Academic Requirements

Course Requirements

Qualifying Events


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 the student’s undergraduate training in classical and quantum physics. Students who have already taken comparable core courses can elect to take the Pass-Out exam to be excused from taking that foundational course. Students who pass out of a course exam will be required to take an additional advanced elective to fulfill the required number of credits. Further information on the Pass-Out exams can be found here, and detailed course information can be found 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 is 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 should be used to help students decide what course load is right for them. DGS advising is also provided at the beginning of the academic year to help guide students successfully. The minimum course load is four foundational courses plus 515 and 590 in the first academic year. Courses taken above the minimum course load will help students complete their MS en-route more quickly and better prepare students 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 538 Intro to Relativistic Astrophysics & General Relativity

  • Phys 609 Relativistic Field Theory I

  • Phys 610 Quantum Many Body Theory

  • Phys 628 Statistical Physics II

  • Phys 630 Relativistic Field Theory II

  • 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 students identify promising thesis research areas. To pursue an SI, a student first identifies a research advisor for the project, who must have a primary or secondary appointment in the Physics Department. During registration period, students will add Phys 990 to their worksheet. The “Individual Study Course Information Form” will show on the right side of the course registration screen. Once a research advisor’s name is added to the form, you will be allowed to seal your registration.

Within the first two weeks of class, students are required to submit an advisor-approved cover page and a brief ½ to 1-page long written proposal specifying the plan of action for the SI project to the course instructor, which is different from the research advisor. The proposal should include short motivation for and description of the proposed research and the outcome of the work. The proposed research description can be as short as “addressing this theoretical problem” or for experimentalists, 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 their 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 material to be excused from that particular core course. To be eligible to take this exam, a student must be in their first year of studies and have had a more-or-less equivalent-level course elsewhere. The exam will be administered by the DGS and a previous year’s lecturer of the course. A student excused from a core course must replace it with an advanced elective to reach the same total number of required courses.

Course Waivers

Equivalent coursework completed elsewhere and taken while registered as a graduate student may enable a student to be excused from one of the required courses. Course waiver petitions are approved at the discretion of the DGS and with the approval of the Graduate School Associate Dean. No more than three courses can be waived, and any core courses excused must be replaced with an advanced elective to reach the same total number of required courses.

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. More registration information can be found under the Registration Changes section below.

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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.

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 of 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. 

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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. Physics graduate students are expected to teach at the TF10 level, funded through University Fellowships (UFs), during their 1st and 2nd academic years.  These teaching expectations are motivated both through financial and educational considerations.  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.  

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. 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, are not required to teach.  Advanced students on UF,  beyond a year, are required to teach at the TF10 level, not to exceed 80 teaching hours total over a 5-year period.

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 (OPA), within their first two years, prior to being assigned teaching. Once they have passed the OPA, 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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