PhD Handbook

The Ph.D. is at its core a research degree. The degree requires substantial original research, presented in the form of a dissertation. The path to the Ph.D. consists of two stages. In the first (pre-dissertator) stage, the student passes the department’s Qualifying Examination, completes required coursework (core and minor), and starts research with their faculty research advisor in preparation for the Preliminary Examination. Once the student completes all departmental and Graduate School requirements and passes the Preliminary Examination, the student has achieved dissertator status. In this stage of the program, the student focuses on their thesis research and completes their dissertation. The student defends the dissertation in the thesis defense. The student then deposits the dissertation with the Graduate School, which is the final step to the degree. The requirements for the Ph.D. are in accordance with the department’s learning goals of the program, and UW-Madison Graduate School policy. The full details of the program requirements can be found in the GUIDE.

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Total Credits

The Physics Ph.D. degree includes a number of coursework and credit requirements. The Ph.D. degree itself requires 51 credits in total to align with the Graduate School minimum graduate degree credit requirement:

Credits Before Dissertator Status

The Graduate School minimum graduate residence requirement requires that at least 32 credits towards the doctoral degree must be completed prior to achieving dissertator status:

The 32 credits are achieved via the core coursework sequence, the Ph.D. minor, and a combination of other coursework and Physics 990 research. 15 of the credits will be accumulated from the Physics core coursework and a minimum of 9 credits will be accumulated from the minor. The remaining 8 credits can include research or other coursework.

Graduate Level Credits

The Graduate School minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement states that at least 50% of the 51 credits must be at least 700 and above or courses with the Graduate Coursework (G50%) attribute:

To determine which courses can be used to satisfy the graduate level (G50%) credit requirement, please consult  (Search: “Other Options”, check the box “50% Graduate Coursework Requirement”). This will provide accurate results of which courses have been approved through the University to count towards the G50% requirement.


The steps to the Ph.D. are:

  1. Pass the departmental Qualifying Examination
  2. Complete the required core coursework
  3. Complete the minor requirement
  4. Acquire a faculty research advisor and begin research
  5. Pass the Preliminary Examination
  6. Complete thesis research and defend the dissertation
  7. Deposit the dissertation with the Graduate School


The criteria and guidelines for satisfactory progress are outlined below. 
General guidelines relevant for all students are:
In the pre-dissertator stage:
  • Pass each of the four sections of the Qualifying Exam at the Ph.D. level (nominally 60% or above) within the four officially allowed consecutive attempts (see Qualifying Exam section below), as required for continuation in the Ph.D. program.
  • Make progress on completing relevant coursework in a timely fashion.  This includes core coursework, minor coursework, and satisfying Graduate School credit requirements (further details are described below under coursework and minor requirements).
  • Make progress in acquiring a faculty research advisor and joining a research group in a timely fashion, preferably by the beginning of the summer following the first year in the program.
  • Make satisfactory progress in research as judged by the faculty advisor.
  • A typical timeline is for students to take and pass the Preliminary Exam is in the third year of the Ph.D. program, though this can vary significantly by subfield. 
In the dissertator stage:
  • Make satisfactory progress in research as judged by the faculty advisor by earning a P (Progress) or S (Satisfactory) in 990 research each semester.
  • Successfully completing and defending the doctoral thesis within five years of passing the Preliminary Exam.
Satisfactory progress is important for staying on track and completing the degree in a timely manner. Graduate students who do not achieve satisfactory progress are considered not in good standing and may not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program.


A mentoring committee program was started in Fall 2019 for all new incoming graduate students. Participation is voluntary for both graduate students and faculty. The mentoring committee is designed for students in the early years of the graduate program, prior to achieving dissertator status. Once the student has taken the preliminary exam and achieved dissertator status, the responsibilities of the mentoring committee transition to these of the faculty research advisor.

