Graduate Programs and Requirements

Graduate Programs and Requirements

General Graduate School Requirements

The general requirements for all graduate programs can be found in the Wake Forest University Graduate Bulletin. Listed below are the key requirements pertaining to the Physics PhD and MS programs.

The typical incoming student has taken senior level classes in Classical Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Physics & Thermodynamics, and has a strong Math background (comfortable with multivariable calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, complex numbers, vector calculus, statistics).  Deficiencies may be removed in the first year of study by taking the appropriate 600-level classes (graduate/undergraduate classes).

Please direct specific questions to the program director, Martin Guthold, gutholdm@wfu.edu.

PhD Degree Requirements

Residence Requirement. A minimum of three years of full-time study, of which at least two must be in full-time residence at the University. The total allowable time for completion of the degree must not exceed seven years.  Extensions may be granted given extenuating circumstances.

Course Requirements and Research Advisory Committee (RAC). The number of required courses is not prescribed by the Graduate School for Master’s and PhD programs. However, the Physics program does have specific course requirements, as detailed below.  Required classes cannot be taken S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), unless they are only offered S/U.

  • Physics 711 (Math Methods and Classical Mechanics); Physics 712 (Electromagnetism); Physics 741 & 742 (Quantum Mechanics I & II); Physics 770 (Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics); and participation in the Department seminar Physics 601 (Physics Seminar) for seven semesters.
  • Three more elective courses (3 credit class) at the graduate level (600 and 700 level), at least one of which must be in Physics. Coursework is arranged by the student’s research advisory committee with the approval of the departmental or program graduate committee to provide mastery of appropriate fields of concentration.  The advisory committee is appointed by the program director and consists of the student’s advisor and two members of the department or program.  Outside the department members are allowed with the approval of the program director.  Committee members need to be members of the graduate faculty.
  • Physics 891 (Dissertation research). Physics 891 is taken on a S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) basis.  While U (unsatisfactory) does not explicitly affect the GPA, a student earning a grade of U is not making satisfactory research progress and may be dismissed from the program (see dismissal below).  If a U is assigned, the course must be repeated and an S earned before the degree can be awarded.
  • A full time student must sign up for at least 9 credit hours (classes and/or research).
  • Once a student has joined a research group, he/she should discuss his/her planned course work with his/her advisor.

 Grade Point Average (GPA).  To graduate, students must achieve a GPA of 3.0 in Physics courses, and an overall GPA of 3.0.  Students will be dismissed from the program if the overall GPA is below 2.5 for two semesters.

Preliminary Exam.  The preliminary exam consists of two parts, a written exam and an oral exam. Students must have an overall GPA of at least 3.0 to take the exam.

  • Written exam. This exam is offered once a year, typically five weeks after spring semester finals week; thus, typically it is offered the second week of June.  The written preliminary exam is usually taken at the end of the first year of graduate study.  Each of the four parts of the written exam may be retaken once, and each part must be passed before the third year of graduate study.  Extensions, for example for part-time students, may be approved by the Department.  This four day exam (3 hours each day) tests four subject areas, Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Quantum Mechanics and Statistical Physics/Thermodynamics at the senior undergraduate/first-year graduate level.  Each subject is evaluated separately and a score of at least 60% is required to pass that subject exam. In case a student does not pass one or more subject exams the first time, he/she is allowed to once retake the exams that were not passed (during the next round of exams a year later). If a student fails one or more particular subject exams twice, he/she will be dismissed from the PhD program, but may continue in the Master’s program.
  • Oral exam. A research advisory committee (RAC) is appointed for each student by the program director after the student passed the written qualifying exam.  Within eighteen months of completing the preliminary examination, the student submits to his or her individual advisory committee, and defends orally, a dissertation research plan.  The advisory committee is appointed by the program director and consists of the student’s advisor and two members of the department or program.  Members from other departments are allowed with the approval of the program director.  Committee members must be members of the graduate faculty.  The examining committee passes or fails the student. In case of failure, the committee can recommend that the candidate be dropped or reexamination be allowed no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination.  The student may be reexamined only once.

Annual Research Advisory Committee (RAC) Meetings.  The research advisory committee meets annually in the late summer or early fall with the student to ensure timely progress toward the degree.

Admission to Degree Candidacy.  A student is admitted to degree candidacy by the dean of the Graduate School after recommendation by the Physics chair or program director.  The student must have passed the preliminary exam (written and oral part), and is expected to complete the degree requirements within one semester.

Dissertation requirement. Under the supervision of the research advisory committee, the candidate prepares a dissertation embodying the results of investigative efforts in the field of concentration.

