Guide to Graduate Studies in Physics & Astronomy
The deadline for applications for Fall 2006 was February 1. The orientation for the incoming students
starts mid-August, see details here
This present WEB page is updated more frequently than any of the printed or PDF documents related to the graduate program. See also our "Frequently Asked Questions" page. If you can not find the answers to your questions, contact Professor Peter Stephens, Graduate Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table of Contents
The Physics & Astronomy Department offers four graduate degrees.
Students in the M.A. or Ph.D. programs who have taken a strong undergraduate program in physics at an American university take the following program during the first year. Select the courses in consultation with your advisor; more sample course choices are listed here.
|FIRST SEMESTER||SECOND SEMESTER|
PHY 501 - Classical Mechanics
PHY 505 - Classical Electrodynamics I
PHY 511 - Quantum Mechanics I
PHY 598 or 599 - Graduate Seminars
PHY 600 - Teaching
PHY 698 - Colloquium
PHY 540 - Statistical Mechanics
PHY 506 - Classical Electrodynamics II
PHY 512 - Quantum Mechanics II
PHY 600 - Teaching
PHY 598 or 599 - Graduate Seminars
PHY 698 - Colloquium
Students whose emphasis will be in astronomy constitute the main exception to this plan. During their first two years, they should take the four core astronomy courses, PHY 521, 522, 523, 524, which are offered one each semester. Therefore a possible astronomy sequence looks like this:
|FIRST SEMESTER||SECOND SEMESTER||THIRD SEMESTER||FOURTH SEMESTER|
PHY 524 - Cosmology
PHY 501 - Mechanics
PHY 505 - Electrodynamics I
PHY 598 or 599
PHY 600 - Teaching
PHY 698 - Colloquium
PHY 522 - Interstellar medium
PHY 540 - Stat. Mech.
PHY 506 - Electrodynamics II
PHY 598 or 599
PHY 600 - Teaching
PHY 698 - Colloquium
PHY 521 - Stars
PHY 511 - Quantum I
PHY 515 (can be postponed to fourth Semester)
PHY 523 - Galaxies
PHY 512 - Quantum II
PHY 515 (if not taken in third Semester)
The sequence is shown for students enetering in the Fall, 2005. The particular order of the astronomy courses is determined by the actual course offering in those semesters. PHY 505/506 can be interchanged with PHY 511/512. PHY 515 (discussed below) can be taken in any semester during the first two years.
It is assumed that entering students have a sufficiently strong background in mathematical physics, through a formal course or selection of courses, to take the regular first-year program. A text, such as Methods of Mathematical Physics by Arfken provides a suitable preparation. Students looking for more preparation should consider PHY 503, 504, which presents topics that complement traditional material and enable students to fill in gaps in their background.
|Thesis Area||Possible Breadth Course|
|Atomic and Optical||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*|
|Condensed Matter Experiment||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*|
|Condensed Matter Theory||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*||*|
Additions and exceptions to this table are possible. Eligibility for breadth courses in the 680 series may vary, depending on the subject matter (accelerator physics, physics of hot dense nuclear matter, microelectronics, etc.), and usually announced before the beginning of the semester. See this link for the latest announcments. If in doubt, students should consult the Graduate Program Director before taking the course. Students may also request that courses in interdisciplinary areas be accepted for satisfaction of the breadth requirement. Decisions about the eligibility of a course will be made by the Graduate Program Director, in consultation with the course instructor.
Either course I or course II in the same field can be used, not both (except for 565, 566). For the number II courses PHY 552 and 556, written approval by their instructors that they can be taken as breadth courses is needed (to be submitted to the Graduate Program Director). The guideline for the instructors is that the student shows knowledge of the basic phenomenology in the field (as usually taught in the number I courses).
PHY 610 (Quantum Field Theory) and PHY 541 (Advanced Statistical Mechanics) are not required, but these courses introduce important concepts of very fundamental areas: all students are encouraged to study them.
The core astronomy courses (PHY 521-524) may be used as breadth courses for any student in the Physics track. An astronomy student who has taken all four of these courses has also met the department's breadth requirement.
Comprehensive Exam. This exam covers topical areas at the advanced undergraduate level or at the beginning of graduate studies. It is offered twice each year, at the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. The problems at the Comp are divided into two categories: 'Breadth' and 'Experimental'. Each category is further divided into four groups: atomic/molecular/optical, condensed matter, nuclear/particle physics and astronomy. There are two problems (one 'Breadth' and one 'Experimental') in each group, except for astronomy, where four problems are offered. Out of the 12 problems students should answer any 4 problems, subject to the restriction that not all questions can be 'Breadth' or 'Experimental'.
