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Requirements for a Doctorate in Physics

An advanced degree in physics at Caltech is contingent upon an extensive research achievement. Students in the program are expected to join a research group, carry out independent research, and write publications for peer-reviewed journals as well as a thesis. The thesis work proposed to a Caltech candidacy committee then presented and evaluated by a Caltech thesis committee in a public defense. Initially, students are required to consolidate their knowledge by taking advanced courses in at least three subfields of physics. Students must also pass a written candidacy exam in both classical physics and quantum mechanics in order to progress into the research phase of the degree.

Graduates of our program are expected to have extensive experience with modern research methods, a broad knowledge of contemporary physics, and the ability to perform as independent researchers at the highest intellectual and technical levels.

The PhD requirements are below and are also available in the Caltech Catalog, Section 4: Information for Graduate Students.

MILESTONESTIMEFRAME
Submit Plan of Study for approval by Graduate Option RepBy end of first term
Complete 2 terms of Phys 242 CourseFall & Winter Term of first year
Complete Basic Physics Requirement by passing the 
Written Candidacy Exams
By end of second year
Complete the Advanced Physics RequirementBy end of second year
Complete the Oral Candidacy ExamBy end of third year
Hold Annual Thesis Advisory Committee meetings6 months to 1 year after the oral candidacy
exam and every year thereafter
Final PhD DefenseBy the end of fifth or sixth year

Plan of Study

The plan of study is the set of courses that a student will take to complete the Advance Physics Requirement, any courses needed as preparation to pass the Written Candidacy Exams (see below), and any additional courses the student plans to take as part of their graduate curriculum. Students should consult with their Academic Advisor on their Plan of Study and discuss any exception or special considerations with the Option Representative. 

What to do in REGIS?
Log in to REGIS and navigate to the Ph. D. Candidacy Tab of your Graduate Degree Progress page. Add you courses into the Plan of Study section. When complete, click the "Submit Plan of Study to Option Rep" button. This will generate a notice to the Option Rep to approve your plan of study. Once you complete the courses in the Plan of Study, the Advanced Physics Requirement is completed.

Written Candidacy Exams

Physics students must demonstrate proficiency in all areas of basic physics, including classical mechanics (including continuum mechanics), electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, statistical physics, optics, basic mathematical methods of physics, and the physical origin of everyday phenomena. A solid understanding of these fundamental areas of physics is considered essential, so proficiency will be tested by written candidacy examinations.

No specific course work is required for the basic physics requirement, but some students may benefit from taking several of the basic graduate courses, such as Ph 106, Ph 125, and Ph 127. In addition, the class Ph 201 will provide additional problem solving training that matches the basic physics requirement.

Exam I: Classical Mechanics and Electromagnetism
    
Topics include: TBA

Exam 2: Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics
     Topics include: TBA

Upcoming Exams:

(Classical Exam) Monday, October 8, 2018 - 9am - 12pm
(Quantum Exam) Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 9am - 12pm

Email mika.walton@caltech.edu to sign up

What to do in REGIS?
Nothing additional. Sign up for the exam by emailing the physics graduate office. The graduate office will update your REGIS record once you pass the exams.

Advanced Physics Requirement

Students must establish a broad understanding of modern physics through study in six graduate courses. The courses must be spread over at least three of the following four areas of advanced physics

Physics of elementary particles and fields (Nuclear Physics, High Energy Physics, String Theory)

                Ph 135c Intro to Particle Physics
                Ph 205abc Relativistic Quantum Field Theory
                Ph 217 Intro to the Standard Model
                Ph 230 Elementary Particle Theory (offered every two years)
                Ph 250 Intro to String Theory (offered every two years)

Quantum Information and Matter (Atomic/Molecular/Optical Physics, Condensed-Matter Physics, Quantum Information)

                Ph 103 Atomic Physics (offered every two years)      
                Ph 127bc Statistical Physics
                Ph 135a Intro to Condensed Matter Physics
                Ph 135b Quantum Optics
                Ph 136a Applications of Classical Physics (Stat Mech, Optics) (offered every two years)
                Ph 137a Atoms and Photons
                Ph 219abc Quantum Computation
                Ph 223ab Advanced Condensed Matter Physics

Physics of the Universe (Gravitational Physics, Astrophysics, Cosmology)            

                Ph 136b Applications of Classical Physics (Elasticity, Fluid Dynamics) (offered every two years)
                Ph 136c Applications of Classical Physics (Plasma, GR) (offered every two years)
                Ph 236ab Relativity
                Ph 237 Gravitational Waves (offered every two years)
                Ay 121 Radiative Processes

