Physics track overview

Physics track overview

Below we present a brief and informal overview of organizational aspects related to Physics track at IST.

Track organization and decision-making:

The main meeting where the course offerings are discussed and decided occurs in Spring semester (“Curriculum meeting”) usually during month of April. In addition, students are welcome to provide their comments and suggestions on the curriculum to their group leaders and to the track representative. 

Coursework and educational preparation: 

Students in the Physics track come with very diverse backgrounds. While the majority of students holds a Master’s degree in Physics, the percentage of students who come with a Bachelor’s degree is increasing over time. 

For students working in the quantum part of the track, the knowledge of Electricity and Magnetism (basic graduate/MS level, Jackson’s “Classical Electrodynamics” or Landau&Lifshits “The Classical Theory of Fields”) along with Quantum mechanics (basic graduate/MS level, e.g. Griffiths “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics”) is assumed. Also, some background knowledge of condensed matter and/or AMO physics at the level of Ashkroft & Mermin “Solid State Physics” and/or Bransden & Joachain, “Physics of Atoms and Molecules” is nice to have.

At this point the quantum part of the Physics track offers the Physics Core course and also several advanced courses. As the number of faculty grows, the course offerings will increase accordingly. Students are welcome to provide suggestions on the curriculum. In addition, the graduate school also offers courses on programming and a machine shop course. These courses provide a helpful skill sets for experimental groups. 

Students working in the soft matter part of the track, should consult with their supervisors on the required background.

Finally for students working in the mathematical physics part of the track, books by Reed-Simon “Methods of Mathematical Physics Vol I.” and Lieb-Loss: “Analysis” contain many basics in (functional) analysis. These need to be complemented by books either in (i) probability theory and statistical mechanics or (ii) dynamical systems and ergodic theory or (iii) partial differential equations.

Bachelor’s students from all parts of the track are advised to take master’s courses in Vienna in case they lack knowledge in certain fields. This should be done after discussing with their potential supervisor(s).

The general recommendation is not to try and just fulfill all the course credits, but to postpone some of the coursework till post-qualifying exam. This is especially relevant since some advanced topics courses are not available on a yearly basis. 


Students are advised to prioritize rotations in the group(s) of their potential affiliation. Different groups have different approaches to rotations, and it’s highly desirable to inquire about available rotation slots in advance. Students are advised to consult with group leaders about the rotation format. Typically, upon concluding the rotation, students prepare a rotation report and also may present their results at the group meeting.

On-campus track community:

We encourage a collaborative spirit across group boundaries and also across different tracks. Students in quantum part of the Physics track are strongly encouraged to participate in the Quantum Seminar (takes place on Tuesdays at 11:00 in the big seminar room on the ground floor), and attend Physics talks (take place typically every other Friday at 11:00) and Institute colloquia.

Students who are in the soft-matter part can attend Frisbi (Friday at 3pm) seminar series. 

Math-phys students are encouraged to attend the weekly seminar in mathematical physics and analysis.

Conferences, awards, and grants:

Students are encouraged to consult with individual groups on the major conferences and availability of grants. 

For students working on subjects related to semiconductor physics the following conferences may be of interest: APS march meeting, International conference on the physics of semiconductors (ICPS), Silicon quantum electronics workshop, International conference on electronic properties of two dimensional systems (EP2DS), Rencontres de Moriond: Quantum Mesoscopic Physics, International Winter School: “New developments in solid state physics”.

PhD students can apply for a doc fellowship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences (

Qualifying exam format:

The Qualifying Exam consists of an oral presentation of the research proposal by the student (normally 20-30 minutes + questions) and an oral exam on the reading list (typically 45-60 minutes), followed by Committee deliberations. 

The reading list for the second part of the exam is usually compiled by the PI in consultation with the student. The literature list usually includes reviews that summarize the overall status of the field, as well as more recent theoretical and experimental research papers relevant for the thesis proposal. However, the scope of the exam is not limited to the reading list that is meant as an orientation and not as a normative list of learning material. The reading list is only a suggestion, and the goal of the qualifying exam is to probe the background knowledge of the student in the chosen field. 

Graduation and thesis defense:

The students should aim to make the most of their time and freedom at the graduate school, not only by producing the state-of-the-art research, but also by devising the vision for their future career. Attending Physics-related seminars, different courses and career planning events may be helpful in this respect. It is highly advisable to begin thinking about the next career steps starting from the third year of the PhD program. Students are encouraged to discuss the career issues with their supervisor, and also to use career services available at IST. 

Usually publication(s) or preprints submitted prior to defense are expected.

Admission interview format:

The interview for the graduate school usually includes the discussion of the past research experience of the applicant. This discussion may lead to basic physics questions related to the broader field of studies.