Graduate Studies in Physics: Policies and Regulations
Revised: July 2020
Graduate Studies in Physics at the University of Guelph and the University of Waterloo is a joint graduate program that shares a common program requirements and courses, which are taught by faculty at both Guelph and Waterloo.
Students in the program may be enrolled at either Waterloo or Guelph, dependent upon the affiliation of their supervisor. This document outlines the elements of the program that are common to Guelph and Waterloo as well as the management of these common elements. In addition, students and faculty must follow the departmental, faculty, and university level policies and procedures of the university at which they are enrolled.
2: Program Requirements
Graduate Studies in Physics offers MSc and PhD programs in Physics, along with collaborative programs in Quantum Information and Nanotechnology at Waterloo and Biophysics at Guelph. The MSc program is offered as both a thesis option and coursework/research report option. Students in the Perimeter Scholars international MSc program are enrolled in the University of Waterloo MSc research report option.
2.1 Common program requirements
2.1.1 Advisory committees
2.2 MSc in Physics (Thesis option) program requirements
2.2.1 Course requirements
2.2.2 MSc Thesis
2.3 MSc in Physics (Coursework/Research Report option) program requirements
2.3.1 Course requirements
2.3.2 Research paper
2.3.3 Activity Report
2.4 PhD in Physics program requirements
2.4.1 Course requirements: PhD after completing a Masters degree
2.4.2 Course requirements: PhD directly from undergraduate degree
2.4.3 Qualifying (Comprehensive) exam
2.4.4 PhD Thesis
2.5 Direct transfer from an MSc to PhD
2.6 Collaborative and other Graduate Programs
2.6.1 Perimeter scholars international (PSI)
2.6.2 Coursework MSc in Quantum Information at the University of Waterloo
4: Management and administration of program
The graduate program is administered by the faculty and staff of the university where the student is enrolled. In addition to the program requirements outlined above, students and faculty must adhere to the policies and procedures governing graduate activities at the university that the student is enrolled.
The following requirements apply to all programs outlined below.
- An average of at least 70% must be obtained in the required courses. A minimum grade of 65% is required for a pass in each course. If a student does not meet these minimum grade requirements, or receives a failing grade in any course, the student may be required to withdraw from the program.
The students advisory committee is responsible for monitoring the progress of the student through their degree. It is required that the student formally meet with their advisory committee within the first six months of registration and subsequently at least once per year. Results of the meeting are to be reported on the Advisory Committee Report Form. If the student receives an unsatisfactory evaluation at the advisory committee meeting, more frequent meetings will be required. Failure to return to satisfactory standing may require the student to withdraw from the program.
The MSc Advisory Committee consists of a least three members, and the PhD Advisory Committee includes at least four members. This must include:
- The student’s supervisor(s); the primary supervisor acts as the committee chair
- At least one Committee member who is a regular faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo (for students enrolled at Waterloo) or a regular faculty member of the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph (for students enrolled at Guelph). **This requirement does not apply to students who are supervised by a Perimeter Institute faculty with ADDS status.**
- At least two Committee members who are regular, adjunct, or cross-listed faculty members of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo or the Department of Physics as the University of Guelph
- At least four one-term courses acceptable for graduate credit must be completed satisfactorily.
- For all students one of the four courses must be selected from the core graduate courses listed in section 3.
- One of the four courses may be an upper level undergraduate course approved by the student's advisory committee and the Graduate Program Coordinator (Guelph) or Associate Chair, Graduate (Waterloo). If it is a physics course, it must be at the fourth-year level.
The student must submit a written thesis based on original research. Acceptance of the thesis requires the approval of an Examining Committee following an oral defence of the thesis.
At Waterloo this option is referred to as the Research Report option. At Guelph, this option is referred to as the Coursework option.
- At least seven one-term courses acceptable for graduate credit must be completed satisfactorily.
- At least four of the seven courses must be PHYS graduate level courses.
- Two of the seven courses may be upper level undergraduate courses approved by the student's advisory committee and the Graduate Program Coordinator (Guelph) or Associate Chair, Graduate (Waterloo). If it is a physics course, it must be at the fourth-year level.
The student must submit a written a research paper equivalent to one course. Acceptance of the Master's Research Paper requires approval by at least two members of the candidate's Advisory Committee.
In order to obtain feedback on and an evaluation of progress in the program, a written activity report may be submitted in lieu of assembling an advisory committee and holding an advisory committee meeting. The report will contain an account of past achievements, and an outline of the work to be completed in the period between this and the subsequent submission. At Waterloo, the Activity Report is reviewed and evaluated by the student’s supervisor and the Graduate Officer. At Guelph, the Activity Report is reviewed and evaluated by the Graduate Program Coordinator and the Department Chair.
