The role of the graduate program in physics is to facilitate the transition of talented students to capable and accomplished, world-class researchers. The Michigan program is flexible and individualized, with an emphasis on mentorship over formal requirements. Along with a short time to completion and a successful graduation rate, the program offers a flexibility that accommodates the diverse preparation, interest, and learning styles of its students.
The University of Michigan physics program is ranked 11th in the country by U.S. News and World Report and similarly by other services. However, our offerings are much broader than a ranking could communicate. We realize that the choice of graduate school is involved and personal, and the lines of communication here are open to help you navigate your decision.
The most important factor for the successful transformation of a promising student into a capable researcher is the identification of research advisor. This is a delicate match between interests, skills, and personalities.
An important first step is identifying one or more research groups that appeal intellectually. Prospective graduate students are strongly encouraged to explore the department webpages devoted to research. Michigan has many excellent research groups. It is the largest of all U.S. Universities when measured by the size of the federal grants we receive.
The physics program embraces interdisciplinary studies that apply physics methods in related areas. Not only does much physics research involve our own faculty members, each pursuing distinct goals and research styles; physics research is also led by faculty members in other departments.
At Michigan, a central aspect of matching students to research groups is the weekly graduate mini-colloquium. Each mini-colloquium features a faculty member from the department or a related area presenting the research in his or her research group. These presentations are specifically aimed at incoming graduate students, with the dual goal of attracting students to a specific group and educating students broadly about physics research.
Although some incoming graduate students engage in research in the summer before their formal start in the program, students generally select a research group during the winter term of the first year. The commitment made at this time is preliminary and pertains only to the first summer (mid-April to September). This presents a significant opportunity for graduate students to engage in serious research.
After the first summer, students may continue with their preliminary research advisor or she/he may move on to another research group to find a better match of research focus and/or research style. In some circumstances, this process may continue through one or more additional iterations.
Each incoming graduate student is assigned an academic mentor. The mentor assists beginning students with the transition from course work to full time research and will maintain contact with students for the first several years of graduate study, even after the selection of a research advisor.
Thus students typically have three faculty contacts in their first few years of study: an academic mentor, a research advisor, and the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies. In practice, the research advisor quickly becomes the primary advisor, but our multi-faceted mentorship structure provides students with multiple perspectives on their possible paths through graduate school.
As students advance in the graduate program, their integration in a research group becomes more permanent. At this stage the students forms a preliminary thesis committee that includes three faculty members that supervise progress.
The first few years of the graduate program require a number of courses and exams. These traditional aspects of the program serve multiple purposes and are adapted to individual needs after consultation with the mentor, research adviser and Graduate Chair. Please see our webpage on program details for specific Department Requirements.
Our formal requirements (such as the two qualification exams) are intended to be educational rather than a means to "sort" students: attrition among graduate students is not part of our model. We take great care to ensure that our financial resources and research opportunities are sufficient for all students to be successful in the program.
Integration of computational physics into core graduate classes is an integral aspect of our pedagogical vision. Homework assignments often involve elements that include numerical methods or computer simulation. A short mini-course on computational physics is offered in the beginning of fall for the students that need an introduction.
Learn How to Apply to Our Graduate Program
Click here to learn how to apply to our program and find information on qualifications required from all applicants.
Current Physics Graduate Courses
This link will take you to the current physics course listing on the Literature, Science, and the Arts Course Guide.
About Our Students
View this workbook to find more about the Physics graduate program student demographics, admissions, enrollment, funding, milestones, completion rates, and career outcomes.
Use this tool to see how the U-M Physics Department compares nationally for both bachelors and doctoral degrees. This tool combines demographics from both the Physics and Applied Physics graduate programs.
We fully recognize that our current gender and racial demographics are influenced by and reflect historical inequities both inside and outside our physics community. While our demographics are comparable to or slightly more equalized than that of the general physics community, we are still far from our goal. To this end, we are constantly working towards making our physics community more accessible, equitable, and inclusive. See our Physics DEI webpage for more information about some of these initiatives.
The above data set categories are influenced by U.S. Census categories. As a result, many marginalized groups are unaccounted for in these data sets. This lack of recognition does not reflect the views of the department as we strive to fully recognize and support all members of our community. Additionally, the definition of underrepresented minorities (URM) is not specified in the Rackham data set, but includes historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in higher education.†
† “Underrepresented minorities” (URM) category: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, American Indians/Native Alaskans, Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders (excluding Asian Americans), and multi-racial (i.e. “two or more races”) students identifying at least one of previously listed URM categories.