Department Regulations

Physics & Astronomy Department Regulations

Departmental regulations ensure that students receive a substantial education in advanced physics, timely mentoring from the faculty, and a sound research experience if they write a thesis or dissertation. Students in this latter category are strongly encouraged to become involved in research as early as possible in their graduate careers. Reasonable exceptions to the regulations described below can be granted by the DGS in writing. Such exceptions will be based upon the special needs or circumstances of individual students.

Mentoring:  Each incoming M.S. or Ph.D. student is assigned a faculty mentor during his/her first semester.  During the first semester, the student meets with the mentor to discuss the student's longer range schedule and possible research interests. During this meeting, a comprehensive plan for the student's graduate coursework is developed, a plan reflecting the student's academic needs and likely research interests. The faculty mentors meets periodically with his/her students and provides progress reports to the DGS until the student has established a Ph.D or M.S. advisory committee.

M.S. Requirements

    Students not wishing to pursue a Ph.D. are most welcome in our department. M.S. students have the options of obtaining their degrees by completion of courses only (Plan B) or by including a research thesis (Plan A). Plan A students are required to take PHY 770 during their first two semesters.  The purpose of this course is to introduce the students to faculty research programs and opportunities. Each week, students hear about the research programs of one or more faculty members. By the end of the semester, students are asked to submit brief written documents describing their research interests and capabilities. Regular grades are assigned for this course.     
     M.S. students must meet the Graduate School course requirements described in "Graduate School Regulations".  One of these is that 2/3 of the total credit hours (24 for Plan A and 30 for Plan B) must be in "regular", e.g. lecture or lab, courses.  The Department also requires that the student must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in the "regular" courses used to satisfy this requirement, and these must be 3-credit hour courses in the Department.  (Courses in other departments may be substituted with the permission of the DGS.)  
   The student must form an M.S. exam committee, consisting of (at least) three faculty members, to administer a final oral examination; the format of this exam will be decided by the committee in consultation with the student.  For Plan A students, this committee should meet with the student at least once/year to discuss the student's research progress, and provide a written report to the DGS.

Ph.D. Requirements

     1) Core courses
Core courses for Ph.D. students are PHY 504, 611, 613, 614, 615 and 632. The average of a student's final grades for these six courses must be B or higher (GPA > 3.0), with no more than one final grade of C. Students failing to meet this grade requirement may repeat core courses or else study independently and take special examinations, administered by present or past instructors of the individual courses and designed to ensure that the student has mastered the course material. Also, students who have mastered the contents of one or more core courses prior to entering the program may request special examinations in lieu of taking the courses. All requests for special examinations will be made to the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), and the time of the exam will be determined by the DGS in consultation with the instructor. Students will be expected to meet the core course requirement by the end of their sixth semester.

     2) Ph.D. breadth requirements - Prior to qualification for the Ph.D., students are required to pass (with grades of A or B) approved topical graduate courses in three different areas.  The regularly offered topical courses are: 554 (atomic physics), 591,592, 605, and 639 (astrophysics), 524,525, and 624 (condensed matter physics), 555 and 630 (nuclear physics), 556, 605, 616, and 716 (particle physics), 545 and 546 (radiation medicine), and 535 (advanced laboratory).  Students may also include graduate courses taught outside the Department upon written consent of the DGS. [Note that PHY 605 ("Gravity") may be used to satisfy the breadth requirement in either astrophysics or particle physics.]

     3) The Physics GRE - To verify proficiency in advanced undergraduate physics, Ph.D. students must pass the physics GRE examination at the 50th percentile level or higher. (The exam is given in April, September and October of each year, more specific information is available at Students must make their first attempt no later than their second semester and pass the exam at the specified level by the end of their third semester. The department will pay the exam fee once for each enrolled student if the student so requests before registering for the exam.

