The Department of Physics has a strong tradition of graduate study and research in astrophysics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics; condensed matter physics; high energy and particle physics; plasma physics; quantum computing; and string theory. There are many facilities for carrying out world-class research. We have a large professional staff: 45 full-time faculty members, affiliated faculty members holding joint appointments with other departments, scientists, senior scientists, and postdocs. There are over 175 graduate students in the department who come from many countries around the world. More complete information on the graduate program, the faculty, and research groups is available at the department website

Research specialties include:


Astrophysics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics; condensed matter physics; cosmology; elementary particle physics; nuclear physics; phenomenology; plasmas and fusion; quantum computing; statistical and thermal physics; string theory.


Astrophysics; atomic, molecular, and optical physics; biophysics; condensed matter physics; cosmology; elementary particle physics; neutrino physics; experimental studies of superconductors; medical physics; nuclear physics; plasma physics; quantum computing; spectroscopy.

Ph.D. Degree Details

The Ph.D. degree requires successful completion of advanced course work in physics (required core coursework), completion of a minor, and passage of the qualifying and preliminary examinations. However, the Ph.D. is primarily a research degree, awarded only upon completion of substantial original research. This broad range of research opportunities makes the department especially attractive to beginning students who have not yet chosen a field of specialization. The program provides the background, experience, and credentials needed for employment as a professional physicist in research or education. All admitted Ph.D. students typically receive financial support in the form of teaching or research assistantships and fellowships. 

Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline This program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline This program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required but may be considered if available.*

English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (https://grad.wisc.edu/apply/requirements/#english-proficiency).
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

*The Department of Physics does not require the subject GRE for admission.  However, if students submit the score, the admissions committee will review it as part of the application.   The general GRE will not be considered even if submitted.
The subject GRE is recommended in these circumstances:

  • If your transcript does not accurately reflect your academic strengths
  • If including the score would significantly strengthen your application
  • If you are particularly interested in pursuing Physics Theory as a research focus

Admission is competitive. All applicants are reviewed and evaluated on the basis of previous academic record, three letters of recommendation, statement of purpose for graduate studies, and resume.  The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) subject scores will be considered if submitted.  All eligible applicants with complete files are considered for teaching or research assistantships and fellowships. To be considered for admission, students must submit all application materials via the Graduate School electronic application site by December 15.  

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

financial support for PhD students in physics

All admitted Ph.D. students are provided with a guarantee of financial support. Typically, a graduate student is first appointed as a teaching assistant. Teaching assistants assist faculty members in the introductory physics courses, generally by teaching discussion and laboratory sections. Later, as a research assistant, the student works with a major professor on a mutually agreed research program. Tuition is remitted for teaching assistant and research assistant appointments greater than one-third time or greater.  However, all students must still pay the segregated fees and any additional university fees each semester.

Teaching Assistantships

The typical first appointment for a beginning graduate student is a teaching assistantship (TA). A teaching assistantship is both a teaching position and a means of support for graduate study. It is normally advantageous for a graduate student to hold a TA position for at least a semester during graduate studies, since the teaching activity solidifies and deepens the teaching assistant's undergraduate education in physics and also helps prepare for a possible career in teaching.

Research Assistantships

Research assistantships are made available by individual professors to students who have decided on their field of research. Most departmental RA appointments are made for an annual (12 months) period. Students who wish to be considered for an RA appointment should contact the faculty directly.


Fellowships, including University Fellowships and Advanced Opportunity Fellowships, are awarded by the College of Letters & Science and the Graduate School upon recommendation of the Department of Physics. In addition, the department may have additional fellowships—funded by endowments from physics department alumni—available for first-year graduate students.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.


Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 26 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Details can be found in the Graduate School’s Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement Policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. This program follows the Graduate School's policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1203.
Other Grade Requirements Must have a grade of B or better in all coursework.
Assessments and Examinations Physics doctoral students are required to pass the qualifying examination at the Ph.D. level by the end of their fourth semester.

Students are also required to take a comprehensive preliminary/oral examination. It is recommended that this is completed by the end of the fifth semester.

All Incomplete and Progress grades (other than research and thesis) must be cleared from the student's record prior to taking the preliminary examination.

A final oral defense and deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.
Language Requirements Contact the program for information on any language requirements.
Graduate School Breadth Requirements All doctoral students are required to complete a doctoral minor or graduate/professional certificate.

Required COURSES

All graduate degree candidates are required to take five core courses:

Required Core
PHYSICS 711 Theoretical Physics-Dynamics3
PHYSICS 715 Statistical Mechanics3
PHYSICS 721 Theoretical Physics-Electrodynamics3
PHYSICS 731 Quantum Mechanics3
PHYSICS 732 Quantum Mechanics3
Also required
PHYSICS 701 Graduate Introductory Seminars1

Each core course must be repeated until a grade of at least a B is earned. 

All Physics courses meeting degree requirements must be numbered 500 and above.


Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

This program follows the Graduate School's policy for Satisfying Requirements with Prior Graduate Coursework from Other Institutions.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

Up to 7 credits in courses numbered 500 or above may be used to satisfy minimum degree requirements.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 15 credits of coursework numbered 500 or above taken as a UW-Madison University Special student.  Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


This program follows the Graduate School's Probation policy.


All incoming students are assigned a faculty mentoring committee upon matriculation. The responsibility to acquire (choose and be accepted by) a major professor (permanent advisor) is entirely with the student. Acceptance for Ph.D. research by a professor depends on the professor’s appraisal of the student’s potential for research and on the ability/willingness of the professor to accept a student at that time. Often the major professor will offer support in the form of a research assistantship, but this is not always possible, and students may need to work as a teaching assistants while performing thesis research.

