Graduate Studies in Physics & Astronomy: Frequently Asked Questions
This document has been last updated in January, 2004, and reflected up-to-date information at that time.
Some of the policies may change, some links may get discontinued. We try our best, but
we cannot guarantee the 100% accuracy of all information here.
Please refer to the WEB pages of the Graduate School
and to the Guide to Graduate Studies in Physics and Astronomy.
A bachelorís degree in physics or a closely related field from an accredited institution;
A minimum grade average of B in all undergraduate coursework, and at least B in each of the science and mathematics courses;
Submission of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test (the Physics GRE subject test is also recommended);
Admission by the Department of Physics and Astronomy and the Graduate School.
In special cases, a student not meeting the first two requirements may be admitted on a
provisional basis. Upon admission, the student will be informed of the requirements that must be satisfied for termination of provisional status.
What paperwork should be sent with the application?
Application form and fee ($50), three letters of recommendations, two copies of transcript. Scores
from the TOEFL (or IELTS), and the general GRE test are required. The physics GRE is strongly recommended.
What is the deadline for submitting applications?
For Fall applications the deadline is February 1st
and for Spring it's October 1st. However, it is important to start preparations a least several months
earlier. You will need time to take the necessary exams.
All students admitted to our Department will receive financial support during their studies. Some will have grants or scholarships,
but most will be supported by the University (as a teaching assistant) or by research groups (as a research assistant).
The amount of support varies, but it is (minimally) sufficient for maintaining an independent life.
In the fall of 2003 the minimum support was $18,000 for the calendar year.
The minimum is a TOEFL score of 550 (paper test) or 213(computer test).
If you want to be paid as a teaching assistant (like most students), you must have at least 600 on the TOEFL.
In addition, TA jobs are contingent upon passing the TSE or the SPEAK test. The TSE or SPEAK
results are not required for admission. You may start preparing for the test after being accepted, and the tests can be done after arrival,
during the week before the first semester starts. (The cost of this exam is paid by the student.)
Alternatively, a score of 7 on the IELTS test satisfy both the TOEFL and TSE requirement.
Do not take the tests if you are a native speaker of English. According to the
"a native speaker normally learned English as a child and uses English as primary language
both at home and in educational settings". You may only pass as a native speaker if
the language of education in your institution was English.
The University sets the minimum GPA at 3.0. Do not apply if your GPA is below this.
The average GPA our Department in 2002 was
slightly less than 3.5. (These numbers are on a scale where the maximum GPA is 4.0.)
The Admissions Committee will look at the individual grades
very carefully. A student with a lower GPA may receive serious consideration, if the science and mathematics
grades are high.
Average numbers as of 2002:
GRE General Test: Verbal 560 (68th percentile), Quant 760 (91st percentile), Analytical 701 (84th percentile)
GRE Physics: 800 (72nd percentile)
The test was changed in 2002, and these are all "old" GRE scores. The percentiles are probably comparable.
Yes, but we prefer electronic applications. Apply on-line,
or download the application form from the
WEB. It is inconvenient and expensive to mail applications. Our past experience shows that a very small fraction of the
students asking for paper application will actually come to Stony Brook. If you REALLY cannot
do the application on the Internet, and you REALLY need
the application mailed to you, please contact us with a detailed description of your
You may mail us the application. However, your application will not be read until you pay
the mandatory application fee. We receive hundreds of applications every
year, and it is a substantial burden for the faculty and staff of our
department to read and manage them all. The application fee covers a small
fraction of the University's expenses in processing admissions. Frankly,
payment of the fee also helps us understand if an applicant is serious
about graduate study at Stony Brook.
Perhaps you have a friend or relative in the US who could pay your fee. We
will be happy to hold your application until a separate check for the
application fee arrives; just make sure that person clearly identifies you
by name, birth date, and the college from which you are applying.
No, but send the copies anyway. We can process your application with a photocopy of TOEFL and GRE results,
and we can make a decision. However, you will have to have the official test
results transmitted directly to us as soon as we inform you about your possible admission. We will not
issue a formal letter of admission without the original documents from the
You may send the official transcript without the Fall grades, and send a xerox copy of the Fall grades when you get it.
We will review your application; however your school must send the official transcript, with the Fall grades, directly to us
before we issue a letter of admission.
We receive a large number of applications in December and January; it takes some time to process all.
We may admit or reject applicants any time between the
application deadline and April 14. Very few cases are decided late; most applicants should hear from us before April 1.
You are welcome to visit any time, and we will do our best to help planning your trip and show you around.
Once you are admitted, a limited amount of support will be available for travel
reimbursement; however you must be a US citizen or a permanent resident to claim this.
The best time to come
is during our "visiting weekend", typically organized in March.
The written note of acceptance should be here no later than April 15. If you are not sure that the mailed
note arrives in time, and sending a fax is not possible, send us an email before the deadline (we will
still need the written note, but it may arrive later). If you decline our offer, also send an email, please.
The April 15 deadline is established in a resolution by the
Council of Graduate Schools. The resolution does not mention any "waiting list".
