Academic Requirements as a Graduate Student

While here at UCSD, you will need to fulfill several requirements before you can graduate with your PhD or your Master's degree. These requirements are a combination of research and course requirements. This page and the links on it aims to help you navigate all of those requirements and make your time as a graduate student as stress free as possible.

Course Requirements

You may have noticed that we have a set of courses that cover general and foundational concepts in physics. We often call these courses the "first year courses". These courses are:

  1. Physics 200A,B — Classical Mechanics
  2. Physics 201 — Mathematical Physics
  3. Physics 203A,B — E&M
  4. Physics 210A — Statistical Mechanics
  5. Physics 212A,B,C — Quantum Mechanics

These courses are not required for your degree, but they are highly recommended as they are *very* useful for passing the Departmental Exam (the next requirement)

Besides the first year courses, UCSD physics offers several more advanced graduate courses in specialized topics. These courses are split into ~7 topics or groups. Graduation requires that you pass 5 of these more advanced course. Your 5 courses must be split between 3 separate groups to ensure that your education is well rounded.

Read more at Courses

Departmental/Qualifying Exam

The departmental exam (or qualifying exam) is an exam you must complete and pass by the end of your second year. This exam covers the five main topics that the first year courses are offered on. You will have several attempts to pass this exam

  1. A free shot before you start your schooling
  2. A first attempt before the start of your second year
  3. A second attempt at the end of your second year

Read more at Qualifying Exam

Advancement to Candidacy

Your advancement to candidacy is a step that you must complete after you have started your research. Your advancement will consist of a talk given to a committee. This committee will later sit on your defense and award you your degree.

Read more at Advancement to Candidacy Exam

Master's Degree

Following your advancement, and fulfilling a sufficient number of completed class units, you are eligible to receive your master's degree. You have two options after getting this degree: keep going for your PhD or "master out" and leave the program with a master's degree. You are required to get your master's degree before you finish your PhD.

Read more at Master's Degree


This is the final requirement for graduating with a PhD. Once you and your advisor are happy with your research, you will need to put all of your research together into a thesis. Besides this document, you will need to defend your thesis to your committee. You'll give a talk and be asked any pertinent questions to your work. Your committee will then decide your fate

Read more at Final Year Guide

Non Academic Requirements as a Graduate Student


Besides your academic requirements in this program, every graduate student is expected to TA (or be a Teacher's Assistant) at least once during their tenure at UCSD. TA positions come in many forms:

  1. Lecture TA's
  2. Lab TA's
  3. Graders
  4. Tutors at the Tutorial Center

Read more at Introduction to TAing

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