Postgraduate Research in Physics

Physics has been taught at the University of Sydney for more than one hundred and forty years. The School of Physics has always been one of the largest and most active departments of physics in Australia and that is certainly true today.

The research degrees available in the School of Physics are Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master of Science (MSc) by research. Research degrees are offered in a wide range of experimental and theoretical research areas which are described in the School's Research Activities pages. You can also search a selection of current research opportunities at the University's Research Supervisor Connect webtool.

A suitable Supervisory team from within the School is appointed for each research student. Where candidates make substantial use of facilities outside the School (e.g. the Anglo-Australian Observatory, the Australia Telescope National Facility, or Teaching Hospital) an Auxillary Supervisor at the relevant institution will be appointed. Research project topics must be arranged between the candidate and the prospective supervisors before an application for admission is submitted.

Doctor of Philosophy

This is a research degree awarded for a thesis considered to be a substantially original contribution to the subject. Candidates are also required to attend two Honours courses with the approval of their Supervisor in the first three semesters of their candidature.

Master of Science (Research)

Candidates proceed by research and thesis and are also required to take one Honours lecture course with the approval of their Supervisor.

Coursework Requirement

updated February 2014
Coursework is an important part of the School’s postgraduate research program. PhD students must complete at least two courses (one for MSc). The objective is to supplement the specialised research training with broader knowledge in physics and/or with advanced skills required to be a practising scientist. Course completions are recorded in the School and are discussed in the Annual Progress Review. Students are strongly encouraged to complete coursework requirements within the first three semesters. Failure to complete course requirements can prevent a student from being able to submit their thesis.

Courses may be selected from postgraduate and Honours courses offered within the School of Physics, especially any postgraduate courses that provide rigorous PhD-level training. Relevant courses offered by other schools may also be taken, but this requires prior approval by email from the supervisory team, the , and the course convenor/lecturer. Formal enrolment at the University level is not required and you should not do so.

Courses should generally be at postgraduate or Honours level, although it is sometimes appropriate for Senior courses at the Advanced level to be counted if no equivalent higher-level course is available. A Senior (Advanced) course of 19-20 lectures will count as a half-course. The School’s Honours half-courses also count as a half-course towards the coursework requirement. Note also that a single course, even if unusually long, will not be counted as more than one postgraduate course.

All assessments must be completed satisfactorily (Credit or higher) in order for the course to be counted by the School. Exams may be done as take-home assignments, provided this is acceptable to the course convenor/lecturer. At the end of the semester, the course convenor/lecturer should report the result to the .

Workshops, summer/winter schools and discipline-specific training of at least two weeks duration will be counted as a half-course towards the coursework requirement. The course must include a robust and verifiable assessment process. This requires prior approval by email from the supervisory team, the , and the course convenor/lecturer. It is also subject to the condition that the student gives a talk on what has been learned to the research group (evidenced by an email from the Supervisor).

Higher Degree by Research

Please refer to the University of Sydney Higher Degree by Research Rule 2011 at the Policy Register website.

Admission Requirements
Before making an application for admission consult the Faculty of Science information on Applying for a Research Program.

PhD applicants should normally hold a three-year Bachelor's degree and a Masters degree, or a four-year Bachelor's degree with First Class Honours. In either case the candidate must have prior research experience at ~50% time for one year (e.g. an Honours project or Masters thesis).

MSc (Research) applicants should hold a Bachelor's degree with First or Second Class Honours from the University of Sydney or an equivalent qualification from another institution or an equivalent standard of knowledge.

Candidates will be assessed within the School of Physics on the basis of coursework achievement, research achievement, professional references, and scientific potential. Standardised tests such as the GRE are not required, but may be submitted in support of the application.

Applicants who are not sufficiently qualified to be accepted for a higher degree by research may be accepted for the Graduate Diploma in Science, which is equivalent to our 4th year Honours program. Students who achieve a satisfactory standard (overall grade of 80 or greater, equivalent to First Class Honours) in the Graduate Diploma may then apply for admission to a research degree.

English Language Requirements
Meeting the language requirement is relevant to international students and local students who do not have English as a first language. If you are a local student and you have already obtained a degree from a university where teaching is conducted in English, this requirement does not apply.

See the Faculty of Science Postgraduate English Language Requirements for details.

Progression in the PhD
The degree may be taken on either a full-time or part-time basis.

Part-time candidature may be approved for applicants who can demonstrate that they are engaged in an occupation or other activity which leaves them substantially free to pursue their candidature.

Probation and Annual Progress Reviews
The first year of a PhD is probationary. You need to demonstrate that you are capable of carrying out doctoral-level research at the University of Sydney and to satisfy any other probationary requirements set by your supervisor in order to move off probationary candidature. You will be required to complete a Probation Review Report form and attend an interview with two academic staff members.

Satisfactory evidence of achievement, research potential, evidence of scientific writing ability and a committed work ethic are assessed. This feedback is viewed as highly beneficial by postgraduate students and it is very rare that students do not satisfy probation conditions.

Each research student must complete an Annual Progress Report form and attend an interview with two academic staff members (NOT the student's Supervisor or Associate Supervisor). This process ensures that satisfactory progress is being made. It should not be the first point at which a supervisor and candidate discover there is a problem, and identification of difficulties on the form will not in itself resolve them.

Responsibilities of the Student

Please refer to the Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Students Policy 2013 for the full list of responsibilities.

It is the responsibility of students to maintain a professional relationship at all times with supervisors and other University staff.

At the commencement of the candidature:

  • Students must play an informed part in the process of the selection and appointment of supervisors.
  • Students are responsible for ensuring that they are correctly enrolled according to faculty and University requirements prior to commencing their degree program and throughout their candidature.
  • Students are responsible for ensuring that they comply with the requirements of any scholarship, external funding, sponsorship or other monetary provisions.
  • Students should take part in University or faculty or department orientation programs, and must take part in induction programs and workshops if directed by the supervisor, faculty or department. This may include attendance at workshops on safety and health procedures.
  • Students should familiarise themselves with the qualities and skills the University expects its graduates to have and must, with the assistance of their supervisors, prepare a plan for future skill acquisition as they proceed through their degree program. This will include undertaking a research training needs analysis at the beginning of, and during, their candidature, to identify specific areas in which development is required.
  • Students must undertake any coursework or other activities required by their supervisors or head of department.
  • Students must familiarise themselves with the Essential Resources for Postgraduate Research Students Policy 2012, to inform their discussions with their supervisors, department, faculty and the University about the resources that may be available to support their candidature.
  • Students may be expected to develop a research budget in consultation with their supervisors, and to seek information about relevant research funding schemes.

During the candidature:

  • Students are responsible for meeting the administrative requirements of their candidature. This includes but is not limited to planned leave, time away and re-enrolment.
  • Students must ensure that all administrative requirements of the faculty and the University, such as re-enrolment and Annual Progress Reviews are met.
  • Students must notify and negotiate any planned leave, time away or change in enrolment status with their supervisors, and follow appropriate faculty or University approval processes.
  • Students should make every effort to build and maintain satisfactory supervisory relationships.
    (i) establishing with their supervisors agreed methods of working;
    (ii) fulfilling their side of any agreement; and
    (iii) meeting regularly with their supervisors. In the probationary period of their candidature this should be at least fortnightly. As the candidature progresses different contact arrangements may be negotiated as appropriate.
  • Students must devote sufficient time to their research. Full time candidature requires at least the same time commitment as would full time professional employment in Australia.
  • Students should plan and execute the project within the time limits defined, taking into account the nature of the program (full time or part-time) and the milestones agreed with supervisors.
  • Students are expected to attend as agreed for consultation and provide evidence of progress made.

The research community:

  • Students should be aware of opportunities for meeting other researchers in the field and attend internal and external seminars, meetings and conferences.
  • Students should participate in the opportunities offered by the department to be part of that intellectual community. This includes taking part in activities of the faculty or department such as presentation of research at University seminars and conferences.

Thesis submission and examination:

  • Students must ensure that they allocate sufficient time to write up the thesis and to ascertain requirements for content, style and presentation. Students should consult the department about guidelines.
  • Students must give their supervisors three months notice of the expected submission date of the thesis, to allow for early nomination of examiners.
  • Students are responsible for the content, style and presentation, and for the production of, the thesis that is finally presented.
  • Students must comply with the requirements of the examination process including making any emendations, in consultation with the research supervisor or head of department, within all applicable time frames.
  • The student must submit a copy of the thesis with all required emendations to the faculty.
  • The student must submit with the thesis a statement certifying his or her understanding that, if the candidature is successful, the thesis will be lodged with the University Librarian and made available for immediate public use.

