition waiver but, if the fellowship award includes funding for tuition, an internal billing form will be submitted to the Student Financial Aid Office to pay for any tuition not waived as part of a TA or RA appointment. Fellowship tuition awards and waivers generally do not cover Collegiate, Student Services, or other fees that may be assessed by the University.
After passing the preliminary oral exam, the student should begin taking thesis credits. After completing the oral exam and 24 thesis credits, the student is eligible for ABD (All But Dissertation) status. Upon attaining ABD status, the graduate student tuition rate is reduced by approximately 84 percent. Thus, it is to the benefit of the department (for TA's) and of the research group (for RA's) to reach ABD status as soon as possible. Upon attaining ABD status, the student registers for one credit of Phys 8444 per semester.
Students are not required to register during the summer to hold an assistantship. The policy regarding summer registration is:
1) Students that have not reached ABD status are advised not to register for classes in the summer. The School will not pay the tuition if the student does register for classes in the summer. This affects all of the first and second year students and many others. By not taking classes, many students will have Social Security and Medicare taxes taken out of their paycheck during the summer. Foreign nationals are exempt from those taxes unless they have been in the United States for 5 or more calendar years.
2) The following students SHOULD NOT register:
- ABD students that are paid in part or in full by a fellowship.
- ABD Students that have appointments of less than 50 percent time.
- ABD students that are international (have been in the country less than 5 years).
- ABD students being paid in part or in full by another department. (The other department must approve this first.)
- ABD students that will terminate and leave the payroll before August 1. A student does not have to be registered in the summer in order to graduate. If the student leaves before the term is over, the student's tuition won't be paid for in full. The student might get a bill for the balance.
3) ABD students that SHOULD register for one thesis credit (those not excluded above) need to pick up the Summer Term Tuition Request Form from Mette Stewart in 136 Physics. The student will not be able to register until this form is sent to the Registrar. The sole reason for doing this is to save the student from having Social Security taxes taken out of the student's pay check.
4) There are a few students every year that are almost ABD and just need the 24 required thesis credits. In that case, the DGS and Ginny Olson need to look at the situation and decide if it would be advantageous for the student and/or the student's adviser to pay for some of those credits in the shorter summer term when there is a significant cost savings. This is not allowable for fellowship students.
Health insurance coverage continues for the summer provided a 1/2 time assistantship was held during the entire preceding academic year. If the student received a Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship or other fellowship during the academic year, then the student may receive a bill for summer health insurance. If this happens, the student may request a departmental fellowship to cover the costs.
Tuition cost is based on residence. The tuition for Minnesota residents is approximately half the tuition for non-residents. The key aspect is that any graduate student with a 1/4 time appointment or more as either a TA or an RA is considered a resident for each semester in which such appointment is held. Thus, a student not from Minnesota who is supported as a TA or an RA, even 1/4 time, has considerable financial benefit in addition to the stipend. This resident tuition status also applies to members of the student's immediate family. For a student holding an appointment for two consecutive semesters, the resident tuition period extends up to four semesters beyond the term of appointment. See the Class Schedule for detailed rules.
1. The Graduate Written Examination (GWE) will be prepared and administered by a faculty committee especially designated for this task. The examination will be graded without knowledge of the name of the examinee by various members of the faculty. The GWE Committee will compile the grades and make recommendations concerning the passing requirements to the Physics Graduate Faculty. The Faculty will make the final decision as to which students pass the examination.
2. The criterion for passing the examination is to demonstrate a strong, usable knowledge of undergraduate physics at a level similar to the one taught to undergraduates at the University of Minnesota. To pass, students should demonstrate a broad range of knowledge in the core subjects of classical dynamics, electricity and magnetism, thermal and statistical physics and quantum mechanics. Students are expected to be able to apply their knowledge to solving explicit problems in these areas. In addition, students are expected to have some general knowledge about physics specialty areas such as astrophysics, atomic physics, condensed matter physics, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, and space physics. The required level of understanding in these latter subjects is mostly qualitative. In the past, the passing score for the examination has been approximately one-half of the possible score. The faculty will adjust this level up or down in order to maintain a consistent level of difficulty with previous years.
