Degree Requirements

The Physics Ph.D. program has two main requirements: graduate courses and degree milestones. A minimum of 135 units (including up to 45 units of transfer credit) of courses and research done at Stanford is required for the Ph.D. degree. The usual schedule for Physics graduate students consists of one to two years of courses, plus research training leading to the thesis and Ph.D. degree. At least three quarters of teaching are required to obtain a Ph.D. degree in Physics.

Some of the required courses, as well as the advanced laboratory, can be taken as an undergraduate. The first year is normally devoted to formal courses, with the first summer following course work spent either in directed reading (for an intended theorist) or with an experimental research group.

For specific requirements, see the appropriate sections of the Stanford Bulletin.

Graduate Courses

The minimum department requirements for the Ph.D. degree in Physics consists of completing all courses listed in the chart below and at least one course from each of two subject areas outside the student's primary area of research (among Biophysics, Condensed Matter, Quantum Optics and Atomic Physics, Astrophysics and Gravitation, Nuclear and Particle Physics. Quantum Information, and Other). For this requirement students may choose from courses listed here.

Beginning in the 2022/23 academic year, all students who have not completed 135 units and applied for Terminal Graduate Registration status must enroll in the Physics Colloquium course (Physics 302) every quarter of the academic year (Autumn, Winter, and Spring). The course will be graded on a S/NC basis. 1st Year students are exempt from this enrollment requirement in the Autumn and Winter terms of their first year.

All required courses, including breadth requirements, must be taken for a LETTER GRADE, UNLESS the courses were taken during COVID-19 terms when courses were only offered S/NC.

Course Number

Course Title


Statistical Mechanics



Classical Electrodynamics



Research Activities at Stanford



Teaching of Physics Seminar


     PLUS, one of the following courses:



Graduate Quantum Mechanics I



Graduate Quantum Mechanics II



Advanced Topics in Quantum Mechanics



Quantum Field Theory I



Quantum Field Theory II



Quantum Field Theory III



A grade point average (GPA) of at least 3.0 (B) is required for courses taken toward the degree.

For Graduate Physics courses, click here.

For Graduate Applied Physics courses, click here. 

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 end of spring qtr of 2nd year.

  • Second year: Submit Application for Candidacy for Doctoral Degree by end of the summer quarter of the 2nd year. Candidacy is valid for five years.

  • Third year: In consult with research advisor, select Reading Committee members.   Reading committees consist of the principal advisor and two other readers. At least one committee member must be from Physics. These three faculty members will sign the finished dissertation.  Additionally, students in  year three  prepare a tentative Proposal for Thesis Research by end of summer term of the third year. The Ph.D. candidate must submit a 1-3 page proposal signed by the student, advisor and co-advisor (if required) and the members of the Reading Committee. 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.   Before submitting the thesis proposal, students are required to choose a reading committee in consultation with their advisors.
  • 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.