All graduate schools should give you a final admission notice in time so that you can
accept/decline by April 15; we certainly do so. Accordingly, we insist that your response should be here no later
than April 15. Our offer for admission expires after that date.
After you accepted our offer, watch out for emails from us - if you do not get
any response, try to contact us (in writing or by phone) to make sure that we have the correct email address for you.
If you finished some advanced studies (like many international students did), prepare for the
Since 9/11 student visa applications are reviewed more carefully, and the rejection rate has increased significantly.
A possible way for us to help you is to provide a letter of recommendation directly to the embassy;
unfortunately, experience shows that these letters do not help much. It is important that you prepare for your
visa interview, understand the concerns of the consular officials, and avoid being mistakenly considered for rejection.
Read this document to learn more about the interview.
Otherwise, just follow the procedures outlined by the
International Services .
When the Department sends a letter of admission to new students, it includes an application for housing. We generally recommend that
first-year students should live on campus. Graduate students may live in the Chapin Apartment Complex, the Graduate Student
Housing Complex, called Schomberg, and in certain dormitories. These are not the nicest places in the world to live, but most
students regard them as adequate, and much more convenient for a newcomer than trying to find off-campus housing, for which
transportation may be a problem.
The deadline is: as soon as possible. Those who wish to live on campus should fill out the application and
return it immediately. These on-campus facilities are typically overbooked, and so it is important to reserve a spot
promptly. In 2003 the students who returned their housing application by May 15 were guaranteed housing.
It is not advisable to try to get off-campus housing during the first semester unless you can come here and look for it no later than early
August (earlier is strongly recommended), or if you already know students in the University with whom you could share an off-campus residence.
Public transportation is very limited so a car is almost always necessary. Off-campus housing for individual students is difficult to find. Most
single students who live off campus arrange groups to rent a house. To join such a group, one should be here, preferably during the academic
year. It is then possible to get several people together for such an arrangement or join an existing group when one of its members leaves.
To get an idea about the housing situation, look at the
Off Campus Housing Service, but keep in mind
that this service is not run by the University, and you are on your own when you negotiate with
If you finished a serious lab course, bring the lab reports and other material, so that you can be
exempted from at least a part of our course. If you had graduate courses equivalent of
our breadth courses, bring the course material, and you may be able to have it accepted for satisfying the
In the first year most students live on-campus, and they do not need a car.
Later, if you move out of campus, a car makes life much easier. Some intrepid students survive here for their entire academic
career, living off campus with only a bicycle for transportation, but the weather on Long Island does not always lend itself to this arrangement.
A barely running used car can be purchased for $1500 or less. There are, however, additional expenses: The car will have to pass
a mechanical and emission inspection, repairs have to be paid for, and there is a required insurance.
For new drivers the insurance costs are high, more than $1000 for a half year period.
To register a car you will also need to get a NY State driver's license.
The orientation is done by three organizations: the
the CELT and the
The orientation and TA training given by the Department is mandatory to Physics PhD students.
Watch for other mandatory programs. If you are from the USA, you do not have to go to the "international" part.
If you are not teaching in the Fall semester, you may skip the CELT. However, sooner or later every PhD student has to teach,
and the orientation has to be completed. It is better to get it done at the beginning.
In principal, the deadline is the first day of classes. The exact dates are published each year
in the academic calendar.
There are several extensions.
Students failing to register during the advance or final registration
period may still register during the first 15 days of the
semester, but will be charged a late fee of $30.
Graduate students may add or register for classes through day 15 of classes.
Graduate students may drop classes through day ten of classes without incurring a tuition liability
and without a W (withdrawal) being recorded.
From days 11 to 15, graduate students may only drop from
courses if an even number of credits are added in a single
transaction (i.e., 12 credits for 12 credits).
Use the "swap" feature in the
Solar System to make sure that you do the change in a single transaction.
You may also withdraw from a class, but a W
is posted and tuition is charged based on the Tuition Liability
schedule. If you withdraw, make sure your credits do not drop below the
You have several choices. In each cases fill up the rest of the schedule with appropriate other courses (Mathematical methods,
breadth, PHY 515, specialization).
First, here is a three semester schedule. This is a bit strange, since Classical Mechanics is in the third
semester. It is not highly recommended, but doable:
Fall: PHY 505, 511
Spring: PHY 506, 512
Fall: PHY 501, 540
Here is a better schedule, in four semesters:
Fall: PHY 501, 505 (or 511)
Spring: PHY 540, 506 (or 512)
Fall: PHY 511 (or 505)
Spring: PHY 512 (or 506)
For example, take all four astronomy graduate courses. One of them is offered in each semester, on a rotating schedule.
You must start taking the first one when you enter, since you have to be finished by the end of fourth semester.
Discuss your plans with an Astronomy professor or the Graduate Program director.
This is a big problem.
Retroactive add/drop petitions must have the approval of the
graduate program director and the Graduate School and will not
be processed by the Registrarís Office until a $15 fee
Yes, but be careful. A few courses that are related to your specialty are OK, but they do not count
for "breadth" or any other requirement. All students must have prior permission from their
department/program to take any courses outside of their primary degree plan.
