Academic Requirements

Course Requirements

Over the course of the first and second years, students are required to complete:

  • Six foundational courses 

  • One advanced elective 

  • Two research seminars 

  • One PHYS 990: Special Investigations (SI)

The purpose of the foundational courses is to complete your general all-around knowledge of physics at the graduate level, along with the necessary methodologies to identify and solve problems at the forefront of the field. Students who have already taken comparable core courses at an undergraduate or master’s degree level can elect to pass-out of or waive individual foundational courses. Additional advanced elective courses are required for students who pass out of a course exam, while waived courses do not need to be replaced with additional courses to meet the number of required course credits. Further information on Pass-Out exams and Course Waivers can be found below. Detailed course information is available on the Yale Online Course Search page.

Advanced electives should be selected from the list of graduate elective courses offered by the Physics or Applied Physics departments. Courses offered by other departments may also serve as advanced electives with the approval of the DGS. A sample of standard advanced electives provided are below. 

In addition to taking classes, all students must engage in a research project by taking PHYS 990 Special Investigations, usually in their first year. A presentation of your Phys 990 research will serve as one part of a two-part qualifying event

Below is the list of foundational courses and regularly offered Advanced Electives. Course sample schedules can be used to help you decide what course load is right for you. DGS advising is also provided at the beginning of the academic year to help guide you in your first and second year. The minimum course load is five foundational courses, plus Phys 515 and Phys 590 in the first academic year. Courses taken above the minimum course load will help you complete your M.Phil en-route more quickly and better prepare you for the Research and Written Qualifying Events.

6 Foundational Courses:

  • Phys 500 Advanced Classical Mechanics

  • Phys 502 Electromagnetic Theory

  • Phys 506 Mathematical Methods

  • Phys 508 Quantum Mechanics I

  • Phys 510 Quantum Mechanics II

  • Phys 512 Statistical Physics I

One or more Advanced Courses:

  • Phys 523 Biological Physics

  • Phys 538 Intro to Relativistic Astrophysics & General Relativity

  • Phys 562 Modeling Biological Systems II

  • Phys 609 Relativistic Field Theory I

  • Phys 610 Quantum Many Body Theory

  • Phys 628 Statistical Physics II

  • Phys 630 Relativistic Field Theory II

  • Phys 678 Computing for Scientific Research

  • Phys 681 Advanced Instrumentation

  • other department advance courses may also be considered

Two Research Seminars:

  • Phys 515 Physics Research Options

  • Phys 590 Responsible Conduct of Research

One Special Investigation: Phys 990

Special Investigations - PHYS 990

The PHYS 990 Special Investigations (SI) course is a course-based research experience intended to help you identify promising thesis research areas. To pursue an SI, you must first identify a research advisor for a project. The advisor must have a primary or secondary appointment in the Physics Department. A list of faculty to choose from can be found on our “Peoples” webpage.

To sign up for a Phys 990 SI, you will have to fill out an Individual Study Course Request form, as found on the Yale Hub’s Registration Resources tile. After your form has been submitted to the department Registrar, you will receive a notification email with the new course’s title, CRN, and some instructions. Return to Yale Hub, the Self-Service Registration System link, to add the new course to your schedule, and submit the changes. If registration has closed, you will need add the course to your schedule during add/drop period.

Within the first two weeks of class, you will be required to submit an advisor-approved cover page and a brief ½ to 1-page long written proposal specifying the plan of action for your SI project to the course instructor. The Phys 990 course instructor is different from your SI research advisor. Your proposal should include short motivation for and description of the proposed research and the outcome of your work. The proposed research description can be as short as “addressing this theoretical problem” or, for experimentalists, a description of setup, measurement, and analyses of a problem. Outcomes of work include a presentation that will count as your qualifying event in research. Your advisor should specify at the beginning of the term if your presentation will also count towards your Phys 990 course grade or if some other mechanism, a writeup as technical note or potential paper, will conclude your research experience. Your SI advisor will assign you an SI grade and the DGS or course instructor will provide you with your qualifying event feedback.

