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For Incoming Students

Academic and Course Requirements

The course numbering system at the University of Minnesota is as follows: 1xxx, 2xxx and 3xxx courses are undergraduate courses that are not open for graduate credit. Courses numbered 4xxx and 5xxx are open for both undergraduate and graduate credit. 4xxx courses are primarily for undergraduates, while 5xxx courses are primarily intended for graduate students. 8xxx courses are advanced graduate courses. You and your adviser will plan your coursework for the first year during the orientation period.

Generally, incoming graduate students will take five courses: quantum mechanics I and II, classical physics I and II, and thermal/statistical physics.

Most students take the quantum mechanics sequence 5001/2. It presumes that you have had a one or two semester junior/senior level course in quantum mechanics. Students who have already taken a one-year graduate level course on quantum mechanics can instead take the more advanced quantum mechanics course Physics 8001.

The second course sequence that most students take is 5011/2 Classical Physics. This sequence covers classical mechanics and classical electromagnetism. Most students take the required thermal/statistical physics course 5201 in their first year, while some others take it in their second year.

Additional courses can be selected from a range of choices. You should carefully read the section below about the written examination before making your choice. Some common selections are listed in the tables below. You should consider both the major and minor requirements for your degree (see Chapters 4 or 5) in planning your coursework. In satisfying the minor requirements, you may wish to take courses in other departments such as astronomy, mathematics, electrical engineering, materials science, computer science or chemistry.

A possible additional course is 4041 (Scientific Computing in the Physical Sciences). Students may also take a one-semester course in a specialty area, such as 4211 (Intro. to Solid State), 4511 (Intro. to Nuclear and Particle Physics), 4611 (Intro. to Space Physics), 4621 (Intro. to Plasma Physics), or 5081 (Intro. to Biopolymer Physics). Note, however, that 4000 level classes do not count towards your graduate credit requirements.

Table 2.1: Typical First Year Courses

Fall Spring
5001: Quantum I (4 cr.) 5002: Quantum II (4 cr.)
5011: Classical I (4 cr.) 5012: Classical II (4 cr.)
5201:Statistical/Thermal Physics (3 cr.) 4xxx Intro to…(*)
4041: Computational Methods (4 cr.) 5041: Mathematical Methods (4 cr.)
5072: Teaching College Physics I (1 cr.) 5072: Teaching College Physics II (2 cr.)
5980: Intro to Research Seminar (1 cr.) 5980: Intro to Research Seminar (1 cr.)

(*) Courses that might be applied to the supporting program (see Chap. 4 & 5).

Transferring credits: If you have taken graduate courses at another graduate institution, you may be able to transfer the credits. The official transfer of credits takes place when you submit your degree program form (see below). Credits from another institution can be transferred as long as they are taken after you have received a bachelor's degree. If you have attended college outside of the U.S., you can generally transfer credits earned after 4 years of post-secondary education. For example, some countries have a 5-year baccalaureate program. Generally, only courses from the 5th year of such a program can be transferred.

Table 2.2: Some Elective Courses Taken By First Year Students

Course number Course name
Physics 4051/2 Methods of Experimental Physics
Physics 4211* Introduction to Solid State Physics
Physics 4303 Waves, Optics, and Relativity
Physics 4511* Introduction to Nuclear and Particle Physics
Physics 4611* Introduction to Space Physics
Physics 4621* Introduction to Plasma Physics
Physics 5022 * Relativity, Cosmology, and the Universe

* Survey courses useful in deciding research specialties

The Graduate Written Examination

The Graduate Written Exam, or GWE, is currently given once each year, at the end of the Spring semester. All graduate students pursuing a Ph.D. degree are expected to pass the GWE by the fall semester of their second academic year of enrollment. Under special circumstances, students who do not pass the GWE by the fall of their second year may be granted an additional attempt at the exam by the Director of Graduate Studies. Detailed information on GWE policies can be found later in this document.

The purpose of the examination is to test knowledge of 'undergraduate' physics but at a level of sophistication appropriate to graduate school. While the exam does not cover graduate material, it does demand a high degree of mastery of the undergraduate material. The GWE is drafted by a special faculty committee, and the passing grade is set every year by the faculty. The passing grade varies from year to year depending on the estimated difficulty of the examination. In the past, the passing grade has generally hovered around 50%.

Getting Started in Research

All students should look seriously for research opportunities before the end of their first year. There are several factors to consider. One is theoretical vs experimental research. This choice often depends on skills and temperament. Theoretical research is more abstract and requires very good mathematical skills. Experimental research is more concrete, requiring the visualization of how a theoretical idea can be tested using measurements. It requires very good skills at system design. Modern experimental work requires the use of electronics and computer programming and sometimes the skills in machining, plumbing and other hands-on subjects. If in doubt as to whether their interests lie in experiment or theory, the students should talk to faculty members and more senior graduate students in both areas in order to help decide.

A second factor is the choice of a specialty area within physics. The specialty areas represented at the University of Minnesota include condensed matter physics, elementary particle physics, nuclear physics, space physics, nuclear and particle astrophysics, cosmology, biophysics, and physics education. A better idea of the interests of each faculty member can be found by browsing the physics Web site at http://www.physics.umn.edu.

A third factor to consider is the personal characteristics of individual faculty members. Graduate education is very individualized. It is important to have a good student-adviser relationship. The best method of gathering information is to talk with faculty members and other graduate students, particularly with the more advanced students who have had experience in thesis research.

A fourth factor to consider is the social characteristics of different fields. Many experimental groups, and sometimes theoretical groups as well, require working in large teams and collaborations, often of international nature. Maintaining good relations with team members and maintaining effective exchange of information with them are very important aspects of doing research in such groups. As above, the best method of gathering information is to talk with faculty members and with the more advanced students involved in such groups.

After narrowing their choices, students should make appointments to talk with several faculty members about joining their group. It is best to begin these discussions as soon as the research interests have been identified, and certainly before the first Summer. Faculty members will usually inquire about the student's background both from the student and from other faculty members. Success in a student finding opportunities in the research field of choice significantly depends on his/her academic performance on course work and on the GWE.

Usually, the decision to proceed with thesis research is preceded by a trial period. This could include an initial project not necessarily related to the eventual thesis. Sometime in the second year, if the initial project has proceeded well, the student should expect to make and receive a definite commitment as a thesis student. Otherwise, the student may seek a different adviser. If this is necessary, it is best to do it as soon as possible. The effects of changing adviser are much more serious later in the graduate career.

The School encourages early research connections by providing Summer research support to first year students. Such support is contingent on the student having found a faculty adviser that will supervise the research during the Summer term.

graduate_handbook/for_new_students.txt · Last modified: 2018/04/04 13:24 by vinals