1. K-State home
  2. »Physics
  3. »Graduate
  4. »Current Graduate Students
  5. »Frequently Asked Questions

Department of Physics

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who is the graduate student advisor?

Mick O'Shea

One faculty member is selected by the Department Head to serve as the graduate student advisor. He/she advises each graduate student from the date of entrance to the time when the student chooses the Major professor who supervises the M.S. or Ph.D. research. After selection of the thesis problem, the student is advised by both the Major professor and graduate student advisor, the former providing guidance primarily in the area of specialty and the latter contributing broader advice on overall departmental requirements on courses and procedures for the graduate degree. Note that the student is required to consult with the graduate student advisor each semester before enrolling until the student has completed the core courses. See Section II of Graduate Program Guidelines.

How and when should I choose a major professor (research supervisor)?

The major professor is the person who will supervise your research work during your time at K-State. You should talk to several faculty in your field of interest before making a final decision. According to the physics department's Graduate Program Guidelines, this should be done by the end of the second semester in graduate school — for this requirement summer is not counted as a semester. Once this is done you should form your supervisory committee (see next question) and fill out the program of study as soon as possible.

What is a supervisory committee?

The student's supervisory committee has the responsibility for planning the program of study, advising the student (on classes, research and anything else pertaining to their graduate study), administering the oral preliminary examination, and ensuring that the student's doctoral program is of high quality. Note that the advising on class enrollment is done in collaboration with the graduate student advisor. A supervisory committee consists of a major professor (selected by the student) along with two (for MS) or three (for Ph.D.) other committee members. Note that for the Ph.D committee, one of the other committee members must be from outside the department. All must be members of the graduate faculty. One very important part of this process is the student's selection of the Major professor. Students are strongly encouraged to talk to several Professors in their general field of interest before making a decision. See Chapter 2, Section B (for MS) or Chapter 3, Section B (for Ph.D) of the Graduate Handbook.

How do I enroll?

All incoming graduate students on GTA and GRA stipends must enroll for 9 credit hours during the Fall and Spring of their first year of graduate study at K-State. In the second year and beyond the minimum drops to 6 hours if you are i) a terminal M.S. student or ii) a Ph.D. student who has completed Math Methods (PHYS 801). All GTAs and GRAs shall enroll in 3 credit hours during the summer semester.

If you have not completed the core courses you must meet with Dr. Mick O'Shea for academic advising. You need to enroll before the first day of class or you will be charged a late fee. Contact the office in CW119, office@phys.ksu.edu to have your academic advising flag raised. Enroll on-line through ISIS.

This is my last semester, how many hours do I need to enroll in?

If you are a GTA/GRA on a stipend and this is your last semester, the number of hours you need to enroll into is based on when you are terminating with the Department. If you plan to be here until approximately November 17 (Fall) or April 17 (Spring) you have to enroll into six hours. If you are leaving before these dates, please see Peggy.

What do I do if I have an Incomplete?

If you have an Incomplete (I) you must NOT enroll in the class again. The instructor who gave you the incomplete may require you to sit in on the class a second time (but not enroll in it), turn in late homework, turn in late papers, or repeat other parts of the class. It is your responsibility to i) understand what is required to remove the incomplete and ii) do the work on the timeline agreed to between you and the instructor.

The student has the responsibility to take the initiative in completing the work, and is expected to make up the incomplete during the first semester (enrolled) at the university after receiving the grade of “I”.

If after the end of the first semester, the Incomplete remains on the record it will be designated as an F for record-keeping purposes and will be computed in the student's GPA, weighted at 0 points per credit. A grade of Not Reported (NR) will be treated in a like manner using the designation F.

In the case where the class is only offered in certain semesters, the department can request the "I" be kept until it can be retaken.

Can I retake a class to improve my grade?

Yes, you can retake a class. However, you MUST be on probation, your grade in the course you wish to retake must be a C or lower, and it MUST be approved by your supervisory committee before you retake it.

The retake grade will always be used in computing the grade point average regardless of whether it is higher or lower than the original grade. A student may retake a course with subsequent removal of the prior grade only once for each course and for a total of two courses in a degree program.

When you retake a class you MUST do two things:

  1. Fill out a 'Request to Retake a Graduate Course'. [The deadline to file this request is the last day to drop a course without a Withdraw (W) being recorded in the semester the course is being retaken]. This form can be found in the Graduate School Forms section of the Graduate School website. You MUST do this in a timely manner. This will allow your new grade to replace your old grade in the calculation of your GPA. If you do not do this, your GPA will be calculated using both your old and your new grades. Note that since your supervisory committee must sign this form, you must find a Major Professor, fill out a 'program of study', which involves forming the Supervisory committee, and submit this Program of Study to the Graduate School before you submit your 'Request to Retake a Graduate Course' form.
  2. Enroll into the class.

This is discussed in more detail in the Graduate Handbook under Chapter 2, section E4 (for M.S.) and Chapter 3, section E4 (for Ph.D).

What is the structure of the K-State preliminary exams?

