Graduate Programs and Requirements

General Graduate School Requirements

The general requirements for all graduate programs can be found in the Wake Forest University Graduate Bulletin. Listed below are the key requirements pertaining to the Physics PhD and MS programs.

Specific requirements for Wake Forest University’s PhD and MS in physics, along with general expectations and resources can be found in our Graduate Student Handbook.

The typical incoming student has taken senior-level classes in Classical Mechanics, Electrodynamics, Quantum Mechanics, Statistical Physics & Thermodynamics, and has a strong Math background (comfortable with multivariable calculus, ordinary and partial differential equations, complex numbers, vector calculus, and statistics).  Deficiencies may be removed in the first year of study by taking the appropriate 600-level classes (graduate/undergraduate classes).

Please direct specific questions to the program director, Professor Fred Salsbury,

Summary of PhD Requirements

Standard Schedule/Timeline A more detailed timeline with suggested courses and milestones is available.

Course Requirements

Unless satisfactorily completed elsewhere, all PhD students are required to complete:

  • Physics 711 (Math Methods and Classical Mechanics); Physics 712 (Electromagnetism); Physics 741 & 742 (Quantum Mechanics I & II); Physics 770 (Statistical Physics and Thermodynamics); and participation in the Department seminar Physics 601 (Physics Seminar) for seven semesters.
  • Three more elective courses (3 credit classes) at the graduate level (600 and 700 level), at least one of which must be in Physics. These courses are intended to strengthen a student’s background in a specific area of concentration and assist in dissertation research. Coursework is discussed and approved by the student’s advisor with the assistance of the Research Advisory Committee (RAC).
  • Physics 891/892 (Dissertation research).

Preliminary Exam.  The preliminary exam consists of two parts, a written exam, and an oral exam.

Link to old exams (access restricted to WFU) 

  • Written exam. This exam is offered once a year, typically five weeks after spring semester finals week; thus, typically it is offered the second week of June.  The written preliminary exam is usually taken at the end of the first year of graduate study.  Each of the four parts of the written exam may be retaken once, and each part must be passed before the third year of graduate study.  Extensions, for example for part-time students, may be approved by the Department.  This four-day exam (3 hours each day) tests four subject areas, Classical Mechanics, Electromagnetism, Quantum Mechanics, and Statistical Physics/Thermodynamics at the senior undergraduate/first-year graduate level.  Each subject is evaluated separately and a score of at least 60% is required to pass that subject exam. In case a student does not pass one or more subject exams the first time, he/she is allowed to once retake the exams that were not passed (during the next round of exams a year later). If a student fails one or more particular subject exams twice, he/she will be dismissed from the PhD program but may continue in the Master’s program.
  • Oral exam. research advisory committee (RAC) is appointed for each student by the program director after the student passed the written qualifying exam.  Within eighteen months of completing the preliminary examination, the student submits to his or her individual advisory committee and defends orally a dissertation research plan.  The advisory committee is appointed by the program director and consists of the student’s advisor and two members of the department or program.  Members from other departments are allowed with the approval of the program director.  Committee members must be members of the graduate faculty.  The examining committee passes or fails the student. In case of failure, the committee can recommend that the candidate be dropped or reexamination be allowed no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination.  The student may be reexamined only once.

Annual Research Advisory Committee (RAC) Meetings.  The research advisory committee meets annually in the late summer or early fall with the student to ensure timely progress toward the degree. The annual report is due by December 5.

Admission to Degree Candidacy.  A student is admitted to degree candidacy by the dean of the Graduate School after a recommendation by the Physics chair or program director.  The student must have passed the preliminary exam (written and oral part), and is expected to complete the degree requirements within one semester.

Dissertation requirement. Under the supervision of the research advisory committee, the candidate prepares a dissertation embodying the results of investigative efforts in the field of concentration. This dissertation is presented orally in a public talk and is then defended orally in a private defense.

The examining committee for the dissertation, which is appointed by the dean of the Graduate School upon recommendation of the program director, consists of at least the following five members of the graduate faculty:  1) The program director or a faculty member chosen by the program director; 2) the student’s advisor; 3) another member of the physics graduate program; 4) a representative from a different area of concentration from within the program or from outside the program; and 5) a member from outside the physics graduate program, who represents the Graduate Council and who serves as chair of the committee. 