Upon completion of the research in the approved plan, the student writes his or her dissertation, presents it to the Department, and defends it orally as prescribed by the Graduate School. The student formally declares the intention to graduate, with the advisor’s approval, to the graduate school (deadlines apply), and distributes a copy of the dissertation to the formal examining committee no later than 2 weeks before the examination.  The advisor should have formally reviewed the dissertation document before it is distributed.  A week before the examination, the student should insure that the title and an abstract of the talk is distributed to the faculty and announced on the departmental webpage.

The examining committee for the dissertation, which is appointed by the dean of the Graduate School, consists of at least the following five members of the graduate faculty:  1) The chair of the major department/program or a faculty member chosen by the chair; 2) the student’s advisor; 3) another member of the major department/program; 4) a representative from a related area from within or outside the department/program; and 5) a member from outside the major department, who represents the Graduate Council and who serves as chair of the committee.  (With approval of his/her advisor, a student may recommend a person who is not on the graduate faculty to serve on the examining committee as a voting member; the selection must be justified; details, see graduate bulletin).

Number of publications.  Typically, a PhD student would have about a total five peer-reviewed publications of which three are first author publications.  However, this amount can vary considerably depending on the research field, and should be discussed in conference with the advisor and the research advisory committee.

In case a dissertation chapter consists of a published paper of the student candidate and the student is the sole primary author, then no addendum to that chapter is required, unless the advisor deems it helpful. In the case a thesis chapter consists of a published paper of the student candidate and the student is one of multiple primary authors, then an addendum needs to be added at the beginning of the chapter delineating for which parts the student candidate was responsible in the paper. In the case a thesis chapter or a part of a thesis chapter consists of a published paper of the student candidate, and the student is not a primary author, an addendum needs to be added at the beginning of the chapter delineating the contribution of the student candidate.  If the student’s contribution to a paper is minor (not a primary author), it is more appropriate to use the paper as an appendix.  Which approach is best will be decided by the advisor and the research advisory committee.

About half a year before the student plans to defend his/her dissertation, the student should check the academic calendar with the graduate school to make sure that all deadlines are met! 

Final examination.  The student presents the work of his dissertation in a public talk.  The public talk should last 45 minutes to one hour.  After the public talk, the examining committee examines the student for about one hour in a closed session.  The committee may ask probing questions about the work presented in the dissertation, the research area of the dissertation, and physics in general.

After the examination, the chair will ask each of the examining committee members whether the candidate has passed unconditionally, passed upon rectifying minor deficiencies, passed upon rectifying major deficiencies, or failed.  If a student fails, he/she may be reexamined only once.  (See graduate bulletin for specific actions (signing ballot, etc) for each of the recommendations.)

The committee chair will sign the ballot and submit it to the graduate school.

Pass.  The student shall be recommended for award of the degree.

Pass with minor or major deficiencies.  The deficiencies are communicated to the student and the dean of the Graduate School.  The student and the advisor are jointly responsible for ensuring that the dissertation is modified to adresse the committee’s reservations.  When the dissertation has been modified, the student passes the examination and the student will be recommended for award of the degree.

Fail.  The reasons for failure are communicated to the student by the committee.  The student can be reexamined once.  If the student resubmits a dissertation, at least three members of the new committee have to be drawn from the original committee.

Expected workload.

  • Students are expected to spend 40 hours per week on graduate work (classes, TA assignments, research).  PhD students are highly motivated, so it is not uncommon for students to exceed this amount.  Students should understand that, in the end, they work for their own advancement, and they are responsible for their careers.  Holding a PhD means that a person is an expert and a leader in a research field, capable of identifying and solving problems independently.  Postdoctoral and faculty appointments as well as industrial jobs are very competitive.  Thus, the more productive a student is during their graduate career, the better his/her chances to secure a top position after graduation.  Productivity in a graduate career is usually judged in terms of publications, participation in conferences, and the production of theoretical or experimental results.  It is essential to discuss field-specific expectations with your advisor and RAC, then work to meet those expectations.
  • Students’ class schedules have to be discussed and approved by their advisor. If students want to take classes that are unrelated to their research or beyond the requirements of the program, they may have to do that on their own time.
  • Researchers sometimes work odd hours, and policies may vary widely across research groups. Nevertheless, it is generally expected by most research advisors that students are in the building during core business hours, Monday – Friday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm.  Differing hours and absences from the office or lab during these hours should be reported to and approved by the advisor.
  • Graduate students are expected to be here year-round; that is, the time between semesters is not off-time. If students want to take time off (vacation), they need to discuss the time period with their advisor.  A normal amount of vacation time is around 15 – 20 work days (three to four weeks) per year.  Specifics should be discussed with the advisor.  For official holidays, students should refer to the official WFU holiday schedule holiday.  If the time off exceeds the number of days allotted by the advisor, the student may not receive pay for this period, or may have to withdraw from the program.
  • Many research groups may have more specific rules, and when a student joins the research group, the student has to abide by those rules.

