Normal Progression Beyond the Comprehensive Examination

Download the Post-Comp Progress Form (PDF)
Download the Admission to Candidacy Form (PDF)

Download the PhD Committee Policy Remote Participation Form (PDF)

Download the Advisor's Summary Report of Dissertation Committee Meeting (PDF)
Download the Member's Report of Dissertation Committee Meeting (PDF)
If needed, Download the Remote Attendance Certification

MESSAGE FROM THE DEAN OF GRADUATE STUDIES regarding doctoral committees (August 28, 2017).

The majority of the students admitted to our PhD program now satisfy all of the requirements for passing the Comprehensive Examination by the end of their first year.  All of them must do so by the end of their second year.  This Appendix describes in detail the benchmarks that our PhD students must achieve after passing the Comprehensive Examination, and the time scale they are expected to adhere to in order to make satisfactory progress towards the completion of their degree objective.

1. Finding a Research Advisor

It may take time to find a faculty member in this Department who does research in an area that is of interest to a particular graduate student, is willing to serve as that student’s research advisor, and is able to support the student. Therefore all Ph.D. students are urged to begin this search within the first or second month after their arrival. (If you want to request permission to perform your Ph.D. research under the primary guidance of a faculty member outside the Department of Physics and Astronomy, please see External PhD Resarch.)

The decision to work together on a significant research project represents a long-term commitment for both the faculty member and the graduate student and therefore should not be taken lightly. Thus it is standard practice for the faculty member to “try out” the student by assigning some kind of experimental or theoretical project. This trial period will also give the student the opportunity to discover what it is like to work with that faculty member in that specialty area. All graduate students who complete the first two semesters in good standing should use the summer months following their first year as their first opportunity for working in a research group on a trial basis. If necessary, they should continue to search actively for a research advisor during the early part of the fall term of their second year.

Since most of our graduate students are supported by the Department through the first two academic years, mostly as Teaching Assistants (TAs), the faculty members can “try out” the students who are interested in working with them for a term without having to support them financially. But all graduate students are expected to be supported as a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) by their research advisor beginning with the summer that follows their fourth semester in our program. Therefore any student who has not found a research advisor by that time is in danger of being without financial support.

2. Executing a Research Agreement

As soon as a faculty member and a graduate student have reached a mutual agreement to work together as research advisor and dissertation student, this understanding must be formalized by the execution of a Research Agreement (Part A of the Post-Comps Progress Form which is available from the Department’s graduate secretary). The upper section of Part A must be completed and signed by both the research advisor and the graduate student. The graduate student is responsible for filing the completed Research Agreement with the graduate secretary within six (6) months after receiving written notification of having passed the Comprehensive Examination. Only graduate students who have a current executed Research Agreement on file may register for PHYS 3000 (dissertation research).

Once it has been executed, the Research Agreement should be regarded as binding on both parties. Should unforeseen circumstances arise subsequently that preclude a continuation of productive collaborative research work, the Research Agreement must be formally terminated using the lower section of Part A of the student’s Post-Comps Progress Form; a reason must be given and all parties must sign. When a research advisor concludes that a Research Agreement needs to be terminated, it is very important that the affected graduate student be notified in writing as early as possible, especially if the student will lose financial support.

3. Forming a Dissertation Committee

Soon after the Research Agreement has been executed, the research advisor and the graduate student should begin to discuss the membership of the student’s Dissertation Committee. (See Section A.9 of the Requirements for the M.S. and Ph.D. Degrees for the rules regarding the composition of Dissertation Committees.) When all members of the Dissertation Committee have been identified and contacted, and have indicated their willingness to serve, Part B of the graduate student’s Post-Comps Progress form must be completed and submitted, along with any required supporting documentation, to the Department Chairperson for review and approval. The graduate student is responsible for filing her/his PCP Form with Part B completed and approved with the departmental graduate secretary within eight (8) months after receiving written notification of having passed the Comprehensive Examination.

If it becomes necessary subsequently to change the membership of a Dissertation Committee, a Change in Dissertation Committee form (available from the graduate secretary) must be filled out and submitted by the graduate student.

4. Dissertation Committee Meetings

Collectively the members of a Dissertation Committee have two principal responsibilities: (1) they serve as a broadly knowledgeable review and advisory board for the purpose of assisting the dissertation research project to progress at a reasonable pace from its beginning stage all the way through to its completion; and (2) they help maintain departmental quality standards in the level of dissertation research.

