First Two Years

The First Year of Graduate Study

During the first two semesters, the emphasis is on fundamental course work. Regardless of the area in which they intend to specialize, and regardless of whether their objective is the Master's or the Ph.D., students who have not completed any prior graduate work normally take the following courses during their first graduate year at USC:

  • Fall Semester
    • Advanced Mechanics
    • Thermosdynamics and Statistical Mechanics I
    • Methods of Theoretical Physics I
  • Spring Semester
    • Advanced Electricity and Magnetism I
    • Quantum Mechanics I

Most of the fundamental mathematics required in the courses Advanced Electricity and Magnetism I and Quantum Mechanics I in the Spring is covered in the course Methods of Theoretical Physics I in the preceding Fall semester.

All first-year graduate students are required to take a departmental screening examination near the end of the Spring semester. The performance of each first-year student is then evaluated -- course work, screening examination, and research (if any) being taken into account -- and a recommendation is made as to continuation in the doctoral program. Those who are recommended to continue usually join some research program during the summer, continue with course work and research during their third and fourth semesters, and take the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination during the fourth semester. Another two or three years are then required to complete the Ph.D. dissertation.

The Second Year of Graduate Study

In the Fall semester of the second year, students going on for the Ph.D. take the two remaining required courses:

  • Fall Semester
    • Advanced Electricity and Magnetism II
    • Quantum Mechanics II

In the Spring semester, the students register for some of the elective courses in their chosen field of research which help make up the 14 courses required for the Ph.D. They also take the Qualifying Examination in January of this Spring semester. If the examination is completed successfully, the main emphasis from that date onward is on completion of the Ph.D. dissertation.

The following are the electives from which the students may choose:

Advanced Optics
Methods of Experimental Physics
Thermodynamics and Statistical Mechanics II
Solid State Physics
Atomic and Molecular Spectroscopy
Advanced Condensed Matter Physics I & II
Advanced Quantum Mechanics
Group Theory & Symmetries in Physics I & II
High Energy Physics
Relativistic Quantum Field Theory
Advanced Quantum Field Theory
Special Topics in Theoretical Physics
Special Topics in Experimental Physics
Special Topics in Particle Physics
Special Topics in Condensed Matter Physics

These courses are not offered every semester, but an attempt is made to present a balanced program of study for the advanced student.



  • Department of Physics and Astronomy
  • University of Southern California
  • 825 Bloom Walk
  • ACB 439
  • Los Angeles, CA 90089-0484