Oral Exam. The oral exam consists of a presentation of some approved and interesting topic in physics or astronomy to a committee of at least three faculty members and should be prepared with the guidance of one of them. The committee members must be approved in advance by both the Graduate Program Director and the Graduate School. The committee should contain at least one experimentalist and one theorist, and at least one member whose research specialty is different from the student's field of research. At least half of the committee, and the chair, must be full time faculty.
The faculty advisor for the oral exam will generally become the student's thesis advisor, but there is no necessary connection between these. This exam is a demonstration that the student is capable of beginning Ph.D. research. The student should show that he/she is conversant with the basic phenomenology of the chosen research field, but it is not necessary to show a completed research project.
The Placement Exams are graded by the Graduate Examinations Committee before the first day of classes, so that students can be advised and registered to the proper courses at the regular time. More about administering this exam can be found here.
The Comprehensive Exam is prepared by the Graduate Examinations Committee. The Department's faculty meets to discuss the results of the Comprehensive exam about one week after each exam. After that meeting, the answer books are available in the Department office for inspection by the students for grading errors, or for removal by the appropriate student. No grade changes are allowed to an exam book after it has left the office. It is a student's responsibility to ask a professor to regrade a particular question, and this must be done in the office. A large number of small grade changes is not an acceptable way to make a significant change in a total score. Unclaimed books may be discarded after four weeks.
Ph.D. students are generally required to pass the Comprehensive by the end of the student's fourth semester at Stony Brook; admission to the fifth semester of graduate study is contingent upon passing the comp and oral exams or by explicit approval of the Graduate Program Director. We encourage all first-year students to take the Comprehensive exam for practice. There is no expectation by the Department that such students will pass, although some do. There is absolutely no disgrace in an unsuccessful attempt.
Most students with American bachelor degrees and no additional advanced studies have passed the Comp by the beginning of the fourth semester; many pass earlier. Students with more advanced background often pass in the first year. In some cases, students pass the comprehensive exam at the beginning of the fifth semester, but that long a delay is not encouraged. In such cases, the Oral exam should be completed beforehand so that a student's status in the department is clear immediately after the written exam results are available.
The Oral exam, like the Comprehensive Exam, should be passed by the end of the student's fourth semester at Stony Brook. In practical terms, the latest passing date is August 20th for students who entered in the fall, and January 20 for those who entered in the spring. Since many students pass the Comprehensive Exam at the beginning of their fourth semester, the rest of that semester may be dedicated to preparation of the oral part.
Before the exam, the student, with the help of the graduate program director, identifies the Committee members. A sign-off sheet should be picked up in the Department's Office. One of the Committee members should be the de-facto or potential Ph.D. advisor to the student.
In some cases a student may pass the Oral Exam on time, but a thesis advisor will not be identified before the beginning of the fifth semester. In this case, students will be provisionally readmitted for the fifth semester (but not at later semesters, except if an advisor is identified). The Department can not guarantee financial support to students readmitted this way.
Foreign students are urged to be especially careful to avoid problems with their visas that could arise if they fail to complete any part of their advancement to candidacy on time.
Required courses. On the basis of work done at other universities waivers may be granted for required courses such as breadth requirements, teaching experience, PHY 515, etc. (For the courses in the core areas mentioned above the student should take the Placement Exam.) Waivers have to be requested during the first semester of study in Stony Brook and all such requests must be directed to the instructor of the relevant Stony Brook course who may then provide a written approval of the waiver to the Graduate Program Director. In general, it is not sufficient to have the transcript. The student must also bring to Stony Brook, and be prepared to show, other supporting documentation, for example a detailed course syllabus, printouts of the course WEB pages, homework assignments, etc.
In the case of the Graduate Laboratory course (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 individual experiments.
Written Comprehensive Examination. A transfer student who has been admitted into the Ph.D. program in Physics & Astronomy at Stony Brook and who has passed a written comprehensive examination as a matriculated student in the doctoral program of the physics or astronomy department at another university may request a waiver of the written comprehensive examination. To request such a waiver a student should:
Core courses. Students are required to take the core courses, except if, upon entering Stony Brook, they passed the relevant Placement Exam. If a student does not pass (or take) the Placement Exam upon entering the school in September, and does not pass the course with a grade B or better, he/she can
Oral Exam. This exam can be repeated as long as the student is within the deadlines outlined above.