Before incoming students start their first year in the program, two faculty will be assigned to each student. Each mentoring committee has a committee chair, with the role and responsibilities tasked to temporary advisors. For students with a faculty research advisor already secured upon their arrival to the program, the advisor is the committee chair, and the second faculty member will be chosen in consultation with the advisor. If a student does not have a faculty research advisor upon entry to the program, one of the two faculty on the mentoring committee will be designated as the committee chair.

Students are encouraged to request a meeting with the mentoring committee if they wish to do so. It is not required, but encouraged. It is suggested that the mentoring committee meetings take place on an annual basis while the student is at the pre-dissertator stage. The suggested timeline for the annual meeting is to have it take place in the early to mid-semester of the spring term of the first year, so as to provide guidance and feedback for summer support plans if needed. The mentoring committee meetings may also address progress in securing a faculty research advisor and starting research, summer support plans, progress in completing coursework requirements, and any academic concerns that need to be discussed.


The Graduate School policy indicates the minimum enrollment requirements each semester:

Physics Ph.D. students must enroll in at least 2 credits of Physics coursework each semester until the Preliminary Exam is completed. Individual 1 credit courses or a combination of 1 credit courses, such as Physics 701 and 801, do not count towards this requirement.

It is often suggested that students who hold teaching assistant (TA) appointments take only 6 credits during their first semester, as more than this may affect performance in both teaching and coursework as students become acquainted with the demands of the program. After the first semester, students are encouraged to take three courses per semester until they reach dissertator status. All students are encouraged to consult with the faculty advisor and mentoring committee to discuss the course schedule each semester.


Core Course Sequence

All physics Ph.D. students must take the Physics core course sequence and achieve a grade of B or better in each core course or repeat these courses until a B grade is achieved.  The core courses are as follows:

  • Physics 711 (Dynamics)
  • Physics 715 (Statistical Mechanics)
  • Physics 721 (Electrodynamics)
  • Physics 731 (Quantum Mechanics)
  • Physics 732 (Quantum Mechanics)
Physics 711, 721, and 731 are offered in the fall semester, and 715, 721, and 732 are offered in the spring semester. To avoid scheduling problems, the core courses are typically taught on M/W/F in the mornings. The detailed timeline for completing the core course sequence depends on individual students’ preparation, but students are encouraged to complete the core courses within their first two years of the Ph.D. program.  As a general guideline, core courses should be taken as soon as possible in the graduate career.  Finishing the core courses allows the most rapid entry into research, and much of the material is required background for more advanced work in each student’s research specialty. Students should be aware that each research group may also have a recommended sequence of core courses, a recommended timeline for completing core coursework requirements, and/or additional required coursework.

Course Waivers: Prior Coursework

Students who believe that they have done graduate-level work in one or more of the core course subjects prior to their arrival may be eligible for course waivers, or they may decide to try to test out of these subjects. Course waivers or test-out forms are available for those students who have taken equivalent courses at another institution. Waivers of core courses can be granted for credits earned at other universities in equivalent graduate-level courses, pending approval by the DGS. Students who believe that they qualify for a waiver of the course requirement for a core course based on prior graduate course work from another institution should request consideration for a waiver within the first month of the graduate program. The Graduate School will allow these credits to count towards the graduate degree at UW-Madison only if they were earned post-baccalaureate as outlined in the Prior Coursework policy:

Test Out

Students who believe that they have had graduate level coursework in a subject or subjects comparable to what is covered in the core courses, but who do not clearly qualify for a waiver of any specific courses, have the option of trying to test out of the course. At a minimum, this typically requires passing the final exam for the course at a level that would clearly lead to a grade of B or better in the course. Requests to test out of core courses should be made to the DGS during the first month in the graduate program. Testing is to be completed during the first semester in the graduate program. Testing out of a course does not include any credits towards a graduate degree at UW-Madison.


