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Physics Graduate Policies

This section described the policies of the School of Physics and Astronomy concerning Physics graduate students.

The oversight 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 ex-officio member 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 through the Director of Graduate Studies. The Committee will consider such requests and suggestions and either take action itself or, as necessary, forward them with a recommendation to the Physics Graduate Faculty for action.

Requirements for satisfactory progress in the graduate program

Requirement Remedy for non compliance
GWE passed at the end of the first year One more chance at the end of the second year. Student should complete requirements for M.Sc. before the second attempt
Minimum GPA in graduate core classes of 3.3 Classes need to be retaken to resolve the issue by the end of the second year
Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 One year probationary period, not extensible. New classes counting towards the degree need to be taken to raise the cumulative GPA above 3.0
Oral Preliminary Exam passed by the end of the third year Adviser may petition for a six month extension
Satisfactory annual report of progress by Oral Committee for TA appointment renewal No Teaching Assistant appointment beyond the third year will be offered unless a positive statement of progress is made within the three months prior to the first appointment in any twelve month period
Degree completed in a maximum of 8 years Petition before the University is possible for a one year extension. Follow University guidelines

Financial Support Policy

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 supported by research funds, and are subject only to review by the School Head. Such appointments are contingent on the availability of research funds. Other appointments are made by the Director of Undergraduate Studies (TA appointments), or faculty committees acting through the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS). They are all 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 particular award.

2. It is the policy of the School to support all graduate students making satisfactory 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, financial support for entering graduate students who do not receive fellowships will be in the form 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 TA duties. Satisfactory academic progress does not require passing the graduate written examination during the first year. Graduate students who enter the program without financial aid, but who pass the graduate 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 graduate written examination and, for students in their fourth year and beyond, also the oral examination. Students in their forth year or beyond must have an annual evaluation of progress conducted by their oral exam committee, and a report issued to the DGS attesting to their satisfactory progress.

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.)


Students holding TA or RA appointments 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.

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. 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.

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 student registers for one credit of Phys 8444 per semester.

Summer Registration Policy

Graduate students ­do not register in the summer, except as follows:

You might register in the Summer if you have passed the preliminary oral, have an RA appointment for the Summer term, and only need to complete the required 24 thesis credits to become ABD. Thesis credits need to be taken over two semesters which can in principle include the shorter Summer term as one of the two semesters. If you are in this situation, then your adviser and Ginny Olson need to look at your specific situation and available funds to decide if it would be advantageous for you to take some of those credits in the Summer term, and get you to ABD status a semester earlier.

Important: If it is determined that you should take thesis credits in the Summer term, then the office must be informed sometime in May. The specific deadline changes year to year depending on the appointment calendar, but it is generally around the middle of May. Failure to do so, may result in you being responsible for the entire tuition bill. Retroactive summer registration (e.g., June, July, August) is NOT allowed as all tuition payments are tied to the type of payroll appointment a person has for the Summer, as entered into the system in May.

Payroll Taxes

In the Summer term, students are subject to Medicare and Social Security taxes. The current combined rate in 2020 (FICA) is 7.65% of gross pay. You will revert back to not paying those taxes in the Fall term when classes start.

Health Insurance

If you were paid as a 50% time RA or TA during the academic year, your health insurance will automatically continue through the Summer.

If you received a fellowship during the academic year, then you may receive a bill for your Summer health insurance; should that occur, please e-mail the office so that we can arrange payment from the fellowship that paid you during the academic year.

Graduate Written Examination Policy

1. The Graduate Written Examination (GWE) will be prepared and administered by a faculty committee especially designated for this task. The GWE Committee will assign 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 general criterion for passing the exam is to demonstrate a strong and comprehensive 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. Further information on the exam, and how to prepare for it is given here.

3. The GWE is given once annually at the end of the Spring Semester. It is comprised of two parts on two successive days, each being 4 hours in length.

4. Students entering the graduate program in the Fall Semester must pass the GWE no later than the Spring exam of their second year. Under exceptional circumstances, 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 has completed all credit requirements for the M.Sc. degree by the end of their second year, and that the adviser believes that there is a high likelihood that student will pass in his/her third attempt. Students not passing the GWE should complete an M.Sc. degree not later than their second year. With the exception noted, students past the second year who have not passed the GWE will not receive TA support.

