Skip to main content
Skip to main menu Skip to spotlight region Skip to secondary region Skip to UGA region Skip to Tertiary region Skip to Quaternary region Skip to unit footer


Rules for Admission to PhD candidacy

Rules for Admission to PhD candidacy – May 2013

To be promoted to PhD candidacy a student must be deemed to have passed three criteria: 1) core course work; 2) a written prelim exam; 3) an oral exam.  In addition to these criteria, a student must also find a research advisor to work with.  No student will be admitted to PhD candidacy without a research advisor.

The first two criteria have passing thresholds that are clearly and unambiguously defined.  The third criterion is more subjective, but we list guidelines for achieving a passing mark.  We discuss the regulations for each criterion below.

1) Core course work

The 6 current courses that comprise the core will remain the same as in the old policy: PHYS 8101, 8102, 8201, 8202, 8011, 8301.  A minimum threshold of a 3.0 average in all core courses is consistent with Graduate School rules for satisfactory academic progress and will constitute a passing mark for the core courses.  In addition to the 3.0 average requirement, no more than one core course may have a grade of C+ or B-.  Core courses with grades of C or lower will have to be retaken.  If a student is exempted from any of the core courses, the above criteria will apply to the actual courses taken at UGA.  Core course work must be completed before the oral exam is taken.

2) Written prelim exam

A written exam is required for admission to candidacy by the Graduate School.  A passing grade for the written exam must be achieved before the oral exam can be taken.  Criteria for passing are described below (see 2.2).  If the student fails the written exam, then the student must take the exam again, as long as the student still has remaining attempts to do so (see 2.3).  If the student has used up all his/her opportunities to take the written exam and has failed all of them, then the student will not be admitted to PhD candidacy and must choose one of the following options: 1) leave the department; 2) stay in the department but be switched to the MS program, either thesis or non-thesis.  Note that a switch to the MS program involves a lower pay rate than when one is in the PhD program.

2.1)  Structure of the written prelim exam

The written exam will remain at the current level and be given over two days.  There will be two opportunities to take the exam per academic year: the week before the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters.  However, the topics of each day will now be defined and a student will be judged to have passed or failed each day.  The first day questions will be confined to Classical Mechanics, Electrodynamics, and Optics, and the second day questions will be confined to Thermal Physics, Modern Physics, and Quantum Mechanics.  A student that passes one of the two “days” but fails the other will only have to take the exam for the failed day on subsequent written exam attempts.

2.2)  Passing scores

A passing performance is not based on an overall grade for the exam but, rather, on the number of questions passed each day.   Each day’s exam will have 5 questions; 3 out of 5 questions must be satisfactorily completed for that day’s exam to be considered as passed.  Members of the written prelim exam committee will examine each answer and decide whether the student has answered the question satisfactorily or unsatisfactorily.  To qualify as a “satisfactory” answer, at a minimum, the student must demonstrate that (i) the question was fully understood; (ii) a correct approach to solving it was attempted, using applicable physical principles, valid mathematical analysis, and logical reasoning; and (iii) that the essence of the correct solution was obtained or nearly obtained. "Essence of the correct solution" includes that the proposed solution has the correct units (if applicable), is not horribly wrong in scale (if applicable), and cannot be immediately discounted on the basis of unphysical parameter proportionality or limiting behavior. The grader may award a passing grade to a problem even though a final solution was never reached; in this case the final missing step or steps must be a small part of the full solution, not requiring additional critical input, and the student must be clearly on the right track.  

Thus, the result for each question is binary, rather than a value on a numerical scale.  Passing the exam for a given day consists in getting a satisfactory vote for at least 3 of the 5 questions. 

