The Physics Department faculty believes that in addition to demonstrating ability to conduct original research in a specific area of concentration, our Ph.D. students should be able to demonstrate a broad understanding of Physics at the advanced undergraduate/beginning graduate student level.
As a means of demonstrating their broad knowledge, graduate candidates are required to pass the physics qualifying examination. This is a written examination held over two days, covering Particle Mechanics, E&M, Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics, Special Relativity and General Physics.
Preparation for this comprehensive exam gives students an opportunity to review and synthesize this broad range of material, and to amend any deficiencies in their undergraduate preparation. Evaluation of this examination gives the faculty a formal method of gauging this preparation, and for recommending remedial study when appropriate. Passing the qualifying exam is a required step in advancement to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree.
The qualifying exam is intended to cover material at the level of advanced undergraduate physics classes at Stanford. The following textbooks reflect this level in each subject area covered on the qualifying exam:
"Classical Dynamics of Particles and Systems",
J. B. Marion and S. T. Thorton
Electricity and Magnetism:
"Introduction to Electrodynamics",
D. J. Griffiths
"Introduction to Quantum Mechanics",
D. J. Griffiths
"Fundamentals of Statistical and Thermal Physics",
"Space and Time in Special Relativity",
First year graduate students are required to take the physics qualifying exam in the January immediately following their arrival at Stanford. There are many ways that students can prepare for
- Reviewing your undergraduate material in the relevant area
- Reviewing previous year's qualifying exams
With appropriate preparation and study, the majority of students can expect to pass the qualifying exam on the first attempt. Students who do not pass the exam in their first year can choose
from one of the following:
(1) Retake in the second year sections of the exam in which they performed poorly and pass all questions in those sections. The questions to be retaken will be determined by the Chairs of the Qualifying Exam Committee, the Physics Department and the Graduate Studies Committee. Students retaking only parts of the qual will be allowed as much time as necessary to answer the questions but that time will not exceed the maximum allowed for the qualifying exam.
(2) Retake the entire qualifying exam and correctly answer the number of questions that is considered passing for that particular year. In exceptional cases, for example if a student is deemed to have had insufficient undergraduate preparation, students may be allowed to take one or more recommended undergraduate courses as a substitute for retaking the exam. This option is decided entirely at the discretion of the Chairs of the Qualifying Committee, the Graduate Studies Committe, and the Undergraduate Studies Committee, who will also decide the courses. In this case students must receive a grade of A- or higher in the courses selected, or they will have to retake the qualifying exam at the next available opportunity.
If the student does not pass the exam the second time, he/she will be asked to leave the Ph.D. program. Reviewing previous year's qualifying exams.