Ph.D. in Optical Sciences Reference Manual

The Ph.D. in Optical Sciences Reference Manual is designed as a resource for students, faculty and advisors. It is intended to convey common practices, procedures, policies and traditions of the University of Arizona (UA) College of Optical Sciences (OSC) and to supplement the enrollment, academic and degree completion requirements of the UA Graduate College. Students should first consult the OSC Ph.D. reference manual and then consult UA Graduate College policy when questions arise. The UA Graduate College provides essential information about general University policies and procedures, while the Ph.D. reference manual includes policies that are specific to Optical Sciences Ph.D. students. The latter may update, expand or add upon the general UA Graduate College policy.

The College of Optical Sciences reserves the right to change any provision or requirement listed in this reference manual at any time. The information listed in this reference manual supersedes all prior versions and applies to all students, regardless of admission year. Students are responsible to understand and adhere to all policies and procedures outlined in this reference manual.  

If you have any questions, please contact the senior academic graduate advisor at grad-advising@optics.arizona.edu520-626-0888 or stop by the Academic Programs office, Meinel 403B.

The information below is listed in alphabetical order by topic.


Academic Integrity

Integrity is expected of every student in all academic work. The guiding principle of academic integrity is that a student's submitted work must be the student's own. This principle is furthered by the student Code of Conduct and disciplinary procedures established by ABOR Policies 5-308 through 5-403, all provisions of which apply to all University of Arizona students. Conduct prohibited by the Code consists of all forms of academic dishonesty, including but not limited to: cheating, fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty and plagiarism.

Building Keys and Keyless Building Entry

Graduate students will be provided with keyless building entry. After obtaining your CatCard and enrolling in courses you will need to complete a key request form and submit it to the Accounting Office in Meinel 641. For building entry, the associate dean for academic programs must give approval by signing the form. For lab or office key entry, the student's major professor/supervisor must sign the form.

Bursar's Office

The Bursar's Office at the University of Arizona is responsible for providing student account information; receiving payments for tuition, registration fees and miscellaneous campus charges; collection of delinquent accounts; and delivering refunds and financial aid proceeds. The Bursar's Office is located in the University Services Building, 888 N. Euclid Avenue.

The University of Arizona offers a tuition payment plan for fall and spring semesters.

Note: To avoid repaying the tuition waiver, registration deduction and student health insurance premium, graduate research assistants and graduate teaching assistants must officially graduate, according to the Graduate College Degree Certification Office, prior to resigning their position. This can happen anytime during the semester, as long as the official graduation occurs before resignation. The definition of "official" graduation is submission of all degree completion documents to the Degree Certification Office.


The CatCard is the single, common and recognizable identification card for people who are affiliated with the University of Arizona. Amongst other uses, it is required to obtain keyless Meinel Building entry. In addition, the CatCard is used for: identification and status, library access, recreation center access, meal plan access, photocopying and printing services, vending machine purchases, parking payment at campus garages, and small dollar purchases at the UA BookStores and U-Mart convenience store.

Change of Class Schedule: Dropping and Adding Units

To make changes to their semester schedule by adding or dropping a class, students must complete a change of schedule form. However, changes such as switching to an audit or dropping a course to replace it with dissertation units may incur extra charges, including tuition fees, late fees and other mandatory fees. In addition, a W grade will be issued if a course is dropped after the University deadline to drop without penalty.

Please note: An audited course does not meet enrollment requirement for students receiving funding. Graduate research positions require enrollment in at least six units. If you have other financial aid funding, you should confirm the number of units you are required to be enrolled in each semester. When adding graded units, the Registrar's Office may request that the Graduate College's dean sign the change of schedule form. To obtain the signature of the Graduate College's dean (note: not the dean of the College of Optical Sciences), students should go to the third floor of the Administration Building, and then return to the Registrar's Office on the second floor.

Change of Degree Program: Ph.D. to M.S.

Ph.D. students who wish to change to the M.S. in Optical Sciences program must complete a change of program form and submit it to the Academic Programs office in Meinel 403.

Commencement and Diplomas

The University of Arizona celebrates graduate degree completion in May. The College of Optical Sciences holds two Pre-Commencement Celebrations, one in December and one in May, prior to the UA commencement ceremony. Invitations and information are emailed to anticipated graduates in mid-October and mid-March.