The first meeting of a graduate student’s Dissertation Committee must be held within twelve (12) months after the student received written notification of having passed the Comprehensive Examination. The graduate student is responsible for seeing to it that this is done. The research advisor must remind the student of this responsibility. At the first meeting of the Dissertation Committee the graduate student is expected to make a presentation which demonstrates that he/she has acquired an appropriate level of understanding of the physics concepts and the current state of knowledge in the specific research specialty area of the dissertation and, in that context, of the significance of the question that the dissertation research is setting out to answer. (The material presented by the student at this meeting could later be part of the introductory chapter of the dissertation.) The graduate student will also be expected to present a well-thought-out proposal of how the dissertation research is to be carried out. The proposal should include time estimates for achieving a series of clearly defined milestones that can be used in subsequent meetings to monitor the progress of the project. (The above scenario assumes that the student’s dissertation research consists of a single extended project. In dissertations where this is not the case, the graduate student’s presentation should be appropriately changed to reflect this difference.) At least one week prior to the meeting the graduate student must furnish each member of her/his Dissertation Committee with a brief written document (3-5 pages of text, not in power point “bullet” format) that summarizes the proposed research project, explains its significance, and provides milestones and time estimates for carrying it out; a copy of this document must also be given to the graduate secretary at that time for inclusion in the graduate student’s file. Within 7 days after the meeting each member of the Dissertation Committee must complete a “Member’s Report of Dissertation Committee Meeting” (blue form) and transmit it to the Chair of the student’s Dissertation Committee. Based on this input the Chair must then prepare a “Summary Report of Dissertation Committee Meeting” (green form) and use it as the basis of a follow-up meeting with the graduate student which must take place within 2 weeks of the Dissertation Committee meeting. The graduate student’s signature on this Summary Report indicates that he/she has received a copy and has had the follow-up meeting with the Committee Chair. The research advisor is responsible for completing the appropriate section of the student’s PCP form and returning it to the Department’s graduate secretary along with the green form and all of the blue forms. (The PCP form and the green form will be placed in the student’s file; all blue forms will be collected by the Department’s graduate secretary for future statistical analysis by the Graduate Program Assessment Committee.) The graduate student is responsible for filing an application for Admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree with the Department’s graduate secretary at that time.

In order for a student’s Dissertation Committee to be able to meet its mandate, the University of Pittsburgh requires that it is reconvened at least once every 12 months after the first meeting. The graduate student is responsible for seeing to it that this is done. The research advisor must remind the student of this responsibility. At each of these meetings the graduate student is expected to summarize the work that he/she has accomplished since the previous meeting, discuss any significant unanticipated difficulties that have been encountered, review the rate of progress in terms of milestones met and unmet, and identify goals and milestones for the year ahead. At least one week prior to each meeting the graduate student must furnish each member of her/his Dissertation Committee with a brief written report on the progress of the research project (3-5 pages of text, not in power point “bullet” format) that highlights milestones achieved and problems encountered, discusses actions taken in response to any shortcomings identified by the Dissertation Committee in a prior meeting and, if appropriate, provides a revised set of goals and milestones for the project. The student should also use this write-up to inform the Committee of the titles and status of any papers submitted and of any research talks presented, both within the department and at scientific meetings; a copy of this document must also be given to the graduate secretary at that time for inclusion in the graduate student’s file. Within 7 days after the meeting each member of the Dissertation Committee must complete a “Member’s Report of Dissertation Committee Meeting” (blue form) and transmit it to the Chair of the student’s Dissertation Committee. Based on this input the Chair must then prepare a “Summary Report of Dissertation Committee Meeting” (green form) and use it as the basis of a follow-up meeting with the graduate student which must take place within 2 weeks of the Dissertation Committee meeting. The graduate student’s signature on this Summary Report indicates that he/she has received a copy and has had the follow-up meeting with the Committee Chair. The research advisor is responsible for completing the appropriate section of the student’s PCP form and returning it to the Department’s graduate secretary along with the green form and all of the blue forms. (The PCP form and the green form will be placed in the student’s file; all blue forms will be collected by the Department’s graduate administrator for future analysis by the Graduate Program Assessment Committee.)

At the final meeting of the Dissertation Committee the graduate student reports on the completed dissertation project and is examined on the details of her/his work. In contrast to all of the preceding meetings, which were closed, the date, time, and place of the dissertation defense must be publicly posted in advance and the meeting is open until the Dissertation Committee begins its final deliberation.

No written progress report needs to be prepared prior to the final meeting of the Dissertation Committee, but the graduate student must strictly adhere to the rule that each member of the Dissertation Committee must be provided with a hard copy of the dissertation (complete with all indexes, chapters, figures, tables, equations, and appendixes) at least four (4) weeks in advance of the meeting date. An electronic copy may be distributed to committee members who prefer one.