Doctor of Philosophy - Physics

The purpose of the Physics M.S. and Ph.D. degrees are to prepare students for a career in Physics Research or in education at the university level. The program achieves this with a custom program for each student set up by their advisor and their advising committee. At the M.S. level students will learn to formulate, conduct and report on research, and in the case of Ph.D. the students will be able to conduct these steps independently.

Learning Objectives

  • Understand electromagnetic theory at the graduate level.
  • Understand quantum theory at the graduate level.
  • Understand mathematical methods for physics at the graduate level.
  • Understand statistical physics at the graduate level.
  • Perform an original research project at the doctoral level.
  • Communicate scientific topics to a scientific audience.
  • Possess strong background of knowledge in physics and mathematics.
  • Solve doctoral-level problems in physics.
  • Communicate the critical importance of physics in society.
  • Possess the confidence and ability to be an independent thinker.

Career Information

Students who obtain the Doctor of Philosophy in Physics typically develop critical skills that are very beneficial to a wide array of professions. Such skills include but are not limited to: data analysis, computer modeling, data measurement, high technology awareness/familiarity/expertise, ability to conduct independent scholarship/experimentation, leadership, writing/communication proficiency, mathematical expertise, creativity (“thinking outside of the box”) and critical thinking/analytical reasoning. The level of skills will depend on the nature of the Ph.D. thesis project (e.g. experimental or theoretical) but in general, physicists are considered to be deep thinkers and problem solvers. They are thus aggressively sought out for high-level jobs in many areas of human endeavor. As the bedrock of all science, mastery in physics (which by necessity includes mastery in mathematics) gives students confidence and ability to solve a wide variety of problems that are critically and widely relevant to society.

Soon after obtaining their Ph.D., many physicists first seek postdoctoral positions - particularly for those wishing to engage in research for their careers to garner more experience and develop their research interests/directions. After this experience, Ph.D.-level physicists typically obtain faculty positions (visiting professor, professor in residence, assistance, associate and full professor) in academic/degree-granting institutions (private and public universities with graduate level degree programs, four year colleges, professional schools and community colleges). These faculty positions are typically offered by physics departments but physicists can also be hired by chemistry, geology, materials science, atmospheric science, applied math, history of science, engineering, medical physics, and biology departments depending on their particular thesis project/field of expertise. Physicists may also teach in K-12 educational institutions (public and private) with additional teaching certification.

Physicists with Ph.D.s frequently obtain positions in national laboratories (operated by the Department of Energy, NASA, and also Department of Defense) directing and conducting research projects associated with national security (weapons research), energy (e.g. nuclear and renewable energy and battery research), climate change, and many other areas of national interest.

Physicists are often hired by private companies in research- and leadership- based positions, many of which are technology-based (e.g. Raytheon and Tesla). Many of today’s technological innovations that drive our economy (e.g. the transistor, laser, x-ray machines, NMR/MRI, CCD cameras, microwave ovens, etc.) were developed by physicists who in many cases founded companies creating these technologies.

Many physicists have been hired by financial firms due to their proficiency in data analysis and market modeling/prediction.

Recent graduates from the UNLV Ph.D. program in physics have obtained tenure track faculty positions in four year colleges, postdoctoral and technical staff member positions at NSTEC, Pacific Northwest Laboratory, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. Some have become senior scientists at private companies such as Acton Research.