Diplomas are not given out at commencement. Diplomas are ordered individually for each student after the final degree audit of their academic record is completed. You should receive your diploma about four weeks after the Pre-Commencement Celebration. The diploma will be mailed to the address you have listed on UAccess Student as your "permanent" address. If you do not want it sent to your "permanent" address you should create a "diploma" address and it will be mailed there instead. Diplomas are printed and mailed from out of state; therefore students are not able to pick them up here on campus.

If you complete degree requirements early in the semester and need to provide proof of your degree, please make a request to the degree certification auditor at the Graduate College.

Communication and Contact Information

The primary means of communication with students is email. Be sure to set up your email account. Please check your email regularly. In addition to email, each on-campus College of Optical Sciences student will be assigned a mailbox in the Meinel Building. The mailroom is located on the fourth floor in Room 426.

Please remember to promptly submit new contact information (email address, mailing address, campus location, telephone number) to the Academic Programs office! You will also need to update any change in contact information in UAccess Student.

Comprehensive Exams: Written and Oral

These guidelines are supplemental to, and in accordance with, the procedures established by the Graduate College for students majoring and/or minoring in optical sciences. Deviations shall be made only in special cases where the associate dean for academic programs deems appropriate. 

The comprehensive examination, which consists of a written exam and an oral exam, is intended to test the student's general fundamental knowledge of the fields of the major and minor subjects of study.

Doctoral students who have maintained continuous enrollment and are taking only comprehensive exams during the summer no longer have to register for that summer semester. Students taking the comprehensive exam in the fall or spring semester must be enrolled and registered.

New Examination Method

New Students

The new exam method is required for all students admitted to an OSC graduate program beginning in the Fall 2015 semester and all subsequent semesters.

Continuing Students

Continuing graduate students have the option of following the previous exam method OR opting into the new exam method. Such students who have not previously taken any part of the previous comprehensive exam method are eligible. If a continuing student opts into the new exam method they are required to complete the new method and cannot revert to the previous one.

View New Exam Method Details   View Previous Exam Method Details

Continuous Enrollment:

Graduate students must meet the continuous enrollment policy. Master's degree and doctoral students hired on an assistantship must be enrolled in at least six units. Auditing a class does not count toward meeting the unit requirement. Students are not required to be enrolled during the first or second summer semester unless they are graduating in August. If you are unable to enroll in fall or spring semester, you should submit a leave of absence form to maintain your status. If you fail to meet the continuous enrollment policy and do not register, you will need to reapply to the Graduate College and be approved for readmission by the associate dean for academic programs. Students with scholarships or financial aid may be required to be enrolled in more than six units.

Doctoral students finishing in the summer who have maintained continuous enrollment and completed all other degree requirements as well as the 18 units of dissertation may defend in the summer without enrolling or registering. Students should verify eligibility with the graduate academic progress coordinator or degree certification auditor.

Notice for International Students

Please check with the Office of International Student Programs to be sure you are in compliance with your visa obligations since you may be required to be enrolled in additional units to maintain your full-time student status. Nine units is considered full-time status for nonfunded international students. Upon completion of all course work it is possible to request a waiver of the nine-unit requirement from the Office of International Student Programs so that you can enroll in only three units.


Graduate student cubicles are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Cubicle space is not secure and the College of Optical Sciences is not responsible for stolen or lost items. Storage lockers on the first floor may also be available. Students are responsible for providing their own locks.

Dissertation Proposal Exam

The dissertation proposal exam is a departmental oral examination for prospective Ph.D. candidates majoring in optical sciences.  It is intended to determine whether the student's dissertation research topic is of an appropriate nature and scope and whether the course work and other studies undertaken by the student in their area of specialization have adequately prepared them for their proposed dissertation research. The Academic Programs office will assist the student in scheduling the exam and preparing the committee appointment form for submission to the Graduate College Degree Certification Office. 

Ph.D. students who have passed the written and oral comprehensive examination and completed at least 32 units of graduate course work are eligible to schedule the dissertation proposal exam. For most students, this will be near the end of their third year of full-time study, but in any event it may not be later than one year prior to the completion of the student's final oral dissertation defense exam.

The exam is typically expected to last from one to two hours. The exam is an oral examination based on a three- to five-page dissertation proposal paper or a detailed PowerPoint presentation prepared by the student. This proposal should consist of a dissertation research plan that outlines the scope of the proposed research and clearly explains its background and motivation. The research described in the proposal should be selected in consultation with the student's dissertation faculty adviser. While the research plan describes the likely scope and content of the dissertation and may set some nominal expectations for the research, ultimate approval of the actual dissertation research rests with the student's faculty adviser, together with the dissertation committee members.

