Guide to Graduate Studies in Physics & Astronomy

Guide to Graduate Studies in Physics & Astronomy

I this guide we describe the requirements for the various degrees we are offering, as well as some useful information on Services offered by the Department. See also our "Frequently Asked Questions" page. If you can not find the answers to your questions, Jacobus Verbaarschot, Graduate Program Director, at

Table of Contents

The Graduate Program in Physics resides in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. The program offers three graduate degrees, the Ph.D. degree in Physics, The M.A. degree in Physics and the M.S degree in Physics

The Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) is formally offered by the School of Professional Development and is not part of the Physics Graduate Program. This degree prepares students with a BA degree in a physical science or engineering for the New York State certification as a secondary school teacher. This program addresses the widely known shortage of well trained high school physics teachers. Students should apply directly to the School of Professional Development. Students with a physics background generally take special physics course for teachers and work closely with Professor Robert McCarthy to prepare a program of study.

The Ph.D. Degree

Completing a Ph.D. in physics or astronomy is a difficult job, not only because of the large amount of intellectual and emotional effort, but also because of the many requirements. We first discuss the requirements for the Default track.

Requirements for the Default Track

The requirements are neither all sequential nor all parallel; they are presented in their proper relationship in the flow chart below. Each box represents a step that must be achieved and those connected by lines are necessarily sequential. The discussion below is divided into three major sections: 1) required courses, 2) exams, and 3) thesis research. Only the courses with a grade B or better are counted towards the Ph.D. degree.

Core courses

One of the requirements for advancement to candidacy is demonstration of the command of four core areas of physics: Classical Mechanics (PHY 501), Electricity and Magnetism (PHY 505), Quantum Mechanics (PHY 511/512) and Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics (PHY 540). If a student already successfully passed similar courses elsewhere a student fulfill the course requirments of one or more of these core courses by taking advanced graduate courses (subject to approval by an Advising Committee appointed by the Graduate Program Director). If that is not the case you can still skip these courses by a sufficiently good performance in the corresponding parts of a placement examination given at the beginning of each fall semester { (2nd year students and beyond need permission from the Graduate Program Director). Most students take the core course during their first year.

PHY 598 and 599 are required of all Ph.D., M.S.I. and M.A. students. Almost everybody should take them in their first two semesters at Stony Brook as they provide a good way to get acquainted with the department. The two courses cover different areas of physics, and they can taken in any order.

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.

PHY 501 - Classical Mechanics
PHY 505 - Classical Electrodynamics
PHY 511 - Quantum Mechanics I
PHY 598 or 599 - Graduate Seminars
PHY 600 - Teaching
PHY 698 - Colloquium
PHY 540 - Statistical Mechanics
PHY 514 - Graduate Laboratory
PHY 512 - Quantum Mechanics II
PHY 600 - Teaching
PHY 598 or 599 - Graduate Seminars
PHY 698 - Colloquium

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 (if it is offered), which presents topics that complement traditional material and enable students to fill in gaps in their background.

Other Required Courses for the Ph.D.

Thesis AreaPossible Breadth Course
  52(1-4)551552555/6557565/6612620 680 682 683
684 559
Astronomy * * * * * * * * S SS S *
Accelerator Physics * * * * * * * * S S S S *
Atomic and Optical * * * * *   * * S S S S *
X-ray Physics * * * * *   * * S S S S *
Biological Physics * * * * * * * * S S S S
Condensed Matter Experiment * * *   * * * * S   S S *
Condensed Matter Theory * * *  * * * * S   S S *
High Energy Nuclear Experiment * * S * * * S S S S *
Particle Experiment * * S *   *   * S S S S *
Low Energy Nuclear Experiment *   S * * * * * S S S S *
High Energy Nuclear Theory * * S * *    S S S *
Particle Theory * * S *   *    S S S *
Low Energy Nuclear Theory * S * * * * S S S *
Mathematical Physics * * * * * * * S S S *
Statistical Mechanics * * * * * * S S *
String Theory * * * * * * * S S S *

Breadth courses indicated by "S" are subject to approval by the graduate program director. 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 announcements. If in doubt, students should consult the Graduate Program Director before taking the course.

Other science departments in the University offer courses which may be considered as possible breadth courses. Students wishing to fulfill the breadth requirement with courses offered outside the physics department should clear their choice with the director of the graduate program.

Either course I or course II in the same field can be used, not both.

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.

Students in the Astronomuy track have the option to take three or four astronomy courses (PHY 521-524). In the first option they have to take only one breadth course, and in the second case the breadth requirement is waived.

Ph.D. E