Students who have completed a Master of Science (MSc) or equivalent degree must complete 2 one-term graduate level courses (0.50 unit weight). Including courses taken during the MSc degree, students are required to complete or have completed:
- One of PHYS 701/7010, PHYS 704/7040, PHYS 706/7060.
- Two additional physics core courses. Biophysics students are exempt from this requirement and may substitute two other PHYS graduate level courses.
- The student's advisory committee may require additional courses depending on the student's background.
Students who enter the PhD program directly from an undergraduate degree or who transfer directly from a Masters program to the PhD program must complete the following 6 one-term (0.50 unit weight) courses:
- One of PHYS 701/7010, PHYS 704/7040, PHYS 706/7060
- Two additional Physics Core courses. Biophysics students are exempt from this requirement, and may substitute two other PHYS graduate level courses.
- Either: Three other graduate level courses.
- Or: Two graduate level courses and one upper level undergraduate course approved by the student's advisory committee and the Graduate Program Coordinator (Guelph) or Associate Chair, Graduate (Waterloo); if it is a physics course, it must be at the fourth-year level.
- The student's advisory committee may require additional courses depending on the student's background.
This combined written and oral examination is designed to test the student's knowledge of fundamentals and applications of physics closely related to the thesis topic. The exam will normally take place before the end of term 6.
At Waterloo, the Qualifying exam is referred to as the Comprehensive exam, satisfying the comprehensive exam requirement of the University of Waterloo.
The exam consists of 9 questions that will be presented orally to an examination committee. The student has 2 hours prior to the oral examination to review and answer the questions in writing, which will then be presented orally to the examination committee for evaluation. The oral exam is intended to be approximately 90 minutes, with each question requiring approximately 10 min to answer. The student may choose the first question for which they will present a solution. The exam will then proceed in the established question order; all questions are covered. The solution to a question will be presented to the examination committee without interruption. The examination committee will then ask questions and/or provide feedback after the student has completed his/her presentation of the question. The student will be assessed separately on the presentation and discussion components of each question. No internet access or other aids apart from a calculator and ruler are permitted during any part of the examination. Accommodations for illness, disability or other conditions may be provided by Accessibility Services at Waterloo or Guelph.
The examination committee makes one of the following recommendations concerning the results of this examination.
- Conditional pass, but some remedial work is desired and should be checked by the advisory committee by some reasonable specified time
- Fail, with a re-examination recommended
- Fail, required to withdraw
Option 3 will be available to a student only once. The Graduate Program Coordinator (Guelph) or Associate Chair, Graduate (Waterloo) will communicate the result to the student in a timely manner. If the last committee meeting report shows either unsatisfactory overall progress or unsatisfactory research, and the student’s Qualifying Examination result is weak or a failure, the full advisory and examination committees will meet following the exam and decide if the student should be required to withdraw (at Waterloo, this would be following a second exam attempt) or fail the Qualifying Examination (in the case of Guelph), giving reasons for the decision on a form developed for the purpose.
The examiners and topics should be discussed at an Advisory Committee meeting by the end of the first year of the program. Either at the meeting or within one week, the Advisory Committee members must specify the level of knowledge expected in each area (eg at the level of the original research literature, review articles or graduate textbooks) and include this on the Advisory Committee form. Examiners are encouraged to give explicit examples of references which illustrate the level and knowledge expected.
Approximately three months before the exam, which will normally take place before the end of term 6, the student will be reminded of the areas of examination. A selection of previous examinations may be available to students.
Once the exam has been scheduled, each of the three expert members of the committee will, with the knowledge of the designated areas, be asked to set 3 exam questions, each requiring approximately 10 minutes to answer. Along with their questions, the expert examiners will also submit an outline of the answers they expect for their respective questions; this will not only ensure that the questions are of the right length but will also be of help to the non-expert examiners during the exam. Sufficient collaboration should occur among expert examiners to avoid excessive duplication of the exam questions.
At Waterloo, the Comprehensive Exam committee must be constituted according to the following criteria:
- Chair of the exam (appointed by the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies in the Department of Physics and Astronomy) and at least 3 examiners
- Two examiners must not be the student’s supervisor(s)
- At least one examiner must be a regular faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy
- At least two (**one for PhD students supervised by a Perimeter faculty member**) examiners must hold regular faculty appointments at University of Waterloo
- Examiners must hold a PhD or equivalent degree
At Guelph, the examining committee, appointed by the Chair or Director of the academic unit concerned, consists of five members:
- The Chair/Director of the academic unit (or designate) or the Chair of the Graduate Program Committee, who acts as Chair of the examination committee except when this person is also a member of the advisory committee. In that event, the Chair will designate another member of the regular graduate faculty of the unit to chair the examination;
- Two members, normally of the regular or associated graduate faculty who are not members of the Advisory Committee;
- Two members of the Advisory Committee;
- Normally, at least one of the Qualifying Examination committee members must be from outside the department/discipline in which the student is registered. That person may be a member of the Advisory Committee.
