Research and Advising

First and Second Year

Third Year and Beyond

First and Second Year


Finding a Research Group

Finding the right research group and graduate advisor in graduate school is critical to your success.  In a student’s first year of graduate school, Phys 515 will offer an overview of the research groups in the department through interactive seminars, given by the faculty. Students will also have the opportunity to work on research projects with potential advisors during the summer between their 1st and 2nd year of study. By the start of your 3rd year, you should be prepared to officially select your advisor/research group.

Essential factors to consider in finding an advisor and research group include the following:  Are their good projects for graduate students?  Do they match your interests?  Is the advisor accepting new students?  What do the past and current students and postdocs in the group do in later stages of their careers?  What is the advisor’s philosophy with respect to students and postdocs in the group? For example, do they tend to work more independently or in groups?  

Besides communicating with the advisor, it can be very useful to talk to the current students and postdocs in their group.  As always, discuss your options with the graduate program team.

Summer Research Between Years 1 and 2 

In the summer between 1st and 2nd year, students are expected to work in a research group, gaining experience in a field of potential interest. Students are financially supported through the research group in which they work during the summer and not on University funds as they are during the academic year. This research experience may turn out to be the beginning of a research collaboration with a future adviser. There is no obligation to continue working in the same group and students are encouraged to use Phys 990 and summer research to check out multiple research groups. 

Be sure to notify the graduate registrar once your summer research plans have been confirmed with your summer advisor prior to May 1st.

Choosing an Adviser

Formal association with a dissertation adviser normally begins in the third or fourth term after the qualifying events and required course work has been completed. It is critical to start exploring possible advisors in your first year at Yale. An adviser from a department other than Physics can be chosen in consultation with the DGS, provided the dissertation topic is deemed suitable for a physics PhD. If the faculty doesn’t hold a primary or secondary appointment in Physics, a co-advisor in the department will also be needed. 

Be sure to seek out faculty and talk to them early on to discuss your interest and possibilities of collaborating. Although the department does everything it can to help students who are having difficulties find an advisor, the Department does not “provide” an advisor for you.  There is no guarantee that a particular mentor will have an opening and research funding available when you are ready to commit to a research group, hence it is imperative that you explore different advising opportunities within a subfield and perhaps even more than one subfield of physics.

Mentoring and Advising

Mentoring and Advising are critical components of academic life. Mentorship can happen “up, down, and sideways”. Both advisors and mentors play critical roles in your path to success. Students are encouraged to talk with their advisors about all aspects of mentoring, including their academic success, path to dissertation, and post-graduation plans. Open discussion with your advisor about how you  can best be mentored is strongly encouraged. Reach out to the graduate team with any issues you face with respect to mentorship and talking with your advisor.

Successful mentoring on the part of Teaching Fellows to students, and to other researchers in your research groups is also critical to success. Students should feel comfortable working with their peers and instructors in a healthy and productive manner. Reach out to the graduate team with any questions or issues you face in these roles as well.

Resources on mentoring and advising are listed below:

Physics Program-Specific Advising Guidelines

GSAS Guide to Advising for Faculty and students: Advising & Mentoring

Do you have all the mentoring roles you need for success? Try filling out this “Mentoring Map

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Third Year and Beyond

Advancement to Candidacy

The graduate school requires all students to be admitted to candidacy by the end of the third year. Students who have completed their course requirements with satisfactory grades (a High Pass average and the Graduate School requirement of two Honors (which can include PHYS 990 Special Investigation)), fulfilled the qualifying event requirement, and who have submitted an acceptable thesis prospectus to their core thesis committee are recommended for admission to candidacy.

Students must advance to candidacy by the end of the third year or they will not be permitted to register for the next term. At the time of advancement to candidacy, students who have not petitioned for or received en route degrees (e.g., M.A., M.S., M.Phil.) will automatically be considered for such degrees. If a student advances to candidacy after the deadline to submit a petition for the degree in that term, the student will be considered for a degree in the following term.

Core Thesis Committee

A core thesis committee, consisting of thesis advisor and 2 additional faculty members must be selected by each student at the earliest opportunity, either in the second semester of the second year or in the first semester of the third year but no later than the end of the third year when the student’s thesis prospectus will be evaluated. The committee composition can be changed later.

Each student must meet periodically with their core thesis committee in closed session to discuss progress. These meetings will occur at least once per year, but could be more frequent. It is the student’s responsibility to arrange these closed session meetings as often as deemed necessary by the student or the committee.

The purpose of these closed-session meetings can be, but is not limited to, the student providing a formal scientific presentation to the committee. An update on the student’s research progress is appropriate and is often done in conjunction with the public presentation requirement mentioned below, but should not be the sole focus. Rather, the goal of these meetings is for the committee to assess the student’s overall progress as a physicist. For example, one important role of the core thesis committee is to ensure that the student has a sufficiently broad knowledge of their subfield. The committee may choose to do this via a variety of procedures at their discretion. Questions on, and related to, the field and on physics in general will be a typical part of these sessions. In addition, the committee should assess the student’s professional progress, i.e., exposure to the literature and the work of other groups e.g., via conferences; opportunities to write and present their work orally; attendance at relevant seminars and/or classes; etc.

