Degree Requirements

Course Requirements

The Graduate College requires 96 hours (formerly 24 units) of course work for the PhD, including research units in Physics 597 and Physics 599. Most physics students having half-time assistantships take 9 hours per semester plus 4 to 9 hours in the summer, so the total credit requirement may be fulfilled in approximately four years. Note that at least 6 hours of PHYS 599 Thesis Research is required; most students have many more.

As a breadth requirement, two of the following courses are required

  • Physics 540 Astrophysics
  • Physics 550 Biomolecular Physics
  • Physics 560 or Physics 561 Condensed Matter Physics I or II
  • Physics 569 Emergent States of Matter
  • Physics 570 Subatomic Physics
  • Physics 575 or Physics 576 Particle Physics I or II
  • Physics 513 Quantum Optics and Information
  • Physics 514 Modern Atomic Physics
  • Physics 515 General Relativity I
  • Suitable substitute breadth course(s) approved by the Associate Head for Graduate Programs

Note that the two-course breadth requirement cannot be satisfied by taking both courses in a course sequence (e.g., Condensed Matter I and II, Particle Physics I and II, and General Relativity I and II).

In addition, all students are urged to take Quantum Mechanics I and II (Physics 580 and 581), Mathematical Methods A and B (Physics 508 (MMA) and Physics 509 (MMB), Classical Electromagnetism (Physics 505), and Statistical Physics (Physics 504). Students will find a number of advanced courses on more specialized topics indispensable in their preparation for research.

The department has no formal language requirement. Graduate students may find it advantageous, however, to be proficient in reading articles in a foreign language. For this reason, graduate students are allowed to enroll in language courses offered in the various language departments at Illinois.

To receive an appointment as a teaching assistant, an international graduate student is required to demonstrate proficiency in spoken English. This proficiency can be demonstrated in one of four ways: By having a score of 24 or above on the speaking sub-section of the Internet Based TOEFL, By having a score of 8 or above on the speaking sub-section of the IELTS academic exam, By having a score of 50 or above on the TSE, or By receiving a score of 4CP or above on the University of Illinois English Proficiency Interview (EPI) . A number of "English as a Second Language" (ESL) courses are offered by the University.

Research Requirements

The central element of a Ph.D. is a doctoral thesis, which describes original research results obtained by the degree candidate. Research is conducted in collaboration with a Physics faculty member, or on a physics topic with a faculty member whose appointment is in a related department, if approved by the Department of Physics. A doctoral committee consisting of at least four members of the graduate faculty conducts a preliminary examination, which evaluates the student's preparation for and outline of his or her proposed thesis project, and a final defense examination of the doctoral work as presented in the Ph.D. thesis. Students enroll in Physics 597 (Individual Research) prior to the preliminary examination and in Physics 599 (Thesis Research) following the preliminary examination. At least six hours of PHYS 599 Thesis Research is required.

Examinations and Thesis

The Qualifying Examination (the "qual") tests the candidate's broad understanding of basic physics and his or her preparation to proceed to thesis research. A student must take and pass the qual by the beginning of the third semester of enrollment in our graduate program.

The Preliminary Examination (the "prelim") reviews the feasibility and appropriateness of a candidate's thesis research proposal. The prelim must be taken within the first two years of joining a research group.

The Thesis is a comprehensive publication describing the independent research project and its results.

The Final Defense is an oral examination conducted by the candidate's thesis committee and based on the thesis, at which the candidate presents the results of his research.

For more information about the Ph.D. program, contact the Associate Head for Graduate Programs (227 Loomis, 217-333-3645).

Graduate Admissions Contact

S Lance Cooper

Lance Cooper
Associate Head for Graduate Programs
227 Loomis Laboratory
(217) 333-3645

Have questions about the admission process?
Read through the Admissions pages or contact us.


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