Breadth is a required component of graduate study at UW-Madison.  The Graduate School policy outlines the minimum requirements for all doctoral minors:

The purpose of the minor is to add breadth to the Ph.D. course of study by broadening students’ knowledge of physics or related fields, and/or to support their research and prospective professional activities. There are two options for completing the minor – Option A: External or Option B: Distributed. Minors must be approved by the faculty advisor and the DGS and/or Associate Chair for Graduate Program.  Option A: External minors must also be approved by the appropriate channels in the external department. The Ph.D. Minor Form must be completed, signed, and returned to the Graduate Coordinator at or before the time the warrant for the Preliminary Exam is requested.

Option A Minor: External

  • Minimum of 9 credits in an external department at the graduate level
  • Consists of coursework in one single department outside of the Department of Physics and is named accordingly
  • Consult with the minor department for specific minor requirements and the processes to declare an external minor in another department
  • A list of all external doctoral minors and the Graduate School external minor requirement:

Option B Minor: Distributed

  • Minimum of 9 credits of minor coursework taken in one or more departments
  • Must include a minimum of 3 credits in Physics at or above the 500 level
  • Coursework must be outside of the student’s area of specialization, form a coherent theme, and provide breadth in programmatic or professional development
  • Physics core coursework may NOT be counted towards the minor
  • Additional coursework relevant to the student’s area of specialization may NOT be counted towards the minor
  • Up to 3 credits of the 9 credits may be satisfied by Physics 900 (Colloquium) which is a 1 credit course offered every semester
  • 1 credit of the 9 credits may be satisfied by Physics 701 (First Year Seminar)

Physics Minor for Non-Physics Students

The doctoral minor requirement in Physics for non-physics graduate students is 9 credits numbered above 300, each passed with a B or better. The program must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies before it is completed:


The Graduate School provides information on graduate assistantships, benefits, minimum stipend levels, and stipend levels by program:

The Graduate Assistantship Policies and Procedures (GAPP) document outlines campus level policies and procedures for Project (PA), Teaching (TA), and Research (RA) Assistants.

Teaching Assistant (TA)

Many Physics Ph.D. students will hold a teaching assistantship (TA) at some point during the program. A TA is both a job and a means of financial support for graduate study. Because of the coexistence of these two functions, the relationship between the department and the individual teaching assistant (TA) is complex. The advantages of holding a teaching assistantship for at least one semester during graduate studies are that teaching activities solidify and deepen the teaching assistant’s undergraduate education in physics, help improve communication skills, and help prepare for a possible career in teaching. Because teaching is a job, the Department of Physics conducts regular TA evaluations. TA’s are evaluated by their students at the middle and end of each semester.  The purpose of the mid-term evaluation is for the TA to get feedback from the students (who remain anonymous), while there is still time to change teaching practices. The mid-term evaluations are not part of the TA’s permanent record. The final evaluation results in a letter, which does remain on the TA’s record, in which the TA’s performance is classified as either Excellent, Very Good, Good, Satisfactory, Marginally Satisfactory, or Unsatisfactory.

Because teaching is a means of financial support for graduate study, the Department of Physics typically admits graduate students with a guarantee of support in the form of a TA. This guarantee is described in each student’s offer of admission. During the time covered by the funding guarantee, students who are not supported as RA’s or Fellows, and who remain in good standing and making satisfactory progress, are guaranteed by the department to be supported as TA’s during the academic year.

After the natural expiration of the funding guarantee, students who need TA positions during the academic year may apply for them, but cannot be assured of receiving them. The number of TA positions available depends on the number of undergraduates who enroll in physics classes that use TA’s, as well on the percentage time of each position. Whereas guarantees of support typically specify 50%-time appointments, the minimum percentage required for a TA to receive a tuition remission is 33%. The Department of Physics sometimes offers non-guaranteed graduate students 33% positions, in order to maximize the number of students who might receive the tuition remission. On occasion students have requested 33% positions rather that 50% positions in order to free up more time for research. If a TA in the Physics Ph.D. program switches to another graduate program on campus, the physics department’s commitment to continuing support is terminated.

