Jul 18, 2024  
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 
USC Catalogue 2023-2024 [ARCHIVED CATALOGUE]

Physics (PhD)

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Application deadline: January 1

Admission Requirements

The prerequisite for admission to the doctoral program in the Department of Physics and Astronomy is a bachelor’s (or master’s) degree in physics or related field. All applicants for admission must take the Graduate Record Examinations, including the Physics Subject Test. Transcripts of undergraduate records as well as transcripts of any graduate-level courses are required. The TOEFL or IELTS is required of international students applying for a teaching assistantship as well as for those applying for admission only. Applicants may be admitted to the program at the beginning of the fall or spring semester.


PhD students in physics normally enroll in three courses for each of the first four semesters in graduate school. A total of 60 units of credit is required for graduation. Students admitted to the PhD program may transfer a maximum of 30 units of credit to apply toward degree requirements. For students admitted with Advanced Standing (entry with an appropriate completed graduate degree from an accredited institution), a minimum of 36 units of course work beyond that graduate degree, exclusive of PHYS 794a  and PHYS 794b , will be required.

Foreign Language Requirement

There is no foreign language requirement for the PhD.

Course Requirements

The student is expected to have prepared for understanding all branches of physics. The required courses for the PhD are (1) the following seven core courses: PHYS 504 , PHYS 508a , PHYS 508b , PHYS 510 , PHYS 518 , PHYS 558a , and PHYS 558b ; (2) a minimum of four elective graduate courses in Physics and Astronomy (or with departmental approval in related departments); (3) four units of PHYS 500 ; and (4) PHYS 794a  and PHYS 794b .  All required physics courses (except PHYS 500  and PHYS 794a , PHYS 794b , PHYS 794c , PHYS 794d , and PHYS 794z ) must be passed with a grade of B- or better. After passing the qualifying examination the student must register for PHYS 794a , PHYS 794b , PHYS 794c , PHYS 794d , or PHYS 794z  Doctoral Dissertation each fall and spring semester.

Screening Procedure

Any student proceeding toward the PhD in physics must pass the departmental screening examination at a superior level. The exam must be taken not later than during the second semester (excluding summers, but including time in the MA/MS program) in the department. New advanced students who have passed an equivalent comprehensive examination at a well-recognized research university with superior grades may apply to the departmental examination committee for an oral interview in order to be exempted from the written screening examination. A faculty member who supervises the research of such a student in the department must support this application.

Qualifying Exam Committee

The graduate adviser serves as adviser to incoming students and assists in the appointment of the qualifying exam committee, which is formed after the screening examination has been passed. After the student passes the qualifying examination and a dissertation topic is approved, the five-member qualifying exam committee becomes known as the dissertation committee and is responsible for monitoring the candidate’s progress and for approving the final content and form of the dissertation.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination must be attempted not later than during the seventh semester (or in the case of advanced students, the fifth semester) in the department (excluding summer). The PhD qualifying examination contains a written part and an oral part. The written part consists of a critical review by the student of a published work selected by the qualifying exam committee and of a research proposal prepared by the student on the area in which the student intends to do a doctoral dissertation. The oral part expands on the written part.


A doctoral dissertation in physics is expected to be an extensive description of original research carried out by the student. A complete discussion of reported research in relation to previous work by others is essential.

Defense of the Dissertation

The dissertation must be defended in a final oral examination. The candidate must be prepared to answer general questions in the field as well as specific questions regarding the dissertation.


A minimum of four elective graduate courses in Physics and Astronomy (or, with departmental approval, in related departments)


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