The Physics Department has a strong tradition of graduate study and the research that is essential to the PhD. Degree. There are many facilities for doing world-class research, and the Ph.D. research program involves leading-edge activities in Madison and at research facilities around the world.
The first Wisconsin Ph.D. in physics was awarded, in 1899, for research on "An Interferometer Study of Radiation in a Magnetic Field." Over 1,200 individual Ph.D. research projects have been completed since. A broad range of research is carried out in the department with experimental and theoretical programs in astrophysics and space physics; atomic, molecular and optical physics; elementary-particle and high-energy physics; nuclear physics; plasma physics; condensed matter physics; and in other applied areas. We also maintain close interdepartmental relationships with Medical Physics, Materials Science, and other science and engineering disciplines. Graduate students in Physics may work with faculty in these areas.
The Ph.D. is the highest degree conferred by the University.
It is a research degree, with the following general requirements:
- a minimum of 32 graduate level credits (may include research)
- pass Qualifying ("Qualifier") and Preliminary ("Prelim") Examinations
- thesis on original research topic
The completion of a program of original research is the critical component of each student's PhD. Program. An early start in selecting a research area and major professor is encouraged and expected. The department is open and informal, and professors are always eager to talk with possible recruits to their areas. An important goal of a first-year graduate student is to secure a research assistantship for the summer following the first academic year. To aid the student in the choice of a research field and major professor, there is a weekly Introductory Seminar during the fall semester in which faculty members describe their research programs, show their laboratories, and answer questions.
Most of our graduate students receive financial support through assistantships or other appointments. Of the over 175 graduate students in the department during the fall semester of 2008, 54 were teaching assistants, 114 held research assistantships, and 10 were recipients of fellowships. Typically, a graduate student is first appointed as a teaching assistant, working with faculty members in the introductory physics courses, usually by teaching discussion and laboratory sections. Later, as a research assistant, the student works with his/her major professor on a mutually agreed research project.