Interdisciplinary Physics (e.g. Biophysics, Applied Physics, Chemical Physics, Mathematical Physics, Experimental Physics)

                Ph 77 Advanced Physics Lab 
                Ph 101 Order of magnitude (offered every two years)
                Ph 118 Physics of measurement
                Ph 129 Mathematical Methods of Physics
                Ph 136a Applications of Classical Physics (Stat Mech, Optics) (offered every two years)
                Ph 136b Applications of Classical Physics (Elasticity, Fluid Dynamics) (offered every two years)
                Ph 229 Advanced Mathematical Methods of Physics

What to do in REGIS?
Nothing additional. Once you complete the courses in your approved Plan of Study, the Advanced Physics Requirement is complete.

Oral Candidacy Exam

The Oral Candidacy Exam is primarily a test of the candidate's suitability for research in his or her chosen field. Students should consult with the executive officer to assemble their oral candidacy committee. The chair of the committee should be someone other than the research adviser.

The candidacy committee will examine the student's knowledge of his or her chosen field and will consider the appropriateness and scope of the proposed thesis research during the oral candidacy exam. This exam represents the formal commitment of both student and adviser to a research program.

See also the Physics Candidacy FAQs

What to do in REGIS?
Login to REGIS, navigate to the Ph. D. Candidacy Tab of your Graduate Degree Progress page, and scroll down to the Candidacy Examination section. Enter your candidacy committee members and a brief description of the topic of your presentation. Click the "Submit Candidacy Committee for Approval" button and this will automatically generate notifications for the Option Rep and your advisor to approve your committee. Enter the date, time, and location of your exam and click "Submit Examination Details." Your committee members will automatically be sent email reminders with the exam details. 

After the exam, your committee members will enter their result and any comments they may have. Non-Caltech committee members are instructed to send their results and comments to the physics graduate office who will enter the information on their behalf. Once all "pass" results have been entered, the Option Rep will be prompted to recommend you for admission to candidacy. The recommendation goes to the Dean of Graduate Studies who has the final approval to formally admit you to candidacy.

Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC)

After the oral candidacy exam, students will hold annual meetings with their Thesis Advisory Committee (TAC). The TAC will review the research progress and provide feedback and guidance towards completion of the degree. Students should consult with the executive officer to assemble their oral candidacy committee and TAC by the end of their third year. The TAC is normally constituted from the candidacy examiners, but students may propose variations or changes at any time to the option representative. The TAC chair should be someone other than the research Adviser. The TAC chair will typically also serve as the thesis defense chair, but changes may be made in consultation with the Executive Officer and the Option Rep.

What to do in REGIS?
Login to REGIS, navigate to the Ph. D. Examination Tab of your Graduate Degree Progress page, and scroll down to the Examination Committee section. Enter the names of your Thesis Advisory Committee members. Click the "Submit Examination Committee for Approval" button and this will automatically generate notifications for the Option Rep and the Dean of Graduate Studies to approve your committee.

Enter the date, time and location of your TAC meeting and click "Submit Details." Your committee members will automatically be sent email reminders with the meeting details. 

PhD Defense

The final thesis examination will cover the thesis topic and its relation to the general body of knowledge of physics. The candidate should send the thesis document to the defense committee and graduate office at least two weeks prior to the defense date. The defense must take place at least three weeks before the degree is to be conferred. Please refer to the Graduate Office and Library webpages for thesis guidelines, procedures, and deadlines.

What to do in REGIS?
Login to REGIS and navigate to the Ph. D. Examination tab of your Graduate Degree Progress page. By default, the thesis committee is the same as your TAC committee. If you need to change your committee members, please contact the physics graduate office. 

Enter the following information:
-Date, time, and location of your exam and click the "Submit Examination Details" button. Your committee members will automatically be sent email reminders with the exam details. 
-Commencement Information and click the "Submit Commencement Information" button (at least 2 weeks prior to defense)
-Marching Information and click the "Submit your Marching Information" button (at least 2 weeks prior to commencement)

After the exam, your committee members will enter their result and any comments they may have in REGIS. Non-Caltech committee members are instructed to send their results and comments to the physics graduate office who will enter the information on their behalf. Once all "pass" results have been entered and your electronic thesis submission has been has been accepted (see Library website), the Division chair, then Dean of Graduate studies, will be prompted to approve your thesis.

Other steps for final defense, including submission to the graduate office and library, are detailed here.