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Ph.D. in Physics Degree Requirements

To earn a physics Ph.D., students must complete 28 credit hours of formal coursework, pass a proposal-based qualifying exam in their second year, and successfully write and defend a dissertation presenting their original scientific research. The Graduate School requires 72 total credit hours, which includes the program-required 28 credit hours of courses plus registered research hours. The complete physics Ph.D. regulations are set forth in the departmental Ph.D. Requirements Guide and subject to all rules and regulations imposed by the Graduate School.

Physics Degree Requirements

Completion of the Ph.D. requires:

  1. Completion of 72 semester hours of coursework with satisfactory grades in each course and an overall average of B (3.00) or higher;
  2. Successfully passing a Qualifying Examination administered by a committee of the Graduate Faculty; and
  3. Writing and defending the dissertation. The dissertation is to be an original, publishable contribution to the scientific literature in the student’s field of specialization, and must be defended in a public forum.

See the requirements guide for full details.


A typical timeline of coursework, Qualifying Exam, and Ph.D. defense is shown below.

Download PDF version here.

Master’s Degree Requirements

The Department of Physics & Astronomy does not admit students seeking a terminal master’s degree, but one can be earned en route to the Ph.D.

Non-Thesis Option (for Ph.D. candidates who desire to earn a master’s degree en route)

  • Earn a B average in 42 credit hours of graduate study, four hours of which must be in Physics 8999 or Physics 9999
  • Pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam
  • Submit a brief report on one’s research experience

Thesis Option (an alternative for students who decide not to complete the Ph.D. program)

  • Complete, and earn a B average or better in, at least 24 credit hours of formal coursework, of which at least six hours must be in a minor field or fields related to the major, and of which at least 9 hours must be coursework above the 8000 level
  • Complete a research project approved by the department
  • Submit a thesis on this work, which must be accepted

The degree requires one academic year or its equivalent of residence at Vanderbilt University.


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