2.3)  Number of attempts at written exam

A student will be given a total of 4 chances to take the written exam (normally, before the beginning of student’s first, second, third, and fourth Fall or Spring semesters – an exception to starting the sequence at the beginning of the student’s first semester will be if the student needs to take remedial 6000-level courses to make up for deficiencies in undergraduate preparation.  In that case, a student will begin his/her written exam sequence after completing the remedial 6000-level course work.  Unless the student successfully petitions his/her committee to postpone an attempt, the attempts will be taken consecutively.  Petitions to postpone an attempt at the written exam must be made to the Graduate Curriculum Committee at least a week before the date of the first exam day.  In an emergency, the Graduate Coordinator may be petitioned up until the day before the exam.  No petitions will be accepted after the exam is given (in other words, if the exam is not attempted, a result of “fail” will be recorded) or if the student has attempted at least one of the days.  Once the student’s 4 possible attempts have expired or the student has not passed both days after the 4th attempt, the student will be deemed to have failed the written exam and will not be granted admission to PhD candidacy.

3) Oral exam

The Graduate School requires that an oral exam be given and passed with no more than one dissenting vote by the student’s research committee (see 3.1) before admission to candidacy may be granted.  The purpose of the new oral exam is to test a student’s research capability.  Thus, before the student takes the oral exam, he/she must have completed the core, passed the written exam, and have worked under the supervision of a research advisor for at least 1 semester.  The student and research advisor will let the committee know when the student will take the oral exam, but this must occur before the end of the student’s fourth year, though under normal circumstances the student and the advisor are encouraged to schedule the oral exam by the end of the third year.   If the oral exam is not successfully passed before the end of the fourth year, the student will not be advanced to PhD candidacy.  In this eventuality, the student and his/her research advisor may petition the Graduate Curriculum Committee for an extension if circumstances warrant this.

3.1)  Setting up the research committee

Incoming students are assigned an advisory committee in the same manner as is currently done.  This committee will stay with the student until the student finds a research advisor.  Once the student has been with the research advisor for at least one semester, the advisory committee is disbanded and a research committee that is familiar with the student’s area of research must be assembled.  No student will be allowed to take the oral exam without having assembled a research committee.

3.2)  Nature of the oral exam

The oral exam will be a presentation of the student’s research proposal for the PhD degree. The research committee will attend the presentation and then register a vote of “pass”, “fail”, or conditional (see 3.3).   If two or more votes are “fail”, then the student will have failed the oral exam and will not be admitted to PhD candidacy.  If two or more votes are “conditional” or if one vote is “fail” and one or more are “conditional”, then the student will have neither passed nor failed the oral exam.  Instead, he or she has to repeat the oral exam within four weeks.   On the student’s second attempt, the committee members must register a vote of “pass” or “fail”, with two or more “fail” votes meaning that the student has failed the oral exam and will not be admitted to candidacy.   If the student is not admitted to PhD candidacy, then the student’s options are 1) leave the department; 2) stay in the department but be switched to the MS program, either thesis or non-thesis.

3.3)  Guidelines for passing the oral exam

The evaluation of the student’s oral presentation of his/her research proposal is, by necessity, subjective in nature.  However, we list the following minimum criteria the research presentation should achieve: 1) a clear exposition of the student’s past research project(s) and future research plans; 2) a basic grasp of the physical processes relevant to the student’s research; 3) a solid understanding of where the research project fits in the more general areas of physics or astronomy.

4) Satisfactory Progress 

At the end of the Fall semester of the student’s second year, and every subsequent Fall semester, the student’s graduate committee will be convened and meet with the student to review the student’s progress to the degree for that year.  After review of the student’s performance over the calendar year and discussion with the student, a summary statement as to whether or not the student is making satisfactory progress will be made and included in the student’s file.

5) Inception

This proposal, if accepted by the faculty, would begin with the Fall 2013 semester.  Those students already in our program who have not yet been admitted to PhD candidacy will be given the option of sticking with the old system or adopting the one proposed here.  Students admitted under the old system who have taken the written exam at least once and who have opted to switch to the new system will have their written exams counted towards their maximum total of 4.

Your gift helps to fund research, travel, and field experience for students and faculty.

Click Here to Learn More About Giving