Degree Requirements


Students in the Program in Plasma Physics are not required to satisfy course requirements. Students are expected to take whatever courses they feel are necessary to prepare for the General Examination or in accordance with research interests. In preparation for the Physics Department Preliminary Examination, some students take graduate-level courses offered by the Physics Department in the Fall. Additionally, courses are usually taken with the pass/d/fail option, and there are no grade point average requirements for students in the program.

Physics Department Graduate Preliminary Examination

All students must pass the preliminary examination given by the Physics Department. This exam is given over two days and contains material on mechanics, electricity and magnetism, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics and statistical mechanics. Students typically take the exam in January of the first year, but a May examination is also offered. The Program in Plasma Physics organizes review sessions given by the second-year students in the Fall to prepare the first-year students for the exam.

More information about the Physics Department Preliminary Examination, including previous years' exams, can be found at the Department of Physics' website.

Plasma Physics General Examination

Generals are taken in the May of the second year and consist of:

  • Two 4-hour written sessions
  • One 30-60 minute oral session

The professors on the examining committee for the oral session determine whether a student passes. After passing Generals, a student may apply for the incidental M.A. degree. Students prepare for the Generals by forming review groups and by taking graduate courses in plasma physics in their first two years.

Thesis Topic and Proposal

The identification of a thesis project and thesis advisor is technically required to be determined nine months after passing the Generals Examinations.  A thesis proposal is then technically required within six-nine months following a student's decision to select a thesis project.  

A completed thesis proposal consists of a written proposal and an oral presentation before a thesis proposal committee, faculty, and current peers.  

Passing is determined by the members of the student's thesis committee immediately after the proposal presentation is given.


Guidelines for submitting the Doctoral Dissertation and format requirements are given on the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library's website.

Final Public Oral Examination

A final public oral examination includes the formal submission of a written thesis and a formal presentation before a thesis examining committee, faculty, and other researchers, and peers.  The successful award of the PhD is determined by the thesis committee. 

Specific guidelines for the Ph.D. defense are outlined on this Graduate School webpage.