Advancing to Candidacy

Advancing to Candidacy in the Physics Department

Physics graduate students must advance to candidacy by the end of Winter Quarter of their third year. For students who entered Fall 2010 or later and received a master's degree from a previous institution, then the deadline for advancement is Winter Quarter of their second year. A description of what the advancement exam entails and how to prepare for it follows. The Ph.D. program is structured such that your basic coursework will be completed in the first two years, giving you the foundation necessary to focus on directed research in your field beginning in year three. Keep in mind that the objective of the advancement exam is not a measure of your research; the purpose is to determine whether you have gained sufficient knowledge of your particular field and whether you are progressing at an appropriate rate toward completion of the Ph.D.

Advancement Exam Deadline

All students must take the exam by the end of Winter Quarter of the third year. If the exam is not passed, it must be retaken by the end of Spring Quarter of the third year. Students who do not take the exam on schedule and have not received an extension are subject to withdrawal of financial support by the department, or dismissal from the program on the grounds of not making adequate progress toward the degree. Students who fail the exam for the second time will be dismissed from the program on the same grounds.

If a student fails the exam, the advancement committee must provide a written account of what they found to be lacking, along with suggestions for how to remedy the problems. The student must then retake the exam by the end of Spring Quarter of the third year. Failing the exam the first time should not be considered detrimental to the student’s career.  The Department will simply require that the student retake the exam by spring and give encouragement and guidance for the second try.

Advancement exams are closed exams which means that only the student, committee members and wise person can be present. The advancement exam differs from the defense which is an open exam.

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Extension to ATC Exam Deadline

An extension to the Winter Quarter deadline may be granted due to personal, medical or family circumstances, or to an approved research related absence that sets the student back in their academic progress. The faculty graduate advisor and the faculty research advisor must be informed of the circumstance when it arises and grant the extension in a written academic progress report outlining the extended advancement timeline.

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The Nature of the Exam

Students should be able to discuss the key questions that need to be addressed in their field and propose a possible line of research. To ensure that the student and the committee agree on what constitutes an acceptably broad definition of field, the student will submit a brief synopsis (see Synopsis Form) of his/her presentation at the time the exam is scheduled. The synopsis must be approved by both the chair of the committee and the wiseperson assigned to the exam.

Students will be evaluated on:

  • whether the presentation addresses the underlying physics issues of the field and shows a reasonable understanding of the important problems;
  • whether the student is able to respond adequately to questions from the committee.
  • whether the studnet is progressing at an appropriate rate toward completion of the Ph.D.

Students must do well in all areas in order to pass.


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The Advancement Committee

The committee should consist of at least three Physics faculty members: the research advisor who serves as committee chair, and two other faculty members. If you are a theorist, you will need two theorists and one experimentalist on your committee. If you are an experimentalist, you will need two experimentalists and one theorist. After these primary members, the student may choose to add additional members either from Physics or another department. At least 3 members must also serve on the student’s Supervising Committee.

One of the members of your advancement committee will play the role of Wiseperson. This needs to be a Physics ladder faculty member, and cannot be your thesis advisor. The Wiseperson is usually the committee member outside your area of study. For example, if you are a theorist, your Wiseperson will the experimentalist on the committee.

The committee that administers the exam will (normally) be the same committee that guides the student’s research and administers the final dissertation defense. At the time of the advancement to candidacy exam, the committee will either approve the dissertation topic, or, if there is not enough information to do that, the committee will arrange for a future committee meeting to decide the question.

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The Role of the Wiseperson

A wiseperson is present at every exam to ensure the appropriate level of difficulty. The wiseperson asks questions as any other committee member and advises the committee on how the student compares with others who have been examined. The wiseperson can require the exam to be redone if he/she feels that the exam does not conform to the guidelines given above. The wiseperson will also provide guidance on preparing for the exam, and will review a synopsis of the student’s topic of presentation during the weeks preceding the exam and offer suggestions for improvement if necessary.

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Setting up your Advancement Exam

The basic steps are outlined below. Click here for the ATC Checklist.

  1. Establish Your Committee
    You will need a committee of at least three ladder faculty members plus a wiseperson. Notify the Staff Graduate Advisor that you are planning to schedule your advancement so that a wiseperson may be assigned to your committee. If you are a theorist, you will need two theorists and one experimentalist on your committee. If you are an experimentalist, you will need two experimentalists and one theorist. Your committee must be made up of at least three ladder (tenure track) UCSB faculty members (not lecturer, adjunct, etc). Three members of your advancement committee must serve on your supervising committee; as a result, many advancement committees will have 4 faculty.  Your committee chairperson must be a Physics faculty member, but if your primary research advisor is a faculty member from another department, they may serve on your committee as co-chair. A Physics faculty member must also serve as co-chair.

  2. Schedule the Exam
    Once your committee is established and a wiseperson assigned, you will need to schedule a date for the exam. After you have established a committee and a date, please let the Staff Graduate Advisor know the following information:

    • Names of committee members

    • Date and time of exam (schedule a two hour block of time)

    • Location of exam (the graduate or undergraduate advisor may schedule a room for you)

    • Area of study

    • Tentative title of dissertation

  3. Prepare Synopsis and Meet with Your Committee Chair & Wiseperson
    The wiseperson assigned to your exam is a member of our faculty, but is not part of your committee and will not sign your approval to advance forms. It is the wiseperson’s responsibility to ensure the exam is conducted in a fair manner. A synopsis of your presentation must be approved by your advisor and the wiseperson prior to your exam – please schedule a meeting for this purpose at least one week before the exam. (See Synopsis Form). It is your responsibility to remind your committee members and the wiseperson a day or two before your exam date.

  4. Fees
    After advancing to candidacy you are required to pay a $50 advancement to candidacy fee at the Billing/Cashier’s Office. The Billing Office will give you two copies of your receipt. Take one to Graduate Division and tell them this is your advancement to candidacy fee. Take the other receipt to the Library to get a faculty library card.

If you are an international student and have advanced to candidacy, your non-resident tuition is reduced by 100% for graduate doctoral students who have advanced to candidacy. Eligibility for the reduced nonresident tuition is measured in calendar years, and begins with the first academic quarter following advancement to candidacy. Leave of absence and unregistered quarters will not extend a student's eligibility. A student who continues to be enrolled or who re-enrolls three calendar years after advancing to candidacy will be charged the full nonresident rate in effect at the time. Please see for more information.
Starting Fall 2012, if you are a Graduate Student Researcher (GSR), you will receive an increase in salary to Step IX after passing the advancement to candidacy exam. Before advancement, the GSR step will be at Step VIII.

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Master of Arts Degree

After passing the advancement exam you are eligible for the Master of Arts Degree, as long as your core requirements are completed satisfactorily. If you would like the MA degree you must complete a graduate student petition, which is available on the Forms page of our website, or for pickup in the main office, and pay a $20 petition fee at the Billing Office. On the petition, check the appropriate boxes indicating, “remain in Ph.D. Physics” and “add MA Physics.” Bring the completed petition to the Staff Graduate Advisor. The faculty graduate advisor will sign it, write a letter in support of your Master’s, and submit both forms to the Graduate Division for processing. Your MA degree will be processed within approximately four weeks. Further information on the Master of Arts degree in Physics is available in the Graduate Student Handbook [in PDF form].

Good luck on your exam! If you have any questions, please contact the staff graduate advisor.

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