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Graduate Studies

Graduate Studies at UC Merced

Optics in the Sharping labThe mission of the Physics graduate program at UC Merced is to train our next generation of scientific leaders. Our graduates will be well prepared to conduct and communicate independent research at the knowledge frontier, advancing fundamental understanding of the world around us and using physics to solve important problems in society.

The expertise and perspectives required to address many important scientific and technological challenges, from renewable energy to advanced computation to human health, are not confined to single disciplines. Research in Physics graduate studies span the traditional disciplines of physics as well as related interdisciplinary areas. Emphasis areas include atomic, molecular and optical physics (AMO), condensed matter physics, materials physics, nanoscience, and energy science. Students work closely with one or more program faculty to identify, design, and carry out an independent research project that advances knowledge in the field.

You can learn more about graduate programs at UC Merced in our videos, new and older:

Why choose UC Merced?

UC Merced physics has a young, energetic, and approachable faculty who are committed to student success and building a supportive and collaborative culture in our department from the ground up. Our program has an emphasis on faculty and peer mentoring of graduate students, and the use of innovative teaching methods in the classroom. Our graduates go on to success in industry, national laboratories, academic postdocs, and teaching positions.

We welcome students from a variety of backgrounds, not only those on the traditional path of applying straight after the bachelor’s degree, but also students who started at a community college, are returning to school after some time working, or have taken other nonlinear paths.

As UC Merced is a Hispanic-serving institution where the majority of undergraduates are first-generation college students, we have a commitment to the success of underrepresented minorities and women in our department. We have a particularly high proportion of female faculty and graduate students, who participate in the Women in STEM group on campus. Physics leads or participates in several federally funded centers on campus to promote education, research, and training for underrepresented minorities: the Center for Cellular and Biomolecular Machines (NSF), the Merced nAnomaterials Center for Energy and Sensing (NASA), an NSF Research Traineeship program in Interdisciplinary Computational Graduate Education, and the Consortium for High-Energy Density Science (NNSA). Incoming students needing extra support can participate in the Graduate Division’s Competitive Edge Summer Bridge program.


We invite applications from students from all backgrounds, with a strong academic preparation in physics or a closely related discipline. Our PhD students come to Merced from our local area (Merced, Fresno), other parts of California and the US, and foreign countries such as Cuba, Iran, China, India, Nepal, and Cyprus.

See our graduate program online brochure and our listing in the AIP GradSchoolShopper. Look for UC Merced physics representatives at grad school fairs for events such as PhysCon, SACNAS, CUWiP (we will be a host site, 14-16 January 2022), and the APS March Meeting.

Graduate applications proceed through the Graduate Division of UC Merced. Information on application requirements (including GRE and TOEFL for international applicants) can be found at the Graduate Admissions website. There are no cutoffs scores for the GRE or physics GRE; these scores are taken into account along with the rest of the application materials in making admissions decisions. If the student's undergraduate education was taught in English, we can waive the TOEFL for admissions purposes, although upon arrival he/she will have to demonstrate English competence with the English Language Institute (on campus) for any TA appointment. Self-reported scores are sufficient for applying; if you are admitted, then official score reports will be needed. Your statement of purpose should be approximately two pages in length, and discuss why you wish to enter our PhD program, what your research interests are, who of our faculty you are interested in working with, any previous research experience, and what your career plans for the future are. Submission of work from previous research (e.g. articles or masters thesis) is optional but encouraged. For recommendation letters, if you have done a masters degree and/or performed research, please be sure to have at least one reference pertaining to those experiences.

PRIORITY DEADLINE: December 15, 2020 (applications will receive priority review)
GENERAL DEADLINE: January 15, 2021 (applications reviewed after the priority deadline)

Application fee (or waiver form) must be submitted by the application deadline as well. Any late applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis if space is available. Please email the admissions chair if you apply after Jan. 15. Admissions decisions will be sent out on a rolling basis starting in January. Accepted students' decision whether to enroll is due April 15.

Prospective graduate students are encouraged to contact individual faculty members to discuss their research interests and see whether they are taking new students; however, admission is not to a specific research group but to the PhD program as a whole. To receive general information about UC Merced graduate studies, you can submit your contact details here.

Application fee waivers are available automatically to participants in programs such as Cal-Bridge, UC LEADS, California Alliance for Minority Participation, LSAMP, AISES, and SACNAS (see application for full list). A limited number of waivers are also available to other qualified applicants with financial hardship -- please contact the admissions chair as soon as possible to request, providing GRE scores, TOEFL/IELTS if applicable, GPA, and brief statement of research interests.

The general GRE and physics GRE are required generally, but for applications for fall 2021, general and physics GRE scores are not required, given difficulties students may have in taking the exams during COVID-19. Applicants may optionally submit these scores if they have them and think they will strengthen the application, but we expect to receive and accept many applications without the test scores.
Typical funding level for students on TA, GSR, or fellowship is around $27,000 per year. All PhD students receive 5 years of guaranteed funding including waiver of tuition and fees. As part of the admissions process, the committee will nominate qualified students for internal UC Merced fellowships. Students are encouraged to apply also for relevant external fellowships. While the M.S. degree is offered, admission normally is granted only to students who intend to pursue a Physics Ph.D; M.S. students are not guaranteed funding support.
Spring admission is available only under special circumstances. If you are re-applying, please be sure to describe in your statements what is new in your experiences or credentials. 


Physics program learning outcomes

Graduates of the Physics Ph.D. program will:

  1. Possess a broad foundation in the fundamentals of physics and a deep understanding of their chosen subfield, which will permit them to understand and critically evaluate current research.
  2. Have the experimental, theoretical, and/or computational skills necessary to conduct and lead independent responsible research and contribute to knowledge in their chosen subfield.
  3. Identify new research opportunities, which may cross traditional discipline boundaries, plan effective strategies for pursuing these opportunities and conduct research that makes a new contribution to knowledge in their chosen subfield of physics and solve important problems in society.
  4. Communicate both fundamental concepts of physics and details of their own research effectively, in written and oral form, including in a classroom setting to expert and non-expert audiences. This includes the publication of original research results in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

Graduates of the Physics master's program will:

  1. Possess a broad foundation in the fundamentals of physics and a deep understanding of their chosen subfield, which will permit them to understand and critically evaluate current research.
  2. Be proficient in professional skills necessary to lead a productive career in physics or a related career
  3. Communicate both fundamental concepts of physics and details of their own research effectively, in written and oral form, to expert and non-expert audiences.

View the Physics digital brochure

To apply, visit the UC Merced Graduate Division website.