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Department of Physics

  Assessment Plan

  Assessment of the student's attainment of learning objectives and the efficacy our programs is based upon 8 tools, detailed below The graduate program as a whole is essentially a sequence of pass/fail evaluations.  These evaluations are, for the most part, tailored/applied to each student individually by one or more faculty members.  If the student receives the MS or PhD degree then that student has satisfactorily met the learning objectives according to the detailed vetting process detailed below. 

Assessment of the efficacy for our graduate program is based upon 2 types of data.  (a) time to degree completion; (b) satisfactory post-graduate employment.

The assessment data are evaluated by the faculty as a whole during the annual Faculty Retreat; action items are created as appropriate.

Assessment tools

(1) Coursework: Examinations, homework, papers and projects and reports:  This assesses the Foundational Skills learning outcome.

The required graduate curriculum, which is taken in the first two years, is designed to provide a sound foundation in the fundamentals of physics theory and phenomenology, preparing the student to proceed with self-education, research, and teaching, irrespective of the ultimate specialization which occurs in thesis/dissertation work.  The small class size (typically 5-10) and extensive homework and/or testing which occur in all classes give the instructor detailed information on the student's assimilation/mastery of the material.  

(2) Qualification Examination: This assesses the Foundational Skills learning outcome.

Subsequent to the first year of coursework, each PhD student is assessed by the entire faculty (at a formal faculty meeting) with regard to the student's performance thus far.  The faculty vote on one of three results of this "qualification" process:  (1) the student should continue in the PhD program, (2) the student needs some form of remediation and will require a subsequent qualification review, (3) the student should not continue in the PhD program. Besides assessing our students' performance, this qualification process is a principal means for the faculty as a whole to examine the efficacy of the graduate curriculum; any issues which are exposed here are subsequently taken up by the administration and/or the curriculum committee.

(3) Mentor: This assesses all learning outcomes.

Through continuous one on one interactions over a time period measured in years, the mentor assesses the progress of the student in his/her preparation for research, execution of the research, and compilation of research findings in the thesis/dissertation.  The mentor, an expert in the specialization chosen by the student, has the leadership role in determining whether the learning objectives have been met in the context of the research specialization chosen.

(4) Research Supervisory CommitteeThis assesses Research Skills, Communication and Professional Preparation learning outcomes.
This committee consists of the student's mentor along with additional experts: 2 for MS, 4 for PhD, This committee, led by the student's mentor, determines the suitability of the course preparation and candidacy examination topic (see below). They determine the suitability of the thesis/dissertation topic, they assist in the development and evaluation of the thesis/dissertation, and they assist the mentor in determining whether the learning objectives have been met. This process occurs via (at least) annual meetings of the student and committee, during the candidacy examination, and during the thesis/dissertation defense.

(5) Candidacy examination (PhD only)This assesses Foundational Skills, Research Skills, Communication and Professional Preparation.

The Candidacy Exam is the last evaluation by the Physics Department as a whole of the studentʹs suitability to pursue a PhD degree. It is designed to provide the department a means to evaluate the studentʹs ability to participate in physics research at the highest level. The exam does this by having the student study the research literature on a particular advanced physics topic set by the supervisory committee after which the student gives a presentation which is intended to educate the physics faculty on that topic.  The examination takes place via a faculty meeting after the student has completed his/her required coursework.

There are 4 components to the examination:
a written summary of the material that will be presented in an oral presentation; this is distributed prior to the meeting
a 45 minute oral presentation on the physics topic
a 30 minute question and answer period
deliberation and voting by the faculty.

If the faculty vote to pass the student, the student is allowed to formally begin work on the thesis/dissertation topic.  

(6) Student-Faculty feedback:

There are two formal, ongoing mechanisms for student-faculty discourse on issues that may arise. (1) Annual meeting with the Graduate Student Tracking Committee, which requires each individual graduate student to meet with a committee of faculty to assess their progress through the program. (2) Monthly Graduate-Student-Faculty meetings, which bring together faculty and graduate students as a whole to discuss relevant aspects of the graduate student program as appropriate.

(7) Post-graduate outcomes:

Reaching the desired goal of employment (or subsequent entry into a PhD program for some MS students) is of course a salient indicator of success of the graduate program.

(8) External Reviews:

Periodically the department's programs are reviewed by physicists from other institutions.  The most recent review took place in 2017.