Skip to Navigation
    University of Massachusetts Boston
  Sep 22, 2017
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog 
2015-2016 Graduate Catalog

Applied Physics, PhD

Return to Colleges and Departments Return to: Colleges and Departments

The PhD in applied physics prepares students for broad career options and not just academic positions. Like our masters program, the PhD provides a framework that allows inclusion of capable, non-traditional candidates for a PhD. Unlike many PhD programs that seek to train academics, the constituency for this degree consists primarily of those who wish to work as independent researchers in high tech industries, positions that demand the independent thinking developed during PhD training. Our emphasis will be on problem solving broadly construed. We seek students for whom the discipline of thought inherent in advanced study of physics will be an aid in finding solutions to a broad spectrum of problems.

The program design is intended to accommodate local working professionals in a variety of sectors where physics skills, appropriately contextualized, would be useful for career advancement. The curriculum is considerably different from a traditional physics PhD structure. For example, there is a significantly greater emphasis on labs skills and data acquisition and a greater accommodation of cross-disciplinarity. At its core, the curriculum develops the “three-legged stool” of theoretical, experimental and computational skills, which together promote the widest range of applicability of core physics ideas.

The PhD is considered an extension of the applied physics masters program. All students are admitted into the masters program. Those who satisfy the requirements for candidacy will advance into the PhD. In certain special cases, direct admission to the PhD program will be considered for applicants with advanced credentials on a case-by-case basis.


Curricular Requirements

Since the PhD is built upon the master’s program, the course work encompasses the requirements for the master’s degree plus additional required classes.

Master's Requirements

The MS in applied physics is a 34-credit program. Each student must complete seven courses, as follows: three one-semester laboratory courses, three one-semester theoretical courses, and one elective course, also in applied physics, to be chosen in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor, totaling, at 4 credits each, 28 credits. In addition students must undertake either an internship at an off-campus research laboratory or an on-campus thesis project, either of which, when successfully completed, will earn 6 credits. In exceptional cases, with prior approval of the program, a student may graduate with nine courses (substituting two additional courses for the internship or thesis requirement). These courses must be chosen as a coherent subject of specialization in an applied area of special interest to the student.

Thesis or Internship

To complete the MS in applied physics requires that students complete an on-campus thesis or an off-campus internship or research laboratory. Choose one.

PhD Requirements

Typically, students admitted to the PhD program will be required to take the foundational and fundamental classes and a selection of basic lab courses, which also serve the MS program, in preparation for fulfilling their candidacy requirements. After the completion of each foundational course, they will be encouraged to take the corresponding portion of the comprehensive exam. This will put them on track to be admitted into candidacy before the beginning of their third year. They will be expected to take another five courses before graduation with at least two of those courses coming from the fundamental component of the curriculum.

NOTE: Foundation courses are required and tested on qualifying exams. Fundamental courses refer to ones that develop essential skills that are pertinent to all facets of physics.



In addition to the electives listed above, PhD candidates may also choose from the following:

Other Course Options

The following courses may be either used to substitute for a required course that isn’t being offered in a particular year or taken as an elective.

Written Candidacy Exam

Students must pass a written comprehensive test broken into sections related to the foundational disciplines of physics: classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, statistical physics, and quantum mechanics.

The comprehensive portion of the candidacy exam will be offered every year in August. Each section can be taken and passed separately from the others. Upon admission into the program, students will be allowed an opportunity to take the test before beginning classes. Any section that they pass will be taken as an indication of competence in that discipline and will allow the incoming students to forgo further instruction in that portion of the core. Once students have started taking classes, they will be given two opportunities to pass each section of the test. Since classes will typically be offered every other year, they may take only those sections in which they have received instruction and defer sections for which they are not prepared until the next year. Placing out of a foundational course does not change the minimum number of courses that a student needs to complete the program, but this allows the student to take more upper level electives sooner.

Oral Candidacy Exam

The oral portion of the candidacy test will be taken at any time before the third year of study, for part-time working students, this can be extended by up to 1 year. It will consist of a study into a topic of contemporary research. The study will lead to preparation of a paper on that subject in the range of ten to twenty pages (plus references) and an oral presentation of forty minutes to an hour on the subject. The oral presentation shall be made to a panel of at least three members of the Physics faculty. If the student envisions working on a topic that other UMass faculty have expertise in, non-Physics faculty will be allowed on the committee. After the oral presentation, a question and answer period will follow. The questions should be relevant to the topic at hand but may be of a general nature. The student should expect to perform simple calculations in front of the examination committee in the process of answering. Once the question and answer section has concluded, the examination committee will briefly meet in private to consider whether or not the student has shown sufficient scholarly promise to proceed to candidacy. This decision shall be by consensus.

Dissertation and Defense

A dissertation shall be a significant body of independent experimental or theoretical research performed by the candidate under the supervision of an advisor and a dissertation committee. The candidate will write up this research as a formal dissertation and submit it to his dissertation committee for review. The committee will review the dissertation and request appropriate corrections and clarifications of the document from the student until they are satisfied with its quality. The student will then defend the dissertation before the department. The dissertation defense will consist of a formal public presentation of the research of approximately one hour plus questions, followed by a private oral examination of the student’s work by his committee. When the committee is satisfied that the student has clarified and defended the topic of his dissertation to the extent expected they shall declare the dissertation defended and sign the dissertation.

Admission Requirements

Candidates for admission to the program should have or submit the following:

  • A grade of B or higher in calculus and higher-level math classes such as linear algebra, ordinary differential equations, partial differential equations, and complex analysis.
  • A grade of B or higher in physics courses, especially in undergraduate quantum mechanics courses.
  • Three letter of recommendation. Letters from non-academic associates are accepted, but at least one letter must speak authoritatively to the student’s academic preparation.
  • A personal statement spelling out career goals and interests in the applied physics degree.

Note: The GRE is not required. However it is strongly recommended for foreign students to allow us to appropriately scale their performance to students from domestic programs.


Return to Colleges and Departments Return to: Colleges and Departments