General Information

Request Information
Optical Sciences (PHD) 
Program Description
The Ph.D. in Optical Sciences program prepares students for extraordinary opportunities in a fast-changing, high-tech world.
Graduates should expect to find unusually comprehensive career options available to them: They may lead, found, or make vital contributions to national or international academic institutions, research facilities or companies, or they may write revolutionary texts, advise U.S. presidents and agencies, make breakthroughs in fundamental science, contribute to NASA’s space program, develop critical defense technologies, innovate unprecedented advances in communications and entertainment, or devise lifesaving medical diagnostics.
Ph.D. students begin by taking a series of core courses designed to provide them with a solid background in optics. As they progress, they gain firm foundations in math and physics, statistics, electromagnetic waves, geometrical optics, quantum optics, and solid-state optics. The balance of coursework is flexible, and students will have the opportunity to explore all of the possibilities that interest them.
The centerpiece of a Ph.D. program is research leading to a dissertation, where students demonstrate a capacity for research resulting in an original contribution to scientific knowledge or engineering in Optical Sciences. As students progress, mentored by OSC faculty members, they will pass a series of oral and written exams culminating in the final Ph.D. dissertation defense.
Department/Academic Unit(s)

College of Optical Sciences -

The mission of the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences is to provide the state of Arizona and the nation with an internationally pre-eminent program in education, research and outreach in all aspects of the science and application of light.

The College of Optical Sciences, formerly known as the Optical Sciences Center, was established in Tucson, Arizona, in 1964 to fulfill a national need for more highly trained engineers and physicists in the optical sciences. Throughout its 50-year history, OSC has stood on the forefront of the field; today, it educates more students in optics than any institution in the U.S.

Read more about the work we do here in Dean Thomas L. Koch's welcome message.

College of Optical Sciences  
Campus where offered
Main Campus - Tucson  
Admissions Contact
Lindsay E Loebig
Graduate Program Coordinator
Lindsay E Loebig
Director of Graduate Studies
Richard J Koshel
Graduate College Degree Counselor
Kristi Renee Davenport
Tuition and Fees
Please refer to the UA Bursar's Office Tuition and Fees Calculator for up-to-date information about tuition and fees. 
Please refer to the UA Registrar's's Office Special Course Fees for up-to-date information about special course fees. 

Admissions Information

Admissions Requirements

Minimum Admissions Requirements:

  • 3.0 GPA or higher
  • GRE general test
  • TOEFL for international students
  • 3 letters of recommendation
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Updated CV
  • Unofficial or Official transcripts

Please visit our Admissions page for more information.

Standardized Tests

Required test(s): GRE, TOEFL for international applicants
Minimum TOEFL: 79

Minimum IELTS: 7

Financial Aid

Funding for Ph.D. students is typically guaranteed for the first year.  After that, students should secure funding through a research assistantship or a teaching assistantship.  First-year funding is in the form of an RA position with the opportunity to volunteer and explore labs in the College.  Funding includes tuition, health care, and a stipend.  Students may also qualify for a fellowship or scholarship through the department.

Please visit our Tuition, Fees & Funding page for more information.

Admissions Deadlines

Domestic Applicants:

  • Fall: January 15th

International Applicants:

  • Fall: January 15th
International Conditional Admission
International applicants will not be considered for conditional admission by this program.
Other Information
The GRE Institution Code for The University of Arizona is 4832
ETS Major Field Code(s) for this program: 4832
NRC Taxon(a) for this program: Physics, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Astrophysics and Astronomy, Biomedical Engineering and Bioengineering, Materials Science and Engineering

Completion Requirements

Degree Requirements

Time Limit

  • Degrees must be completed within five years of the student’s completion of his or her oral comprehensive examination. The Graduate College will grant extensions only in exceptional circumstances and may require students to retake the comprehensive examination. The average time to degree for Ph.D. students is 5.5 years.

Plan of Study

Working together with their major professor, each student develops a written study plan that will specify the balance between coursework and dissertation units for their Ph.D. degree. This plan must be filed with the department at the time the written portion of the comprehensive examination is taken.


Qualifying Exam

This exam is administered in the form of an interview with a faculty member during the student's first semester in residence.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive examination consists of a written examination followed by an oral examination. The written portion is administered near the beginning of the fall and spring semesters, and consists of two 3.5 hour exams covering material in the core courses. Upon passing the written examination, an oral examination is given later in the same semester. The examining committee consists of the student's dissertation adviser plus three or four additional professors chosen from other areas of optics. The comprehensive examination may only be taken by Ph.D. students who have passed a minimum of 32 units of graduate coursework (including transfer units from other institutions, but not including dissertation units).  Most students take this exam during their fifth or sixth semester in residence, although it may be taken earlier or later, depending on the circumstances.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal examination is an oral examination administered by the student’s dissertation committee. This committee consists of the student's dissertation advisor plus two additional members nominated by the student in consultation with his or her advisor and approved by the associate dean for academic programs. Its purpose is to determine if the coursework and other studies undertaken by the student in their area of specialization has adequately prepared them for their proposed dissertation research. This examination is taken after the student has passed the written and oral comprehensive examinations and substantially completed their coursework. It typically lasts one to two hours. For most students, this will be near the end of their third year of full-time study, but it may not be later than one year prior to the completion of the dissertation and/or the student’s final oral dissertation defense. It is preferable that this examination be taken as near to the beginning of a student’s dissertation research as possible.

Oral Defense Exam

The committee appointment form must be submitted to the Graduate Degree Certification Office before scheduling the final oral defense examination. It should be submitted as soon as the student completes the written and oral comprehensive exam or the dissertation proposal exam. 

The oral defense examination is commonly referred to as a defense of the dissertation, although general questioning related to the field of optical sciences may naturally develop during the course of the exam. It is administered by the student’s dissertation committee. The dissertation committee is comprised of at least three tenured or tenure-track faculty. If appropriate to the student’s dissertation research, one non-tenured or -tenure-track faculty may be approved by the Degree Certification Office. The exam time and place must be scheduled about two weeks in advance. It is open to the public.

Ethics Courses

University of Arizona graduate-level ethics courses may count toward the M.S. in Optical Sciences and Ph.D. in Optical Sciences programs at the College of Optical Sciences, with approval from the associate dean for academic programs.

Transfer Courses

With approval of the associate dean, graduate work completed at another graduate-accredited institution may be transferred, provided these courses received a grade of A or B, are comparable to a UA course and were not used toward an undergraduate degree. Students must complete an evaluation of transfer credit form for approval by the associate dean in their first semester.

Waivers to these requirements may be granted by the associate dean for academic programs when determined to be in the best interest of the student and the college. The student's dissertation director will often be consulted prior to granting a waiver. All such waivers must be in accordance with the policies of the University of Arizona.

There is no specified maximum number of units a student may transfer; it depends on one’s background and chosen study program. Subject to department approval, as many as 12 to 18 units may be transferred (usually from math, physics or engineering courses).

Approved transfer courses are entered in the transfer section on the plan of study.


The number of units of graduate credit required for the Ph.D. in Optical Sciences is not specified explicitly; the requirement is for the equivalent of six semesters of full-time study. A minimum of 18 units of dissertation and 54 units of coursework is required.

OPTI 599: Independent Study units must meet the Graduate College policy and be approved by the associate dean for academic programs. Generally, six units of OPTI 599 are approved. Please note that only two nontechnical courses may count toward the Ph.D. degree requirements.

With the approval of the student's dissertation director, the required number of units may be reduced to 45. There are no exceptions to this minimum. The default requirement is not 45 course units. Note: The 45 units of coursework exception may be appropriate for a minority of students whose field of research requires fewer advanced courses and greater time for research.

Also with the approval of the dissertation director, a student may list a single C-graded course on their plan of study, although the student and his or her dissertation director should carefully consider the value of retaking a course with a C grade.

54 unit and C-grade waiver form must be signed and submitted along with the student's doctoral plan of study.

OPTI 597B does not count toward fulfilling the Ph.D. program course requirements.

