Doctoral Programs

The Northwestern University Department of Physics and Astronomy conducts research in astrophysics, atomic and molecular physics, biophysics, complex systems, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, and particle physics. First-year students are typically supported by 12-month fellowships which give them great flexibility in choosing their research specialty. Many groups offer support to students who wish to begin research in the summer before their first year. Our department is particularly strong in multi-disciplinary research, with joint faculty in Materials Science, Chemistry, and Electrical Engineering, and strong ties to both Argonne National Laboratory and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Students in certain areas may have the opportunity to spend significant amounts of time at off-campus facilities such as CERN or at astronomical observatories around the world.

We offer two different PhD degrees designed to best train students in their chosen discipline. For most branches of physics, students should enroll in the Physics PhD. Students interested in astronomy or astrophysics may instead apply for the Astronomy PhD.

Physics PhD students must pass a set of three written qualifying exams (quals) to demonstrate a good knowledge of basic graduate-level physics as covered in the first year of courses. Astronomy PhD students must pass an oral qualifier to demonstrate a broad knowledge of graduate-level astronomy covered during their first year. One or two years later, students stand for a candidacy exam, in which they demonstrate understanding of a likely PhD topic and are able to defend a plan for research toward the PhD. Although a Northwestern Master's degree can be requested after fulfilling the basic requirements of the PhD track, the vast majority of our incoming students continue on to earn their PhD.