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Graduate Program Overview

Two students and professor in lab.At Clemson, theorists and experimentalists explore, test and discover phenomena that provide evidence for novel and unified theories based on these physical laws. Clemson’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is internationally recognized for its experimental, computational and theoretical work in astronomical, atmospheric, biological, condensed matter and fundamental physics.

Forefront of Research

Graduate students in the Department of Physics and Astronomy are engaged at the forefront of research, conducted under the mentorship of our world-class faculty, and gain valuable teaching experience as well. While earning their degrees, graduate students receive fully funded research or teaching assistantships, including full tuition waivers. Doctoral candidates making adequate progress toward their degree are guaranteed five years of support, and master’s students are guaranteed two years of support, so long as funding remains available.

Diverse Students, Diverse Careers

Our students come from around the world, making diverse culture an important part of the graduate experience. Wherever they are from, our students enjoy Clemson’s outstanding surroundings, year-round mild climate and low cost of living. Our graduates take many career paths. Some join the faculty at research universities and teaching colleges around the country. Some take research positions at national laboratories and government agencies, including NASA and the Department of Energy. Others work for private companies in research and development or management.


Graduate Degree Paths

The Department of Physics and Astronomy offers programs of study leading to Master of Science and doctorate degrees.

Master of Science Degree

There are two options for getting a Master of Science degree in physics at Clemson.

  • Thesis Option: The thesis option requires 24 credit hours of course work with at least 12 hours at the 8000 level or above, plus at least six hours of PHYS 8910 — Research in Physics and Astronomy, which culminates in the writing of a thesis submitted to the graduate school.
  • Non-Thesis Option: The non-thesis option requires 30 credit hours of graduate course work.

In both cases, at least half of the credit hours must be from graduate courses numbered 8000 or above. A master’s student has six years to complete a degree; however, it is expected that full-time physics students should complete their master’s degrees within two years of their arrival at Clemson.

Students who pass their master’s defense and intend to pursue a Ph.D. must reapply to the Ph.D. program. This involves completing another application for admission. Students who are staying within the same department should not incur another application fee. Those who had less than the three references required for the Ph.D. program when accepted will be required to obtain additional references. Otherwise, the original references can be used.

Doctor of Philosophy Degree

Study for the Ph.D. degree begins with the core courses intended to prepare students to carry out and publish independent scientific work. The core courses are PHYS 8110, 8150, 8210, 8410, 9510 and 9520. The core courses must be completed by the end of your second year, in parallel to scientific research PHYS 9910. Students are also required to take four advanced elective courses at the 8000–9000 levels. These courses must be selected in consultation with a student’s advisory committee and will form part of the student’s plan of study. These courses may be drawn from offerings in physics and astronomy, or from programs in related fields. The purpose of these electives is to provide a well-rounded physics education and additional coursework necessary for a student’s research area. Committees may require additional courses and/or professional development seminars, and students may want to take additional courses to support professional goals.

Our students come from diverse academic backgrounds. We thus administer a placement diagnostic exam to new students during orientation in August. This written exam covers four topics: classical mechanics, statistical mechanics, electromagnetism and quantum mechanics, and we will provide a question testbank to newly admitted students in early May. Based on a student’s performance on each topic, the student will either be required to take the relevant 6000-level courses before taking the core 8000/9000 level courses, or directly take the core courses. The purpose is to give students the best possible preparation for academic success in the core courses and your scientific research.

To apply for admission for candidacy, students must:

  • Score a minimum average GPA of 3.0 in the student’s six core courses.

  • Pass the comprehensive examination — an oral exam that must be taken before the end of a student’s sixth semester. The examination committee will probe the student’s understanding of the underlying physics of each student’s problem, knowledge of the literature in the field and the tractability of the problem posed.

At least three weeks prior to the graduation at which a student expects to receive the Ph.D. degree, a final oral examination — defense — on the dissertation must be successfully completed.

Medical Biophysics

mbio-leadphoto.jpgWhether you are an undergraduate student or are already employed in a health care field, Clemson’s Medical Biophysics Program creates a pathway to an exciting and rewarding future.

The graduate-level degrees in medical biophysics focus on understanding the interconnection between fundamental physics principles and complex biological and medical phenomena, and how the application of those principles can help solve biomedical challenges and provide better health outcomes for everyone.

Master of Science and doctorate degrees are offered. Learn more about the medical biophysics program.

Student in black shirt talking to camera while in science lab.

Why Choose Clemson?

Where Will Your Graduate Path Take You?

A degree in physics from the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson University can set you on your path to the future; where that path leads — from space exploration to a greater understanding of the subatomic world — is up to you. In this brief video, meet faculty and graduate students, and hear their stories about why Clemson’s program could be the perfect fit for you.

Watch the Video

Resources for Students

Current and Accepted Students

If you are a current graduate student, or have received acceptance to the graduate program, the following accordions offer information and resources that may be helpful.

