Department of Physics & Astronomy

Graduate Program


For general policies and procedures for graduate study at SFSU, see the Division of Graduate Studies website: https://grad.sfsu.edu

Physics/Astronomy Graduate Admission Director: Prof. Jeff Greensite

Physics Graduate Coordinator: Prof. Kristan Jensen


General Information

The department offers the Master of Science in Physics and the M.S. in Physics with a concentration in Astronomy. These programs serve students who seek advanced knowledge in physics or astronomy: for application in physics/astronomy related industries; for preparation to continue graduate work elsewhere towards the doctoral degree; for service as museum/planetarium docent or technical staff at a research institute; and for work leading to teaching credentials which require a master's degree.


Admission to Program

Ideal preparation for the graduate program includes a bachelor's degree in physics, astronomy/astrophysics, or related field with a 3.0 grade point average in the last 60 units of the undergraduate degree and a 3.0 in all physics, astronomy & math courses. Students with slightly lower GPAs may be admitted on a case-by-case basis, and will require a petition to and approval from the Graduate Division. Students with degrees other than physics, astronomy/astrophysics, or closely related fields are welcome to apply; such applicants, if admitted, will need to complete the core classes in the undergraduate curriculum before starting graduate course work.

Applications are due May 1 for a Fall start, or November 1 for a Spring start. Applicants are strongly encouraged to apply by May 1 for a Fall start. Applicants apply online at the Cal State Apply website: https://www2.calstate.edu/apply. Required application materials include:

  • (1) Transcripts from all previous institutions of higher education,
  • (2) Two letters of recommendation from instructors or advisors who know you well,
  • (3) General GRE Exam with Analytic Writing. Please have ETS send official scores to SFSU (school code: 4684). Note that the GRE Physics subject test is NOT required.

  • Costs, Financial Aid, Graduate Teaching & Research Assistantships

    For the most up-to-date information on tuition/fees and finacial aid, see the Division of Graduate Studies: https://grad.sfsu.edu/content/funding-your-education.

    For 2019-2020, tution per semester is $2,846 (for 6.0 units or less) and $4,352 (for 6.1 units or more). Non-residents of California and international students must pay an additional $396 per unit. For example, for a full-time student who is a California resident taking 8.0 units per semester, one full year of tuition is $8,704; for a full-time non-resident taking 8.0 units per semester, one full year of tuition & fees are $15,040. Students should expect to add $18,000-$24,000 per year for living expenses.

    There is very limited grant aid for graduate students. Financial aid is primarily in the form of loans. U.S. citizens (and certain eligible noncitizens) should file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by March 1.

    There are a very small number of scholarships available for graduate study. See the College of Science and Engineering Scholarship webpage here: https://cose.sfsu.edu/scholarships. See the Fellowship and Scholarship sections of the Division of Graduate Studies "Funding your Education" website: https://grad.sfsu.edu/content/funding-your-education.

    Within the Department of Physics & Astronomy, opportunities for Graduate Teaching Assistantships are relatively plentiful. A Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) can earn $2,715 per semester for teaching 1 laboratory section per week, and $5,430 for teaching two laboratory sections. In addition, GTAs receive an additional fellowship from the department: $1,000 for California residents and $2,000 for non-residents in each semester they teach (up to a maximum of 4 semesters). The workload for each lab is 2.5 hours per week for supervising the lab, 1.0 hour per week for a lab coordination meeting with fellow GTAs, 1.0 hour per week for leading a help session, 2.0 hours per week for grading, and 0.5 hour for general administration, for a total of 7.0 hours per week per lab. Note: for a student to be a GTA, they must be in good academic standing (not on academic probation) and have sufficient background knowledge to teach the lab (this will be determined by the physics and/or astronomy placement tests).

    Some faculty members may be able to hire graduate students as Graduate Research Assistants (GRA). However, this depends on whether a faculty member has budgeted for student support in their research grants. Students should directly contact individual faculty members about the possibility for GRA positions.


    Master Degree Requirements

    MASTER of SCIENCE in PHYSICS

    Group I: Core courses (15 units)

    PHYS 701: Classical Mechanics (3)
    PHYS 704: Electricity & Magnetism I (3)
    PHYS 706: Quantum Mechanics (3)
    PHYS 775: Statistical Physics (3)
    PHYS 785: Theoretical Physics (3)

    Group II: Graduate physics/astronomy electives (6 units)

    Elective graduate physics or astronomy courses with numbers in the range from PHYS 700-799 or ASTR 700-799 only.

    Group III: General electives (9 units)

    Advanced upper-division (numbered 400 and above) or graduate courses in physics, astronomy, or appropriately related subjects, selected after advisement and approved by the Graduate Coordinator. Note that up to a maximum of 6 units numbered 800-899 can count in this category.

    Group IV: Thesis and/or comprehensive oral examination

    PHYS 898: Master's Thesis (3) and Oral Defense of Thesis (units included in Group III)
    or
    PHYS 896EXM: Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination.