Students may want to pursue SIs in different subfields to explore your research options before committing to a Ph.D. thesis topic. The DGS will not approve an SI for audit. Only your first SI presentation will count as your research qualifying event.  

Pass-Out Exams

The Physics Department offers “pass-out” examinations for the six core courses, to be given at the start of each term, to determine whether a student has sufficient mastery of basic course material and to be excused from that particular core course. To be eligible to take this exam, you must be in your first year of studies and have had a more-or-less equivalent-level course elsewhere. The exam will be administered by the DGS and the previous year’s lecturer of the course. It is recommended that you register for the core course initially, and drop the course once you have confirmation that you have passed out. Passing out of a course does not automatically remove the course from your course schedule. Excused core courses must be replaced with an advanced elective to reach the same total number of 7 required courses. Required courses Phys 515, 590, and 990 may not be waived.

Course Waivers

New students entering with a master’s degree may choose to complete their Ph.D. without earning a Master’s or MPhil degree en route by waiving equivalent required courses. Courses waived do not have to be replaced with electives. All other course requirements, grade requirements, qualifying evaluations, and approved prospectus must be met to advance to candidacy.

New students who have completed graduate-level courses at a prior institution, but without a master’s degree, may also submit course waiver requests. For entering students without a master’s degree, waived courses must be replaced with electives. A total of 7 course credits must be completed, along with all other requirements to advance to candidacy.

To request a course waived, course syllabi, transcripts, and any other supporting materials showing similarities between prior courses successfully taken and Yale-required courses must be submitted to the DGS, along with the course waiver petition form. Petitions reviewed and approved by the DGS are then sent to the Graduate School Associate Dean for further approval and to be noted on the student’s official Yale transcript. Required courses Phys 515, 590, and 990 may not be waived.

Taking Courses Outside the Department

The DGS and your research advisor must approve courses outside of the Physics or Applied Physics department before registering for the course. 

Registration Information

All students must register for their courses online through the Yale University Student Information Systems. Students who have completed all of their course work and are not taking any other course for credit must either register for Admission to Candidacy (CAND 999) (for students in years 2-3) or Dissertation Research (DISR 999) (for students in years 4+). A student not registered for any classes in the term will be considered withdrawn from the program.

Extended Registration

Most graduate students complete their graduate studies within 6-7 years. The university and Physics Department encourage all students to aim to complete their studies within 6 years. Some students require more time and should be in communication with their advisor and the DGS before requesting an extension. 7th and 8th year extensions should be submitted to the DGS no later than July 1 to ensure they remain on the Yale health insurance for the full summer and are able to register for the upcoming academic year. Students cannot extend their registration passed their 8th year of study.

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Grade Requirements

The grades assigned in the Graduate School are: 

H = Honors

HP = High Pass 

P = Pass

F = Fail

The Physics Department requires a grade point average of HP for a student to remain in good standing.

In addition, the Graduate School requires that a student must attain at least two grades of Honors within the first two years of study. A grade of P is generally considered an unsatisfactory grade, its name notwithstanding.

Incomplete Grades

In rare circumstances, a student may need additional time to complete coursework. An arrangement for a completion date must be worked out with the instructor. Together, the student and instructor will submit a Request for Temporary Incomplete form to the DGS for approval. Students requesting more than one Temporary Incomplete (TI) must also receive the Dean’s approval. 

Incomplete grades must be converted to a final grade no later than October 1 of the following academic year. Otherwise, the TI will be converted to a permanent Incomplete (I). Faculty should email directly to request an update on a student’s grade. 

See Graduate School Program & Policies Bulletin for more details.