The exam is divided into two parts — a written departmental exam (DE) over topics in physics and an oral exam (PE).

The DE has five parts. One part for each of the areas: classical mechanics, classical electrodynamics, statistic mechanics, quantum mechanics and modern physics. The exams focus on a level of knowledge equivalent to a strong undergraduate preparation. Student must pass all five parts of the DE before they are allowed to move on and take the PE.

What is the purpose of the preliminary exam?

From the Graduate School Catalog: The preliminary exam is designed to test the student's breadth and depth of knowledge in the proposed field of specialization, as well as the student's ability to explore problems on the boundaries of knowledge. Satisfactory performance in the examination is an indication that the student is prepared to perform independent work toward the doctoral degree and results in the student being classified as a doctoral candidate, upon affirmative recommendation by the supervisory committee.

When do I have to take the preliminary written departmental exam (DE)?

Each student must take the DE by the beginning of his/her fourth semester in Graduate School in physics at Kansas State. Students are encouraged to take the exam earlier if they are prepared. Exceptions to this rule must be approved in writing prior to the examination by the department head and the department graduate student advisor. All five subjects must be taken on the first attempt. Any subjects not taken or failed on the first attempt must be passed the next time the DE is offered in order to continue as a Ph.D. student. In addition, if a student fails any part of the DE on the second attempt, he/she will receive no further GTA or GRA support beyond that semester or beyond completing a terminal M.S degree. See section VI. C. of the Graduate Program Guidelines for more details.

How often is the written departmental exam offered?

The written DE is given twice per year — at the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters. The Fall exam is in mid-August while the Spring exam is in mid-January.

When is the written departmental exam taken?

The written DE is typically taken before the beginning of the fall semester of the second year. All five parts must be passed separately. Everyone gets a second chance to pass any part of the exam they fail. Only the failed parts need be repeated.

Can I take the written departmental exam earlier than the beginning of my second year?

A student who wishes to take the DE early must discuss his/her reasons for feeling prepared with the graduate student advisor. After this discussion the student must present to the graduate student advisor a written statement which describes in detail the reasons for taking the exam early and include in that statement the student's understanding of the consequences of failure on the exam. The details must include a description of completed courses which are relevant to each exam, performance in those courses, and actions taken outside of formal classes to prepare for the exam. Then, the graduate student advisor and the department head will approve or deny the request. If the student disagrees with the decision, the departmental examination committee will serve as an appeals committee.

What kinds of problems are on the written departmental exam?

Exam problems are drawn from a set of questions which are made available to the students. Students have access to the set of questions, but do not know before the test is given which of the problems will appear on the exam. This link will take you to the most recent set of questions.

Suppose I am preparing for the DE and find a question which seems inappropriate. What should I do?

A student may feel that a question is written at a higher level than a strong undergraduate preparation, is impossible to work, poorly worded or very tricky. He/she should communicate that information to the chair of the departmental exam committee, Gary Wysin, at wysin@phys.ksu.edu. The information should be sent to the DE committee chair at least two weeks before the exam.

When will the questions be placed on the web?

The departmental exam committee has the responsibility to post the questions in a timely manner so that students will have sufficient opportunity to study them before the exam.

May I take fewer than five exams on my first try?

No, you must complete all parts of the exam on your first attempt. Failure to appear to complete a scheduled component of the exam will be counted as a failure on that part of the exam.

When do I retake any parts that I fail?

You must take all parts of the exam which you fail on the first attempt at the next time that the exam is offered.

May I discuss my performance on the exam with anyone?

Students may request to discuss any part of the exam with a member of the departmental exam committee. The chair of the committee will designate the member who will discuss the questions with the student and/or his/her advisor.

What are the consequences of failing any part of the exam twice?

Departmental rules state, "If a student fails any part of the DE on the second attempt, he/she will receive no further GTA or GRA support beyond that semester." Once support is removed for failure on the departmental exam it cannot be reinstated except by a vote of the full faculty. A student who has failed the exam twice may continue in our program without financial support but is encouraged to seek other career choices.

How many students fail the preliminary written departmental exam or leave K-State for other academic reasons?

Students must leave the program if they have exhausted all efforts to pass the DE or have failed to maintain a "B" average in course work for two consecutive semesters. This affects about one person every two years.

When do I have to take the preliminary oral exam?

Once the student has passed the written DE, chosen his/her supervisory committee, and filed a program of study with the Graduate School, the preliminary oral exam (PE) can be taken. The PE should be taken before the end of the eighth week of the semester following completion of these requirements. This exam should be completed by the end of the fifth semester. The supervisory committee determines the format of the PE. It is the student's responsibility to schedule the PE with the Graduate School at a time and place agreed upon by the student's committee. This exam should be scheduled with the Graduate School at least four weeks before the agreed upon date. See section VI. C. of Graduate Program Guidelines for more details.

Where do I get forms/instructions for the program of study, preliminary exam, committee change, etc.?

Graduate School, Fairchild Hall 102 or on-line at http://www.k-state.edu/grad/academics/forms/.