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.  Students must maintain a GPA of at least 3.00 to be considered in good standing within the Graduate College.

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: PhysicsPHYS:7992 - Individual Critical StudyASTR: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.

Listed below are the general categories of coursework required to earn the degree; for more specific information on courses, curriculum, and requirements of the Master of Science in astronomy, visit the UI General Catalog.

Degree Requirements
Title Hours
Upper-Level Physics Courses 24
Additional Upper-Level Astronomy/Physics Courses for Astronomy subprogram 18
Additional Upper-Level Electives 30-48
Comprehensive Examination (see below) -
Dissertation work and electives (see below) -
Total Hours 72


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.

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.

Important Deadlines

Application Deadline: January 15th (for Fall semester enrollment)


Admission decisions are based on prior academic performance, letters of reference, and the applicant's statement about background and purpose. Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations of the Graduate College on the Graduate College website. For more information, see the Graduate Admissions Process page.

Annual Review

The Graduate Coordinator, the Director of Graduate Studies, and the faculty are committed to keeping you on track so you may develop skills suitable for your career goals in discovery and communication of science. To this end, we have eliminated the PhD qualifying exam and in its place take a holistic approach of reviewing your coursework and academic achievements through an annual career goal meeting with you and your advisor. This may include taking an Individual Development Plan (IDP) that can improve the communications channels between you, your advisor and/or other mentors. Through the Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC), the graduate students are part of the governing body of the department and in partnership with the faculty we are able to meet your needs as best as possible. 

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination is an evaluation of a student's mastery of a research area near completion of formal course work, and before preparation of the dissertation. The exam may be written, oral, or both, at the department's discretion, and is administered by a faculty committee of three departmental faculty members and one outside member. The comprehensive exam typically should be completed by the end of a student's third year and no later than the end of the fourth year in the Ph.D. program.


Each student must write a dissertation, a significant, original contribution to the field of physics. Once students obtain some preliminary results and can identify and describe the boundaries of their dissertation, they prepare a written proposal for their committee's review. The dissertation must be prepared in accordance with the format specified in the Graduate College Thesis Manual.

Final Oral Examination

Once the dissertation is complete and has been reviewed by the student's committee, a final oral examination is administered on campus or can be held via ZOOM. This examination must take place no sooner than the semester following successful completion of the comprehensive examination and no later than five years after completion of the comprehensive exam.