As part of your education, we want to ensure that first and foremost, you know how to “think like a physicist”. This implies that you can synthesize knowledge from different areas, make educated guesses and take your hard-earned course-based knowledge to the next level, where you will apply it and knowledge that you acquire independently or with your mentors and peers to solve problems of interest. That is why we prefer a broad education and course base, and our education will prepare you for a career not just in the specific area that is your dissertation topic but our Ph. D. should prepare you for a career as a professional scientist, with all the flexibility that that implies.
Physicists must also learn how to communicate using written, spoken and presentation skills. You will acquire these skills as part of our course work. For example, Physics 6510, our Advanced Laboratory course has formal materials on how to carry out “Back of the envelope calculations” and a requirement to write lab reports in standard journal (Physical Review Letters) format as well as make a presentation to faculty and peers in a timed format. These formative skills are essential for the practicing Physicist.
Additionally, it is essential that Physicists are aware of ethical issues pertaining to the conduct and dissemination of research, in collaborative research endeavors as well as instances that may arise concerned with the teaching arena. Opportunities to participate in training concerned with ethical issues will be provided and must be completed by all students in their first year. The successful completion of the Responsible Conduct of Research unit online is required of all students.
A candidate for a Ph.D. in Physics is expected to demonstrate mastery of knowledge in the field of Physics, and to synthesize and create knowledge by making an original and substantial contribution to the Field of Physics in a timely fashion.
Proficiencies that are required to be demonstrated by the candidate:
Make an original and substantial contribution to the discipline:
● Show your ability of Independent thinking and creativity
● Identify new research opportunities in field
The ability to acquire and communicate advanced research skills
● Bring together existing knowledge, identify, and seek out resources, information; apply these to evaluate and apply your own research findings as well as those of others. Apply research findings as appropriate.
● Master and/or innovate research methodologies, and techniques
● Master communication skills for oral and written information exchange
A commitment to advancing scholarship
● Maintain familiarity with advances in the field
● Engage and communicate findings via professional publications, participation in professional societies, research seminars and other modes of communication
● Support learning—through teaching, collaborative inquiry, mentoring, or demonstration
Demonstrate professional skills
● Advance ethical standards in the field
● Listen, give, and receive feedback effectively.
Assessment of Learning Outcomes
Exams and assessment are part of the learning process. Formal learning in a classroom environment is assessed in exams that are a part of course work, and could be either take-home, timed in-class exams or term-papers combined with presentation of materials. The Q exam will assess your knowledge of Physics, ability to express yourself and communicate as well as your ability to analyze a problem, break it down into “bite sized components” and work through to obtain an acceptable solution. Examination of your ability to carry out “back of the envelope calculations” is part of the Q exam process. All of these will help faculty assess your success in transitioning from a “knowledge-acquirer” to a practicing physicist who can synthesize and attack complex problems as well create new knowledge by carrying out original research.
The second examination is the Admission to Candidacy Examination (ACE), a comprehensive exam that gauges your knowledge of the field and readiness for independent research. This, too, is an oral examination, but it is administered by the members of your permanent Special Committee. Normally the ‘A’ exam, as it is called, is preceded by one or more written assignments. After passing this exam, usually sometime in your third year, you begin research in earnest. If you have skipped core courses (for example if you took graduate course work as an undergrad) then your Special Committee may ask you questions pertaining to that material. In answering questions, you should also be prepared to demonstrate broad knowledge in your research area as well as communication and presentation skills.
Your third and final exam is the defense of your thesis, the ‘B exam’. It is an oral exam that you take after you complete your Ph.D. thesis research and present it to the members of your committee. The exam covers your thesis and related matters. The B exam also is an “open examination” that will permit the faculty (and your fellow students) to assess the quality of your research and highlights your written, oral and communication skills.