PhD in Physics

The PhD program educates students to become scholars and researchers in physics. Our graduates are trained to teach and to carry out original research that is theoretical, experimental, or both. Research specialties include:

  • Experimental particle physics
  • Particle astrophysics
  • Theoretical particle physics and cosmology
  • Molecular biophysics
  • Experimental biophysics
  • Experimental condensed matter physics
  • Theoretical quantum condensed matter physics
  • Statistical physics
  • Polymer physics
  • Computational physics

Our program prepares scientists for careers in academic, industrial, and government settings. To be admitted to the program, a student needs at least a bachelor’s degree in physics or a closely related discipline. Students are admitted post-bachelor’s or post-master’s, depending on their highest previous degree.

Our program offers numerous interdisciplinary opportunities, particularly with Boston University’s College of Engineering and the Photonics Center. Major resources include the Scientific Instrument Facility, the Electronics Design Facility, and the Center for Computational Science.

Course Requirements

Post-Bachelor’s Requirements

A total of sixteen 4-credit courses (64 credits) are required to fulfill the PhD requirements (with grades of B– or higher). Course requirements are as follows:

  • Ten lecture courses numbered between 500 and 850, including:
    • CAS PY 511: Quantum Mechanics I
    • CAS PY 512: Quantum Mechanics II
    • CAS PY 501: Mathematical Physics
    • CAS PY 521: Electromagnetic Theory I
    • CAS PY 541: Statistical Mechanics I
    • CAS PY 581: Advanced Laboratory (may be waived if a student submits evidence of having taken an equivalent course at their undergraduate institution. If PY 581 is waived, it must be replaced with another 4-credit lecture course.)
  • GRS PY 961: Scholarly Methods in Physics I

The remaining courses must be chosen from an approved list of lecture courses found on the department website, including at least two distribution courses from outside the student’s research specialty (see PhD degree requirements on the department website for more details).

Up to six non-lecture courses (numbered above 850) may be counted toward requirements, but no more than two directed study courses and two seminar courses may be counted.

Students are encouraged to audit courses after the completion of formal course requirements en route to the PhD.

Post-Master’s Requirements

Eight 4-credit courses (32 credits) are required with grades of B- or higher. These include CAS PY 581: Advanced Laboratory, if such a course was not taken previously, and at least five courses numbered between 500 and 850, of which at least two are distribution courses from outside the student’s research specialty (see PhD requirements in the department website for more details).

Up to three non-lecture courses may be applied to the eight-course requirement, but no more than one directed study course and one seminar course may be counted.

A student with more than two grades below B−in any of the required 4-credit courses will be terminated from the PhD program.

Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for this degree.

Qualifying Examinations

Each student is required to demonstrate proficiency in physics, which includes a comprehensive written examination that covers a range of fundamental topics, and a more specialized preliminary oral examination. The oral examination involves the presentation of results of a limited-scale research project. In this examination, the candidate is expected to demonstrate research competency and mastery of the basic underlying knowledge. The written and oral examinations together constitute the PhD Qualifying Examination required by the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. Upon successful completion of both sections, the student is formally advanced to PhD candidacy and may begin a doctoral research project. For more information regarding the written and oral comprehensive exams, please see the department website.

Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

Candidates shall demonstrate their abilities for independent study in a dissertation representing original research or creative scholarship. A prospectus for the dissertation must be completed and approved by the readers, the director of graduate studies, and the department chair/program director approximately seven months before the final oral exam, and no later than the Fall Semester of the student’s fifth year. Candidates must undergo a final oral examination in which they defend their dissertation as a valuable contribution to knowledge in their field and demonstrate a mastery of their field of specialization in relation to their dissertation. All portions of the dissertation and final oral examination must be completed as outlined in the GRS General Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree.

Interim Progress Report

The student must submit an Interim Progress Report to the director of graduate studies by the end of the fourth year. This report is a 3–5 page (single spaced, 12-point font) description of the student’s PhD research activities. It should include the anticipated research scope, research accomplishments, and time scale for completion of the PhD. The report should be prepared in consultation with, and the approval of, all members of the PhD Committee.

Departmental Seminar

The student is required to give a generally accessible seminar related to his or her dissertation project as part of a Graduate Seminar Series. All five members of the PhD Committee must attend the seminar; other faculty and students are encouraged to attend. The seminar should be presented shortly after the dissertation prospectus is prepared and no later than six months before the final oral exam.

Immediately after the seminar, the PhD Committee meets privately with the student to discuss the details of research required for the completion of a satisfactory PhD dissertation.