Requirements for the PhD

There are four semesters of required classes for the physics PhD and for the astronomy and astrophysics PhD that must be passed with a grade of B- or better. Students are strongly encouraged to complete these requirements in their first year, although they may be deferred until the second year under certain circumstances. Students who have passed an equivalent graduate course at another institution may request a waiver by contacting the JHU faculty member teaching the corresponding course and supplying all requested information (syllabi, transcripts, examples of homework and exams, etc). The requirements are as follows:

  • Involvement in research in every semester in which the student is enrolled. Students must register for one of the appropriate research courses:
    • AS.171.805 First-Year Research
    • AS.171.807 Second-Year Research
    • AS.171.801 Independent Research (Fall)
    • AS.171.802 Independent Research (Spring)
    • AS.171.803 Independent Research (Summer)
  • Completion of four semesters of required courses, passed with a grade of B- or better
    • Physics Track
      • AS.171.603 – Electromagnetic Theory
      • AS.171.605 & AS.171.606 – Quantum Mechanics I and Quantum Mechanics II
      • AS.171.703 – Advanced Statistical Mechanics
    • Astronomy Track
      • AS.171.611 – Stellar Structure and Evolution
      • AS.171.612 – Interstellar Medium and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
      • AS.171.613 – Radiative Astrophysics
      • AS.171.627 – Astrophysical Dynamics
      • AS.172.633 – Language of Astrophysics (seminar)
  • Satisfactory performance at the departmental research exam at the beginning of the second year
  • Identification of a thesis adviser no later than the beginning of the third year
  • Satisfactory performance at the University Graduate Board Oral Exam in the fall of the third year
  • Completion of thesis research and satisfactory performance at the thesis defense

The department offers a complete range of advanced classes in physics and astrophysics, and students are strongly encouraged to take more classes beyond these required four semesters. The specific course of study should be tailored, under consultation with the first-year adviser and/or with prospective research advisers, to the needs of each student and to their research goals.

The thesis is expected to be completed within five or six years; continuation in the PhD program beyond the 6th year is possible only upon the approval of the department chair following petition from the thesis adviser.

Requirements for the MA Degree

The department does not admit students who intend to pursue the master’s degree exclusively; however, students in our department’s PhD program, as well as students in other PhD programs at Johns Hopkins University, may apply to fulfill the requirements for the Master of Arts degree in Physics or the Master of Arts degree in Astronomy. Students from other JHU departments must seek approval from their home department and from the Department of Physics and Astronomy before beginning their M.A. studies.

Before beginning their M.A. studies, students must have mastered the undergraduate physics material covered by the following courses:

  • 171.204 Classical Mechanics
  • 171.301 Electromagnetic Theory
  • 171.303-304 Quantum Mechanics
  • 171.312 Statistical Mechanics and Thermodynamics

Courses taken elsewhere may qualify at the discretion of the Graduate Program Committee (normally this requirement is satisfied by the PhD-track students before they arrive at JHU as they have completed a B.A. or B.Sci. in Physics at another institution).

To qualify for the M.A. degree in Physics, students must complete eight one-semester 3-credit graduate-level courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and pass the departmental research exam. For the M.A. degree in Astronomy, students must complete eight one-semester 3-credit graduate-level courses in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, plus the seminar “Language of Astrophysics” and pass the departmental research exam. The student must receive a grade of B- or above in each of the courses; graduate courses can be retaken once in case of failure.

Of the eight one-semester courses, four must be the core courses listed above in the PhD requirements and two must be Independent Graduate Research courses. The remaining two course requirements for the M.A. degree may be fulfilled either by 3-credit graduate electives or by additional Independent Graduate Research. The research courses must include an essay or a research report supervised and approved by a faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Under most circumstances students pursuing their PhD qualify for the M.A. degree by the end of their second year if they have taken all four core courses in their discipline at JHU, the “Language of Astrophysics” seminar (for M.A. in Astronomy), four semesters of Independent Graduate Research, and passed the research exam. Graduate courses taken at another institution or in another department at JHU in most cases do not count toward the M.A. requirements (therefore, students who are interested in the M.A. degree, but are planning to waive any graduate courses because they have passed a comparable graduate course at another institution, should discuss their eligibility for the M.A. degree with Ms. Kelley Key as soon as they arrive at JHU). Students should expect that no M.A. requirements can be waived; that the minimal research requirement is two semesters; and that at most one of the core courses can be substituted by another (non-research) graduate course in exceptional circumstances. Any requests for M.A. course substitutions must be made to the Graduate Program Committee at least a year before the expected M.A. degree so that the committee can recommend an appropriate substitution.