Applied Physics, PhD

Since the early 1980s, long before it became fashionable, the University of Massachusetts Boston Physics Department has offered a terminal master's degree in applied physics. Because of the match between the skills taught in that program and the needs of employers in the technology sector of the economy, the MS program has grown to become one of the largest and most successful terminal master's programs in the country. Over the last couple of decades, the research profile of the UMass Boston Physics Department has developed to the point where it has become desirable to include the option of continuing on to a PhD for some of our master's students.

Because of this history, the Applied Physics PhD has a structure that is distinct from other programs. All students are initially admitted into the master's program. Where it makes sense to extend from a master's thesis into a doctoral dissertation, students in the master's program who develop a research relationship with a faculty member, are transferred into the PhD upon successful completion of a portion of the Qualifying Exam. In rare cases, where a student enters with an existing relationship with a faculty member, and where they have sufficiently strong preparation to pass qualifiers upon entrance into the master's program, those students will be advanced into the PhD after their first semester.



Since the applied physics PhD is a continuation of the applied physics master's degree the course requirements for the doctoral program start with those for the master's; three theory classes, three experimental classes, one elective, and a master's research project. Since advancement to candidacy in the PhD requires passing the written Qualifying Exam tests in the foundational subjects (Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, and Electricity and Magnetism) it is strongly recommended that students who, upon admissions into the master's program, are certain that they would like to continue on to the PhD should use their three theory courses and one elective to cover the foundational courses.

In addition to the coursework for the master's, students in the PhD program are required to take five additional courses. Since these are taken after completion of the master's degree and consequently after the establishment of a research relationship with a dissertation advisor, the specific courses taken should be chosen with consultation of the advisor with the aim of optimal relevance to the students area of research.


  1. Three Theory Classes
  2. Three Experimental Classes
  3. Five Electives
  4. Six Credits of Master Thesis Research
  5. Doctoral Dissertation


Transfer of Graduate Courses

Students who enter our program having taken graduate courses may receive transfer credit for their previous work in two possible ways. First, since they can take our subject specific qualifying tests we are in a position to evaluate their education in the foundational subjects of Physics. We will grant students credit for any class that they pass the exam for. Also, for more topical classes, we will grant students credit if they have taken a course that is demonstrably equivalent to one of our classes. This equivalence must be both in terms of subject matter and level of development. Such topical transfer credit will be handled on a course by course basis with the faculty member responsible for the most recent teaching of the relevant class being asked to evaluate the student’s work.



The Qualifying Exam for the PhD is broken into several distinct parts. First, there are a series of written tests on foundational subjects; Quantum Mechanics, Classical Mechanics, Statistical Mechanics, and Electricity and Magnetism. Each of these tests may be taken independently. The questions on the tests will be graded by the faculty who have written them or by the qualifying committee. The criterion for passing the written tests is determined by consensus of the qualifying committee. Students, upon entry into the Masters program get one free shot to take the tests. Successfully passing a Qualifying test upon entry will be used to waive the equivalent course from the student’s class requirements. After the student has begun taking classes they are allowed to attempt each test twice. Once all of the written tests have been completed, each student is then required to pass an oral test. The oral test will begin with a presentation of less than an hour on a subject of the student’s choosing. After the presentation a committee of at least three faculty members will ask the student questions about the presentation and any relevant Physics. Passing of the oral test will be by consensus of the faculty present.