Doctor of Philosophy Degree Program

The Department offer the following Ph.D. degree:

Ph.D. Degree in Physics

Ph.D. Degree in Physics, Applied Physics Options

  • Atmospheric Science Option (collaboration with Dept. of Earth and Atmospheric Science)
  • Energy Engineering Option (collaboration with Dept. of Chemical Engineering)
  • Applied Mechanics Option (collaboration with Dept. of Mechanical Engineering)
  • Medical Physics Option
  • Radiological Science Option 

All Ph.D. Degree require, at the minimum

  • 60 credit hours beyond the bachelors' degree, including
  • at least 15 and at most 24 credit hours of Ph.D. dissertation research (PHYS.7560)
  • at least 36 credit hours of non-research and non-project courses
  • at most 3 credit hours can be from colloquium or seminar courses

Academic Advising Committee and Research Supervisor

All students in the Physics graduate program will be have assigned an Academic Committee that consists of the student’s Research Supervisor and at least two other faculty members selected by mutual agreement between the student and Research Supervisor. One of these members should be outside the direct research area of the research supervisor. Until one is officially assigned, the relevant Graduate Coordinator will play the role of the Academic Advisor. Students meet with the Academic Advising Committee at least once per semester prior to course registration decisions. The Committee reviews students’ adequate progress towards their Graduate Degree and reports to the Graduate Coordinator.  Committee members external to the department or institution could be chosen, especially in cases where the research extends beyond the department, but they would have to be in addition to the three members from the department.
The Research Supervisor is responsible for research guidance, and his/her approval is required to register for Dissertation, Thesis, or Project Research credits.

Comprehensive Examination

Ph.D. candidates for all Physics and Applied Physics programs must take the Physics Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination, which consists of both written and oral parts, and is administered twice a year, at the beginning of Fall and Spring semesters.  Students are required to take the exam by the beginning of their second Fall semester at UML (e.g. students entering in a Fall semester must take the exam by the beginning of the following Fall semester). Those who do not take the exam at the proper time will be considered to fail their first Comprehensive Examination and may lose their TA support. 

1. Written Part The Written Part of the exam has three sections:  

Sec. I       Classical Mechanics with introductory level Thermodynamics 

Sec. II      Electricity and Magnetism with introductory level Optics 

Sec. III (a) Modern Physics and Quantum Mechanics with Statistical Mechanics,         

        or (b) Radiological Sciences – Health Physics (topics in Health Physics)          

        or (c) Medical Physics (topics in Medical Physics)         

        or (d) Atmospheric Sciences (topics in Atmospheric Sciences)  

Note:  Students who pass the Comprehensive Exam and switch degree options/tracks must repeat Section III in the area to which they have switched. 

The level of the questions in mechanics, statistical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and electromagnetism is “advanced undergraduate”. The written part is given at the beginning of each semester, three hours per section (usually with a two-day interval between sections). Past exams, as well as the topics covered during the written examinations, are available online.  The results of the written part of the exam are reviewed by the Physics Graduate Committee, which decides if a student is eligible to continue to the oral part of the Comprehensive Exam. 

2. Oral Part 

Students who have been recommended by the Physics Graduate Committee to continue beyond the written part of the Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam will take the oral part.  The Department will form several specialty-based Oral Committees. Each specialty committee should have representation from outside the specialty. The Physics Graduate Committee will announce “starting points of discussion” to each student. These could be either problems or scientific publications, based on the material studied by the students in their first year at UML. Each student will be examined by two Oral Committees for approximately one hour each.  

3. Exam Pass/Fail 

Oral examination committees will submit reports to the Physics Graduate Committee, which, after deliberation, will submit a recommendation to the entire Physics Faculty on whether a student passes or fails the exam. The final decisions shall be made at the Physics Faculty meeting. Students who fail the Comprehensive Exam may take the exam a second time in the following semester. A student who fails the Comprehensive Exam twice may be eligible for an M.S. degree if they satisfy the requirements for that degree.