General professional behavior.  Graduate school is preparation for a professional career and the expectation is that students in the program have reached a high level of maturity and motivation.  Graduate students are expected to behave in a professional manner, meeting all appointments and obligations.  In the event of illness or emergency, the student is expected to inform the interested parties as soon as possible.  Graduate students are expected to keep their study areas neat and clean.

 Desks.  Every student will get a desk and is expected to keep it clean.

 

Master of Science Degree

Residence Requirement.  In general, a minimum of twelve months of full-time work or its equivalent in residence is required for the master’s degree. For students who have already completed a part of their graduate work, appropriate adjustment of the residence requirement can be made by the graduate program director. The total allowable time for completion of the degree must not exceed six years.  Extensions may be granted given extenuating circumstances.

Course requirements.  A Master of Science degree candidate must have a minimum of thirty semester hours of graduate credit (600 level classes or higher). This minimum requirement can include no more than six hours of research. Sixteen hours of lectures, conferences, or examinations, or thirty-two hours of laboratory work are equivalent to one semester hour of credit.  Required classes cannot be taken S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), unless they are only offered S/U.

Students desiring to transfer from another graduate school are not allowed more than six semester hours of credit for previous course work, except in unusual cases and upon approval of the dean of the Graduate School.

The course of study consisting of classes, seminars, and research is compiled by a group including the student, the student’s advisor, and the chair of the department or program director of the major field of interest. It is recommended that, when possible, such programs include courses in fields other than that of major interest.

  • Physics 711 (Math Methods and Classical Mechanics); Physics 712 (Electromagnetism); Physics 741 (Quantum Mechanics I); and participation in the Department seminar Physics 601 (Physics Seminar) most semesters (more than 70% of semesters spent in the program). The requirement to attend the seminar may be waived for some semesters for part-time students or given extenuating circumstances as determined by the program director.
  • At least six credit hours of research (Physics 791). Physics 791 is taken on a S/U (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) basis.  While U (unsatisfactory) does not explicitly affect the GPA, a student earning a grade of U is not making satisfactory research progress and may be dismissed from the program (see dismissal below).  If a U is assigned, the course must be repeated and an S earned before the degree can be awarded.
  • At least 24 credit hours of coursework (not counting thesis research). This coursework is typically 3 credit hour or 1.5 credit hour classes.  1 credit hour classes/seminars do not count toward the 24 credit hours of coursework. At least 12 of these 24 hours of coursework must be at the 700 level.
  • A full time student must sign up for at least 9 credit hours (classes and/or research) per semester.

 Transfer credit.  Credit may be allowed for as many as six credit hours of graduate work transferred from another institution (after evaluation and at the discretion of the program director and graduate dean).

Grade Point Average (GPA). 

  • To graduate, students must achieve a GPA of 3.0
  • A GPA of 2.5 or lower for two semesters will result in dismissal from the program.

Preliminary Examination (Written or Oral Qualifying Exam).  There is no preliminary exam for Master’s students

Admission to Degree Candidacy.  A student is admitted to degree candidacy by the dean of the Graduate School after recommendation by the Physics department.  After admission to candidacy, the student is expected to complete the master’s degree requirements by one additional semester’s work.

Thesis.  The student must complete an acceptable thesis under faculty supervision (Physics 791), and pass an oral examination in its defense.  Theses are written under the supervision of the student’s advisory committee (and advisor from the department, a second reader from within the department and a third reader either from outside the department or the student’s area of concentration).  Members must be members of the graduate faculty.  (On exception, with the approval of the advisor, the student may recommend one person who is not a member of the graduate faculty – see graduate bulletin).  A final copy of the thesis must be submitted by the candidate to the examining committee at least three weeks before the final examination. The committee will be polled by the chair of the examining committee at least ten days before the proposed date of the examination to determine the acceptability of the thesis. A minimum of five copies must be printed. Three copies become the property of the University. An abstract of approximately 200 words is also required.

Admission to Degree Candidacy.  A student is admitted to degree candidacy by the dean of the Graduate School after recommendation by the major department. The student is expected to complete the master’s degree requirements by one additional semester’s work.

