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Graduate Studies

Optics in the Sharping labGraduate Recruitment Webinars

We hold Zoom webinars in the fall for prospective graduate students, to present some information about the graduate program and answer your questions about the program and the application process. These were on Oct. 19 and Nov. 3, 2023. Check our slides presented at the meeting. You can also check out our webinar recording from last year, and general information webinars about graduate studies at UC Merced.

Admission Information

See detailed requirements and how to apply here.

Here is some general advice about applying to US grad schools in physics from David Wittman at UC Davis, and there is some valuable general advice in the Cal-Bridge grad school handbook.


The 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 our physics graduate program spans the traditional disciplines of physics as well as related interdisciplinary areas. Emphasis areas include atomic, molecular and optical physics (AMO), condensed matter physics, biophysics, soft-matter physics, materials physics, astrophysics and astronomy, 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 the physics Ph.D. program at UC Merced in our video:

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 been accepted as a partnership institution of the APS Bridge Program, after a vetting process to determine whether a graduate program demonstrates the best practices of supportive environments for prospective Bridge students. 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), NIH G-RISE Interdisciplinary Biomedical Science and Technology Program (I-BioSTeP), NSF Research Traineeship program in Convergence of Nano-engineered Devices for Environmental and Sustainable Applications (CONDESA), and the Consortium for High-Energy Density Science (NNSA).

Incoming domestic students (and international students with a visa already) can participate in the Graduate Division’s Competitive Edge Summer Bridge program, which provides a stipend, an opportunity to get started in a research group, and professional development workshops (see 2024 schedule).

Prospective Graduate Students

We invite applications from students from all backgrounds, with a strong academic preparation in physics or a closely related discipline. We are looking for students who show excellence in their coursework, potential for future research accomplishments (generally shown through previous research experiences), developed research interests, a strong motivation for graduate study, a record of working hard and overcoming obstacles, and a good fit with UC Merced faculty research. Our PhD students come to Merced from our local area (Merced, Fresno), other parts of California and the US, and foreign countries such as Bangladesh, Switzerland, Cuba, Iran, China, India, Nepal, and Cyprus.

See our graduate program online brochure, printable flyer, and our listing in the AIP GradSchoolShopper (and more extensive 2020 GradSchoolShopper profile). Look for UC Merced physics representatives at grad school fairs for events such as PhysCon, SACNAS, NSBPCUWiP (we hosted January 2023), and the APS March Meeting.

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.

Typical funding level for students on TA, GSR, or fellowship is around $36,000 per year. All PhD students receive 5 years of guaranteed funding including waiver of tuition and fees. One source of funding can be fellowships from our CCBM center, G-RISE, CONDESA, or other centers or training grants. 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.

Careers for PhD graduates

Browse some national data on what physics PhDs go on to do, from the American Institute of Physics and the National Science Foundation:


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.