  • Resources for Current Students

    Current graduate students may find the following links containing department and university policies helpful:

  • Information for Accepted Students

    After you have applied to Clemson, the status of your application for graduate study submitted through the Clemson University Graduate School can be checked online. If your status shows as accepted, this means you qualify for admission to the program. You will not officially be admitted to the graduate program until all final and official transcripts and test scores are received.

    If you are accepted

    After students are admitted, the Department of Physics and Astronomy makes all assistantship decisions. The Graduate School cannot tell you more about that status. It will typically take two more weeks before you receive official notification of an assistantship offer or if you are on the waiting list for an offer. If you are offered an assistantship, you must sign the letter and return it to accept the offer. All offers remain valid until April 15 (for admission to the fall semester) or Nov. 30 (for admission to the spring semester), after which they may be offered to other applicants. If you do not plan to accept our offer, please inform us as soon as possible so we may offer the position to another candidate. Note that fall classes begin in mid-August, and orientation for teaching assistants begins the first week of August. Plan to arrive in Clemson by the first day of orientation if you will be a teaching assistant for the fall semester. For the schedule for spring admissions, please contact the department.

  • Graduate Courses and Schedule

    Department of Physics and Astronomy core graduate courses are offered every year and are taken by the large majority of our students in preparation for the written qualifying exam.

    Fall term

    • PHYS 8110: Methods of Theoretical Physics I
    • PHYS 8210: Classical Mechanics I
    • PHYS 9510: Quantum Mechanics I

    Spring term

    • PHYS 8150: Statistical Thermodynamics I (cross-listed with Mech Eng)
    • PHYS 8410: Electrodynamics I
    • PHYS 9520: Quantum Mechanics II

    Our students also are required to take some electives, which can be from our department or (with permission of the student’s Ph.D. committee) from another department. We will offer these graduate electives on a two-year rotation beginning in the fall of 2020 (contingent upon sufficient demand).

    Fall 2022, 2024 and even years thereafter

    • ASTR 8300: Astrophysics 3: Galactic Astronomy *
    • PHYS 8180: Cellular Biophysics
    • PHYS 8250: Atmospheric Dynamics
    • PHYS 9530: Quantum Field Theory

    Spring 2023, 2025 and odd years thereafter

    • ASTR 8400: Astrophysics 4: Cosmology *
    • PHYS 8190: Computational Biophysics
    • PHYS 8260: Ionospheric Physics
    • PHYS 8510: Methods of Spectroscopy
    • PHYS 8550: Atomic Physics

    Fall 2023, 2025 and odd years thereafter

    • ASTR 8100: Astrophysics 1: Radiation Processes and Measurements *
    • PHYS 8170: Molecular Biophysics
    • PHYS 8270: Measurement Techniques in Aeronomy
    • PHYS 8450: Solid State Physics 1
    • PHYS 9660: General Relativity

    Spring 2022, 2024 and even years thereafter

    • ASTR 8200: Astrophysics 2: Stellar Astrophysics *
    • PHYS 8190: Computational Biophysics
    • PHYS 8280: Atmospheric Tides and Planetary Waves
    • PHYS 8460: Solid State Physics 2
    • PHYS 8550: Medical Physics

    * The astrophysics sequence can be taken in any order

  • Graduate School: Find Out More

    For general information about the Clemson University Graduate School, as well as the most current degree requirements and course listings, visit the Records and Registration page.

Prospective Students

The Clemson University Department of Physics and Astronomy offers programs of study leading to Master of Science and doctorate degrees. Each degree program has specific requirements in terms of coursework, student seminars, qualifying exams (doctorate only) and a thesis (Master of Science) or dissertation (doctorate) that presents the results of an original research project. Although it is possible to earn a doctorate without earning an master’s degree on the way, the most common path is for students pursuing a doctorate to earn the master’s degree along the way — en route, in graduate school parlance.

Graduate Student Financial Support

There are several types of financial support available for students in the graduate programs, including teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships. Each type of support is awarded to qualified students on a competitive basis. Continuation of all support is based upon satisfactory progress towards a degree.

Students in lab.Graduate teaching assistantships are the most common type of financial support for incoming graduate students. The duties usually involve teaching two to three undergraduate labs per semester and/or grading assignments for undergraduate courses. No specific teaching duties are assigned in summer, but students are expected, after their first year, to have found a research group in which they intend to work. For 2023–2024, teaching assistantships are expected to include a stipend of $24,500 for the academic year and include a waiver of tuition. Students may also earn more in the summer if working on a research project or teaching.

Graduate research assistantships are available to graduate students through research grants and contracts held by faculty members in the department. They are awarded based on availability and the qualifications of the recipients and may supplement or replace GTA funds.

Fellowships are awarded by the Clemson University Graduate School. Several are awarded. The department nominates candidates who compete with other nominees throughout the university. Fellowships require no explicit duties and allow for more time to concentrate on courses and research.

Department of Physics and Astronomy
Department of Physics and Astronomy | 118 Kinard Laboratory, Clemson, SC 29634