University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy
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Graduate Physics

Crowell Lab
A student at work in the Spintronics Research group.
photo by Alex Schumann

Our graduate program offers students the opportunity to work at the cutting edge of contemporary research. The program is large enough (about 180 students) to provide varied opportunities for research and networking, while maintaining an active grad student community. Many of our students come straight from undergraduate studies in small colleges. Students also like Minnesota because of the opportunities provided by both the large, diverse university and the very livable metropolitan area.

Our graduate program starts with coursework in classical mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum physics, and thermal/statistical physics. In addition, some students study mathematical physics or general relativity, while others start an intermediate exploration of a subfield such as elementary particle physics or condensed matter physics. A few students, with thorough preparation, proceed directly to advanced courses at the very beginning of their residence. Others fill in gaps in their undergraduate programs.

One unique aspect of the graduate program in physics at the University of Minnesota is the ability to get a physics degree with an adviser outside of the School of Physics. Some faculty in Astronomy, Biophysics, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Chemistry, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering hold graduate faculty appointments in physics and can direct the research of physics graduate students.

Ph.D. overview

If you want to excel in independent research then the Ph.D. is the degree for you! While you are getting your Ph.D. you will go from learning in a classroom to developing your own research. You will participate in leading edge physics research, have the opportunity to attend and present your work at conferences, and write papers for peer reviewed journals. It's time to move from answering questions right to asking the right questions.

You do not have to pay to study in our program. Virtually all of our students are supported as research and teaching assistants or with fellowships. Teaching assistants teach undergraduate students by leading discussion sections, and running laboratory sections. Research assistants in physics spend their time doing his/her PhD research, which will also fulfill your adviser research objectives. Since most research is done collaboratively, doing research includes doing some work for the benefits of the collaboration.

Much of your time as a physics graduate student will be spent doing research under the supervision of your faculty advisor who will help you set the large goals for your dissertation. They will help you ask the smaller questions, finding answers to accomplish larger goals. They will evaluate you to make sure you are on the right path to your goals. But one of your major goals is to become more and more independent from your adviser as time passes.

Students typically spend five to six years of full-time study beyond the B.S. or B.A. in physics. In addition to your independent research, you will take classes that provide a solid background to understanding goals and tools of their future research.

Physics Graduate Student Organizations


The Physics Graduate Student Organization, Gradphi, organizes social and cultural activities, such as the annual Halloween Party, to promote non-academic interaction among physics graduate students. Gradphi also provides an organized voice for physics graduate students in the consideration of issues within the School of Physics and Astronomy.

More information about GradPhi is available on the Intranet


Women in Physics and Astronomy The Women in Physics and Astronomy (WiPA) group was established to raise awareness throughout the entire school of not only the important contributions women have made and continue to make in physics and astronomy, but also about the various mechanisms that make it difficult for women to make those contributions. Planned activities raise the visibility of women within the school and encourage interactions amongst female graduate students, faculty and/or research associates. It is hoped that the Women in Physics and Astronomy group will encourage a respectful climate for women in the school.

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