Frequently Asked Questions

This is a page with excerpts from the Physics Graduate Student Handbook addressing frequently asked questions. We are also in the process of adding more original content. Please email us if you would like to contribute.

Class Requirements

What are the GPA requirements?

Maintaining graduate status includes paying fees, registering each quarter, maintaining an overall GPA of 3.0 and maintaining timelines set by the department and graduate division for obtaining a research advisor, advancing to candidacy, and graduation. Failure to maintain academic standards results in probation or dismissal; failure to pay fees and register (unless on approved leave of absence) results in lapse of status as a graduate student. Only work taken when in good standing as a graduate student may be counted toward a graduate degree.

What is the minimum number of units I can take?

For purposes of reporting graduate enrollment to UC Systemwide, 12 units is considered full time status. Since resources come to the campus based on the 12 unit formula, students are required to be enrolled for a minimum of 12 units each quarter. Students may not drop below 12 units. First year Ph.D.students must enroll in the course schedule suggested by the graduate advisor except in special circumstances. After the first quarter, the 12 units may be made up of core courses, other academic courses, 596 (Directed reading and research) or 599 units (thesis/dissertation research and preparation) as to maintain full-time status. All first year students must register for the Graduate Seminar course, Physics 260G, every quarter.

In very special circumstances, 8 units may be allowed. For more information, talk to the Staff Graduate Student Advisor, Jennifer Ferrar,

What is the maximum number of units I can take?

There is no upper limit on the number of units a graduate student may take in their graduate courses, but it is recommended that students not exceed 12 units per quarter when employed. It is advised that students (except those advanced to candidacy) take at least one 200-level course per quarter. Almost all the 500-level courses will be graded S/U only. There is no upper limit to the number of 500-level units students may take.

Can I take a leave of absence?

Continuous registration is expected of all graduate students. Leaves of Absence may be granted under special circumstances, and must be approved by the Faculty Graduate Advisor, prior top etitioning Graduate Division. Complete information on the types of leaves of absence and the ramifications of taking a leave will be found in the Graduate Division Student Handbook.

Advancing to candidacy

How long do I have to advance?

Physics graduate students must advance to candidacy by the end of Winter Quarter of their third year. Keep in mind that the objective of the advancement exam is not a measure of your research; the purpose is to determine whether you have gained sufficient knowledge of your particular field to begin research.

What do I have to do before the advancement exam?

Choose a committee: The committee should consist of three Physics faculty members: the research advisor who serves as committee chair, and two other faculty members, one of whom should be outside the student's area of research. In addition, a wiseperson will be assigned by the Department to be present at the exam. After these primary members, the student may choose to add additional members either from Physics or another department.

Synopsis: Students should be able to discuss the key questions that need to be addressed in their field and propose a possible line of research. To ensure that the student and the committee agree on what constitutes an acceptably broad definition of field, the student will submit a brief synopsis of his/her presentation at the time the exam is scheduled. The synopsis must be approved by both the chair of the committee and the wiseperson assigned to the exam.

Set a date and schedule a room.

Practice your talk -- possibly by giving a gradloquium.

Who is the wise person?

The wiseperson is present at every exam to ensure the appropriate level of difficulty. The wiseperson asks questions as any other committee member and advises the committee on how the student compares with others who have been examined. The wiseperson can require the exam to be redone if he/she feels that the exam does not conform to the guidelines given above.

What is the exam like?

Students should be able to discuss the key questions that need to be addressed in their field and propose a possible line of research.

Students will be evaluated on:

  1. whether the presentation addresses the underlying physics issues of the field and shows a reasonable understanding of the important problems;

  2. whether the student is able to respond adequately to questions from the committee. Students must do well in both areas in order to pass.

Howmuch does the exam cost?

$65 paid to the cashier office.

What else do I need to know?

When a Ph.D. candiddate completes his/her oral candidacy the Ph.D. form II is completed by the Staff Graduate Advisor and forwarded to the graduate division. If the student has registered for three consecutive quarters, has a GPA of at least 3.0 with no incompletes, takes the receipt for $65 from the cashier's office to the GradDiv office, then the student is formally advanced to candidacy.

Do I receive a masters after advancing to candidacy?

Yes, if you've completed the core requirements and a minimum of 36 units in graduate level physics, and you pay $20.You have to fill out a Graduate Student Petition When adding the MA upon advancing to candidacy, check the boxes for "adding MA" and "remain in Ph.D." Master's degree petitions must be accompanied by a letter of recommendation from the Department. Please inform the staff graduate advisor when petitioning for the MA degree.


Taxes: Tax information about fellowships, TA-ships, Student Loans is available in the physics handbook starting on page 41. Note that we are not tax professionals, so be sure to consult an IRS professional if you are unsure about your taxes.

What should I do if I have no idea how to file my taxes?

Begin by picking up your W2 form from your mailbox when it arrives (sometime before April 15th). Then, if your finances are relatively simple (i.e. you don't have many investments or other sources of income besides your TA or fellowship pay) the easiest way for you to complete your taxes may be for you to "efile", that is, use a web-based tax program that will literally interview you and file your taxes for you. For information about such programs, which are free or cheap to use if your income is low enough, see the section on free tax help below.

How can I get free tax help?

If you have an adjusted gross income of $52,000 or less (i.e. you are a typical grad student) you are eligible for the IRS's freefile program. For more information and a list of specific companies that offer this service, visit the IRS website. Note that many of the companies will let you do your federal filing for free but will still charge you for your state return, so read the terms and conditions carefully before you begin.

What sort of deductions may be available to me as a grad student?

When you are filing your taxes, you may be able to take certain deductions that can reduce the amount of taxes you are required to pay. The electronic filing programs linked to above will ask you which deductions you would like to take, so make sure to see if any apply. Some of the deductions that may be applicable to grads are the following. If you are a first year grad, or if you just moved, you may be able to deduct your moving expenses. Also, if you are a renter, you are eligible for a $60 deduction from your California state taxes. Finally, depending on your financial situation regarding fellowships, scholarships and student loans, you may also be eligible for an education related deduction.

Emergency Loans:

Due to the rather modest TA pay here at UCSB, the low number of TA appointments available over the summer or the timing of your paychecks (or any number of other reasons), you may find yourself in need of a loan. Fortunately, the UCSB financial aid office provides emergency loans to students in need (for a bit more info, see their website).

As an example of what you can expect, I (Miles Stoudenmire) took out a loan in August 2006 for about $1500 and had to pay it back in two payments over the next two months with about $12 interest.

A word of warning though: be aware that not all of the financial aid employees know that these loans exist. I was initially told that they didn't and had to talk to a few people to get mine. After that it was a straightforward process, though, and very easy to manage. Hopefully you won't ever need one of these but they con be a useful tool in a pinch!