Graduate study in physics and astronomy is highly individualized. The department does not offer a Ph.D. in astronomy, but students may pursue a Ph.D. in physics with an astronomy subprogram and a dissertation in astronomy.

Each entering graduate student is assigned a faculty advisor, who assists in preparing a plan of study and in guiding the student's progress.

Learning Outcomes

Graduates will:

  • understand the foundational principles that transcend many distinct areas, and learn the technical language, problem-solving skills, and training in technical listening and discussion;
  • learn, practice, and discover advanced discourse in mathematical aspects that translate to physics;
  • become familiar with the state-of-the-art experimental tools and equipment in the field;
  • develop skills for creativity and originality in the field and promote communication of new discoveries;
  • learn and practice advanced discourse in experimental and observational aspects, including data and information mining, translating experimental observations to physical principles and vice versa; and
  • learn analysis of data and computational skills as well as become familiar with state-of-the-art techniques for data processing.

The Doctor of Philosophy program in physics requires a minimum of 72 s.h. of graduate credit. At least 39 s.h. must be earned at the University of Iowa to complete the residency requirement. For students interested in doing doctoral work in astronomy, the department offers an astronomy subprogram, including a dissertation, within the Ph.D. program in physics. All students must maintain a program g.p.a. of at least 3.00.

All students must earn at least 24 s.h. in departmental courses numbered 5000 or above. They may not count credit earned in PHYS:7990 Research: Physics, PHYS:7992 Individual Critical Study, ASTR:7991 Research: Astronomy, or seminars.

All students must take comprehensive examinations; participate in advanced seminars; do original research in experimental physics, theoretical physics, or astrophysics; and prepare and defend a written dissertation based on this work.

Ph.D. students in physics without the astronomy subprogram must complete the following courses.

PHYS:4761-PHYS:4762Mathematical Methods of Physics I-II (students who pass a written examination are exempt from this requirement)6
PHYS:5710Classical Mechanics3
PHYS:5730Statistical Mechanics I3
PHYS:5741-PHYS:5742Quantum Mechanics I-II6
PHYS:5811-PHYS:5812Classical Electrodynamics I-II6

These courses freely use advanced mathematics (e.g., complex variables, tensor analysis). An introduction is provided in PHYS:4761 Mathematical Methods of Physics I and PHYS:4762 Mathematical Methods of Physics II. The selection of less advanced coursework depends on the adequacy of a student's preparation for graduate work; students' choice of more advanced and specialized courses depends on the direction in which their interests develop.

Ph.D. students in physics with the astronomy subprogram must complete a total of six courses from the following.

Four of these:
ASTR:6782Extragalactic Astronomy3
ASTR:6785The Interstellar Medium3
ASTR:6790Stellar Astrophysics3
ASTR:6870Radiative Processes in Astrophysics3
ASTR:6880High Energy Astrophysics3
ASTR:7775Special Topics in Astrophysics3
ASTR:7830Space and Astrophysical Plasma Physics3
PHYS:7760General Relativity3
Two of these:
PHYS:5710Classical Mechanics3
PHYS:5730Statistical Mechanics I3
PHYS:5741Quantum Mechanics I3
PHYS:5742Quantum Mechanics II3
PHYS:5811Classical Electrodynamics I3
PHYS:5812Classical Electrodynamics II3

After a student has chosen a research specialty, the student must submit a formal thesis proposal and defend the proposal in an oral comprehensive exam. The appropriate thesis advisor then becomes the candidate's general advisor and the chair of the comprehensive and final examination committee. The comprehensive exam must be taken before the beginning of the fourth year of graduate study.

Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations on the Graduate College website.

Students qualified for graduate study are considered for assistantships and encouraged to apply for fellowships and assistantships.

Graduates have opportunities for employment in universities, colleges, and research laboratories in government and industry. Physics graduates have mastered skills that are readily transferable to a number of fields. They might choose to work in engineering, software development, finance, or consulting.

The Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.

Sample Plan of Study

Sample plans represent one way to complete a program of study. Actual course selection and sequence will vary and should be discussed with an academic advisor. For additional sample plans, see MyUI.

Physics, Ph.D.

Plan of Study Grid (Manual)
Academic Career
Any SemesterHours
72 s.h. must be graduate level coursework; graduate transfer credits allowed upon approval. More information is included in the General Catalog and on department website. a, b
Students must maintain a Graduate College program GPA of 3.00 or higher. c
First Year
PHYS:4761 Mathematical Methods of Physics I d 3
PHYS:5710 Classical Mechanics 3
PHYS:5730 Statistical Mechanics I 3
PHYS:4762 Mathematical Methods of Physics II d 3
PHYS:5741 Quantum Mechanics I 3
PHYS:5811 Classical Electrodynamics I 3
Second Year
PHYS:5742 Quantum Mechanics II 3
PHYS:5812 Classical Electrodynamics II 3
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
Elective course e 3
Third Year
Any Semester
Comprehensive Exam
PHYS:7990 Research: Physics 9
PHYS:7990 Research: Physics 9
Fourth Year
PHYS:7990 Research: Physics 9
PHYS:7990 Research: Physics 9
Final Exam f
 Total Hours72
Students must earn at least 24 s.h. in departmental courses numbered 5000 or above, and may not include credit earned in PHYS:7990, PHYS:7992, ASTR:7991, or seminars.
Students must complete specific requirements in the University of Iowa Graduate College after program admission. Refer to the Graduate College website and the Manual of Rules and Regulations for more information.
Graduate College program GPA is comprised of all courses that are approved degree requirements. If a student takes more than the minimum required number of semester hours to complete the degree, but all courses taken are eligible to count toward the degree, those courses will be included in the Graduate College program GPA.
Students who pass a written examination are exempt from this requirement.
Work with faculty advisor to determine appropriate coursework and sequence.
Dissertation defense.