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Qualifying Events

The qualifying events consist of two parts, a qualifying event in research and a written qualifying event. Students will receive feedback on each part of the qualifier, but no part of the qualifiers will be graded. The qualifying events serve as learning milestones for the students. They will also help the department assess the students’ level of physics knowledge to align our program to our updated learning objectives. The qualifying events will also fulfill the Graduate School requirement for students wishing to advance to candidacy. For more on advancing to candidacy, see here.  

Qualifying Event in Research

Students will complete a qualifying event in research in conjunction with their first Phys 990 – Special Investigations. The Research Qualifying Event (RQE) for Phys 990 represents the culmination of work done during Phys 990. The presentation should be 25 minutes in total and formatted like that of a short seminar.  Presentations will be organized over one/several days at the end of each term, during the final week of classes through reading week.  Presentations should begin with an introduction and motivation for the work (approximately 10 minutes), followed by the details of the research performed (approximately 15 minutes).

The seminar will be open to your colleagues and the DGS. The DGS or instructor of record will provide feedback to students in writing, using the Research Qualifying Event form, which covers the following areas. 

  • Organization of Presentation: Motivation, details of research, conclusions

  • Content: Knowledge of details of research

  • Visual:  Composition of slides, quality of presentation of materials

  • Presentation:  Verbal presentation of material on slides


Students will not be graded on their research presentation for the qualifying event. Students may be graded on their presentation by their 990 advisors as part of their Phys 990 grade evaluation if previously discussed at the beginning of the term. The RQE will be treated as a non-pass/fail learning milestone. The feedback students receive is designed to help in future presentations and communications; it will not be retained as part of your academic records. 

Written Qualifying Event

The Written Qualifying Event (WQE) is taken by all students at the beginning of their third term, usually the fall of a student’s second year, unless a leave of absence was taken. The WQE consists of four separate written components based on Classical Mechanics (Phys 500), Electromagnetic Theory (Phys 502), Statistical Mechanics (Phys 512), and Quantum Mechanics I (Phys 510), given over four sessions within two days. Past Qualifying Event exams and solution sets can be found here.

Classical mechanics and Electromagnetic theory will be given on the first day; Quantum mechanics and Statistical mechanics on the second day. Typically, evaluations are given 10 am - 12:30 pm and 2 - 4:30 pm, Thursday and Friday the week before or during the first week of classes.

The WQEs will be collected, and the components will be marked up and returned to the student. The student will then have an opportunity to correct any errors and re-submit in a week.  

Depending on a student’s course load, some core courses may not have been taken yet by the start of their second year. For these students, the WQE serves as a pre-test going into your required courses. More information on the WQE can be found on our WQE factsheet.

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Master’s Degree Requirements

M.S.. Students will qualify for their Master’s of Science once they have successfully passed the six core courses (1. PHYS 500, Classical Mechanics; 2. PHYS 502, Electromagnetic Theory I; 3. Phys 506, Math Methods; 4. PHYS 508, Quantum Mechanics I; 5. Phys 510, Quantum Mechanics II; 6. PHYS 512, Statistical Physics I), plus one of the following: PHYS 990, Special Investigations; or an advanced elective. Successfully passing courses means receiving at least two honors within a student’s first two years of study and maintaining a High Pass average. 

Certain equivalent course work or successful completion of a pass-out examination may allow individual students to substitute required courses with advanced electives. Course information can be found on the Search Yale Courses Page.

M.Phil. Students who have successfully met their MS requirements and advanced to candidacy qualify for the M.Phil. degree. The M.Phil is also awarded en route but not necessarily at the same time as the M.S.

Petitioning for Masters’ Degree

Students who want to physically receive their Master’s degree(s) before their Ph.D. commencement can submit a Degree Petition (En Route and Terminal) form for their degree once they have met the requirements for that degree. Any student who hasn’t petitioned for their Master’s by the time they advance to candidacy will automatically be considered for such degrees at the next degree award date. Petitions should be completed by the student and returned to the Physics Registrar at the end of the term, in which requirements have been met.

