International Space Station

UG And GRASP Forms

Graduate Programs

Information for Physics and Space Sciences Graduate Students 

Graduate Research and Academic Steering Panel

The Graduate Research and Academic Steering Panel (GRASP) is responsible for administering the graduate degrees in the Physics and Space Sciences program. The GRASP tasks include:

  • Application review.
  • Graduate Student Assistantship (GSA) recommendations.
  • Evaluate graduate level special topics and independent studies.
  • Approve MS and PhD program plans.
  • Review, approve and administer PhD Comprehensive exams.
  • Review graduate student appeals.
  • Recommend graduate program policy changes.
  • Maintain and update graduate program forms.

Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences (PSS) Programs

We offer the following graduate programs on main campus (click to find university-wide requirements for each program):

Program Plans and Forms

General purpose forms:

M.S. Program Forms:

Ph.D Program Forms:

Diagnostic Exam Policy

The diagnostic exam covers the following four fundamental physics subjects at undergraduate level: Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Thermodynamics, and Modern Physics (Quantum Physics). All new graduate students, except those listed in item (7) below, must take the diagnostic exam during the orientation week prior to entering the graduate programs in physics or space sciences. The result of the exam will be used by the department and academic advisor to identify any deficiencies in the student’s undergraduate preparation.

  1. A letter will be sent to all admitted students informing them of the exam schedule, example problems, preparation techniques and policy.
  2. The exam is closed book but students may bring their own 8.5x11-inch sheet with hand-written formulas on both sides – no problem solutions or descriptions may be included on this sheet. A book of standard mathematical tables will be provided by the department. The formula sheet will be collected after the exam for grading purposes.
  3. Each of the four subject exams will be allocated one hour and will be administered over one or two days. These policies govern the administration of the tests themselves.
    • Students must take each subject exam when it is offered. Students are not allowed to postpone part or all of the exam for a semester without express permission from the GRASP.
    • All students taking exams during a session must be present at the start of that session.
    • Exams will be anonymized for grading purposes by assigning each student a number. Mechanics exams will then be numbered 1xx, Electromagnetism exams 2xx, etc.
    • Students must take the exams in the order they are given.
    • The coordinator will keep a spreadsheet tracking which exams are given to students in each period, and which numbers. This will ensure effective administration of (3) and (4).
    • Time will be allowed between each exam to collect and distribute exams.
  4. Students who fail parts of the exam will be placed by their advisor in one of following remedies:
    • Take undergraduate classes as deficiency, particularly for those students who did not study the subjects at undergraduate level or if the deficiency is large. When the relevant undergraduate class is at 3xxx level, students should sign up for an independent study at the 4xxx level and will be responsible for doing the work in the 3xxx course plus additional work as assigned by the instructor. The deficiency courses must be passed with a grade B or better. Note that up to two 4xxx level undergraduate courses may be used as general credit hours toward a MS/PhD graduate degree. Deficiency courses cannot be used as substitutes for the required graduate courses on the same subject.
    • Study the subject by working on homework problems assigned by the department. This option is recommended only in cases where the relevant course is not given in the current year or if the student came close to passing. Students are given a large number of homework problems which they have to finish with >80% done correctly before the beginning of the following semester.
  5. The department Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA) funds can only be used to pay for at most two deficiency courses.
  6. Students who fail the diagnostic exam and do not complete deficiency work within one year will not be eligible for GTA in the following year.
  7. Students with a GRE physics subject score over 50% percentile are exempt.
  8. Exemptions to the above rules for special cases are subject to approval by the GRASP and the Program Chair.

