Normal Progression Beyond the Comprehensive Examination

Timeline Checklist

1. Find a Research Advisor
Work with a faculty member by taking PHYS 3907: Directed Research. This class requires you to submit a Directed Research Permission Form that makes a professor your "Interim Advisor." You can take this class as many times as you need, typically for 3 or more credits, depending on how much work your interim advisor expects you to complete.

Once you determine you work well together with a certain interim advisor, you can ask them to be your Research Advisor long-term and proceed to the next step. Please submit this form to the Graduate Administrator. 

2. Fill out Post-Comp Form 
(Sections A: Research Agreement & B: Thesis Committee)
Please email the Graduate Administrator when completed.

If you have filled out this form and have under 72 graduate-level credits, you'll take PHYS 3000: Research and Dissertation PhD; over 72 credits and you'll take FTDB 3999: Full-time Dissertation Study.

3. Schedule your first committee meeting. One week prior, submit a brief written document (3-5 pages),to the committee and, summarizing the proposed research project, its significance, and time estimates to all committee members. Refer to Appendix I of the Graduate Student Handbook to plan the structure of these meetings. 

4. Hold your first committee meeting & fill out the following documentation. (must have earned or are registered to earn at least 60 of the required 72 credits for PhD degree)  Refer to Appendix I of the Graduate Student Handbook to plan the structure of these meetings. Reference the DSAS Doctoral Dissertation Committee Policy as needed. Also, reference the Departmental Committee Meeting Guidance document. The forms needed:

  • Pre-doc Annual Committee Form (online, pdf version here) - Completed by Research Advisor/Committee Chair with input from other committee members (When using pdf version please email the form to the Graduate Administrator)
  • Request for Remote Participation* - Completed by Student & Signed by Committee Chair if applicable*
    *This is only required if the STUDENT or COMMITTEE CHAIR will be remote during the Defense.

5. Upon the completion of the first annual committee meeting all parties should fill out the Admission to Candidacy Form. Please contact the Graduate Administrator for assistance. 

6. Prepare for your next meeting(s). Each subsequent meeting before the defense will need the following:

  • Last meeting's Summary & Members' report forms, as well as any supporting documents containing comments from the prior committee meeting.
  • A Self-Evaluation Report created by the student, including all items explained in Appendix I of the Graduate Student Handbook. This does not have a required format.
  • Determine with your committee the format of your meeting. This may include a short or long presentation of research, responding to commentary/concerns from the last meeting, going over the self-evaluation report, meeting with your advisor or committee members seperately, etc. In some cases, this can just be as short as 15 minutes.
  • At the end of the meeting, all documents from Step #3 should be complete including the Pre-doc Annual Committee Form from Step #4 are filled out. The committee and advisor should include any commentary or concerns in writing for the student's reference.

Note the first meeting and all subsequent meetings (not including the defense) do not require the Request for Remote Participation Form and can be either in-person, hybrid (must be done synchronously) or remote as of Fall 2021

7. Defend!
Notify your committee members and the Graduate Administrator of your defense date at least 4 weeks in advance.
If the Committee Chair or Student want to attending remotely, the Request for Remote Participation Form is required.

PhD Progression Details & Steps

Complete the Post-Comp Progress Form

Students are introduced to the following information along with the Graduate Dean's formal letter admitting the student to candidacy.

Now that you have reached the dissertation writing stage, it is important that you familiarize yourself with the ETD process.  Below are a list of resources to help guide you through the process.  It is highly encouraged and recommended that you write your dissertation in the preformatted template provided on the ETD website.  There are both Word and LaTeX templates.  You are also encouraged to attend one of the many ETD Workshops that are hosted during the year by the library and also the Dietrich School Graduate Student Organization.  These workshops are a great way to learn about the ETD process and ask any questions that you may have.  You can also upload a draft of your dissertation to the d-scholarship website at any time during the writing process for review by Philippa Carter.  By utilizing these resources, the ETD submission process during your term of graduation will run smoothly.

ETD Website [including information about ETD Workshops and ETD Support]
Dissertation Boot Camp

Reference the Committee Guidance Documents below

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 Research.)

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. Once you find a faculty member to temporarily work with, you can request permission to enroll into PHYS 3907: Directed Research with the Directed Research form. 

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-Comp Research Agreement). 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 administrator 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 Department Handbook section "I" and the University Graduate Faculty Membership roster.) 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.

Reference the DSAS Doctoral Dissertation Committee Policy as needed.

4. Dissertation Committee Meetings

Committee Meeting Guidance document
Pre-doc Annual Committee Form - Completed by Research Advisor/Committee Chair with input from other committee members
Request for Remote Participation* - Completed by Student & Signed by Committee Chair if applicable*

*The Request for Remote Participation Form is only required if the STUDENT and/or COMMITTEE CHAIR will be remote during either the Defense. This form is not needed when committee members need to be remote nor when the chair and/or student needs to be remote during any meeting that is not the Defense.

Reference the Dietrich School Dissertation Committee policy, (note that the Physics and Astronomy department guidelines requires five [5] committee members taking precedence over the DSAS four [4] committee member requirement)

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 administrator at that time for inclusion in the graduate student’s file.
The committee will evaluate the quality of the student’s research plan, written and oral communication skills, and relevant background knowledge. The committee’s feedback will be provided through annual committee form, the results of which are confidential but will be shared with the student, committee members, and graduate administrator. Only one form submission per meeting is expected. The committee is encouraged to complete this form jointly during the meeting or shortly thereafter. The student should have a follow-up meeting with the committee chair to discuss any possible actions in response to the committee’s recommendations.
The research advisor is responsible for completing the appropriate section of the student’s PCP Form and returning it to the Department’s graduate administrator. (The PCP form and evaluation forms will be placed in the student’s file; the member's forms will be collected by the Department’s graduate administrator for future statistical analysis by the Graduate Program Assessment Committee.) The graduate student is responsible for completing an application for Admission to Candidacy for the Ph.D. degree to provide to the graduate administrator to process through DocuSign to the committee and ultimately the Graduate Dean's office.

For each following meeting, committees must meet within 12 months of the previous 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 least one week prior to each meeting the graduate student must provide each member of her/his Dissertation Committee with a brief "Self Evaluation Report" on the following topics, either in written prose or in simple bullet-point format as appropriate:

  1. The student will provide a copy of the most recent Meeting Summary andFeedback from the previous meetings.
  2. A summary of progress since the last committee meeting. This can be a simple bulleted list of tasks accomplished and/or achievement of milestones.
  3. A response to any questions and/or concerns from previous committee meetings.
  4. A brief discussion (a bulleted list will suffice) of research plans for the coming year, including potential significant obstacles to these plans, if any.
  5. A description of plans to apply for internal or external fellowships or other research funding including acquisition of computational/experimental/observational resources.
  6. A list of papers, including pre-prints, and a list of papers in advanced stages of preparation.
  7. A list of talks and/or presentations given.
  8. An anticipated timeline towards graduation.
  9. A description of post-graduation aspirations.
  10. Any other items that the student would like the thesis committee to know in order to enable the committee to best support the student’s research and career goals.

A copy of this document is automatically sent to the graduate administrator and all members of the committee upon submission, for inclusion to the graduate student’s file.

The committee will provide the student with written feedback subsequent to the meeting, using the annual committee form as described above, and the research advisor will have a follow-up meeting with the student as described above.

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.