Students departing from the program after satisfying their degree requirements but before advancing to candidacy must complete the same form seeking a terminal degree. Students leaving the program must also complete the notification of leave/graduation form.  

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Teaching experience is regarded as an integral part of the graduate training program and teaching expectations are motivated by both financial and educational considerations. All teaching assignments are either TF10s, requiring 10 hours or less of work weekly, or TF20s, requiring 11-20 hours of work weekly. Physics TF assignments are generally TF10s, except in rare advanced course situations, and are funded through University Fellowships (UFs) during their 1st and 2nd academic years. 

Typically students will teach for a total of 4 semesters, as TF10s, over their first two years. In some cases, with approval of the DGS, teaching can be deferred to later years or if research funding is available, can teach a minimum of 2 semesters during their graduate career.  For more information on University Funding, please see here.

Teaching Requirements

Most physics students serve as Teaching Fellows (TF), teaching undergraduate physics lab or lecture courses in their first two years. Each TF assigned equates to a 10 hours per week (TF10 appointment) commitment each semester. In general, teaching assignments are expected to be fulfilled in the physics department. Requests to teach in other departments can be made, but require a short statement justifying how the experience will enrich the student’s graduate studies/research or professional training.

Students can contact the graduate registrar or DGS if they have any questions or concerns with their assignments. Once a student has been assigned, they are responsible for reaching out to the course’s faculty instructor to determine when course staff meetings will be scheduled. Such meetings are usually held a little before the undergraduate semester begins and mark the start of your semester’s teaching responsibilities. 

Throughout the semester, you must fulfill your teaching obligations conscientiously. If you find that you are routinely required to spend more than 10 hours per week on your teaching duties, you should contact the DGS. Teaching Fellow responsibilities may include teaching in a laboratory, study hall, discussion section, grading, and proctoring exams. Problem sets should be provided to TFs by the course instructor ahead of time. Teaching obligations only end when the course instructor releases you. TFs are commonly asked to help grade the final exam; therefore, students should be prepared to be at Yale from a few days before the first day of classes until after the final exam is graded.

In some cases, advanced students (Year 3+) can be supported on University Fellowship by approval of the DGS and Chair.  Advanced students on UF, for one year or less over the course of their graduate career, may not be required to teach.  Advanced students on long term UFs, beyond a year, are required to teach at the TF10 level, not to exceed 80 teaching hours total over five years or 100 teaching hours over six years. The teaching requirement for students on short term UF is up to the discretion of the DGS and is heavily influenced by the needs of the department.

Training for Teaching

The Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning is a helpful resource for all teaching needs. Workshops and courses are held throughout the year, and incoming students must attend “Teaching at Yale Day” during their orientation period. New graduate students are also required to attend the 4-part seminar series “Fundamentals of Teaching Physics,” developed and run by McDougal Teaching Fellows in physics, where you will acquire specific training in teaching Physics lab or lecture courses.

Language Requirements for Teaching

Students whose native language is not English must pass the Oral Proficiency Assessment (OPA2), within their first two years, prior to being assigned teaching. Once they have passed the OPA2, they will begin their required teaching assignments. More information for international students can be found in the International Student section under “Other Matters”.

Non-native English speakers are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the many course opportunities and English conversation groups available through the Graduate School and the English Language Institute (ELI). Students unable to speak and write English fluently will find it very difficult to carry out research, write publications, or find employment in the United States.

Non-Required Teaching

Students may choose to teach, after fulfilling their requirements, for additional funds. Students are paid $4000 per TF assignment on top of their standard stipend if the teaching is not required. Teaching assignments are prioritized by those who need to meet their teaching requirements first. After all the required teaching students have been assigned, non-required teaching assignments will be given. These assignments are generally for higher-level courses and may require taking and successfully passing the course in past semesters to teach it. Upper-year students should always discuss teaching assignments with their advisor before agreeing to teach.

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