Thesis Work

Thesis work begins after completion of the five required courses for Master's students, or after completion of the eight required courses and passing of the Ph.D. Comprehensive and Oral Qualifying Exams for Ph.D. students. While research work is being completed, students register for Physics 999 (Ph.D. thesis work) or Physics 899 (Master's thesis work).

Master's students are allowed six credits maximum under Physics 899 for their career at UNH. However, if your thesis takes longer than this, you can sign up for Master's Continuing Research, which provides automatic full time status but carries no credits. This is an option only if all of your coursework is completed. Part time students who need to take time off may sign up for Master's Continuous Registration, which carries zero credits, but which will allow you to continue to be officially a matriculated student.

The Thesis Advisor and the student together develop a proposed thesis project. Because a thesis will be a genuine research project, changes of the scope may occur during the work on the project. However, the scope of the study should only be extended in agreement with the student and the Thesis Committee. The student should feel free to suggest shifts of the scope.

The expected duration of a thesis varies from topic to topic and may depend on the accessibility of major experimental hardware during the project and available resources. If unduly long delays arise from problems with the availability of resources, the Thesis Advisor shall explore alternate scopes of the thesis with the student to allow completion of the thesis within a reasonable time period. A reasonable time period for a Master's Thesis is 2-3 years, and for a Ph.D. thesis is 5-7 years (this is total time including course work). These times are not hard cutoffs, but serve as warnings to the student and Thesis Committee.

Thesis Committee

The purpose of a Thesis Committee is to oversee the progress of the thesis work and to propose changes to the scope of the work, if appropriate. The student may seek advice from any member of the Thesis Committee with regard to thesis related questions. The Thesis Committee conducts the thesis defense.

Members of the Thesis Committee (five for a Ph.D. thesis or three for a Master's thesis) are selected by the student and the Thesis Advisor after the thesis topic is selected. The Thesis Advisor is always on the committee. Usually three faculty members are in a research field closely related to the thesis work, while one of the faculty members should be selected from a different field. At least one non-advisor member of the graduate student’s thesis committee should be a tenured faculty member of the Physics and Astronomy department. In the case of an interdisciplinary thesis, faculty from other Departments of the University may be included in the Committee. If collaboration with an outside research institution is a vital part of the thesis work, an external scientist may be added to the Committee on request of the student or Thesis Advisor. In such a case, the scientific reputation of the external researcher must be documented by a Curriculum Vitae and publication list.

It is suggested that the student ask the faculty members who are chosen to see if they are willing to serve on the Thesis Committee. A brief outline of the thesis project should be given to help the prospective committee member make an informed decision whether to serve on the Thesis Committee.

As soon as the Thesis Committee has been formed, the student should obtain the correct form from the Physics Office. This form is to be completed and returned to the Physics Office, after which the Dean of the Graduate School will formally appoint the Thesis Committee.

Qualifying Exams

Students first take a Comprehensive Exam, which is based on the full array of undergraduate material. Following this, the selection of a research advisor and a thesis committee, a full thesis proposal is developed and an Oral Exam is taken to defend the proposal. The Thesis Committee also serves as the Oral Exam Committee. Once a student has passed both the Comprehensive and the Oral Qualifying Exams and taken the basic eight required courses, the student is advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. More information about the exams is included in the separate section on Ph.D. Exams. The Qualifying Exams are not required for Master's students.

Progress Reports

The student should keep members of the Thesis Committee informed about the progress of his/her research. The first meeting should be within six months after finding a Ph.D. advisor. Subsequent meetings are typically in February or March every year. The Physics Office will notify students each year that it is time to give their progress reports. It is then the student's responsibility to present a progress report at an informal meeting with the Thesis Committee. The committee will give additional guidance for further work and discuss any appropriate changes in scope with the student and the Thesis Advisor.


If the student has any problems or complaints during the work on the thesis, he/she may seek advice from any member of the Thesis Committee and the Graduate Advisor of the Department.

Completion of a Thesis

When the research project is completed, the candidate will write a thesis and submit a draft to the Thesis Committee. A final copy of the thesis is to be submitted to the Graduate School. The student should get current information from the Graduate School on the form the thesis should be in and number of copies required before writing of the thesis begins.

The last requirement before submission of the final thesis is to present a thesis defense in a department seminar. This seminar is open to the public. In general, the candidate will present an oral overview of the thesis for 40-50 minutes, which will be followed by questions from the Committee and other members of the audience. The audience will be asked to leave and The Thesis Committee will continue to discuss the work with the candidate for about an hour. The Committee will then ask the candidate to leave in order to discuss the merits of the thesis and the defense, and will then advise the candidate of the result.

The last date a thesis defense may be scheduled is typically four weeks before the end of classes, but may vary from semester to semester. It is announced every year in the academic calendar of the university. To allow adequate time for reading the thesis by the committee members and the necessary preparation of the defense, the candidate should plan for completion of the thesis one month before the planned date of the defense.

Intent to Graduate

Students must file an "intent to graduate" form at the Registrar's Office during the semester in which they expect to graduate. This form must be filed early in the semester in order to avoid a late fee. Students sometimes do not know whether they will graduate in a given semester. However, you are allowed to file the form and not graduate, while it is impossible to graduate if the form has not been filed.

Time Limits

There are both minimum and maximum time limits on study at UNH. Master's students must spend at least one year on course work, but no more than six. Full time Master's students should expect to take two or three years. Ph.D. students must spend at least three years at UNH, but no more than eight (or seven if they arrived with a Master's degree in Physics). Full time Ph.D. students should expect to take five to seven years.

Changing Degree Status

Students can switch from Master's to Ph.D. or from Ph.D. to Master's. For matriculated students this can be done simply by filling out the appropriate form from the Graduate Office. However, students who switch to a Ph.D. after receiving their Master's must reapply to the graduate school in order to switch. Since the graduate school has your grade transcripts already, you only need to get three letters of reference to apply for Ph.D. status.

Ph.D. Comprehensive and Oral Qualifying Exams

Once a student has passed both the Comprehensive and Oral Qualifying Exams and taken the basic eight required courses, the student is advanced to Ph.D. candidacy. Master's students do not take the Qualifying Exams.