3. The GWE is given before the beginning of the Fall and Spring Semesters. It will be given in two parts on two successive days, each being 4 hours in length, long enough that the time period does not produce severe time pressure on well-prepared students taking the examination.
4. Students entering the graduate program in the Fall Semester must pass the GWE no later than the Fall exam of the next academic year. Those students entering in the Spring Semester must pass the exam no later than the Spring exam of the next academic year.
Students who fail to pass the GWE by the time set above may be permitted another attempt of the exam upon application to the Director of Graduate Studies. Necessary conditions for another attempt of the GWE is that the student and adviser must guarantee that the student is on track to receive an M.S. degree not later than the end of the semester in which the GWE would be attempted and that the M.S. degree program should be filed with the Graduate School. Students not passing the GWE should complete an M.S. degree as soon as possible, preferably no later than the end of the Spring Semester of their second academic year. Students past the second year who have not passed the GWE are not guaranteed TA support in the following years.
6. Extensions or variations to the timetable in the previous paragraphs may be granted by the Graduate Education Committee only in exceptional hardship cases such as extended illness, leaves of absence, etc.
1. For the M.S. degree, a committee is required to review the thesis (Plan A) and to administer a final oral examination (Plans A and B). This committee consists of three members, one of whom must represent the minor field.
2. For the Ph.D. degree, an initial committee is required to administer the preliminary oral examination and a second committee reviews the dissertation and administers the final examination. Usually these committees have the same membership, but that is not required and may change based on various considerations. These committees consists of four members: the adviser, a theorist and an experimentalist from the major field of research, and a member from outside the Physics Graduate Program. The outside member may be from the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics or from the Program in the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, if that person is able to represent the minor field.
3. The Director of Graduate Studies will nominate the committee members in each case after receiving suggestions from the student and the adviser.
4. At least one member of the Committee must have a physics specialty area (condensed matter, nuclear, etc.) which is outside of the specialty area of the student.
5. The adviser cannot serve as the chair of the committee.
6. The Director of Graduate Studies may make last-minute substitutions due to absence or illness using the above criteria. The Graduate School must approve of these substitutions.
1. Under normal circumstances, students should pass the Preliminary Oral Examination by the end of their third year.
2. Students may not schedule the preliminary oral examination with the Graduate School until they have passed the graduate written exam and have an approved Graduate Degree Plan on file. Since approval may require some time, students are advised to file their Plans as far as possible in advance of the time at which they wish to take the preliminary oral examination. The specific time of the examination must be scheduled with the Graduate School at least two weeks in advance.
3. A student who fails the preliminary oral examination must wait at least 10 weeks before retaking it. Only two attempts to pass the examination will be allowed.
4. If a student is judged to have passed the preliminary oral examination with reservations, the student will receive a letter from the chair of the committee within one week of the examination indicating what needs to be done to lift the reservations. Copies of this letter should be sent to the Graduate School and to the Director of Graduate Studies. When the reservations are lifted, a letter should be sent by the chair of the committee to the student, again with copies to the Graduate School and the Director of Graduate Studies, indicating that the reservations have been lifted.
5. Students must pass the preliminary oral examination at least one semester before receiving their Ph.D. degree.
1. At least two-thirds of all credit hours in an M.S. or a Ph.D. program must be taken on an A-N basis.
2. There are no formal grading restrictions on 8xxx level courses; however, an adviser may require a student to take at least one 8xxx course in the student's sub-field on an A-N basis.
3. The required core courses Physics 5001/2 and 5011/2, if they are used on an M.S. or a Ph.D. program, must be taken on an A-N basis.
4. Instructors must clarify to students during the first two weeks of classes the standards of performance required under both the A-N and S-N grading systems.
Registration warnings and holds may be issued for the following reasons:
1. GPA below 3.3 for Ph.D students and 2.8 for M.S. students.
2. More than 6 credits of “Incomplete.”
3. No approved M.S. program (for M.S. students) by the end of the third semester.
4. No approved Ph.D. program (for Ph.D. students) by the end of the third year.
5. No submission of a Ph.D. Thesis Title Form by the beginning of the second semester following the passing of the preliminary oral examination.