Skip to main content Skip to secondary navigation

Ph.D. program

The Applied Physics Department offers a Ph.D. degree program; see Admissions Overview for how to apply.  

The Ph.D. is conferred upon candidates who have demonstrated substantial scholarship and the ability to conduct independent research and analysis in applied physics. Through completion of advanced coursework and rigorous skills training, the doctoral program prepares students to make original contributions to the knowledge of applied physics and to interpret and present the results of such research.  The specific departmental requirements for the Ph.D. degree include the following, which are also discussed in the Stanford Bulletin:

1. Courses. Current listings of Applied Physics (and Physics) courses are available via Explore Courses. Courses are available in Physics and Mathematics to overcome deficiencies, if any, in undergraduate preparation. It is expected the specific course requirements are completed by the end of the 3rd year at Stanford.

Required Basic Graduate Courses.  30 units (quarter hours) including:

  1. Basic graduate courses in advanced mechanics, statistical physics, electrodynamics, quantum mechanics, and an advanced laboratory course. In cases where students feel they have already covered the materials in one of the required basic graduate courses, a petition for waiver of the course may be submitted and is subject to approval by a faculty committee.
  2. 18 units of advanced coursework in science and/or engineering to fit the particular interests of the individual student. Such courses typically are in Applied Physics, Physics, or Electrical Engineering, but courses may also be taken in other departments, e.g., Biology, Materials Science and Engineering, Mathematics, Chemistry. The purpose of this requirement is to provide training in a specialized field of research and to encourage students to cover material beyond their own special research interests.​

Required Additional Courses.  Additional courses needed to meet the minimum residency requirement of 135 units of completed course work. Directed study and research units as well as 1-unit seminar courses can be included. Courses are sometimes given on special topics, and there are several seminars that meet weekly to discuss current research activities at Stanford and elsewhere. All graduate students are encouraged to participate in the special topics courses and seminars. A limited number of courses are offered during the Summer Quarter. Most students stay in residence during the summer and engage in independent study or research programs.

The list of the PhD degree core coursework is listed in the bulletin here:

2. Ph.D. Candidacy Review.  This is required by the end of the 6th quarter of registration at Stanford, excluding summer quarters. The review consists of a seminar given by the candidate on a suitable physics or technical topic as well as questioning by a departmental faculty committee on that topic and related material. The purpose of the examination is to demonstrate a broad competence in physics. The candidate’s academic and research performance at Stanford is also reviewed.

3. Dissertation Research.  Research is frequently supervised by an Applied Physics faculty member, but an approved program of research may be supervised by a faculty member from another department.

4. Research Progress Report.  Students give an oral research progress report to their dissertation reading committee during the winter quarter of the 4th year.

5. Dissertation.

6. University Oral Examination.  The examination includes a public seminar in defense of the dissertation and questioning by a faculty committee on the research and related fields.

Most students continue their studies and research during the summer quarter, principally in independent study projects or dissertation research. The length of time required for the completion of the dissertation depends upon the student and upon the dissertation advisor. In addition, the University residency requirement of 135 graded units must be met.

Rotation Program

We offer an optional rotation program for 1st-year Ph.D. students where students may spend one quarter (10 weeks) each in up to three research groups in the first year. This helps students gain research experience and exposure to various labs, fields, and/or projects before determining a permanent group to complete their dissertation work. 


Sponsoring faculty members may be in the Applied Physics department, SLAC, or any other science or engineering department, as long as they are members of the Academic Council (including all tenure-line faculty). Rotations are optional and students may join a group without the rotation system by making an arrangement directly with the faculty advisor. 

During the first year, research assistantships (RAs) are fully funded by the department for the fall quarter; in the winter and spring quarters, RAs are funded 50/50 by the department and the research group hosting the student. RAs after the third quarter are, in general, not subsidized by the rotation program or the department and should be arranged directly by the student with their research advisor.

How to arrange a rotation

Rotation positions in faculty members’ groups are secured by the student by directly contacting and coordinating with faculty some time between the student’s acceptance into the Ph.D. program and the start of the rotation quarter. It is recommended that the student’s fall quarter rotation be finalized no later than Orientation Week before the academic year begins. A rotation with a different faculty member can be arranged for the subsequent quarters at any time. Most students join a permanent lab by the spring quarter of their first year after one or two rotations. 
When coordinating a rotation, the student and the sponsoring faculty should discuss expectations for the rotation (e.g. project timeline or deliverables) and the availability of continued funding and permanent positions in the group. It is very important that the student and the faculty advisor have a clear understanding about expectations going forward.

What do current students say about rotations?

Advice from current AP students

Setting up a rotation:
  • If you have a specific professor or group in mind, you should contact them as early as possible, as they may have a limited number of rotation spots.
  • You can prepare a 1-page CV or resume to send to professors to summarize your research experiences and interest.
  • Try to tour the lab/working areas, talk to senior graduate students, or attend group meeting to get a feel for how the group operates.
  • If you don't receive a response from a professor, you can send a polite reminder, stop by their office, or contact their administrative assistant. If you receive a negative response, you shouldn't take it personally as rotation availability can depend year-to-year on funding and personnel availability.
  • Don't feel limited to subfields that you have prior experience in. Rotations are for learning and for discovering what type of work and work environment suit you best, and you will have several years to develop into a fully-formed researcher!
You and your rotation advisor should coordinate early on about things like: 
  • What project will you be working on and who will you be working with?
  • What resources (e.g. equipment access and training, coursework) will you need to enable this work?
  • How closely will you work with other members of the group? 
  • How frequently will you and your rotation advisor meet?
  • What other obligations (e.g. coursework, TAing) are you balancing alongside research?
  • How will your progress be evaluated?
  • Is there funding available to support you and this project beyond the rotation quarter?
  • Will the rotation advisor take on new students into the group in the quarter following the rotation?
About a month before the end of the quarter, you should have a conversation with your advisor about things like:
  • Will you remain in the current group or will you rotate elsewhere?
  • If you choose to rotate elsewhere, does the option remain open to return to the present group later?
  • If you choose to rotate elsewhere, will another rotation student be taken on for the same project?
  • You don't have to rotate just for the sake of rotating! If you've found a group that suits you well in many aspects, it makes sense to continue your research momentum with that group.

Application process

View Admissions Overview

View the Required Online Ph.D. Program Application

Contact the Applied Physics Department Office at if additional information on any of the above is needed.