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Online PhD in Physics: Distance Learning Degree Overview

Research online physics doctoral degree programs. Find out what you can learn in these courses and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

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Essential Information

The hands-on research inherent in this field, combined with teaching requirements, means there can be no totally online doctoral programs in physics. Related online doctoral programs are available in different areas of engineering, such as mechanical engineering, that rely heavily on physics and physics concepts. A few universities offer some courses for doctoral programs in physics that students can access online as their schedules permit, within specific guidelines. Students can interact with classmates and instructors through e-mail and online message boards. Applicants may need a bachelor's degree in physics or a related field.

Students are generally required to work as teaching assistants for at least a semester in order to gain experience for future work and to learn more about their field. Students may have to pass periodic comprehensive exams in the field. Most of the time in a Ph.D. program is spent conducting original research and writing a dissertation. The student must pass an oral examination regarding the dissertation and its conclusions.

Ph.D. in Physics

Due to the highly advanced nature of the coursework present in a Ph.D. in Physics program, this degree program usually has to be completed on-campus. Some universities may offer a few select distance learning courses at the doctorate level. Students enrolled in a Physics Ph.D. program study such topics as astrophysics, biophysics, particle physics, chemical physics, accelerator physics and radiation physics.

Core studies usually include several courses in quantum theory and quantum mechanics, which may be offered online. Other core courses include analytical dynamics, electromagnetic theory, statistical mechanics and theoretical physics.

To be admitted to a Ph.D. program in physics, a student must have already received a bachelor's degree in physics or a related field. Also, students are usually required to pass a qualifying test in undergraduate physics before they are admitted into the graduate program.

Information and Requirements

Some schools require as much as 84 credits for graduation with a large portion of those hours coming from a doctoral thesis or dissertation research, which is required to complete the Ph.D. The dissertation is assessed by a doctoral committee which the student is also responsible for creating. This work must be done on-campus.

The few courses available online are generally accessed by using course management software such as Blackboard. These courses are usually asynchronous, which means that materials can be accessed and worked on at any time, day or night, as long as certain deadlines are met. The material is usually presented as streaming audio and video of lectures. Students interact with the instructor through e-mail and other students through discussion boards.

Common Courses

The courses taken to receive a Ph.D. in Physics consist of core physics courses, specialized electives and thesis research. Most classes must be taken on-campus; however, some universities offer the following courses in an online format.

Quantum Mechanics

The basic elements, theories and mechanics of atoms, molecules and other forms of matter are studied in this class. Students learn about topics such as angular momentum, light emission and absorption, electron spin and the reaction of particles to magnetic or electric fields. The relation of quantum mechanics to the other specific branches of physics is also discussed.

Radiation Biophysics

This course deals with the relationship between physics and certain biological processes and phenomena. Special attention is given to the effects of radiation on molecules and viruses. Graduates of this course possess skills involving radiation therapy and phototherapy as well as knowledge of how to protect against the adverse effects of radiation.

Beam Physics

Students become acquainted with the theories and designs of particle accelerators. Topics such as ion sources, transfer and element maps, Hamiltonian dynamics and beamline modules are studied. Current research areas in particle acceleration and beam physics are also discussed.


Career Information

Physicists with a Ph.D. can be employed by hospitals, the federal government and scientific research and development companies. Teaching at the postsecondary level is also a possibility. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May of 2015, 15,650 people were employed as physicists with a mean annual salary of $118,500 (www.bls.gov).

The BLS also reported that 14,310 people were employed as physics teachers at the postsecondary level with a mean annual salary of $93,950 (www.bls.gov) in 2015. Occupational growth for all related jobs is expected to be faster than average between the years 2014 and 2024 with an 8% growth rate for physicists and a 15% growth rate for postsecondary physics teachers (www.bls.gov).

Hybrid doctoral programs in physics combine online coursework with in-person research, and usually teaching requirements, to prepare students for careers as physicists or postsecondary educators. Students in these programs may take courses in things like quantum mechanics and beam physics.

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