There are a small number of TA positions available in the summer term. Please note that the support guarantee does not extend into the summer. Depending on the number of requests, TA positions may or may not be available for all who request them. For further information about summer TA positions, please consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The majority of TA positions are in large general Physics classes for non-physics-majors. TA’s in these classes lead both discussion sections and laboratory sections. There are also a few TA positions in smaller, more advanced classes for physics majors. These are usually (although not always) given to experienced TA’s. Some involve discussion only (no lab), others involve lab only (no discussion).

Research Assistant (RA)

Many Physics Ph.D. students will hold a research assistantship (RA) at some point during the program.  RA positions are made available by individual professors to students who have decided on their field of research. Students who wish to be considered for an RA appointment should contact the faculty directly.


Fellowship opportunities for graduate students include external fellowships, as well as supplemental fellowship opportunities that are available through the UW-Madison campus or the Department of Physics. UW campus fellowship opportunities include University Fellowships and Advanced Opportunity Fellowships (AOF), which are awarded by the Graduate School upon recommendation of the Department of Physics during the admissions process. The Department may also have fellowships available for incoming first-year graduate students.  Funding for graduate student fellowship support is made possible by generous endowments from Physics Department alumni. Information about fellowships.


The qualifying exam requirement is designed to verify that any student leaving UW-Madison with a Ph.D. in physics has a sophisticated understanding of undergraduate physics. Undergraduate physics is a body of knowledge that is critical to experimentalists and theorists.

The qualifying exam is a written exam that assesses students’ understanding of core physics topics at the undergraduate level. The exam helps to ensure the strong foundation that is needed for demonstrating mastery of core physical concepts in Classical Mechanics, Electricity and Magnetism, Quantum Mechanics, and Statistical Mechanics, which is one of the learning outcomes for the physics Ph.D. program.

The exam is offered twice a year. The dates will be posted on the Graduate Program Events calendar:   Students with special requirements must consult with the Graduate Coordinator in advance (at minimum two weeks before the exam, or earlier if a specified deadline is given).

The exam is separated into four sections:

  • Classical Mechanics (CM)
  • Electricity and Magnetism (EM)
  • Statistical Mechanics/Thermodynamics (SM)
  • Quantum Mechanics (QM)

The nominal Ph.D. passing score for each section is 60% and the nominal Master’s passing score for each section is 50%.

Each exam section can be passed independently. If a student receives a failing score on one or more sections of the exam, in subsequent attempts the student only needs to take the section or sections of the exam that remain to be passed.

All physics Ph.D. students have four consecutive opportunities within the first two years of the program to pass the exam in its entirety at the Ph.D. level. All entering Ph.D. students are required to take the qualifying exam in its entirety in their first semester in the program.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the timeline for students who started the program in Fall 2020 to complete the qualifying exam requirement with the four allowed attempts is extended by one semester (Fall 2022).

Students that pass all sections of the exam at the Ph.D. level within the four allowed attempts have passed the department’s qualifying exam requirement and have received qualification status for continuing in the Ph.D. program.

Exam Structure

The qualifying exam is held at the start of every fall and spring semester. Each section of the exam is 1.5 hours long. .

Each section of the exam consists of five problems. Students are to do the first two problems, which are at the calculus-based introductory level, and to do two other problems (out of three offered) at the intermediate/advanced level. Students must only submit answers to these four problems for each section of the exam. The first two problems comprise one-third of the total score, and the second two chosen problems comprise the remaining two-thirds of the total score.

Exam Topics

The exam covers standard topics as included in undergraduate physics courses in CM, EM, QM, and SM at both the introductory and intermediate/advanced levels. These topics may include:

  • CM: motion in electromagnetic and gravitational fields, rigid bodies, coupled oscillations, and continuum vibrations;
  • EM: statics, fields in matter, time-dependent fields, Maxwell’s equations, light and radiation (with optics and circuits covered at the introductory level);
  • QM: wave mechanics, matrix mechanics, observables and measurements, angular momentum, perturbation theory, elementary atomic physics, and elementary scattering theory;
  • SM: thermodynamics and statistical mechanics of matter and radiation.