An acceptable thesis on an advanced research topic must be submitted. The topic of the thesis and the quality of the research will be such as to merit publication in reputable scholarly media. Acceptance of the thesis requires satisfactory completion of a Final Oral Examination.
An MSc student in the physics graduate program, who shows a particular aptitude for research, may be permitted to transfer to the PhD program without writing an MSc thesis. The following guidelines will be used in deciding whether a student will permitted to proceed directly to the PhD degree:
- The formal request must be initiated by the student, no later than the end of the fourth semester/term.
- The student should have an A average in his/her fourth-year undergraduate courses and A grades on three one-term graduate courses.
- The student must provide a written report of progress in his/her research.
- The advisor/supervisor with the recommendation of the advisory/supervisory committee must provide a statement in support of the student's request.
Collaborative graduate programs, such as Quantum Information and Nanotechnology specializations at Waterloo and the Biophysics specialization at Guelph, are collaborations between multiple departments at their respective universities, and are not offered at both Guelph and Waterloo. These programs have additional course and seminar requirements in addition to the program requirements for the MSc and PhD programs outlined in sections 2.1 and 2.2.
Students enrolled in the Perimeter Scholars International MSc program take PSI courses that are taught and administered by the Perimeter institute and the University of Waterloo. The PSI program follows the requirements of the MSc in Physics (Research report option).
The University of Waterloo offers a coursework MSc in Quantum Information that is offered only at the University of Waterloo. The requirements of this program are not covered in this handbook.
The Physics core courses are:
- Physics 701/7010 Quantum Mechanics I
- Physics 704/7040 Statistical Physics I
- Physics 706/7060 Electro Magnetic Theory
- Physics 703/7030 Introduction to Quantum Field Theory
- Physics 781/7810 Fundamentals of Astrophysics I
- Physics 782/7820 Fundamentals of Astrophysics II
- Physics 767/7670 Introduction to Quantum Information Processing
The overall performance of a student in any core course will be judged on the basis of an interim assessment(s), counting no less than one-third of the total, and a final assessment, counting no more than two-thirds.
A complete, up-to-date listing of PHYS grad courses can be found on the departmental home pages.
PHYS listed graduate courses are usually taught using remote technology that enables access to students at both Guelph and Waterloo. Exceptions to the requirement of remote teaching are special topics courses, Perimeter Scholars International (PHYS 600 series courses at Waterloo), and courses that are cross-listed with other departments and not assigned or scheduled by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Waterloo or the Department of Physics at Guelph.
Teaching assignments and scheduling of PHYS graduate courses will be coordinated by the Associate Chair, Graduate at Waterloo and the Graduate Coordinator at Guelph, subject to approval by the department chairs at Guelph and Waterloo.
Changes to the Graduate program requirements and course offerings outlined in this document are subject to approval by the coordinating committee. The coordinating committee will also act in a consultant capacity concerning the offering and scheduling of graduate courses, and recommend particular instructors for them to the appropriate Departmental Chair. Changes to program requirements and course offerings must also be approved by the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo and the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph.
Changes to the program administration or requirements that are managed independently at Guelph and Waterloo, including admissions, TA assignment and student funding, do not require approval by the coordinating committee.
Meetings of the coordinating committee can be called by either the Associate Chair, Graduate studies at the University of Waterloo or the Graduate Coordinator at the University and will be chaired by whoever has called the meeting.
The coordinating committee will be comprised of 10 members:
- the Associate Chair, Graduate studies at the University of Waterloo
- the Graduate Coordinator at the University of Guelph
- the Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Waterloo
- the Chair of the Department of Physics at Guelph
- the Graduate Officer at the University of Waterloo
- the Associate Graduate Coordinator at the University of Guelph
- 1 faculty from the University of Waterloo appointed by the Chair of Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo
- 1 faculty from the University of Guelph appointed by the Chair of Department of Physics at the University of Guelph
- 1 graduate student from the University of Waterloo
- 1 graduate student from the University of Guelph
In order to be eligible to supervise students in Graduate Studies in Physics at the Universities of Waterloo and Guelph, the supervisor must be a faculty member (regular, adjunct or cross-listed faculty) in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Waterloo or the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph.