Physics Graduate Student Orientation FAQs

Information last updated on October 27, 2020 12:56 PM

Due to Covid-19 pandemic, many of these FAQs will be updated in the coming days, in particular options under "Arrival Logistics". Please check back frequently for updates.

Arrival Logistics

General Exam

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 usually held at the end of August, 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 twice a month throughout the term. Checks are distributed on the 15th and at the end of the month, so the first payment will be disbursed at the end of September.   [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 and are distributed 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 Building E17-106 (40 Ames Street) to have your picture taken and your card created.  For more information, see   [top]

When do I have to take my Written Exams?

All incoming students must make their first attempt at the Written Exam by January of their first year, but we expect that the majority will take the exam upon arrival in August.  You can find information on when the next Written Exam will be held on the top of the General Doctoral Examination page.   [top]

How can I review past copies of the Written Exam?

Copies of previous General Exams using the old Part I/Part II format are available in PDF format online; reviewing past Part II exams should be helpful in preparing for the new Written Exam. If you are in the Cambridge area, additional exams are available in the Physics Reading Room, 4-332.   [top]

What happens if I fail any part of my Written Exam?

Students who fail any part of the Written Exam during Orientation week will have the option to meet individually with the Associate Department Head to discuss how to approach the remaining sections, including whether to enroll in one of the subjects that is specified as satisfying a section of the Written Exam.  These subjects are:  8.321 for quantum mechanics; 8.333 for statistical mechanics; and 8.311 for electricity and magnetism.  Additional preparation for a second attempt at the Written Exam may include seminar subject 8.398 Selected Topics in Graduate Physics.   [top]

When do I have to take my Oral Exam?

After passing the Written Exam, all students must then pass the Oral Exam. Students are allowed up to two attempts, and must take the Oral Exam for the first time by the fall term of their third year. A second attempt, if needed, must be taken in the term immediately following the first attempt.   [top]

When do I register for classes?

Registration day information can be found on Specific details about arranging appointments will be provided during Orientation or sent directly from your advisor.   [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 make sure to contact the Academic Programs Office as soon as you know that you will arrive early.  We can assist you with the necessary plans for obtaining an MIT ID, completing paperwork and registering for the summer.   [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 are not required to begin research within a specific group right away, although many choose to.  The best approach is usually 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 other possibilities. The fellowship period should be used actively; students should not put off looking for a group until fellowship 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. Students with Fellowships 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. Deepto Chakrabarty, Associate Head, 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. Mavalvala can provide additional information.   [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 will be provided an office by the division that nominated them for their funding offer.   [top]