Grading Policies

The exam is graded anonymously by faculty.  The Qualifying Exam Committee reviews all graded problems in detail. It is only after this thorough review that the final grade of pass or fail for each student in each exam section is assigned. The results are then unblinded and distributed.  Students receive their scores and the grading rubrics used by faculty in grading the exam.

Students may request a review of their grades for specific exam problems to the chair of the Qualifying Exam Committee at any point within two weeks after the exam is returned.  The committee chair consults with the faculty that graded the problems in question and returns the final grade determination to the student.  Students should be aware that the grading rubrics used for assigning partial credit, which are also reviewed prior to the final pass or fail score assignments, are generally respected unless there are obvious inconsistencies or errors.

Appeal Process

If a student does not pass all four topical areas of the written qualifying exam at the Ph.D. level after the four exam attempts, the student can request an appeal. An appeals committee is then formed to assess the student’s case. The appeals committee consists of a faculty member of the student’s choosing, such as the student’s faculty advisor, and two other faculty that are to be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Qualifying Exam Committee. Further information about the appeals process will be provide on an individual basis when relevant at the time when qualifying exam scores are returned.

The appeal is designed to be a broad assessment that includes the student’s prior qualifying exam results, performance in graduate courses, and progress to date in research. Upon evaluating all factors, the appeals committee makes the final decision as to whether the student has achieved qualification status to continue in the Ph.D. program.


The responsibility to acquire and be accepted by a faculty research advisor, is entirely with the student. Acceptance for Ph.D. research by a faculty member depends on the professor’s appraisal of the student’s potential for research and on the ability of the professor to accept a student at that time. All incoming students are assigned a temporary advisor to help oversee their progress in the first few semesters in the program, but the temporary advisor is not automatically the research advisor unless there is a clear and concrete understanding between both the student and the faculty advisor that the student has already been accepted by that professor into their group.

To aid incoming students in selecting a research area and faculty advisor, Physics 701: Introductory Seminar, is offered each fall semester.  In this course, professors from each of the research groups describe their research, show their laboratories, and discuss matters of general interest to graduate students. First-year students are required to enroll in Physics 701.

Graduate students should begin research work as early as possible. Ideally students make progress in acquiring a faculty research advisor and joining a research group in a timely fashion, preferably by the beginning of the summer after the first year.  The summer after the first year is the ideal time to do research unencumbered by course work or teaching. It is also very important to determine summer funding support options as soon as possible. Ideally most students will have begun a trial project with an advisor or at least made the necessary introductions and have at least one solid prospect by the end of the first year.


Master of Arts (M.A.)

The master of arts degree is a purely academic degree, requiring 30 credits of graduate course work, completion of the core graduate coursework and passage of the qualifying exam at the master’s level. It is designed to strengthen the student’s physics background and enhance the opportunities for employment as a physicist or in physics education.

To earn the M.A. degree in the Department of Physics, a student must satisfy the department’s minimum graduate-level credit requirement and pass the qualifying exam at the master’s level. The department requires at least 30 credits at the 500 level or above. 15 of the 30 credits must be earned from taking the physics core graduate courses, each passed with a grade of B or better. These courses are Physics 711 (Dynamics), 715 (Statistical Mechanics), 721 (Electrodynamics), and 731 and 732 (Quantum Mechanics). The remaining 15 credits may be earned through a combination of coursework, directed study, and research to be determined in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor. The courses should be selected in consultation with the student’s faculty advisor to best meet the student’s professional objectives.

The M.A. degree requires the student to complete the add/change program/plan process through the Graduate School. In this case, the student must request to “add” the M.A. plan to their student record. Once the M.A. plan has been added to the student record, and all M.A. degree requirements have been met, a warrant request can be made to the Graduate Coordinator, allowing at least three weeks for the warrant to be processed.

Master of Science (M.S.)

The master of science degree in Physics requires the completion of a directed master’s project and thesis in the student’s area of interest, completion of the core graduate coursework, and passage of the qualifying exam at the master’s level. It is designed to strengthen the student’s background and experience in physics, and enhance the opportunities for employment as a physicist or in physics education.

To earn the M.S. degree in the Department of Physics, a student must satisfy the department’s minimum graduate level credit requirement and pass the Qualifying Exam at the Master’s level. The department requires at least 30 credits at the 500 level or above. 15 of the 30 credits must be earned from taking the core graduate courses, each passed with a grade of B or better. These courses are Physics 711 (Dynamics), 715 (Statistical Mechanics), 721 (Electrodynamics), and 731 and 732 (Quantum Mechanics). The remaining 15 credits may be earned through a combination of coursework, directed study, and research to be determined in consultation with the student’s academic advisor. The courses should be selected in consultation with the student’s advisor to best meet the student’s professional objectives.

Additionally, the student must present satisfactory evidence of scientific research, writing, and presentation skills. This will usually be done through a master’s research project that results in the submission of a master’s thesis written at a satisfactorily professional level, together with an oral presentation of the project in a master’s thesis defense.

The M.S. degree requires the student to complete the add/change program/plan process through the Graduate School. In this case, the student must request to “add” the M.S. plan to their student record. Once the M.S. plan has been added to the student record, a warrant request can be made to the Graduate Coordinator, allowing at least three weeks for the warrant to be processed.


The Preliminary Exam must be passed for admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. and to achieve dissertator status through the Graduate School. It should be taken no later than the end of the fifth semester in the program, unless a student has received approval for an extension.  If the Preliminary Exam not passed on the first attempt, it may be repeated once before the end of the sixth semester.

The Preliminary Exam is intended to test whether the student has mastered the physics and technology necessary for research in the proposed general area of study, and to assess whether the student is on track to satisfying the department’s learning goals for the Ph.D. degree. The Preliminary Exam is held before the student’s Preliminary Exam Committee, which at minimum consists of three members:

  • Faculty research advisor, who serves as the chair of the committee
  • Faculty representative from the departmental Preliminary Exam Committee (student should contact the current Prelim Committee Chair to obtain this member)
  • Additional committee member(s) that are typically chosen by the student and/or their advisor and is typically a UW-Madison faculty either in physics or another related department

The exam is typically scheduled during a two-hour time block.  The student gives a presentation aimed at a general physics audience and should be understandable for a physicist working in an entirely different area.  The format can vary slightly depending on the research advisor and research group, but it typically begins with a one-hour presentation covering a subject in the student’s chosen area of research, and is followed by a question and answer period designed to assess the student’s background knowledge and research potential. The committee will ask questions to clarify points made in the talk and determine if the student adequately understands the physics behind the topics that were discussed.  The question and answer period typically takes place both in open session (in front of a general audience) and in closed session (just in front of the committee). The committee will deliberate the exam outcome in closed session, and communicates the result to the student once the decision is made. The committee will indicate the result of pass by signing the Preliminary Exam warrant.

A student planning to take the Preliminary Examination will need to present a completed and signed Minor Form and request a Preliminary Examination warrant from the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks prior to the date of the examination. After the exam, the signed Preliminary Exam warrant is submitted to the Graduate Coordinator for submission to the Graduate School for processing of dissertator status. Students will receive an email confirmation from the Graduate School once the signed warrant has been submitted confirming dissertator status for the next semester.


The Graduate School sets the minimum requirements and deadlines each semester for dissertator status:

Dissertator status is effective at the start of the semester immediately following the completion of these requirements. In addition to the Graduate School requirements for dissertator status, the Physics program also requires students to:

  • Pass the Qualifying Exam at the Ph.D. level
  • Complete the required core coursework with a grade of B or better
  • Satisfy the minor requirement
  • Pass the Preliminary Exam


Thesis Defense

The doctoral thesis defense is an oral defense of the dissertation. The thesis defense includes both a presentation of the dissertation material, and a question and answer sessions that can take place both in open session (in front of a general audience) and closed session (only the doctoral thesis committee). Graduate School policy requires that the thesis defense must be completed within five years of passing the Preliminary Examination. Details from the Graduate School about the final oral examination (thesis defense) can be found here:

The thesis defense also requires a warrant. Warrant requests must be made to the Graduate Coordinator at least three weeks prior to the date of the thesis defense.  The date, time, and location of the defense, as well as the dissertation title and committee members, must be finalized before requesting the warrant.