    Total Units: 30



    MASTER of SCIENCE in PHYSICS: Concentration in ASTRONOMY

    Group I: Core courses (12 units)

    PHYS 701: Classical Mechanics (3)
    ASTR 722: Radiative Processes and Gas Dynamics in Astrophysics (3)
    ASTR 742: Galaxies and Cosmology (3)
    ASTR 770: Observational Techniques in Astronomy Research (3)

    Group II: Graduate physics/astronomy electives (9 units)

    Elective graduate physics or astronomy courses with numbers in the range from PHYS 700-799 or ASTR 700-799 only.

    Group III: General electives (9 units)

    Advanced upper-division (numbered 400 and above) or graduate courses in physics, astronomy, or appropriately related subjects, selected after advisement and approved by the Graduate Coordinator. Note that up to a maximum of 6 units numbered 800-899 can count in this category.

    Group IV: Thesis and/or comprehensive oral examination

    PHYS 898: Master's Thesis (3) and Oral Defense of Thesis (units included in Group III)
    or
    PHYS 896EXM: Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination.

    Total Units: 30



    WRITING PROFICIENCY
    All graduate students must demonstrate two levels of writing proficiency:
    Level one proficiency is satisfied by one of the following: (a) a score of 4 or higher on the analytical writing portion of the GRE, OR (b) a passing grade in ASTR 340: The Big Bang.
    Level two proficiency is satisfied by one of the following: (a) a written M.S. thesis, OR (b) a significant piece of professional scientific writing (evaluated by the Graduate Coordinator).


    REQUIRED WRITTEN & ORAL EXAMINATIONS

    During their residence at SFSU, graduate students must demonstrate competence in physics and/or astronomy by taking a number of written and oral examinations:

  • 1. All incoming students must take a written placement test on undergraduate physics. Incoming astronomy students will also take a written placement test on undergraduate astronomy. These tests will not be graded; they will be used by the graduate coordinators to determine the optimum set of entry courses for each student, which could include beginning or mid-level undergraduate courses.
  • 2. Prior to taking any graduate courses numbered 700-799, all graduate students must achieve a satisfactory score on the Physics Major Field Test. While new graduate students may take graduate physics courses during their first semester with the department (in consultation with the graduate coordinator), they must pass this test before taking graduate courses in subsequent semesters. Tests taken more than six months prior to enrollment as a graduate student in the department do not fulfill this requirement.
  • 3. A final requirement is that all graduate students must perform satisfactorily on either Oral Defense of Master's Thesis OR Master's Comprehensive Oral Exam. These exams are administered by the student's Graduate Committee. The Oral Defense of Master's Thesis focuses not only on the Master's Thesis, but on all related physics and/or astronomy background material. To a lesser extend, the committe may test the student on any graduate coursework. The Master's Comprehensive Oral Examination covers all graduate coursework (including electives). If necessary, these exams may be repeated once, at the discretion of the committee, upon petition by the student.


  • Typical graduate student programs In truth, there is no such thing as a "typical" graduate student program. Diversity is the rule. So every graduate student takes a placement test upon arrival and must see the graduate coordinator before beginning his or her studies in order to work out a suitable program. Also, you should come by for repeat visits every semester, and whenever considering any major shifts in your planned program. The programs below, or samples, are intended to give you some idea how yours might look.

    An idealized graduate program for someone who does not need any remedial work before beginning graduate level courses and whose financial situation permits a 9-unit load might be:


    MS PHYSICS MS ASTRO
    FIRST FALL PHYS 785, PHYS 701, Elective PHYS 701, A 700 or A742,elective
    FIRST SPRING PHYS 704,PHYS 706,Research or elective A770 or A 722,Research or elective
    SECOND FALL PHYS 775, Elective, Research A 742 and/or Electives, Research
    SECOND SPRING PHYS 898 thesis or elective PHYS 898 thesis or elective

    For someone who has the same preparation but who can take only 6 units:

    FIRST FALL PHYS 785,PHYS 701 PHYS 701, A700 or A742
    FIRST SPRING PHYS 704, elective A 770 or A722, elective
    SECOND FALL PHYS 775,Research or elective A742 and/or Research or elective
    SECOND SPRING PHYS 706,Research or elective A 770 or A722, elective
    THIRD FALL PHYS 7xx,Research or elective PHYS 7xx,Research or elective
    THIRD SPRING PHYS 898 thesis,elective PHYS 898 thesis,elective

    Someone who essentially needs all of upper-division physics before beginning graduate study might precede the above program by:

    FIRST PRELIMINARY FALL PHYS 330, PHYS 385, MATH 376 PHYS 330, PHYS 385, MATH 376
    FIRST PRELIMINARY SPRING PHYS 360,PHYS 370,PHYS 430 PHYS 360,PHYS 370,PHYS 430
    NEXT FALL PHYS 460,PHYS 785,PHYS 701 PHYS 460, ASTR 700, PHYS 701

    Some (very successful) graduate students enter our program having had almost no college physics work previously. Their programs will necessarily involve more preliminary work before beginning even the "preliminary" semesters above.

    Students are expected to make steady progress toward their degree.  Students who are not making sufficient academic progress are subject to dismissal from the MS program. Satisfactory progress requires meeting all university requirements such as minimum grade point average (3.0), and either (a) passing at least two courses per year which are applicable toward MS course requirements or which the graduate advisor has prescribed, or (b) receiving a statement from the thesis advisor that satisfactory progress toward thesis completion is being made.



     

     

     

     

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