Core Curriculum

A total of eight courses from the following lists are needed to fulfill a student's core course requirements. Substitutions or waivers for core courses are not permitted other than in exceptional circumstances. A request for a course substitution or waiver must be approved first by the Associate Dean for Academic Programs and may require review by the Graduate Curriculum Committee. Students requesting substitutions or waivers should submit a one-page petition explaining the request and justification to Academic Programs prior to taking the written comprehensive exam. Requests will not be considered after a student completes their comprehensive exams. Transfer credit that is equivalent to core course requirements must be pre-approved by the Associate Dean for Academic Programs.

Letters and numbers correspond to the tracks table below.

Group I

Select two courses from the following. These topics and course materials will not appear on the comprehensive exam

Group II

A student must select one course under each topic. The material in the five courses chosen by the student will be on the comprehensive exam.

  1. Electromagnetic Waves
  2. Geometrical Optics
  3. Quantum Optics
  4. Physical Optics
  5. Solid-State Optics
Group III

A student must select one course from this list. The material in the course chosen by the student will be on the comprehensive exam.

  1. Photonics
  2. Image Science
  3. Applied Optics

Provided below are some recommended course sequences for various subject tracks.

Course AreasApplied Optics TrackImage Science Track

Photonics Track

Optical Physics Track

Mathematical and Physical Foundations 1

OPTI 512

OPTI 512 or OPTI 604OPTI 503A or OPTI 512OPTI 503A or OPTI 512

Mathematical and Physical Foundations 2

OPTI 508

OPTI 508

OPTI 508

OPTI 570A*

1. Electromagnetic Waves

OPTI 501

OPTI 501

OPTI 501

OPTI 501

2. Geometrical Optics

OPTI 502

OPTI 502

OPTI 502

OPTI 502

3. Quantum Optics




OPTI 544*

4. Physical Optics

OPTI 505

OPTI 505

OPTI 505

OPTI 505 or OPTI 546

5. Solid-State Optics

OPTI 507 or OPTI 537

OPTI 537

OPTI 507

OPTI 507

6. Specialization Area

OPTI 503 or OPTI 506

OPTI 536

OPTI 510

OPTI 510

*OPTI 544 and OPTI 570A assume previous academic experience in physics, particularly undergraduate-level quantum mechanics. The PQO track B is recommended primarily for students who wish to pursue quantum optics, physics-oriented photonics and solid-state optics research.

Laboratory Requirements

All students must include at least two introductory optics laboratory courses as part of their plan. These classes should provide hands-on experiences to help the students learn the fundamentals that are taught in the core lecture classes. While two lab courses are required, additional laboratory courses are strongly recommended. The classes currently offered that satisfy this laboratory requirement are:

Minor Requirements


Most students both major and minor in optical sciences; however it is also possible to minor in another department. Students taking courses outside the College of Optical Sciences for credit toward a minor in that department must meet with the graduate advisor of the other department to ensure all requirements for their minor are met.

Students interested in the quantum optics track of optical sciences may particularly wish to consider a minor in physics. Nevertheless, students are welcome to take courses in other departments even if they intend to minor in optical sciences  — we are flexible enough that virtually all of the courses in an related minor field may be taken without formally selecting it as a minor.  The associate dean for academic programs can advise you if there is any question about whether a specific course is suitable for your degree program

Students majoring in other disciplines may elect to minor in optical sciences by completing 12 units of approved College of Optical Sciences course work with a grade of B or higher. One College of Optical Sciences faculty member is required to serve on the minor student's oral comprehensive exam committee (faculty members with a joint appointment in the student’s major department are highly recommended). Study plans for students wishing to minor in optical sciences must be approved in advance by the associate dean for academic programs. In general, approval will be only given to plans in which at least nine of the 12 units are courses for which the College of Optical Sciences is the home department.

Student Handbook  

Program StatisticsInformation about these numbers

Program-level Information
Application Acceptance Rate 33%
Med. Time-to-degree (years) 5.50
Department-level Information
Enrollment Percent Male 75%
Enrollment Percent Female 25%
Enrollment Percent International 28%
Enrollment Percent URM 11%

Back to statistics
Persistent link:
Last revised 13 Jan 2017