Carnegie Mellon University

Sept 2017: Revised requirements for the CMU Physics Graduate Program

New program requirements are in place for all incoming graduate students starting in the fall of 2017, while current graduate students who have not yet qualified for Ph.D. candidacy had the opportunity to choose whether they wish to qualify for Ph.D. candidacy under the old or new set of requirements. An updated Graduate Handbook provides the details.

The over-arching goals of the modifications to the graduate program requirements are to allow for more time and greater flexibility in research undertaken by students before PhD candidacy, and to make it possible for students to be evaluated on research promise when qualifying for PhD candidacy. In order to achieve these goals, the number of core courses is reduced from 5 to 4 (with Mathematical Physics becoming optional), the Written Qualifying Exam is eliminated, and the Special Oral Qualifying Exam is being modified to cover students’ research experience. The elimination of the Written Qualifying Exam and the fact that Mathematical Physics is becoming an optional course requires certain curricular changes in the four required core courses, and the structure of their exams will also be modified to include an additional faculty member for exam creation and grading.

Other aspects of the program, such as the academic performance, breadth courses, and teaching requirements, remain unchanged. The reduction in core courses will enable students to engage in more serious research projects during the first year of graduate studies, and some reasonable amount of rotation between research groups will be encouraged. Furthermore, students who find it valuable to take an advanced course of relevance to their research during the first year will now find it possible to do so, while remaining on track to complete the core courses by the end of the third semester.

These modifications make our program requirements overall better in line with our desired graduate program goals and will enhance the learning experience of all our graduate students.