Diagnostic Sample Exams

Ph.D. Candidacy policy

  1. Admission to candidacy: Prior to being admitted to Ph.D. candidacy, each student in the PSS program must fulfill the following requirements:
    • Core-course requirement: Complete all the course requirements established in the M.S. program for their corresponding degree (Physics or Space Sciences). 
    • Research-credits requirement: Complete a minimum of six credit hours of research courses, or equivalent, (PHY 6090 or SPS 6090). 
    • PSS Comprehensive Examination (CE): Pass a written, program-level CE on the student’s major area of research, as described in section 2) of this policy.
    • Proposal Conference (PC): Following a pass in the CE, and no later than thirty (30) months after joining the program, the student must give an oral presentation before the doctoral committee on a research topic that is relevant to the student specialization, and in consultation with their main research advisor(s). A written dissertation proposal must be submitted two weeks prior to the oral presentation (proposal conference). The PC must be approved by the doctoral committee on the basis that the topic is of doctoral quality and feasible.
  2. The Comprehensive Examination: Each Ph.D. student in the PSS program is required to pass a written Comprehensive Exam (CE). 
    • The CE will take the following form:
      • It consists of a written, closed-book exam administered by the student’s doctoral committee and approved by GRASP.
      • The subject(s) of the exam will be based on a minimum of two core areas within the student’s field of research, as determined by the student’s doctoral committee. 
      • The CE will consist of a minimum of four questions.
      • It should last a minimum of two hours and can take up to four hours, as approved by GRASP.
      • The student may bring a hand-written equation sheet of standard size, with formulas on both sides of the page and marked with the student’s name. Note that only equations and physical constants are allowed on this sheet. No problem solutions or descriptions may be included on the equation sheet. 
      • A book of standard mathematical tables will be provided.
    • The doctoral committee must be formed 60 days before the CE examination. 
    • The CE exam should be taken the semester immediately after the student completes eighteen (18) credit hours, including nine (9) in core-courses, and no later than 24 months after joining the program. 
    • Students will be allowed two and only two attempts at the CE.  A third attempt will only be granted under exceptional circumstances, and will be oral and taken in the same semester as the second attempt.
    • A student that twice fails the CE may lose financial support at the end of the Spring semester of their second year, but a student who is otherwise in good academic standing may be supported for an extra semester if required to complete their Master’s degree, subject to approval by the GRASP and the PSS Program Chair.
  3. The Proposal Conference (PC) Examination: The PC examination consists of two parts: (1) a written dissertation proposal and (2) an oral presentation on the research area that is relevant to the proposed dissertation topic. 
    • Although the oral presentation does not need to be based on original work, the student is expected to demonstrate sufficient command of a specialty to begin original research in that area. As part of the examination based on the written proposal and oral presentation, the student will generally be expected to indicate a problem whose solution would be a satisfactory dissertation. 
    • Questions by the doctoral committee are directed to clarify the presentation and to help them determine whether the student has a solid grasp of the basic material needed for research in their specialization. 
    • In order to pass, the student must have the unanimous approval of the doctoral committee.
    • The written dissertation proposal must be submitted to the doctoral committee at least two weeks before the oral presentation.
    • Consistent with University Policy, a student who fails the PC will be allowed one opportunity to repeat the exam after a suitable period if the majority of the doctoral committee approves, taking into account the recommendation of the GRASP.
    • Admission to candidacy must occur within thirty (30) months of entering the graduate program. Scheduling the examination to meet this requirement is the responsibility of the student and their doctoral committee. 
    • The oral PC cannot be taken until all MS-level coursework is complete, as determined in the student’s program plan.
    • The student must be enrolled at the time the oral examination (Proposal Conference) is taken, otherwise, a separate examination fee must be paid. The oral examination must be announced by the Graduate Program Office two weeks in advance.
  4. Exceptions and special circumstances: 
    • For students admitted to the program on or before the Fall 2020  semester and who have not taken the Qualifying Examination (QE) under the previous policy, the timeline for admission to candidacy is thirty-six (36) months instead of thirty (30) required under this policy.
    • Students who were admitted to the program on or before the Fall 2020 semester and who have successfully passed at least two parts of the QE under the previous policy, can request a waiver of the written CE component required under item 2 of this policy.
    • Any exception or deviation from this policy due to exceptional circumstances must be formally requested in writing and must be approved by GRASP.

PSS contacts

More Resources

Office of Graduate Programs 
Find more information on policies, thesis and dissertation process and other forms, documents and checklists

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