Graduate Research Admission 

Each doctoral candidate must demonstrate the ability to carry out graduate-level research before embarking on Ph.D. dissertation research. This requirement can be satisfied by: 

1. completing an M.S. Thesis at UML 

2. passing two semesters of Advanced Projects in Physics 

3. a waiver of the above requirements for a student who has completed a master's thesis to earn an M.S. in physics or a related discipline (e.g. at another university) to their Academic Advising Committee   

The M.S. Thesis defense, or Advanced Project oral defense, or oral presentation of previous M.S. work, constitutes the “Graduate Research Admission Examination”, and must be completed before the student may register for Ph.D. Dissertation Research.  

To receive a satisfactory grade in Advanced Projects, a student must: 

1. Submit a written Progress Report to the Academic Advising Committee the end of the first semester of work in Advanced Projects I (PHYS.7310). 

2. Submit a final written Advanced Project Report to the Academic Advising Committee on completion of the Project. 

3. Make an oral presentation of the Advanced Project before the Academic Advising Committee. 


When ready to engage in M.S. thesis or Ph.D. dissertation research, a student must first choose a research supervisor (a member of the Physics Department), obtain an SIS permission number to enroll in either PHYS.7460 or PHYS.7560, respectively, and form the Academic Advising Committee. The Academic Advising Committee that shall track student’s progress towards their degree.  In the semester in which they FIRST register for PHYS.7460/7560, the student must prepare and defend a dissertation proposal to the Academic Advising Committee (see section IX, p.18 for the format of a proposal). Students who did not successfully defend their proposal have an option of revising and re-defending the proposal at a later time, with an approval of the Academic Advising Committee. Upon completion of the research, the student must prepare a thesis or dissertation following the guidelines and regulations of the University of Massachusetts Lowell Dissertation and Thesis Guide. For the accepted style specifically of a physics dissertation, thesis or project report, the the AIP Style Manual is to be followed. In the few cases where the two are in disagreement, the latter document takes precedence.  Once the written thesis or dissertation is sufficiently complete the Academic Advising Committee will schedule a defense/oral examination. This oral examination will be based on, but not necessarily restricted to, the subject of student’s research.  Upon completion of the oral examination, the Committee will recommend whether the thesis or dissertation is acceptable or not.  If it is not acceptable the Committee may make recommendations on how to amend it to make it acceptable. After these recommendations have been carried out, an amended thesis or dissertation may be prepared and, if so stipulated, a new oral examination will be scheduled. The student must order printed copies of the thesis/dissertation for the Department and Advisor in addition to online submission to the library.   

Course requirements for the Physics Ph.D.

At least one elective at 6xxx level

Course Requirements for Applied Physics Options

Every student in an Applied Physics Ph.D. Option must satisfy the following course requirements:

1. Common course requirement for all options:
*This may be waived for students who have completed a master's thesis
2. Six electives as appropriate for each area of concentration
Physics/Energy Engineering Option

In addition to the general requirements, students in this option must take

At least eight additional courses from among the Physics, Energy Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering offerings at the graduate level. These eight courses should include required courses appropriate to the field of study.

Applied Mechanics Option

In addition to the general requirements, students in this option must take

At least two graduate courses from the Mechanical Engineering Department, the courses to be determined by the student’s Academic Advising Committee.

Atmospheric Sciences Option

In addition to the general requirements, students in this area must take 9 credits of the following core course:

Plus 9 credits from the following courses:

PHYS.5210 Statistical Thermodynamics (3)
PHYS.6110 Classical Mechanics (3)
PHYS.6580 Electromagnetic Theory II (3)
PHYS.6650 Space Physics (3)
PHYS.5690 Plasma Physics (3)
PHYS.5560 Radiative Processes in Astrophysics (3)
**Colloquia and Seminars

All full-time candidates are required to register for Physics Colloquium, PHYS.7010/7020,  and at least one Physics Seminar every semester.  After attending the general Graduate Seminar, PHYS.7110/7120,  for one year, students may elect to take one of the specialized seminars instead.

Up to a total of 3 credits for colloquia/ seminars can be counted towards a graduate degree