A student with a full-time nine-credit tuition scholarship from a primary
program may take a course in a secondary program. However, it must be in addition to the nine credits
applying toward the primary program during the same semester. The cost of these credits is paid by the student.
No, except if you pay the tuition. You are the receiver of a tuition scholarship. The scholarship only apply to courses that fulfill degree
requirements in the program providing the scholarship. Talk to the graduate program director before taking any course
outside of the Department.
The absolute shortest time is a little bit more that one year, since students must advance to candidacy
at least one year before the beginning of the semester in
which they plan to defend their dissertation. In reality, 3 years is considered very short. Five years is typical.
Seven years is a time limit set by the Graduate School. It is possible to apply for an extension, if the student is in the advanced stage
of preparing a thesis, or if there was an unforeseen circumstance causing delays.
All degree candidates must register for nine credits during thesis or
dissertation research for the semester in which the degree is
awarded. Students on approved leaves of absence do not register
for those semesters for which a leave has been granted; however,
they must register for the semester in which the degree is awarded. A special Summer course, PHY 800, may satisfy this requirement.
We advise students to take a course for less than 3 credits if there is no other way to stay within the allowed total number
of credits. This usually happens if the student needs to take a breadth course, but she/he is also registered doing research.
Students taking a course for 0, 1, 2 or 3 credits are treated and graded exactly the same way, except if there is an explicit
agreement between the student and the instructor.
If lesser course work is done, the course can not be counted as a breadth course.
In order to get exemption from PHY 515 all materials associated with the course taken
elsewhere should be presented: syllabus, the faculty supplied instructions or "write-ups"
of the experiments done by the student, the laboratory logbook in which the student recorded the
day-to-day results of each experiment, and the final written report for each experiment, together
with the grades for each of those.
Students seeking a waiver in PHY 515 should submit all materials to faculty teaching the course soon after arrival
to Stony Brook. Instead of fully waiving the course requirement, waivers are sometimes granted for
Credits for some of the courses you took in your home country may be transferable. A maximum of 6 credits will be accepted this way.
Get the remaining 24 credits by registering for 12 credits each semester.
Prepare a list of two or three courses, get a printed syllabus for each, and talk to the professor teaching the corresponding course
in Stony Brook. He/she should provide a written note (email) to the Graduate Program Director stating that the course is similar, and
acceptable for credit transfer. Talk to the Graduate Program Director, and get his approval. He will send a letter to the
registrar. You must do all of this during your first semester in Stony Brook.
Take the Qualifying exam, and pass the corresponding parts at the Masters level.
Instead of trying to pass all four parts,
you may want to focus on Quantum Mechanics and Electricity & Magnetism; this way you may have to take only Classical Mechanics (in the
Fall Semester) and Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics (in the Spring Semester).
Lower your expectations, do not aim for the Masters degree. Your choice of courses will be totally free, within the limits of required credits.
You may finish a research project that is accepted in your home country for a degree.
The second option is not recommended: it carries the risk that you will not be able to finish the project, or it is not accepted in
your home country, and you leave Stony Brook without any significant achievement.
As long as we do not know that your preparation in the core areas physics is sufficient, you may not have a degree from
Stony Brook. Talk to the Graduate Program Director before the end of the first Semester; you may be requested to take the final exam of
The oral exam committee typically consists of three members: Your advisor (will sign a statement indicating
that he/she takes you as a student), another faculty member
from the same group, and a faculty member outside of you research area. At least one of them should be an
experimentalist, and at
least one of them should be a theorist. For example, if your advisor is Prof. Jacobsen (X-ray optics group, experimentalist),
your committee may consist of him and Profs. Kirz (same group, experimentalist) and Allen (condensed matter, theorist).
First check if your advisor is an adjunct faculty. If yes, follow the usual rules applied to faculty members. Otherwise you
will need a Stony Brook faculty member as you co-advisor. Preferably, he/she should be from a research area closely related to
yours. Your committee will have four members: your two advisors, and another two members selected according to
the rules described above.
You should pick it in consultation with your advisor. It can be a review of literature, an account of your research
you have already completed, a thesis proposal, or something else. If you advisor is not a faculty member, the oral exam should
be a thesis proposal.
The Thesis Defense Committee has at least four members: typically the three members of the student's Oral Exam Committee,
and one more member, outside of the Department. One of the faculty members should be the chair; it can not be your advisor.
Once you and your advisor decided on the date of the defense, and talked to
the members of the committee, you should discuss the makeup of the committee with the graduate program director. The final
list must be approved at least three weeks before the defense date.
Distribute the written thesis to the committee well in advance of the defense. Prepare a talk no longer than 45 minutes.
Be ready to answer questions about any parts of the thesis. Have a signature sheet
ready for the committee to sign after the exam.
You may have to do a few changes in the text of your dissertation, and print it again. Finish all paperwork, make sure
that you will actually get your degree. Leave us a forwarding address, register with the
Move on with your life, think nicely of Stony Brook.
This document was edited using material written by past graduate program directors: Professors Hal Metcalf, Rod Engelman,
William Weisberger and Peter Stephens.
Last updated 1/27/2004 by Laszlo Mihaly.
Go back to the
Physics & Astronomy Graduate program.