The MIT Department of Physics has a graduate population of between 260 and 290 students, with approximately 45 students starting and graduating each year. Almost all students are pursuing a PhD degree in Physics, typically studying for 5 to 7 years and with the following degree structure:

Elements of the Doctoral Degree in Physics:

This is a roadmap for the path through our doctoral program. Each category is an element needed to complete your degree. Further information is available by clicking the accordion and links.. Read our Doctoral Guidelines PDF for more complete information.

Students demonstrate knowledge in 4 four areas.

Each of the Core Requirements can be satisfied either by:

  • passing a written exam; or
  • receiving a qualifying grade in a related class.

A B+ grade or above in the related subject satisfies the requirement in:

  • Classical Mechanics (8.309)
  • Electricity & Magnetism (8.311)
  • Quantum Mechanics (8.321)
  • Statistical Mechanics (8.333)

See the Written Examination section of the General Doctoral Examination page for more information.

Fall 2023 Written Exam schedule

Date: To be posted May 2023
Location: TBA

The Physics Written Exams will be given as 4 separate sections. Incoming students have the option to take any or all sections before formally starting their studies.

NOTE: Students planning on taking the Written Exam in any term should file an Exam Application with the Academic Programs Office no later than one week prior to the exam.

In addition to the demonstrated proficiency in the 4 subject in the Written Exams, graduate students must take 4-5 additional subject classes in Physics Specialty and Breadth areas.

  • The Specialty Area builds proficiency related to the student’s research area, with 2 subject classes required (3 in NUPAT and 3 in NUPAX (effective Fall 2023)) from the pre-approved Specialty Area chart.
  • The Breadth Area extends the student’s knowledge beyond their research area with 2 subject classes in different areas of Physics. The pre-approved Breadth Area chart lists many options.

  • Oral Exams are given in each Research Areas
  • Team of 3 faculty examiners

  • Checking with APO that all course subject requirements are completed.
    • Submitting any necessary requests for any subject substitutions, if needed.
  • Consulting with Thesis Supervisor about scheduling the Thesis Defense
  • International Students – Consulting International Students Office with post-completion plans
  • Writing up Research in final Thesis document

Student defends Thesis Research to Committee Members

  • Submission of Written Thesis for MIT Archives
  • Fill out the Degree Application through the student section of WebSIS. Petitioning to be on the degree list for a particular commencement is required. Note that it is easier to be removed from the degree list to be added, so students are encouraged to apply for the degree list if there is any reasonable chance they will complete the PhD in the coming term.

See also:

Note: Due to COVID limitations, we are not currently hosting or meeting with outside visitors in person, nor are we facilitating visits to our classrooms. Current graduate students and prospective applicants should direct any questions by email to