Skip to Content

Department of Physics and Astronomy

Home > Graduate Program > Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Are There Any Time Limits For Graduate Study At Vanderbilt?

Yes, there are time limits for the Ph.D. program and for the Master's program. According to the Graduate School Bulletin (2016/17 edition) and the department rules (see Degrees & Programs) :

Masters Degree:

  • “All requirements for the master's degree must be completed within a six year period...” (Graduate School Bulletin,  p.29).

Ph.D. Degree:

  •  The Department has a  requirement  to pass the Qualifying Exam by the end of the fourth semester.
  • “The dissertation must be completed within four years after a student has been admitted to candidacy for the degree” (p.31) [For your information: Students are admitted to candidacy by the Graduate School after they have passed the Qualifying Examination]

From these two statements one may conclude that there is a 6-year time limit for Ph.D. study at Vanderbilt. Students are strongly encouraged to finish faster, since only 5 years of financial support is guaranteed. 

Is There A Time Limit For Financial Support?

While RA stipends are up to individual professors, the Dean of the College of Arts & Science has imposed a 5-year time limit for TA support. Furthermore, all honor scholarships have time limits. See the “Financial Aid” Section of the Graduate Program Website.

What Minimum Grade Point Average Do I Have To Maintain To Remain In Good Standing?

Students whose grade point average (GPA) falls below 3.0 (i.e. below a B average) are placed on probation for one semester. If the student's performance does not improve during that semester, the Dean and Dept. Chair will decide whether to dismiss the student or continue the probation for another semester. If at the end of the second semester of probation the GPA is still below 3.0, the student is advised to withdraw or face dismissal. (Graduate School Bulletin, 2016/17 edition, p. 33.)

Students who earn a grade point average (GPA) of 2.0 or less during the first semester are subject to dismissal at the end of that semester. (Graduate School Bulletin, 2016/17edition, p. 33.)

Students who earn three "U" grades in  research, colloquium, or teaching practicum courses are also subject to dismissal (Graduate School Bulletin, 2016/17edition, p. 33.)

How Do I Find Out Which Courses Count For Graduate Credit?

Consult the Physics Ph.D. Chronology document or the Astrophysics Ph.D. Chronology document. For courses offered in a particular semester - search the YES system. You can also consult the Graduate School Bulletin. If the course is listed here, it should counts towards graduate credit. For courses offered outside the Department of Physics and Astronomy, you should get the approval of the  Director of Graduate Studies.

What Is The Meaning Of The Hieroglyphic Entries On My Transcript From The Graduate School?

After the end of every semester you will receive a transcript of your academic record from the Graduate School. The transcript will state the grades you have earned and other vital information, including:

  • EHRS (Earned hours): The total number of hours of graduate study in your field. You need at least 72 hours to earn a Ph.D.
  • QHRS (Quality hours): The hours of “formal course work”, i.e. lectures and seminars that count toward the Ph.D. degree. The required number varies by department. For the Department of Physics and Astronomy, you need at least 36 hours.
  • AHRS (attempted hours): The number of credit hours that you have attempted.
  • Qualifying Exam and Degrees Awarded: If you pass the Qualifying Exam, your Ph.D. Committee Chair will inform the Graduate School (as required). Your transcript will state that you have passed. It will also state degrees you have been awarded. If your transcript does not state these two things, it means that the Graduate School does not know about it, and you should take corrective action.

What Are The Rules For Transfer Credit?

Only graduate courses with a B or better can be transferred . For a master's degree, a maximum of six hours may be transferred. For a Ph.D. degree, a maximum of 48 hours may be transferred. Grades earned on transfer credit WILL affect your VU Graduate School Grade Point Average (GPA), if courses transferred are to be counted as didactic hours. (Seminar and research work would NOT count as didactic hours.)

What are the procedures for setting up my Ph.D. committee, and when do I need to take the Qualifying Exam?

Please refer to the Physics Ph.D. Chronology document or the Astrophysics Ph.D. Chronology document. It describes in detail, the procedure for setting up your committee and the Qualifying Exam. For more details on requirements for the Ph.D. degree please contact The Graduate School.

What are the rules for preparation of the Ph.D. thesis and the Ph.D. defense?

The Graduate School has detailed rules for the preparation of the Ph.D. thesis and thesis defense (as well as the rules pertaining to the M.S. degree). The main point to be aware of is that the Chair of the Ph.D. committee shall notify the Dean of the Graduate School in writing no later than two weeks prior to the examination of the place and time of the examination and the title of the dissertation. The Dean will then formally notify all committee members. (The main purpose of the two week advance notice is to give sufficient time for announcement of the Ph.D. Defense in the Vanderbilt Calendar; the Defense is open to the whole university community). The result of the Examination must be reported by the Ph.D. committee Chair to the Graduate Dean immediately after the examination.

Two copies of the approved dissertation, bearing original signatures of not less than a majority of the Ph.D. committee, accompanied by two copies of an abstract of not more than three hundred fifty words and signed by the student's adviser, must be registered in the Dean's office no later than two weeks before the end of the term in which the student expects to receive the degree. A candidate who expects to graduate in May must submit the dissertation to the Graduate School no later late March in the same year ( check the graduate school website for the exact date).

 What are the rules for the Master's Degree in Physics (non-thesis option)?

  • Earn at least 42 credit hours of graduate study in physics, with B average or better. Four of the 42 hours must be in Phys-9999 (Ph.D. dissertation research) or Phys-8999 ( non-candidate research).
  • Pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination.
  • Present a brief report to the Ph.D. committee on his/her research experience.