Graduate students should begin research work as early as possible. Students are encouraged to acquire a major professor (advisor) and begin research by the end of the second semester. Summer is the ideal time to begin research unencumbered by coursework or teaching.

At the time of the preliminary examination, the major professor and at least two additional faculty members will form a committee that will evaluate and advise the student. 

At the time of the final oral defense, a the major professor and at least two additional faculty members will form a committee that will evaluate the student.  All Ph.D. Committee members will serve as readers of the student's thesis.

Credits Per Term Allowed

15 credits

Time Limits

Doctoral degree students who have been absent for ten or more consecutive years lose all credits that they have earned before their absence. Individual programs may count the coursework students completed prior to their absence for meeting program requirements;that coursework may not count toward Graduate School credit requirements.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation within five years after passing the preliminary examination may by require to take another preliminary examination and to be admitted to candidacy a second time.

grievances and appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.


Typical funding is through 50% assistantships. Typically all enrolled Ph.D. students are funded for the duration of their degree. All programs are full-time and require full-time student enrollment during fall and spring terms.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

Students are encouraged to attend Graduate School sponsored Professional Development events and participate in Graduate School Professional Development resources, such as the Individual Development Plan (IDP).

In addition, Ph.D. students in Physics have multiple opportunities for professional development throughout their graduate careers. As an integral part of the research experience, students regularly work at places such as CERN, national laboratories (Argonne, FermiLab), and the IceCube Neutrino observatory at the South Pole to name a few.

Students are encouraged to travel to relevant conferences across the U.S. and around the world.  Students regularly attend the annual American Physical Society (APS) March Meeting and are encouraged to attend APS meetings in their sub-field throughout the year. Often students attend summer schools at various host institutions to expand their knowledge and to interact with fellow scientists in the field.    

  1. Demonstrate mastery of the core physical concepts (Classical Mechanics, Electricity & Magnetism, Quantum Mechanics, and Statistical Mechanics).
  2. Evaluates or synthesizes information pertaining to questions or challenges in physics.
  3. Engages appropriately and communicates clearly with other research professionals in physics.
  4. Formulates and plans original research.
  5. Creates research, scholarship, or performance that makes a substantive contribution to the field of physics.
  6. Gains a broad awareness of the status of contemporary research beyond the student’s area of specialization.


More detail about each faculty member and the research areas can be found on the Physics website.

Yang Bai, Professor
Baha Balantekin, Eugene P. Wigner Professor
Vernon Barger, Van Vleck Professor and Vilas Research Professor
Keith Bechtol, Associate Professor
Kevin Black, Professor
Stanislav Boldyrev, Professor
Uwe Bergmann, Martin L. Pearl Professor in Ultrafast X-Ray Science
Tulika Bose, Professor
Victor Brar, Van Vleck Associate Professor
Duncan Carlsmith, Professor
Daniel Chung, Professor
Susan Coppersmith, Emeriuts Robert E. Fassnacht Professor and Vilas Research Professor
Kyle Cranmer, Professor & Data Science Institute Director
Sridhara Dasu, Professor
Jan Egedal, Professor
Mark Eriksson, John Bardeen Professor and Department Chair
Ilya Esterlis, Assistant Professor
Lisa Everett, Professor
Ke Fang, Assistant Professor
Cary Forest, Prager Professor of Experimental Physics
Pupa Gilbert, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor
Francis Halzen, Gregory Breit Professor, Hilldale Professor, & Vilas Research Professor
Kael Hanson, Professor
Aki Hashimoto, Professor
Matthew Herndon, Professor
Robert Joynt, Emeritus Professor
Albrecht Karle, Professor
Roman Kuzmin, Dunson Cheng Assistant Professor
Alex Levchenko, Professor
Lu Lyu (aka Lu Lu), Assistant Professor
Dan McCammon, Professor
Robert McDermott, Professor
Moritz Muenchmeyer, Assistant Professor
Yibin Pan, Associate Professor
Brian Rebel, Professor
Mark Rzchowski, Associate Chair and Professor
Mark Saffman, Professor
John Sarff, Professor
Gary Shiu, Professor
Paul Terry, Professor
Peter Timbie, Professor
Justin Vandenbroucke, Associate Professor
Maxim Vavilov, Professor
Thad Walker, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor
Sau Lan Wu, Enrico Fermi Professor, Hilldale Professor, and Vilas Research Professor
Deniz Yavuz, Professor
Ellen Zweibel, William L Kraushaar Professor of Astronomy & Physics

Affiliated Faculty

David Anderson, Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Paul Campagnola, Professor, Biomedical Engineering
Jennifer Choy, Assistant Professor, Engineering Physics
Elena D'Onghia, Professor, Astronomy
Chang-Beom Eom, Professor, Materials Science & Engineering
Chris Hegna, Professor, Engineering Physics
Sebastian Heinz, Professor, Astronomy
Mikhail Kats, Associate Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Jason Kawasaki, Associate Professor, Materials Science & Engineering
Irena Knezevic, Professor, Electrical & Computer Engineering
Alexandre Lazarian, Professor, Astronomy
Daniel Rhodes, Assistant Professor, Materials Science & Engineering
Oliver Schmitz, Professor, Engineering Physics
Micheline Soley, Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Carl Sovinec, Professor, Engineering Physics
Richard Townsend, Professor, Astronomy
Ying Wang, Assistant Professor, Materials Science & Engineering
Jun Xiao, Assistant Professor, Materials Science & Engineering