Final examination (defense).  The examining committee for the thesis shall consist of at least three members of the graduate faculty, including the advisor. The committee shall be appointed by the dean of the Graduate School and may include one member from outside the student’s department or program who represents the Graduate Council and who serves as chair of the committee. With the approval of his or her advisor, a student may recommend an external member to serve on the examining committee. The thesis advisor must justify the participation of an external expert who is not a member of the graduate faculty on the basis of research, publications and/or professional activities. If the external expert is to be a voting and signing member of the examining committee, the advisor must communicate to the dean of the Graduate School, in writing, the qualifications of the external expert. The examination covers the thesis and knowledge in related areas and is conducted at least ten days prior to graduation. A student may be reexamined only once.

The final examination (defense) covers the thesis and knowledge in related areas.  Possible committee decisions are ‘unconditional pass’, ‘pass upon rectifying minor deficiencies’, ‘pass upon rectifying major deficiencies’, ‘fail’.  If a student fails, he/she may be reexamined only once.  (See graduate bulletin for specific actions (signing ballot, etc) for each of the recommendations.)

The first part of the defense must be a public talk or presentation of the student’s work.  An announcement must be posted and distributed in the department mailboxes of faculty and students and staff at least a week ahead of the talk.  This announcement includes title, date, time, and location of the presentation, as well as a summary of the student’s research, presentations given at conferences, and publications.

 

Special and Interdisciplinary Programs

Structural and Computational Biophysics Track.  The Track in Structural and Computational Biophysics offers students the opportunity to obtain advanced degrees (Ph.D. and M.S.) through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences External link icon in a traditional discipline (Physics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Biology, or Computer Science) while receiving broad training in the interdisciplinary field of Structural and Computational Biophysics. For more details see the SCB website External link icon.

Center for Functional Materials.  The Center for Functional Materials provides a platform to connect a broad range of materials-focused research groups and to support the multidisciplinary research necessary for break-through developments. The center implements its mission via activities in research, education, and outreach.  Director: Prof. Timo Thonhauser, thonhauser@wfu.edu.

Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials.  The Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials is the Wake Forest University research community’s support infrastructure for work in the nanosciences and materials sciences. Director: Prof. David Carroll, carroldl@wfu.edu.

Translational Science Center.  The mission of the Translational Science Center: Fostering Independence in Aging (TSC) is to facilitate the development and growth of a community of scholars on the Reynolda campus who will bring diverse disciplinary expertise to the study of functional health in aging. The broad objectives of the Center are to mentor and train the next generation of undergraduate and graduate students committed to translational research and medicine; catalyze the development of grant proposals and publications aimed at bringing new basic research discoveries from multiple disciplines on the Reynolda campus into treatments and programs that target the functional health of older adults; create synergies between the Translational Science Institute at the Medical School and researchers involved in translational research on the Reynolda campus; and interface with the community.  Director: Prof. Kim-Shapiro, shapiro@wfu.edu.

Molecular Signaling.  Several physics faculty, both experimental and computational, conduct research in the general area of molecular signaling as part of a multi-disciplinary molecular signaling group External link icon. Areas of specific interest for physics faculty include intracellular communication and protein structure and regulation.

Medical Physics.  The Medical Physics Program at Wake Forest University is an inter-departmental program of graduate study leading to the PhD degree in Physics, with a concentration in Medical Physics. Medical Physics is the study of the applications of physics in medicine. Historically, the field of medical physics has included diagnostic radiology physics, nuclear medicine physics, and radiation therapy physics. Closely related fields include radiation safety, non-ionizing radiation physics (magnetic resonance imaging, hyperthermia, lasers), ultrasound physics, imaging and computational sciences, biomedical engineering and biological physics. Faculty medical physicists in the Wake Forest School of Medicine are adjunct faculty in Physics and serve as teachers and research advisors for the Medical Physics Program.  Additional information may be obtained by contacting Professor J. Daniel Bourland  [link: bourland@wakehealth.edu] or Professor Michael T. Munley [link: mmunley@wakehealth.edu ].

The WFU Medical Physics Program provides a combination of didactic, laboratory, research and clinical experiences to educate and train PhD medical physicists for productive careers in research, education and clinical service.  Core courses include radiological physics, radiation therapy physics (physics of radiation treatment), and physics of medical imaging (diagnostic imaging physics), medical health physics, radiation biology and anatomy.

Medical Physics training programs at the graduate and postgraduate levels are credentialed by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP). Such credentialing is important because completion of postgraduate training from a CAMPEP-accredited medical physics residency is a required step for board certification in medical physics.  The WFU Medical Physics Program has not pursued CAMPEP accreditation and thus is not a CAMPEP-accredited program. Program applicants should inquire of the program’s CAMPEP status, since admission to a CAMPEP-accredited program may be a primary consideration for a future career.