The committee must be approved at least 21 days in advance by both the Graduate Program Director and the Graduate School. The Doctoral Degree Defense form should be also sent to the Graduate Program Director at least three weeks before the scheduled date of the defense.
The written Ph.D. thesis should be distributed two or three weeks before the exam, so that committee members can read the work carefully. At an appropriate time before the defense a one page, illustrated summary of the thesis work should be sent to the GPD.
The requirements for the Master's degree can be satisfied in two ways. Requirements in the "No thesis" option:
Credits transferred from another university must be for courses comparable to our own graduate courses. Transfer eligibility must first be approved in writing by the professor teaching the comparable course at Stony Brook and then by the Graduate Program Director, who will authorize departmental approval. Such credit transfers should be requested in the student's first semester at Stony Brook.
Degree requirements include demonstrated competence at the undergraduate level in the four areas of quantum mechanics, nuclear physics, solid state physics, and electronics; two semesters each of graduate lab (PHY 515, 516) and graduate seminar (PHY 598, 599); one semester as a TA (PHY 600); the major and minor projects; and the major project thesis. The courses for the first year vary according to individual backgrounds, and hence each MSI candidate should meet with the MSI Program Director before the first semester to select courses. Thereafter the advisory committees (see below) will provide the guidance. Students must complete 30 graduate credits, and submit a thesis in a format acceptable by the Graduate School that describes their major project. They must also acquire certain technical skills such as machining and programming. More details are available in the MSI brochure (a special document for MSI students available from the Department office). The second year of the two-year program is devoted to the major project, culminating in the MSI thesis describing a state-of-the-art instrument built by the student in one of our research laboratories.
The success of the MSI program derives largely from close contact between its students and the Department faculty. This contact is established and maintained through an advisory committee of three faculty members, which is established by the chair of the MSI committee for each MSI student at the time of entering the program. Successful operation of the program depends heavily on regular meetings with these committees. MSI students are responsible for organizing these meetings and are therefore urged most strongly to do this at least once during each semester. The purpose of the meetings is to discuss progress during the past semester, plans for the present semester, and especially the minor and major projects. Even during the first year, MSI students should be planning their major project. After every meeting, the student should write a brief report including the date of the meeting, the committee members present, and a few line summary of what was discussed. This report should be submitted to the MSI program director.
Because of the close connection between teaching and research in a physicist's career, all MSI students are required to teach (be a TA) for at least one semester. This usually takes the form of instructing the laboratory of experimental undergraduate courses such as junior or senior lab. Students normally do their teaching concurrently with their own first year's courses, and earn 2 academic credits per semester of being a TA through PHY 600. The effort is closely supervised by the senior faculty members teaching the associated courses. The first introduction to teaching begins before the start of classes of the first year.
The financial support offered to entering MSI students as a TA is generally not extended beyond the first year. Since they are expected to be actively involved in their major project research in their second year, MSI students should talk with faculty members in various groups during the first year about such projects as well as financial support for the first summer.
A student must be registered in the semester in which the degree is awarded (the special summer course PHY 800, Summer Research, also satisfies this requirement).
There is a special application form, called a degree card, that must be submitted to the Graduate School by a specific deadline to receive a degree. This can be obtained in the Department office. There is no charge for filing a degree card, and no difficulty created by (optimistically) filing a degree card and then not finishing a thesis by the deadline. It is the responsibility of the student to fulfill all the degree requirements before submitting a degree card application, accepting a job, or undergoing a change of visa status (e.g., practical training).
If the degree requires a thesis, it is important to consult the rules for thesis format in the Graduate Bulletin, be aware of the deadlines for submission and of applicable fees, etc. Failure to complete all the requirements may result in delayed or denied degree approvals.
In the context of written examinations "academic dishonesty" includes (i) the use of notes, books or other material (except when explicit permission has been given by the responsible faculty member) and (ii) the exchange of information between students during an examination. Giving information is as serious an offense as receiving information.
The penalties for academic dishonesty in all written examinations are severe. Any such act will result in automatic failure on the examination in question. More serious penalties will be sought as appropriate. These can include suspension or dismissal from the University.