6. Extensions or variations to the timetable given in the previous paragraphs may be granted by the Graduate Education Committee only in exceptional cases such as extended illness, leaves of absence, etc.

Assignment of M.S. and Ph.D. Committees. Dissertation defense

1. For the M.Sc. 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 or be outside of the major field of the thesis/project.

2. For the Ph.D. degree, a committee reviews the dissertation and administers the final examination. The committee consists of at least 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 student in consultation with the adviser will nominate the committee members. The committee will be submitted for approval to the DGS.

4. The adviser cannot serve as the chair of the committee.

5. The required steps for scheduling the final defense are given in the following Graduate School Page.

5. 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.

6. Instructions for dissertation submission and formatting.

Preliminary Oral Examination

The Preliminary Oral Examination is the last exam that needs to be passed before the student is formally admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. The exam must taken by all Ph.D. students before the end of the third year. The goal of the exam is to determine whether a student has acquired enough knowledge to begin productive thesis-level research. The exam includes an oral defense of a thesis prospectus, with demonstration that the student has a reasonable plan for the thesis, as well as general knowledge of physics principles pertinent to the chosen field of research.

A preliminary Oral Examination committee needs to be set up by the student in consultation with the adviser. The committee consists of at least four members, three from Physics and one from outside Physics (for example, MIfA, EECS, CEMS, etc.). If there is a minor, the outside member should be from the minor field. Beside the adviser, there should be both an experimental and a theoretical faculty member in the student's subfield of physics. Note that the adviser cannot be the committee chair.

The exam is based on a concise written summary of a proposed PhD research project which may ultimately form the basis for the Ph.D. thesis. The recommended length is between 10 and 15 pages (double spaced). It should be given to all the committee members at least two weeks before the exam. Note that this summary does not have to contain any original research done by the student, although it may have preliminary results. The exam begins with a presentation of the summary, which should last no more than 20 minutes, although questions during this part may extend this time period. The presentation is followed by questions from the committee. The balance of the exam should consist of questions suggested by the research summary and how it fits into the general framework of physics, but not necessarily confined to the narrow research area.

The examination should not exceed 90 minutes.

At the end of the examination, the Committee has three options: pass, pass with reservations and fail. Pass with reservations means that the student will need to do some specific work in order to lift the reservations. The nature of the work will be communicated to the student in writing within one week after the examination. If the student does not pass the examination, 10 weeks have to elapse before one allowed retake. Decisions of the committee must be approved by at least a 3 to 1 vote.


1. 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 Graduate Degree 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 the student passes the examination with reservations, the student is informed immediately, but the committee is permitted one week in which to convey its reservations to the student in writing, informing the student of the steps that must be taken to remove them, as well as a deadline by which the committee expects the reservations to be removed. A copy of this letter must be sent to the GSSP along with the Preliminary Oral Examination Form. When the student has satisfied the committee's reservations, a second letter or email informing the student and GSSP that the reservations have been removed and that the student may proceed toward the degree is also required. The committee chair should write both letters. The final oral examination may not be scheduled until GSSP has received a copy of the letter indicating that the reservations have been removed. If the committee members disagree as to whether the reservations have been satisfactorily removed, the committee chair asks for another vote, the results of which are subject to the same voting proportions as the initial vote. A student who is unable to satisfy the committee's reservations may be terminated from doctoral candidacy and from the graduate program.

5. Students must pass the preliminary oral examination at least one semester before receiving their Ph.D. degree.

Grading Policy

1. At least two-thirds of all credit hours in an M.Sc. or a Ph.D. program must be taken on an A-N basis.

2. There are no formal grading restrictions on 8000 level courses; however, an adviser may require a student to take at least one 8000 course in the student's sub-field on an A-N basis.

3. The required core courses PHYS 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.

Criteria for Registration Warnings and Holds

Registration warnings and holds may be issued for the following reasons:

1. GPA below 3.3 in required core courses, or cumulative GPA below 3.0 for Ph.D students and 2.8 for M.S. students.

2. More than 6 credits of “Incomplete.”

3. No approved M.Sc. graduate degree program (for M.Sc. students) by the end of the third semester.

4. No approved Ph.D. graduate degree program (for Ph.D. students) by the end of the third year.

graduate_handbook/physics_graduate_policies.txt · Last modified: 2020/07/08 18:34 by vinals