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Introduction to Graduate Studies in Physics

The Department of Physics offers a full program of courses and research leading to the MSc and PhD degrees.

MSc and PhD Programs

The objective of graduate studies in physics is to learn how to advance our understanding of the physical world. This focus is a change in focus from undergraduate studies, where courses provide a well described path towards completion of your studies. As a graduate student, you will be charting your own path into the unknown; courses serve only to provide important conceptual tools for your journey.

The requirements and typical schedule of our graduate program are described here. In the first year of the program, both MSc and direct-entry PhD students find a supervisor and enrol in several courses. For the MSc, the balance between research and classroom time differs between "Option 1" and "Option 2"; both options are "without thesis" and are completed by the end of the first academic year. Students normally apply to our program with the intent to earn a PhD, so that "Option 3" with a formal MSc Thesis is rarely chosen.

In the PhD program, the emphasis is almost entirely on research. Six half-courses must be taken, though credit is given for all courses that have already been taken at the University of Toronto to fulfil MSc requirements. The graduate program for each PhD student within the Department of Physics is monitored by a Supervisory Committee, consisting of the research supervisor and two other professors in the Department who have a specialized knowledge of the area of research. This Committee gives each student an oral Qualifying Examination within eight months of entry to the PhD program (or within 20 months for direct-entry PhD students). The goal of this examination is to assess the ability of the student to perform and carry out a proposed program of research leading to the completion of the PhD.

After the qualifier, a student is ABD: all-but-dissertation. The PhD candidate meets once a year with the Supervisory Committee to report on research progress. When the candidate has prepared a thesis, the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies chairs a Departmental PhD Oral Examination. After this is successfully completed, the candidate moves on to the Final Oral Examination involving an external appraisal of the thesis and an oral examination by the School of Graduate Studies.

More information on the MSc and PhD programs can be found here.

Research Groups and Seminars

The daily life of a graduate student centres around their research group. This is the collection of students and postdocs working with a particular faculty member or cluster of faculty. Your shared research interests provide a natural basis for collaboration and discussion. Incoming students should choose their advisor with thoughtful care: this one choice will be the single largest factor in shaping the graduate experience. The choice of supervisor does not need to be made before arriving in Toronto and starting the program: incoming MSc and direct-entry PhD students are strongly encouraged to talk with as many professors and graduate students as possible, so that they can make an informed choice of both supervisor and research topic. For more advice about this topic, please see Supervision and Examinations.

Many groups hold weekly seminars concerned with recent developments in their area of research. There is also a Departmental Colloquium every Thursday afternoon during the regular academic year. A listing of Events and Seminars can be found here.

Graduate students participate in most activities of the Department and are represented on many of its committees, including the Graduate Liaison Committee (GLC). The GLC advises the Department on a wide variety of issues of interest to graduate students, performs annual graduate course evaluations, initiates many new proposals, serves as a sounding board for Departmental and University matters. The Physics Graduate Students Association (PGSA) elects representatives on the GLC, sponsors student seminars, social activities, and sporting events within the Department. For more information, see the PGSA website.

Financial Support

All graduate students who are making satisfactory progress towards their degree receive financial support. This may come from external or internal scholarships, and/or research grants.

Graduate students are normally offered the opportunity to work as a Teaching Assistant (TA) in one or more undergraduate courses. TAs at the University of Toronto are unionized, and conditions of pay and employment are excellent. Employment conditions are governed by the Collective Agreement between the Teaching Assistants’ Union (CUPE 3902 Unit 1) and the University of Toronto. Positions are available as Tutors, Laboratory Demonstrators, and Markers, with a wide variation in the number of hours assigned to each.

Further discussion of stipends can be found at Financial Support and Scholarships.