The ongoing monitoring of a student’s research progress through these meetings should diminish the chances of surprises at the thesis defense. Such monitoring can also provide a protection to both the student and advisor: First, if a student has sufficient material for a PhD, then the committee can push a reluctant advisor to agree to a thesis defense. Alternatively, if a student’s research performance is inadequate, the committee can support academic sanctions on the student, i.e., that the student is not in good academic standing.

After the closed-session meeting, the core thesis committee chair will prepare a brief report of the committee’s assessment of the student’s progress towards the thesis and present this to the student and Departmental Registrar: It is the student’s responsibility to print and complete the top portion of the Thesis Progress Report form prior to their meeting. The completed form should then be given to the graduate registrar along with an electronic copy of any written reports.

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Prospectus Requirement

Students are required to have their approved thesis prospectus submitted to the graduate school, before the end of their third year, in order to advance to candidacy. Students who have not advanced to candidacy by the start of their fourth year will not be allowed to register for the term without special approval by the Dean. 

The thesis prospectus includes a written report and presentation to your primary advisor and two core committee members. Students should plan to have their prospectus approved by their committee and submitted, along with their thesis progress report form, no later than the first week of August, at the end of their third year. Once the registrar has received your approved prospectus, the registrar will send your prospectus along with advancement to candidacy approval form to the University Registrar. Prospectus presentations are due by October 1st. 

Written Prospectus

The first page of the written prospectus must contain the following information: title, student’s name, adviser’s name, Yale University Physics Department, and date. Prospectus should also include an abstract. The following is an excerpt from the Graduate School Programs and Policy Bulletin describing the prospectus:

The prospectus should be viewed as a preliminary statement of what the student proposes to do in his or her dissertation and not as an unalterable commitment. The appropriate form and typical content of a prospectus inevitably vary from field to field. In most cases, however, a prospectus should contain the following information:

  1. A statement of the topic of the dissertation and an explanation of its importance. What in general might one expect to learn from the dissertation that is not now known, understood, or appreciated?

  2. A concise review of what has been done on the topic in the past. Specifically, how will the proposed dissertation differ from or expand upon previous work? A basic bibliography should normally be appended to this section.

  3. A statement of where most of the work will be carried out - for example, in the Yale library or another library or archive, in the laboratory of a particular faculty member, or as part of a program of field work at specific sites in the United States or abroad.

  4. If the subject matter permits, a tentative proposal for the internal organization of the dissertation - for example, major sections, subsections, sequence of chapters.

  5. A provisional timetable for completion of the dissertation.

Although it is difficult to prescribe a standard length for the prospectus, it should be long enough to include essential information for the proposed topics but not overly long. Seven to ten pages, excluding figures and bibliography, should be appropriate in most cases. The prospectus should be written in a manner comprehensible to people who are not experts in your particular subfield. A concise introduction to the subject is therefore essential.

Additional information on prospectus writing can be found on the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning website, as well as a sample physics prospectus. The Poorvu Center offers writing workshops to assist students with prospectus, grant, and thesis writing and is an excellent resource for all.

Prospectus Presentation

Students are also required to present their prospectus in the form of a talk given to their committee or at a venue where their committee can attend. This presentation should be done either before the prospectus is submitted or in the semester following the submission of the prospectus.

Faculty schedules may be limited and finding a day/time when all three are available may be difficult, especially in the summer. It is advised to schedule your presentation with your committee as soon as possible. At minimum, the primary advisor and one additional committee member must be present and approved of your presentation.

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Public Presentation

In addition to the private committee meetings, students can choose to present part of their annual research progress to their thesis committee in a public presentation which the core thesis committee members are expected to attend. Possible forums for such presentations include the Weak Interaction Discussion Group, The Monday Evening Seminar, the Sackler Discussion Group, collaboration presentations, group meeting presentations, etc. The format of the presentation should be a talk that lasts 30 minutes or more. The allowable format and content for the “public presentations” should be viewed broadly, subject only to the participation of the core thesis committee. Especially early on in their research career, to satisfy this requirement, it may be that it makes most sense for a student to make a journal club-type presentation in the context of a group meeting, later progressing to a research-based presentation in one of the regularly scheduled series. It is also the student’s responsibility to arrange for this public presentation.

This public presentation is NOT meant to be merely a progress report for the core thesis committee, or an opportunity for the committee to ask physics questions about the work. Rather, the goal is primarily for the student to practice communicating in a public setting, and to receive feedback about how to improve their presentation abilities.

After the public presentation, the student will provide their primary advisor with the Thesis Progress Report form so that they may enter comments regarding the student’s presentation. The completed form should then be given to the graduate registrar, along with an electronic copy of any written reports. Once again, the focus of this report should be on presentation style rather than a comment on scientific progress.

Annual Dissertation Progress Report

The Dissertation Progress Report (DPR) is due each April 1st, covering the work done in the academic year just completed. Filling in the form is now an on-line process, please see Yale’s Dissertation Progress Report page. For students who advance to candidacy early in their 3rd year, they will also be required to submit a DPR by April 1st. These students should resubmit their thesis prospectus to satisfy the University requirement for DPRs. It is then the Primary Advisor’s responsibility to complete their section of the DPR by May 1st for all of their students.

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