Graduate Program

Physics & Astronomy Department


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We offer the flexibility to design a degree plan around your career goals.

Our Graduate Program

We offer a two-year M.S. in Physics. About half our students continue to a Ph.D. program in physics, the other half take their physics experience to industry or an advanced degree in another science or engineering field. 

Our program is limited to between 16 and 20 students total.  That means exceptional opportunities for starting research projects right away.  We support projects in the physics of large lake environments, biophysics, condensed matter, experimental particle physics and neutrino astrophysics, observational extragalactic astronomy, plus particle, cosmology, and gravitation theory.  If it matches your career goals, some projects can be made very interdisciplinary

We offer foundation courses and elective specialty courses. Most importantly, we also offer three methods courses emphasizing application of computation to numerical, analytical, and experimental techniques. In addition, students are required to take two courses outside the department. Electrical engineering, computer science, chemistry, and math are popular choices, but there is flexibility to design a degree plan around your career goals.

Research Is Key

Getting involved in research right away is a huge advantage. It gives you a step up against otherwise similarly prepared third year Ph.D. students in physics and gives you a chance to steer a project, building skills and experiences that are valued in industry. Both go beyond what may have been available to you as an undergraduate.

For more information regarding our graduate program, please contact Prof. Rik Gran, our Director of Graduate Studies.  

You can also view faculty research interests.

While all students participate in faculty-guided research, there are two routes to completing the degree with different levels of research expectations. Students elect to satisfy degree requirements with either a thesis-based research component (Plan A) or additional course work and a smaller research project (Plan B). Students typically complete the program in two years. Several of our faculty may advise Ph.D. students in related programs within the University of Minnesota, particularly the Water Resources Science program and the Physics and Astrophysics programs on the U of M Twin Cities campus.

To Apply

Visit the UMD Graduate School website for more information about applying for admission to our graduate program.

Applications that are completed by the 1 April will receive full consideration.

Goals of UMD Physics

Institution goal 1: Knowledge and Scholarly Formation

Physics goal 1: demonstrate knowledge of core physics topics

Outcome 1: students will demonstrate knowledge of classical mechanics, classical electrodynamics, and quantum physics at the graduate level, and the mathematical techniques intrinsic to the study of these topics.

Where do students progress: core physics courses

Assessment: quantitative grades in core required courses, (self-reported) GRE scores before and after our program. Success in Ph.D. programs for students who pursue that route. Probably need semi-quantitative information about grades that may not be on an absolute scale.

Institutional goal 2: Research and Methodological Skills Relevant to Field.

Physics goal 2: will have developed research and methodological skills relevant to physics.

Outcome 2a: students will develop skills in one or more methods used by practicing researchers in academia and industry: experimental, numerical, and data analysis methods.

Outcome 2b: students doing a thesis will apply one or more methods to their thesis or project. Students doing a project demonstrate knowledge of one or more methods if their project doesn't require application of such methods. Where do students progress: methods courses, thesis/project

Assessment: quantitative grades in methods courses, mapped A=3, B=2, C=1. qualitative: M.S. end summary of demonstration of skills in thesis or project on a 3-2-1-0 scale. The rubric for thesis and research experiences: 3 = exceptionally broad or deep application of method, a major part of the research experience, 2 = application of method was a part of thesis/project, 1 = method was applied as a black box with little need to demonstrate understanding, or showed understanding of the method (from a cited source maybe) without applying it, 0 = no demonstration of the method.

Data will be collected in tabular form, with optional comments.

Student name, advisor, project (analytical, data analysis, numerical, experimental), course (data analysis, numerical, experimental)

My assessment of two M.S. students from my first years, from hazy memory, as an example.

Student Advisor Project-Analytical Project-Data Analysis Project-Numerical Project-Experimental Course-Data Analysis Course-Numerical Course-Experimental
Student 1 Advisor 1 1 3 1 1 0 3 0
Student 2 Advisor 2 1 2 0 2 2 0 0

Comment: does rebuilding SuperKamiokande count as a 2 for experimental methods?

It is normal that a student would not use all methods. Some students would get 2,0,0,0,3,0,0 for example,

but obviously have an excellent thesis. We are NOT grading the student, we ARE evaluating whether

our program is is meeting the outcomes we desire and advertised it will meet.

Institutional Goal 3: Communication Skills

Physics goal 3: communicate physics ideas and research in a variety of contexts.

Outcome 3a: students will improve/demonstrate the ability for oral communication in chalk-talk/instructive situations for both peer and novice audiences, plus formal presentations.

Outcome 3b: students successfully justify their research in a proposal and present the outcome of their thesis/project in writing. Where do students progress: seminar course, thesis, TA duties

Assessment: a qualitative score on a 3-2-1-0 scale for each of these at M.S. end.

Institutional Goal 4: Leadership and Collaborative Skills

Physics goal 4: collaborate with peers and experts in their field outside UMD

Outcome 4: will have one or more interactions with an expert in the field outside UMD. (Something about giving critique and listening skills, in addition to receiving expert advice?) Where do student progress: during thesis work or internship or career exploration experiences

Assessment: count experiences per student and quality of contact on 3-2-1-0 scale at end of M.S.

Institutional Goal 5: Cultural Competence and Global Context Formation

All contemporary research in physics necessarily draws on international physics research activities, collaborations, and publications. This assessment substitutes for a per-student assessment. 
3-2-1-0 scale with rubrics to be evaluated by advisor + DGS upon completion of program.
Quality of thesis content 3-2-1-0 scale (not just pass/fail), quality of presentation.
Quality of presentations in Phys5090 in year one and again in year two.
Quality of contact with outside UMD peers/experts.