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Degree Milestones

The usual schedule for physics graduate students consists of two years of course work, plus research training, leading to the dissertation and Ph.D. degree. Although there are exceptions, a well-prepared graduate student should complete the dissertation within five years after qualifying for candidacy, i.e., passing the qualifying exam, completing all course work and filing the application for candidacy.

The following are the major milestones for the Physics Ph.D. program:

  • First year or Second year: Pass the Physics Oral Qualifying exam no later than spring qtr of 2nd year..
  • Second year: Submit Application for Candidacy for Doctoral Degree by JULY 1st at the end of the second year. Candidacy is valid for five years. The Application for Candidacy is available online at
  • Third year: Prepare a tentative Proposal for Thesis Research by JULY 1st of the third year. There is no form for the Proposal for Thesis Research. The Ph.D. candidate may submit a 1-3 page proposal signed by the student, advisor and co-advisor (if required.) By this time all course requirements should be completed.  If a student wishes to start thesis research with an advisor outside Physics, Applied Physics, or SLAC, he/she must submit the following information to the Student Services Officer: Advisor’s name (must be an academic council member); field of proposed research and tentative thesis title; and name of co-advisor from the Physics Department. The research plan must be approved by the Graduate Study Committee.  After submitting the thesis proposal, students are required to choose a reading committee in consultation with their advisors. Reading committees consist of the principal advisor and two other readers. At least one committee member must be from Physics. See earlier section ("Reading Committee”) for more detail. These three faculty members will sign the finished dissertation.  Reading committee forms are available online at
  • Fourth year: Fourth-year students are required to give a 45-minute oral presentation to their Ph.D. reading committees. Generally no other people besides the student, advisor and reading committee members are present at the oral presentation.  All students must complete this requirement in the fourth year of study. Experience has proven this is an extremely reliable tool to help students stay on track to degree completion.  The purpose of the requirement is to increase contact between students and faculty members, to help students organize their thoughts, to give students practice in giving oral presentations, and most importantly to obtain feedback on the development of the thesis, approximate date of thesis completion and future plans.  These are informal meetings, and no grades are given. Students schedule the presentations themselves. By end of winter quarter of the fourth-year students should have a set date for the oral presentation.  The sessions should consist of a half-hour presentation by the student, 15 minutes of discussion between the student, research advisors and readers, and then a closed door discussion of the committee.Fourth year oral presentation forms are available online at

When 135 units have been completed, apply for Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR) status. TGR forms are available in the Physics Main Office or online at:

  • Fifth year or When Appropriate: Take the university oral exam, and file dissertation by quarterly deadline.