Responsibilities of Supervisors

Please refer to the Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Students Policy 2013 for the full list of responsibilities.

(1) Unless otherwise specified, the responsibilities described in the clause apply equally to each supervisor of a student.

(2) Where the supervisory team contains more than one research supervisor, each research supervisor must fulfil all of the responsibilities of research supervisors described in the clause.

(3) Supervisors must maintain a professional relationship with their students, other supervisors and other University staff.

(4) The supervisor’s primary role is to provide academic support and guidance throughout a candidature with the objective of enabling the student to achieve a high standard of research activity and output.

(5) In agreeing to inclusion on the Supervisor Register, the supervisor accepts the responsibilities set out in the clause.

Facilities for Research Students

All research students have access to computers and workstations which are networked to printers and the internet. There is a central mechanical workshop as well as facilities and support in most research groups for mechanical and electronic construction. Many research groups hold weekly seminars and during semester there is a weekly School of Physics Colloquium on Mondays at 3pm in Slade Lecture Theatre. Graduate students are encouraged and supported to attend local conferences and most have the opportunity to attend an international conference during their candidature.

Tuition, Fees and Scholarships

Tuition fees and course charges are levied on all students enrolling in a postgraduate research program. As described below, however, local (Australian) students are HECS exempt. The University of Sydney encourages all applicants who are eligible to undertake a PhD or Master's by research program to apply for a scholarship to cover tuition fees and/or a living allowance.

Local Students
The Research Training Scheme provides HECS exemptions for Commonwealth-funded higher degree by research (HDR) students for the duration of an accredited HDR course, up to a maximum of four years full-time equivalent study for a doctorate by research (including a professional doctorate which meets the research program criteria), and two years’ full-time equivalent study for a masters by research.

A variety of scholarships are available to local students in support of living expenses:

  • Candidates for research degrees with First Class Honours or equivalent can apply for an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) with a value of A$25,392 (in 2014) tenable at the University of Sydney. These are advertised in major newspapers and on the Research Scholarships website with a closing date of end October each year.
  • The University Postgraduate Award (UPA) may be awarded to candidates who fail to obtain an APA but are in other aspects acceptable for a higher degree. The precise conditions for award of these scholarships may change from year to year and no separate application is required.
  • School of Physics scholarships may be available for students who were not successful in obtaining an Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) or a University Postgraduate Award (UPA).
  • The School of Physics may also offer top-up and additional scholarships to successful VCRS, APA or UPA holders, subject to available funding. See the School of Physics Postgraduate Scholarships web page for further information and eligibility criteria.


International Students
Any student who is not an Australian or New Zealand citizen or a permanent resident of Australia is an international student.

Students coming to Australia on a student or temporary visa for postgraduate study in Physics are liable to pay tuition fees of AUS$39,100 per annum (2014 rate). While the School of Physics does not provide research assistant positions for international students, a variety of Scholarships for International Students exist (application closing dates vary).

The major international student scholarships - International Postgraduate Research Scholarships (IPRS) and University of Sydney International Scholarships (USydIS) have no separate application form. You may indicate your wish to be considered for these scholarships by indicating in the relevant section of the online Postgraduate Research Application form. The closing dates for these scholarships are:

  • 31 July to commence in the following March (semester 1)
  • 15 December to commence in the following July (semester 2)

The School of Physics may offer scholarships, subject to available funding, for students that applied but were unsuccessful for an International Postgraduate Research Scholarship (IPRS) or a University of Sydney International Scholarship (USydIS).

Thesis Writing and Submission

SUPRA produce the essential Thesis Guide for any student writing a long essay, dissertation or thesis at the University.

Students need to read the Faculty guidelines at least 2 months before thesis submission. The Faculty of Science are responsible for PhD and Masters by research examination arrangements. Thesis examination is confidential until an outcome is reached, at which time the Faculty will issue the student a letter. The average examination will take 3-4 months.

The Physics Office will require one permanently-bound copy of the final version for archiving. This is in addition to any number of final thesis copies your supervisor has requested.

Further Information

For further information about postgraduate study, contact Physics Student Services via email: