updated 08/06/2014Physics Graduate Student Orientation FAQs

Arrival Logistics

General Exams

Course/Registration Information

Research Information


When do I have to arrive?

The first formal activity for first-year Physics graduate students, part one of our two-part departmental Orientation, is on Thursday, August 21st, and you should plan to be here by then if at all possible. If your housing plans are not solidified, you might consider arriving in mid-August so that you are settled for Orientation Week.   [top]

What are my housing options?

Lots of information on both on- and off-campus housing options is available through the MIT Graduate and Family Housing page. Housing is tight in the Cambridge and Boston areas, so the sooner you begin looking, the better your choices. If you are interested in finding a roommate who is a Physics graduate student, please e-mail the Academic Programs Office and we will advertise to all incoming students.   [top]

How do I get a VISA?

Detailed information regarding visa requirements is available on the International Students Office website. Occasionally, students are required to obtain a letter documenting their financial support from the Department; if you need such a letter, contact the Academic Programs Office.   [top]

When do I receive my first paycheck?

All Fellowship, RA, and TA recipients will receive checks once a month throughout the term. Checks are distributed at the end of the month, so the first payment will be disbursed at the end of September. Students in need of payment in advance of that time should contact MIT's Student Financial Services.   [top]

How do I get an e-mail account?

MIT Information Systems issues personalized Athena User Account registration vouchers for each new student, with information and instructions that allow you to set up your account from any computer with internet access. The vouchers are sent to the Academic Programs Office which distributes them to incoming students early in the summer, allowing you to establish your new email address before your arrival for the fall term.   [top]

Where do I get an MIT ID card?

Upon your arrival at MIT, you may visit the Card Office in the basement of the Stratton Student Center (W20-021) to have your picture taken and your card created.  For more information, see http://web.mit.edu/mitcard/getcard.html.   [top]

When do I have to take the General Exams?

In order to provide a baseline evaluation of your background preparation, we strongly encourage all incoming first-year students to take Part I of the General Exams during Orientation. This year, Part I is scheduled for Monday, August 25, 2014 from 9:30-2:30.  A continental breakfast will be offered to first-year students before the exam. Part II of the General Exams is offered on Friday, August 29, 2014 (also with breakfast beforehand).  First-year students may elect to take Part II at this time if they have already passed Part I as well.   [top]

How can I get copies of the General Exam?

Copies of previous General Exams are available in PDF format online. If you are in the Cambridge area, additional exams are available in the Physics Reading Room, 4-332.   [top]

What happens if I fail Part I of the General Exam?

We recommend that incoming students take Part I of the General Exam so that it can be used as a diagnostic tool, which can indicate any weaknesses in preparation. Students who fail Part I during Orientation week will meet individually with the Associate Department Head for Education to discuss course work appropriate as preparation for future exam attempts, probably including seminar subject 8.398 Selected Topics in Graduate Physics.   [top]

When do I register for classes?

Registration for the fall term is on Tuesday, September 2, 2014. Specific details about arranging appointments will be provided during Orientation.   [top]

How do I receive an academic advisor?

Academic Advisors are assigned by the Division Heads prior to the start of the semester. Students will be notified of their advisor during Orientation.   [top]

My research supervisor wants me to come early (i.e., June). What do I do?

If your supervisor arranges for you to begin research during the summer, you should visit Academic Programs, 4-315, upon your arrival. We will assist you with the necessary logistics such as obtaining an MIT ID, completing paperwork and registering for the summer. Please contact us prior to your arrival if you have any questions.   [top]

How do I get into a research group?

Incoming students with Research Assistantships will begin research within the division providing his or her financial support immediately. Assignment to specific research groups varies between divisions.

Students with Fellowships and Teaching Assistantships are not required to begin research within a specific group right away, although many choose to; they should take time to consider many options and find a group that provides the best match.  In many cases, a good way to do this is to jump into a group early while at the same time considering many options. The fellowship or TA period should be used actively; students should not put off looking for a group until fellowship or TA funding is nearly exhausted.   [top]

I was nominated by a specific division in the admissions process. Do I have to join a research group within that Division? What if I want to switch areas?

Students with Research Assistantships must begin research with the group or division that is providing funding. If a student with an RA does not wish to conduct research during the first semester, he or she can contact Prof. Nergis Mavalvala, Associate Department Head for Education, about the possibility of a Teaching Assistantship. Such a request should be made by the June preceding September matriculation.

Students with Fellowships and Teaching Assistantships are not bound to any particular division. They may take time to search for research opportunities throughout the department.

Students already conducting research who are interested in switching to a different group or area should consult with Catherine Modica, Academic Administrator, or with Prof. Mavalvala, regarding the process and possibilities. Switching groups can be supported by the department through one semester of a Teaching Assistantship. However, funding beyond that semester is contingent upon a match being found.  Ms. Modica or Prof. Rajagopal can provide additional information for those interested.   [top]

How do I get an office?

Students with Research Assistantships will be assigned an office by the division and/or group providing funding. Students with fellowships or Teaching Assistantships will be provided an office by the division which nominated them for their funding offer.   [top]