     4) Early research experience
     New Ph.D. students are required to enroll in a 1 credit hour course (at present PHY 770) during each of their first two semesters in the program. The purpose of this course is to introduce the students to faculty research programs and opportunities. Each week, students hear about the research programs of one or more faculty members. By the end of the semester, students are asked to submit brief written documents describing their research interests and capabilities. Regular grades are assigned for this course.
     Prior to qualification for the Ph.D., students must complete at least 3 credit hours of a research course, hold a research assistantship for at least one semester, or participate in research during a summer semester. This latter option will be strongly encouraged. In all cases, the student will write a brief description of the research activity, and the faculty mentor will write a brief evaluation of the student's effort. Both documents are submitted to the DGS and become a part of the student's file.


5) Advisory Committee - The Ph.D. committee consists of 4 faculty members (one from outside the dept.).  Once established, this Committee meets at least once per year with the student and provides a brief written report of this meeting to the DGS by the end of the spring semester. (This meeting can include a research seminar by the student; see below.)  Students are encouraged to establish this committee as early as possible and must establish the committee no later than the end of their sixth semesters.

    6) Qualification for the Ph.D.
Requirements to qualify for the Ph.D. Students must (a) meet the requirements described above, (b) establish an official Advisory Committee as required by the Graduate School, and (c) pass the oral Qualifying Examination.  Students are encouraged to qualify for the Ph.D. by the fifth semester, and they are required to do so by the end of the seventh semester.

     7) Student oral progress report on research - The Ph.D. candidate must give a substantial oral progress report on his or her research (for example, in the form of a seminar) each year prior to their thesis defense. A majority of Advisory Committee members (if practical, all of them) are to be present for this report. From the presentation, committee members will identify any academic weakness in the research in time to correct them before the final exam. The committee will report in writing any such weaknesses to the DGS.   (Reasonable exceptions to this rule will be made by the DGS, for example, in cases where the candidate is not in residence in Lexington. In such cases, the DGS will encourage the student to communicate directly with committee members to advise them of progress in the thesis research.)

     8) Submission of thesis draft to the Advisory Committee - The candidate must give all committee members a complete draft of the thesis at least four weeks prior to the final exam. Any significant shortcomings in the thesis document will be identified prior to the time that the "Dissertation Approval Sheet" is submitted to the Graduate School.
     The student must secure the signatures required by the Graduate School on the "Dissertation Approval Sheet". In signing this form, committee members certify that the thesis document is in essentially complete form, with only minor changes anticipated.   If a majority of the committee is unwilling to sign the "Dissertation Approval Sheet", prior to the two-week Graduate School deadline, the dissenting members will provide a written explanation to the student and to the DGS of the necessary changes in the thesis document. In such a case, the DGS will consult with the student and the committee members about an appropriate time to reschedule the exam.

Courses taken outside the department
The Physics & Astronomy Department encourage students to increase their employment options after graduation by broadening their education in physics-related fields. In fact, we allow students to partly satisfy their breadth requirements by taking outside courses that are approved by the DGS. At the same time, we expect students who are financially supported by the department to make reasonable progress toward their physics degrees, and we expect teaching and research assistants to allow sufficient time to carry out their assigned tasks. Therefore, we place some restrictions upon the courses that M.S. and Ph.D. students may take outside the Physics Department.

The policy

  • Any student receiving financial aid as described above who wishes to take courses taught outside the department must seek written approval to take these courses.
  • Students supported by teaching assistantships or fellowships must seek the approval of the DGS.
  • Students supported by research assistantships must seek approval of the faculty mentor supporting the student. The faculty mentor will inform the DGS of this approval if it is granted.
  • Approval for outside courses will be given if the course bears a clear connection to the student's academic program in the Physics Department and if the course will not negatively affect the student's ability to carry out activities associated with an assistantship or fellowship. Outside courses not directly related to the student's academic program in the Department may also be approved at the discretion of the DGS (teaching assistantships, fellowships) or faculty mentor (research assistantships).
  • If a student disregards this policy, the Department will have the option to discontinue financial support of the student.
  • This policy applies to courses offered outside the Physics Department and not cross listed with physics courses, and applies to all graduate students holding teaching or research assistantships or fellowships administered by the University of Kentucky.
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