Number of publications.  Typically, a PhD student would have about a total of five peer-reviewed publications of which three are first-author publications.  However, this amount can vary considerably depending on the research field and should be discussed with the advisor and the research advisory committee.

More details about requirements and expectations can be found in the Physics department’s graduate handbook.

Summary of Master of Science Degree Requirements

Course requirements.  A Master of Science degree candidate must have a minimum of thirty semester hours of graduate credit (600 level classes or higher). This minimum requirement can include no more than six hours of research. Seminars other than up to 1.5 hours of Physics 601 (Physics Seminar) do not count toward the minimum course requirements.

The course of study consisting of classes, seminars, and research is compiled by a group including the student, the student’s advisor, and the program director, and must include:

Preliminary Examination (Written or Oral Qualifying Exam).  There is no preliminary exam for Master’s students.

Thesis.  Under faculty supervision, the student prepares a thesis embodying the results of investigative efforts in the field of concentration. This thesis is presented orally in a public talk and is then defended orally in a private defense.

The examining committee for the thesis which is appointed by the dean of the Graduate School upon recommendation of the program director consists of at least the following three members of the graduate faculty: 1) the student’s advisor; 2) another member of the physics graduate program who acts as the chair; 3) a representative from a different area of concentration from within the program or from outside the program.

More details about requirements and expectations can be found in the Physics department’s graduate handbook.

Special and Interdisciplinary Programs

Structural and Computational Biophysics Track.  The Track in Structural and Computational Biophysics offers students the opportunity to obtain advanced degrees (Ph.D. and M.S.) through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in a traditional discipline (Physics, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Biology, or Computer Science) while receiving broad training in the interdisciplinary field of Structural and Computational Biophysics. For more details see the SCB website. Program Director: Prof. Salsbury,

Center for Functional Materials.  The Center for Functional Materials provides a platform to connect a broad range of materials-focused research groups and to support the multidisciplinary research necessary for breakthrough developments. The center implements its mission via activities in researcheducation, and outreach.  Director: Prof. Timo Thonhauser,

Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials.  The Center for Nanotechnology and Molecular Materials is the Wake Forest University research community’s support infrastructure for work in the nanosciences and materials sciences. Director: Prof. David Carroll,

Translational Science Center.  The mission of the Translational Science Center : Fostering Independence in Aging (TSC) is to facilitate the development and growth of a community of scholars on the Reynolda campus who will bring diverse disciplinary expertise to the study of functional health in aging. The broad objectives of the Center are to mentor and train the next generation of undergraduate and graduate students committed to translational research and medicine; catalyze the development of grant proposals and publications aimed at bringing new basic research discoveries from multiple disciplines on the Reynolda campus into treatments and programs that target the functional health of older adults; create synergies between the Translational Science Institute at the Medical School and researchers involved in translational research on the Reynolda campus; and interface with the community.  Director: Prof. Kim-Shapiro,

Molecular Signaling.  Several physics faculty conduct research in the general area of molecular signaling as part of a multi-disciplinary molecular signaling group. Areas of specific interest for physics faculty include intracellular communication, protein dynamics, and protein structure and regulation.

Center for Structural Biology.  Several physics faculty, both experimental and computational, conduct research in the general area of structural biology and biophysics as part of a multi-disciplinary structural biology group. Areas of specific interest for physics faculty include protein dynamics, and protein structure and regulation.

Comprehensive Cancer Center Several physics faculty conduct research in the general areas of cancer biology and therapeutic development as part of a multi-disciplinary cancer center. Areas of specific interest for physics faculty include cancer biology and drug discovery.

Center for Redox Biology and Medicine Several physics faculty conduct research in redox biology and biophysics and their contributions to disease as part of a multi-disciplinary redox biology center . Physics students conducting research with the appropriate faculty mentors may be eligible for a T32 training grant fellowship.

Medical Physics.  The Medical Physics Program at Wake Forest University is located at the Wake Forest Baptist Health campus in the Department of Radiation Oncology and can be done either through an inter-departmental program of graduate study leading to a Ph.D. degree in Physics, with a concentration in Medical Physics or through a new specific program in Medical Physics. Medical Physics is the study of the applications of physics in medicine. Historically, the field of medical physics has included diagnostic radiology physics, nuclear medicine physics, and radiation therapy physics. Faculty medical physicists in the Wake Forest School of Medicine are adjunct faculty in Physics and serve as teachers and research advisors for the Medical Physics Program.  Additional information may be obtained by contacting Professor Dezarn.