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Department of Physics: Graduate ProgramExam Info

Physics Graduate Written & Oral Examinations: Description & Administrative Procedures


The overall testing pattern consists of two separate exams, covering different levels of material, and different aspects of a students ability and preparation. The written examination covering material normally taught in the first semester of graduate course study in quantum mechanics, classical mechanics and electricity and magnetism. The oral examination covers aspects of physics, selected by the oral examination committee, appropriate for an individual student.

In addition to satisfying the course requirements, students in the M.S. Program have the option of either writing an M.S. Thesis or passing the written examination at the Master's Degree level. Full details of the M.S. Program requirements may be found in the University Catalogue. Both of the exams must be successfully completed, in a timely fashion, by students seeking candidacy for the Ph.D. Degree in Physics.

Students are normally given two chances to pass each examination, but must follow a generally prescribed schedule for both initial attempts to pass each exam and second attempts if the first try should be unsuccessful. Failure of any student to pass either of the two exams results in that student not being permitted to continue Physics graduate studies at Old Dominion University. The examining schedule is described below. A more detailed summary description of each exam is also given in the following paragraphs.

Schedule & Description

The following is a description of the normal schedule of examinations for students in Graduate Programs in Physics and Applied Physics at Old Dominion University. Any departures from the schedule must be requested by appeal to the Physics Graduate Committee in advance of scheduled examination dates. Examinations take place twice annually, early in the Fall and Spring semester.


Written Examination

This examination must be taken by all students in the Ph.D. physics and applied physics programs at Old Dominion University. It must be attempted no later than the beginning of the fourth semester of graduate study. Students unsuccessful in their first attempt may take the examination again, but the two attempts must be consecutive. For example, a student entering the program in Fall 2005 must take the written examination for the first time on or before Spring 2007. If the student is unsuccessful in the Fall 2005 exam, they must take the Spring 2006 exam.

Prior to each examination cycle, a memorandum indicating the schedule of the examinations is distributed to all graduate students. To apply to take the examination, enter your name where indicated and check the boxes indicating which examination(s) are to be taken.

The exam will include problems at the advanced undergraduate level (300, 400 and 500 level courses) as well as from the first semester of graduate quantum mechanics (Phys 621, text equivalent to Cohen-Tannoudji or Messiah), the first semester of graduate E&M (Phys 604, text equivalent to Jackson) and graduate classical mechanics (Phys 603, text equivalent to Goldstein). The names of the textbooks currently being used in the relevant 300-500 level courses are available upon request.Copies of previous examinations are available in the Physics Department office in Constant Hall. The advanced test consists of 16 total problems covering broadly the areas of classical mechanics, quantum mechanics, and electricity and magnetism. The examination is administered over a two day period.

A letter indicating the results of the examination will be sent to each participating student immediately after the Faculty of the Department of Physics determine the passing scores for the examination. There are two pass levels for this test.

Passing at the level of the Master's Degree Exam entitles the student to a M.S. degree subject to fulfilling course and credit hour requirements. This can be accomplished by obtaining a Graduate Degree Application from the registrar's office. All qualified students are strongly encouraged to obtain the Masters Degree. The results of this examination are officially reported on Form M2: Result of Master's Degree Examination or Requirement. The space labeled "written comprehensive examination" should be checked.

Passing at the level of the PhD Candidacy Exam entitles the student to continue to the next stage of PhD candidacy, the Oral Examination. It also entitles the student to a M.S. degree subject to fulfilling course and credit hour requirements. This can be accomplished by obtaining a Graduate Degree Application from the registrar's office. All qualified students are strongly encouraged to obtain the Masters Degree. The results of this examination are officially reported on Form D3: Result of Ph.D. Examination or Requirement. The space labeled "Candidacy Examination" should be checked.

Anyone passing at the level of the PhD Candidacy Exam must establish a dissertation advisory committee within one month and must complete the oral portion of the exam as described below within one year. The dissertation committee is established using Form D1: Doctoral Advisory Committee and Form D2: Doctoral Dissertation Committee.

Advanced Oral Examination

The oral examination is taken by all graduate students seeking admission to candidacy for the Ph.D. in Physics or in Applied Physics. Both the preliminary and advanced written examinations must be passed before a graduate student is permitted to attempt the advanced oral examination.

The oral part of the qualifying exam consists a one hour presentation to your dissertation committee on a topic relevant to your research are as follows:

The student's dissertation advisor, in consultation with the student, may choose from two possible formats for the presentation. The first possibility is a one hour presentation on your dissertation research. The second possibility is for the student to be assigned a specific topic in your field to investigate for some number of months. The student then presents the result of this (library of laboratory) research to the student's dissertation committee. Those students just beginning their research activities might benefit from this type of assignment. In either case, the student will write a short paper, no more than 10 pages, on the assigned research. This paper must be given to the committee at least two weeks before the scheduled presentation. The committee members may choose to question the student in private after general questions have been posed by the audience (if an audience is deemed appropriate at the presentations).

