Graduate Program Frequently Asked Questions
Last Updated: April 9, 2022
What financial support is available for physics graduate students at MSU?
With very few exceptions, the vast majority of our graduate students are supported through a graduate research assistantship (GRA) or a graduate teaching assistantship (GTA). The appointments are made on a per semester basis (fall, spring, and summer).
For GTA appointments, the department typically has more GTA openings than graduate students during the Fall and Spring semesters, making GTA appointments readily available. During the summer semester, GTA appointments are more limited, and may not be available for graduate students who are beyond their first year. The monthly stipend amount for GTA appointments is fixed at the beginning of each academic year.
GRA appointments are awareded at the discretion of individual faculty members and research group leaders and are contingent upon grant funding. The monthly stipend amount for GRA appointments is decided by the faculty member/research group leader, and is typically slightly higher than that of a GTA appointment.
What additional support is there for students with kids?
The department does not offer additional support for graduate students with children. Specific housing resources are made available to families through the family and graduate housing program on campus.
Are future GTA or GRA appointments contingent upon the performance in the first year?
Yes. It is rare that appointments are not renewed, but in the case of unacceptable performance or highly disruptive behavior, the department may choose to not make any additional GTA or GRA appointments to a graduate student.
Are graduate students responsible for paying tuition?
No! All GTA and GRA appointments cover tuition costs for in-state, out-of-state, and international students.
Are graduate students responsible for paying fees?
Unfortunately, yes. The department has no control over student fees. The current fee schedule for graduate students can be found on Montana State University's Expenses page.
Note: At the discretion of individual adivisers and if grant funding is available and permits, GRA appointments may cover fees. (2) Significant savings in fees can be achieved by limiting your enrollment to six credit hours per semester.
Do GTA or GRA appointments cover health insurance?
GTA appointments do not cover health insurance. GRA appointments may cover health insurance at the discretion of individual advisers and if funding is available.
Graduate students are required to have health insurance by Montana State University. However, the health insurance offered by the university is not the only option for graduate students, and often more attractive options can be found on healthcare.gov. Every year, we outline the current health insurance options for first-year graduate students during our virtual visit day. Please refer to the presentation from our most recent virtual visit day (accesed from our prospective students page) for more information on current health insurance offerings.
Graduate Program of Study (i.e., courses)
Can physics graduate students take courses outside of the physics department and receive credit towards their graduate degree?
Yes. Many relevant courses are possible to include in your program of study for your degree. Many of our students take courses from the materials science, computer science, chemistry, electrical engineering, and mathematics programs at Montana State.
Can a graduate student enroll in or audit undergraduate physics classes to solidify their understanding of a subject?
Yes. In the first year especially, we encourage our graduate students to enroll in (or audit) our upper-division physics courses, if they feel that they are unprepared for the graduate level courses.
Ph.D. and Masters Examinations
What is the format of the qualifying exam?
More information and prior qualifying exams can be found on the qualifying exam web page.
Can a student pass out of a subject on the qualifying exam by doing well in the corresponding graduate level course?
No. All students are required to take and pass the qualifying exam to earn a graduate degree.
Research and Finding a Research Group
What is the process for finding a Ph.D. adviser and joining a research group?
We do not have a set lab rotation program for our graduate students. In the summer before, and in the first and second semesters of their studies, we expect first year students to meet with the leaders of the research groups that they are interested in joining. The meetings should include a discussion of the interests of the students, the interest and activities of the research group, and the availability of openings.
During the second semester, first year graduate students will also attend a research seminar where they can learn about the research activities of all of the professors in our department.
Graduate Student Well-being
What resources are available for graduate student mental health and general well-being?
Our department strives to maintain a welcoming and supportive community for students, faculty, and staff. Several professors have open door policies to discuss anything one-on-one with graduate students, and the department head holds townhall meetings at least once a semester to discuss open issues with our graduate students.
In addition, the Graduate School at Montana State Unviersity offers a comprehensive list of support services that are available to all graduate students at MSU.