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Graduate study in the Department of Physics is strongly focused on research. Only the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program is offered, for which both beginning and advanced students are accepted (please note that advanced students must still take the general examination). The physics department maintains an active research program with equal emphasis on theoretical and experimental studies. Besides its traditional strengths in theoretical and experimental elementary particle physics, theoretical and experimental gravity and cosmology, experimental nuclear and atomic physics, mathematical physics, and theoretical condensed matter physics, it has newer strong and growing groups in experimental condensed matter physics and biophysics.

Students are encouraged to involve themselves in research activities right from the beginning, even while they are still taking courses in basic physics. Early research participation leads to a more mature appreciation of the formal aspects of graduate study. It also allows a closer association with faculty members and a more natural transition to independent research later on. The research for the doctoral dissertation is by far the most important part of the program and should prepare students well for careers in research and teaching at universities, or in research at government or industrial laboratories. The duration of the graduate program is five years, and some students complete the Ph.D. even in a shorter period.

Interdepartmental Research Opportunities

In addition to the main program of the department leading to the Ph.D. in physics, there are several interdepartmental programs. An advanced degree in mathematical physics may be obtained through a program of work in the departments of physics and mathematics.

Physics department faculty and graduate students are active in research collaborations with scientists in several other departments, including astrophysical sciences, including plasma physics, chemical engineering, chemistry, electrical engineering and molecular biology. If prior approval is obtained, students may conduct their research under the supervision of advisers from outside the physics department.

Many of the condensed matter and biophysics faculty in the department are also members of the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM), located in Bowen Hall. The institute provides excellent opportunities for graduate students to work on collaborative projects with students and faculty from other departments in science and engineering and contains special modern facilities for materials research. Recent examples of such research projects are the physics of block copolymers, high-temperature superconductors and colloidal crystals. For more information, please see the PRISM listing. The department also cooperates with the School of Engineering and Applied Science in solid-state science studies.


All students should complete the core curriculum requirement.

The core curriculum is divided in three groups, and students are required to take and pass (at least) one course in each group, within the first two years of study. Thus minimally, a student needs to pass three core courses. A passing grade is a B or higher. The three groups and associate courses are:

Quantum Mechanics/Quantum Field Theory:

  • PHY 506 Quantum Mechanics
  • PHY 509 Relativistic Quantum Theory I
  • PHY 510 Relativistic Quantum Theory II

Condensed Matter/Biophysics/Atomic Physics:

  • PHY 525 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics I
  • PHY 526 Introduction to Condensed Matter Physics II
  • PHY 551 Atomic Physics (not taught every year)
  • PHY 562 Biophysics

General Relativity/High Energy Physics:

  • PHY 523 Introduction to General Relativity
  • PHY 524 Advanced Topics in General Relativity
  • PHY 529 Introduction to High Energy Physics

Additionally, a number of graduate courses are offered every year. In the first fall semester, the students take a general physics course to supplement their basic physics background and prepare for the preliminary exam. Students are encouraged to take other more advances courses to expand their knowledge in their chosen specialty. 

Pre-Generals Requirements(s):

Adviser Selection:

It is the goal of the graduate program to have all students engaged in real research as soon as possible upon arrival and all students settled on a thesis topic and a thesis adviser by the end of the second year.

Pre-thesis Project:

The physics department is eager to get students positioned for a rapid start on their thesis research. Hence, during their second year, students are expected to begin actively working under the supervision of a faculty member on a pre-thesis project, to be completed by the fall semester of the third year. The pre-thesis project consists of two parts (i) a written report on a topic in the field of interest of the student and (ii) a presentation before a committee of three faculty members, including the adviser.

General Exam:

The general examination covers all major fields of physics, both theoretical and experimental, and places particular emphasis on topics of current interest.  The preliminary examination, the experimental project and the required minimum number of core courses constitute the general examination. All sections of the general examination must be completed by the end of the second year.  

To assist in measuring progress, students take the first section of the general examination, the preliminary examination, in January or May of the first year. The preliminary examination covers topics of electromagnetism, elementary quantum mechanics, mechanics, statistical physics and thermodynamics 

The second section of the general examination is the experimental project, which consists of a report on an experiment that the student has either performed or assisted others in performing, at Princeton. 

Please note, students studying mathematical physics are required to pass the general examination in physics. When appropriate, an examination on mathematical topics may be substituted for parts of this examination.

Qualifying for the M.A.:

The Master of Arts (M.A.) degree is normally an incidental degree on the way to full Ph.D. candidacy and is earned after a student successfully completes all components of the general examination.  It may also be awarded to students who, for various reasons, leave the Ph.D. program, provided that these requirements have been met.

Dissertation and FPO:

The Ph.D. is awarded once the dissertation is accepted and the final public oral (FPO) has been completed.

  • Application Fee: $90
  • Statement of Academic Purpose
  • Resume/Curriculum Vitae
  • Recommendation Letters
  • Transcripts
  • Fall Semester Grades
  • Prerequisite Tests
  • English Language Tests
  • GRE : General and physics subject tests.

Additional Departmental Requirements: 

You will be required to indicate at least one choice from a menu of Department's current Areas of Research – see the Department of Physics website "Research(link is external)" section for descriptions of the research areas and the current activities in each.  Your Statement of Purpose is a good opportunity to make your interests clear.  The Department of Physics notes that it is not necessary to describe how you became interested in physics.  Applicants are usually better served by devoting the statement to a description of their research background and interests. However, if your path to applying to the Princeton Department of Physics was unusual or compelling, please feel free to describe it.  In any case, your Statement of Purpose should focus on your specific research interests at Princeton and any relevant research experience.

For Ph.D. candidates, tuition and fees during a student’s regular period of enrollment are provided in full from a student’s graduate student financial support, in the form of tuition support from fellowships, assistantships, or external sources.

The annual stipend amount provided to Ph.D. candidates during their regular enrollment is intended to support a single graduate student based on estimated costs. Master’s students or students with spouses and/or dependents may require additional resources to support their living expenses 

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