The student is be assigned a pass/fail grade by the committee. Any student who fails will be required to do another presentation. The timing and nature of the second presentation is decided by the advisor, but the second presentation must be completed within six months of the first attempt. Extensions of the one year deadline for completing this requirement will be allowed in exceptional cases and have to be requested in writing from the Graduate Committee. The results of the Advanced Oral Examination are reported on Form D3: Result of Ph.D. Examination or Requirement. The space labeled "Dissertation Prospectus" should be checked.


Thesis/Dissertation Preparation

The dissertation is the final product of doctoral research and contains the results of new publishable research. The content and professional appearance of the dissertation reflects on both the student and his or her advisor. It is the responsibility of the student and the Dissertation Committee to see that the content of the dissertation reflect the high professional standards of the Department of Physics and Old Dominion University. This means not only that the research presented is of high quality, but also that the dissertation contains no errors of spelling or grammar.

The style of the dissertation is governed by the Old Dominion University Guide for Preparation of Theses and Dissertations. This guide outlines the style of the dissertation and procedures for its submission. This guide plus additional information is available at http://sci.odu.edu/sci/about/information/thesis/Thesis_Templates_new.shtml. Two basic methods of preparing the dissertation are used by the Department of Physics:

  1. If the the dissertation is to be prepared using a word processor such as Word Perfect or Microsoft Word, the Guide should be followed exactly. Particular care should be taken to include an appropriate journal model and to follow it in the placement of captions for figures and tables, in the style of references, etc. as indicated in the guide. The journal model generally used in the Department of Physics is the Physical Review. This requires that table captions appear above the tables and that the tables by numbered using Roman numerals. References are numbered and appear in square brackets.

  2. An alternate method of preparation is to use the LaTeX text formatting program. Most physics journals now prefer that articles be submitted for publication in electronic form using LaTeX. For this reason, it is useful for students of physics to become aquatinted with this program. A style file has been prepared that automatically formats theses and dissertations in a form acceptable to College of Sciences. For further information see: Using the Old Dominion University LaTeX Thesis and Dissertation Style. Although most aspects of the format of the thesis are produced automatically by this style, the student should still be familiar with the procedures outlined in the Old Dominion University Guide for Preparation of Theses and Dissertations.

Oral Dissertation Defense

The Oral Dissertation Defense should be scheduled only after the student, advisor and committee members agree that the dissertation is in essentially final form (some minor changes are often made after the defense). In scheduling the defense it is important to note that the dissertation in final form is due in the Dean's office approximately three weeks before the end of classes. Time should be allowed to make minor corrections to the dissertation between the defense and the Dean's submission deadline. The student and advisor should arrange a time for the defense which is agreeable to all of the members of the committee. A copy of the dissertation should be provided to all members of the committee at least two weeks prior to the date of the defense. The student should fill out Form 15: Request for Permission to take the Ph.D. Candidacy Examination and have it signed by the advisor and all other members of the Dissertation Committee. This signed form should be given to the Graduate Program Director along with the title of the dissertation and agreed upon time for the defense. The GPD will arrange to have the defense advertised according to University regulations and to schedule a room for the defense.

Before the defense, Form D3: Result of Ph.D. Examination or Requirement, with the space labeled "Oral Dissertation Defense Examination" checked, and Form D5: Thesis/Dissertation Acceptance and Processing should be filled out by the student or advisor. Form D3 should be signed at the conclusion of the exam and the results of the exam (passed or failed) should be indicated. This form should be returned to the GPD regardless of the outcome of the exam. Form D5 may also be signed at the conclusion of the exam or signatures may be withheld pending completion of required changes to the dissertation. The dissertation should be forwarded for approval to the GPD along with Form D5.

Graudation Requirements

Thesis/Dissertation Submission

Information on submission of the dissertation to the Dean's office is available at http://sci.odu.edu/sci/about/information/thesis/Thesis_Templates_new.shtml. Forms D5 and D3 must be submitted along with the dissertation. Although the Old Dominion University Guide for Preparation of Theses and Dissertations recommends that a particular paper is preferred, any 100% cotton bond paper will do. A considerable savings can be made by shopping for this paper at office supply discounters. Please let the GPD know of any problems that you may have in getting the approval of the Dean's office.

After the Dean's office has signed, Form D5 must be completed and, along with the original copy of the dissertation, four additional copies of the dissertation on acid free paper, Forms D5 and D3, and the Binding Fee receipt, should be delivered to the Registrar's office no later that the last day of classes.

Graduate Degree Application

Graduate students must apply for graduation well in advance. The regular deadline for application for graduation is during the semester previous to the one in which graduation is anticipated. A late deadline at the beginning of the final semester is also available. Details of these deadlines are given in the printed schedule books. In order to apply for graduation it is necessary to obtain the Graduate Degree Application form from the registrar's office.