Please note that this information is for current Ph.D. students
Though the physics department
officially considers the degree of Ph.D. to be the goal of all students
in the department, earning a master's degree is a worthwhile possibility.
There are two situations that can result in a physics master's
degree. An A.M. (Duke denotes "Master of Arts" in Latin - Artium
Magister) or M.S. (Master of Science) degree can be received after
successful completion of the preliminary exam. (see:
students leaving the department (or at least not intending to prelim) can
receive an A.M. or M.S. by an oral exam approved by a departmental
To receive a M.S. you must complete a thesis separate from your
dissertation and submit it to the Graduate School. Typically, students
who take a physics master's degree with their prelim take an A.M.. A
master's degree with a thesis is generally considered more valuable in
terms of academic employment, but a degree without a thesis is still
useful for industry jobs.
A rarely exercized alternative to obtaining a master's degree in physics
is that the Graduate School allows Ph.D. students to obtain a master's
degree in a related field with certain restrictions.
The most important restriction is that a Ph.D. student cannot earn two
master's degrees from Duke without paying for one of them. This means
that if you want to get a non-physics master's degree without paying for
the credit hours (approximately $60,000 in 2005) then you cannot take a
master's degree with your prelim.
Another important restriction
is that credits cannot "double count" - credits that count toward your
Ph.D. cannot be used for your master's degree. This is not as severe a
restriction as it seems since the core curriculum is considered to count
toward your potential physics master's degree, and not your Ph.D.. For
any master's degree, the Graduate School requires:
- A minimum of
30 units of credit registration, at least 24 of which must be graded.
Some programs require more graded units.
- 12 credits in the
major subject (6 in a minor subject are also required, but your Physics
courses should cover this)
- Continuous registration.
- A master's exam. In addition, many departments have further
requirements, such as a thesis or other formal written exercise.
If you decide to try for a non-physics master's degree, then officially
"permission to take concurrent master's and doctoral degrees, as well as
arrangements for the tuition owed for those degrees, must first be
obtained from the Dean of the Graduate School". Unofficially, you should
first follow these steps:
- Start by examining the graduate brochure (typically on-line) of the
department from which you are interested in receiving a master's degree.
You should be able to determine roughly how many additional courses you
will need to take (keeping in mind that you will be able to use many of
your relevant physics courses).
- Once you have a rough idea of what coursework you will have to do,
consult with your advisor - especially if you are on a research
assistantship, you don't want to take too much time from your research.
This is not as big a problem as it might seem since there is no charge for
classes taken by Duke Ph.D. students beyond their third year and typically
the non-physics master's degree will be in a field useful for your Ph.D.
research. Your advisor may even be able to suggest a master's advisor
in the department you have chosen or possibly a research topic.
- Approach the DGS of the department you have chosen and explain that
you are a physics Ph.D. student interested in a master's degree from their
department. He or she should be able to outline the exact course
requirements for a master's degree and may be able to suggest potential
advisors and committee members.
- Contact the DGS of the physics department. He or she must give
permission on behalf of the physics department for pursuing a master's
degree in a different department. Additionally, the physics DGS must help
you determine which physics courses may be counted toward your non-physics
- Now you should contact the Coordinator of Student Records at the
Graduate School (in 2005, this is Susan Williford -
firstname.lastname@example.org). You should be told to pick up a form from the
Graduate School that requests permission to study in a second
department. This form requires the
signatures of the DGS's in both departments. Additionally, a short,
written explanation of the academic relevance of the two programs of
study, along with your transcript, must be submitted to the
Dean of the
Graduate School with the form for approval.
Once you have approval from the Graduate School, you are free to find an
advisor, organize a three-member committee and begin research. Depending
upon the department you choose, you may have options similar to the
physics department about A.M. or M.S. degrees and writing a thesis.
Communicate regularly with the DGS in the other department to ensure that
you are fulfilling degree requirements and following their department's