Thesis Committee

In accordance with Graduate School policy, the doctoral thesis committee consists of the student’s faculty advisor and three other committee members. The chair or one of the co-chair’s must be graduate faculty from the Department of Physics.  At least three of the members must be graduate faculty; at least one of the faculty must be from another graduate program.  Further details are available here:


The Graduate School doctoral guide outlines the specific formatting requirements for the dissertation as well as the steps to deposit the dissertation:


Degrees at UW-Madison are conferred three times during the year by academic term: Fall, Spring, & Summer.  The date the dissertation is deposited to the Graduate School determines the degree term.  The Graduate School degree deadlines are listed here:

Degree Conferral & Payroll End Dates

The Graduate School policy on degree conferral and payroll end dates explains how students maintain tuition remission and the degree window period.


Graduate students should consult their faculty advisor, mentoring committee, the Associate Chair for Graduate Program, and/or the Graduate Coordinator about any concerns related to academic issues or the academic environment. Graduate students may also reach out directly to the Department Chair as an alternate approach. The hope is that this will result in the development of a working environment that all will find supportive. If graduate students have a question of whether or not a situation or discomfort should be discussed, the answer is YES! Any issue that is troubling should be addressed and, if it is within the Department’s authority, it will be resolved.

If a graduate student feels unfairly treated or aggrieved by faculty, staff, or another student, it is recommended that the concerns are first handled directly with the person responsible for the objectionable action, if possible. If the student is uncomfortable making direct contact with the individual(s) involved, the student should contact the faculty advisor or the person in charge of the unit where the action occurred (program or department chair, section chair, lab manager, etc.), and/or contact the people mentioned above.

There are also resources and formal grievance procedures at the campus level that can be followed, which are outlined in the Graduate School policies:

The following resources may also be helpful in addressing concerns:


While in most cases participation in the program is continuous over time, students sometimes find it necessary to take a temporary leave of absence. Graduate students may request a leave of absence for one semester or for one year by submitting a form outlining the timeline for the leave and general reasons. The faculty advisor must agree that the student is leaving in good standing and may re-enter the program in a reasonable stated length of time. The Department Chair, in consultation with the Associate Chair for Graduate Program, will review all leave of absence requests.

If a student is granted a one semester leave of absence, the milestone due dates and terminal deadlines are pushed back one semester. If a student is granted a full year leave of absence, all due dates and deadlines are pushed back one year. Students may be granted a leave of absence for no more than one year at a time.  Students who do not register for more than one semester (Fall or Spring) will be considered inactive by Graduate School standards and must apply for re-entry.  Students who take a leave of absence and are in good standing are likely to be approved for re-entry upon return.  Prior funding guarantees may or may not continue to be in effect and will be decided in a case by case basis.  A leave of absence is not required for summer term as summer term is not a required term of enrollment if a student is not being paid as a graduate assistant or fellow.


Graduate students who leave the program in good standing for more than one term (not including summer) may request re-entry to the program by completing the Graduate School application for re-admission. Department leadership will review the request based on the information provided at the time the student plans to return.

The Graduate School outlines the policy for readmission for previously enrolled graduate students:

Time Limits

In addition, the Graduate School specifies time limits for completion of current coursework and research.  Students who take a leave of absence or re-enter into the program should be aware of these policies:


The Department Chair has the authority to make individual exceptions to policies found in the PhD program handbook. Exceptions must involve extenuating and/or unique individual circumstances. Requests for such exceptions should be made in writing to the Associate Chair for Graduate Program and/or DGS from the student and/or faculty advisor.