Given the importance of the Qualifying and Comprehensive Examinations, incidents of academic dishonesty connected with this examination will be viewed with the utmost severity. In such cases, the Department will consider the most serious penalties (i.e., suspension or dismissal).
In physics, like in any other sciences, we are often inspired by other people's ideas. It is absolutely essential to give credit where it is due. Using ideas and words from others, without clearly acknowledging the source, is plagiarism. The most blatant form of this practice is cutting and pasting other's written text into a document that is supposed to be an original work. For more on this subject just type "plagiarism" in any WEB search engine. There are well developed methods to detect plagiarism and the minimum penalty for this practice is an F grade for the project involved. (Note: The best protection against being accused of plagiarism is to mark every quote, and to indicate, clearly and unambiguously, the original source.)
Many great results in physics were the results of collaborations. Correspondingly, there are many cases when collaboration between students is necessary and encouraged. Examples in our Department may include some of the work in the PHY 515 laboratory, or certain homework assignments. In each case clear rules are laid out by the faculty teaching the course. If there is any doubt, here is a simple rule: ask first, and collaborate later.
The library system contains extensive on-line resources, such as electronic journals, databases such as the Science Citation Index, etc. These are generally available only from computers on campus.
The physics building is wired with a 100MB/s network, and wireless services are available at some spots. All graduate students have direct access to the computers in Room D-119. Stealing passwords, breaking into computer systems, falsifying E-mail communications, etc. are not mischiefs but crimes, and will be dealt with accordingly.
The Department office is staffed by secretaries and other assistants who are available to help. Over the years, these devoted people have earned the respect of all the graduate students (as well as others in the Department). They have various special functions, but are often flexible and knowledgeable enough to overlap one another's areas of expertise.
Those who wish to live on campus should fill out the application on the WEB. The on-campus facilities are occasionally overbooked, and it is important to reserve a spot promptly. Those who have not received registration and housing information should let us know immediately.
Off-campus housing for individual students is difficult to find. 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. Furthermore, public transportation is very limited so a car is almost necessary. (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.) 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.
The first step is based on the campus requirement that all those eligible to become residents of the State of New York do so. The two main conditions for residency are one year of stay in NY state and an appropriate "visa" status (either US citizen, or permanent resident).
The second step is based on the fact that tuition depends on the number of credits taken, and there are limits on this, given in the chart below. The limit is not the same for all students, so find your status from your registration papers and consult the chart to determine the appropriate limit. Students who register for more than the limit will be liable for the difference.
The third step is that every year New York State residents who are classified G1, G2, G3, G4 or G5 must fill out a "TAP Certification" (improperly called a tuition waiver) form which is available in the Department office.
|Master's||G1||First year graduate student who will have completed less than 24 graduate credit hours regardless of where earned by the start of the semester.||12-18 credits|
|G2||Advanced graduate student who will have completed 24 or more graduate credits regardless of where earned by the start of the semester.||9 credits|
|Ph.D.||G3||First year graduate student who will have completed less than 24 graduate credit hours regardless of where earned by the start of the semester.||12-18 credits|
|G4||Advanced graduate student who will have completed 24 or more graduate credits regardless of where earned by the start of the semester.||9 credits|
|Adv. to candidacy||G5||Advance graduate student enrolled in a doctoral degree program that has been advanced to candidacy for the doctoral degree by the first day of classes of a semester or term.||6 credits|
Tuition waivers for students classified as Gl and G3 will cover any number of credits up to 18, including remedial ESL if there are at least 12 graduate credits. However, the tuition waivers for G2 and G4 will cover only 9 credits. If G2 or G4 students need to take English as a Second Language (ESL) courses, additional tuition support can be requested - please contact the Department's Office. This request is granted as a matter of routine. G2 and G4 students must register for "exactly" 9 credits for full time status. Note that many courses are offered for a variable number of credits, providing some flexibility to the students to satisfy these requirements. Sometimes a course may be taken for zero credit; nevertheless, in order to satisfy a Department requirement, full effort is expected from the student.
Starting in the Sping, 2005 semester tuition costs for 6 credits at the in-state rate will be charged to the research grants as students move on to research appointments (G5 status).
The Department offers financial support in the form of teaching assistantships or fellowships to essentially every member of the entering class, and all applicants are considered for such support. Awards are renewable on maintaining good academic standing. Support from research grants are available for all full-time students in the doctoral program.
P. Stephens Graduate Program Director Dept. of Physics and Astronomy Stony Brook University NY 11794-3800, USA