Physics & Astronomy Comprehensive Examination Guidelines

The PhD Comprehensive Examination Committee (CEC) shall be composed by taking the Department of Physics & Astronomy (DPA) Department Graduate Education Committee (DGEC) along with two members of the Candidate’s Supervisory Committee (SC).  The DPA Chair (or co-Chairs) will decide which member of the CEC will act as CEC Chair.  Normally this will be the DEGC Chair.  The DPA Chair (or co-Chairs) also has the right to add another member of the DPA to the CEC, in an ad hoc manner, to assist with the administering of the general written exam (part 1B below).  The general written examination is normally administered and adjudicated by the three active DGEC members plus, optionally, the ad hoc member.  If the Candidate’s supervisor is a member of the DGEC then this member is replaced by the DGEC Alternate member. 

The other parts of this examination (1A and 2) will be administered and adjudicated by a three-member subset of the CEC composed of two members of the SC (normally including the Supervisor) and one member of the DGEC.  All three members will be chosen by the DPA Chair (or co-Chairs) and should be selected to properly match the research area of the Candidate.

Examination Component:


Written Component

1 - Minimum Written Requirement

  • A - The candidate must complete a thorough, independent review of the scientific literature relevant to their area of research study. A list of five peer-reviewed journal articles must be decided upon, not more than one of which can be authored by the candidate's Supervisor. Some of these articles are expected to be influential reviews, such as one finds in the journal Reviews of Modern Physics. The candidate should get advice on these choices from their SC. After careful study of these articles, the Candidate must write a 9-15 page report (Times New Roman 12 pt font using double spacing). The style need not be too formal: for example, references to figures in any of the journal articles do not require that the figures be reproduced in the report. There is no need to reference articles outside of the ones referred to in the articles. The adjudicators are expected to have also carefully read the five pertinent articles.
  • B - The general comprehensive written component should be completed within the first four months of the candidate’s program, and certainly within 12 months of the start date. (If a rewrite is necessary, it must be completed by the 24-month of the candidate’s program.). One three-hour written exam will be administered with questions taken from the textbook used in Physics 1000, Physics 2000, Physics 2120 and Physics 2130 (e.g. the latest editions of University Physics, Young and Freedman (Pearson), Fundamentals of Physics, Halliday, Resnick and Walker (Wiley), Physics for Scientists and Engineers: A Strategic Approach with Modern Physics, by R. D. Knight (Pearson)), including the classical and quantum/atomic physics sections. The candidate will be allowed formula sheets they devise themselves, three letter-size pages, maximum.  The exam will consist of 10 problems from the text, and the candidates will be asked to select and complete eight of them to be graded.

Oral Component

2- Minimum Oral Component

  • The candidate will deliver a 40 to 50-minute departmental colloquium on his or her research topic, within the first twenty-four months of the candidate’s program. 
  • Departmental colloquia are open to the public. Preferably, the colloquium will be part of the Department of Physics and Astronomy’s capstone course, Physics 3750 (Contemporary Physics).
  • The colloquium will be followed by a closed session of questions and discussion, lasting one to two hours.

The candidate is advised to consult the SGS Policies and Procedures document for further information (including plagiarism issues) pertaining to the evaluation parameters for PhD Comprehensive Examinations.


Approved by Graduate Council on September 16, 2015.