The dissertation committee consists of the student's dissertation faculty adviser plus two additional faculty members nominated by the student in consultation with his or her adviser, all of whom must be approved by the associate dean for academic programs. Generally, the student's dissertation proposal exam committee is the same as the student's Ph.D. final oral defense exam committee. The University requires that all members of the exam committee be tenured or tenure-track faculty in the College of Optical Sciences. If appropriate, one outside member may be approved to serve on the exam committee. The outside member must be approved by both the associate dean for academic programs and the Graduate College Degree Certification Office. Once the committee is chosen and a date for the exam is set, the graduate academic progress coordinator will schedule a room and prepare the necessary paperwork.

Each committee member is expected to be present at the scheduled exam time and to remain throughout the entire exam. The exam should begin with a 20-minute presentation of the proposed research, followed by questioning from the dissertation committee. Each committee member should have previously reviewed the research proposal and should come prepared to ask questions that will probe the background knowledge of the student in the proposed research area as well as more detailed questions regarding the research itself — its scope, methodology, probability of success, back-up plans, etc.

At the end of the exam, the student will be asked to step out of the room and the committee will decide by majority vote to make one of the following recommendations:

  1. The dissertation proposal is acceptable and the student is ready to advance to candidacy.
  2. The dissertation proposal is acceptable but the student must complete the following courses and/or background reading material before the student may advance to candidacy.
  3. The student must revise the dissertation proposal and retake the dissertation proposal exam.

Final Oral Examination Requirements

You must be enrolled in the semester you complete your degree. 

In agreement with your major faculty adviser, you must choose a committee consisting of three members; two of them must be tenured or tenure-track faculty from the College of Optical Sciences, while the third member may be a professor from outside the college if approved by the Graduate College in advance. If you decide to have an "outside" person on your committee, a special member form will need to be submitted to the Graduate College. Speak with the graduate academic progress coordinator in the Academic Programs office in Meinel 403 regarding completion and submission of the form. Remember to provide each professor with a draft of your dissertation prior to the exam.

Once you have chosen the faculty committee for your Ph.D. final oral defense exam, you must generate a committee appointment form in GradPath, which is a module within UAccess. Outside faculty and non-tenured or -tenure track professors will need to be approved by the Degree Certification Office; please see the graduate progress coordinator need approval. After completing necessary paperwork, you will work with your committee members to schedule a date and time for your dissertation defense and then generate an announcement of final oral examination in GradPath.

Students are asked to provide light refreshments during their final oral exams. Coffee-making supplies (DOC) will be provided by the Academic Programs office upon request. The student should pick up these supplies prior to the exam. The student is responsible for cleaning up the conference room following the exam.

Most conference rooms are equipped with audiovisual equipment. Please be sure to confirm the conference room has everything you need for your final oral exam. You can reserve an LCD projector and laptop from the Academic Programs office in Meinel 403.

After your defense, your dissertation director will use GradPath to report the results. Upon completion of the steps to your degree, you will also need to create and print an approval page; templates are available on the Graduate College website. After all of your committee members sign the approval page, you must submit it to the Degree Certification Office in Room 316 in the Administration Building.

Please visit the the Graduate College Forms page for more information about GradPath, paperless submission and steps toward degree completion.

Students including published papers in their dissertation must follow College of Optical Sciences policy and formatting (DOC). For further dissertation formatting requirements, visit the Graduate College Manual for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertations (PDF). The first time you electronically submit your dissertation, a format check will be completed. Generally, you will hear back within 48 hours. Students are encouraged to submit their dissertation for a format check in advance of the deadlines so there is plenty of time for formatting changes. Please plan to submit a printed unbound copy of your dissertation to the Academic Programs office in Meinel 403, for inclusion in the Reading Room. We will have the library copy bound. When you submit your dissertation you will be asked to complete the survey of earned doctorate and the Graduate College exit survey.

The last step before leaving the College of Optical Sciences is to fill out an OSC clearance form. This form needs to be taken to various offices at OSC to be initialed prior to your departure. You will also need to complete the Graduate College's distribution rights form, which is then submitted to the Degree Certification Office in Admin 316.

Grades, Grade Replacement Opportunity and GPA

Unless the student's major professor approves one C-graded course per degree, only grades of A or B are accepted toward degree requirements. Prior to graduation, students may repeat — only once — a graduate-level course in which they received a grade of C, D or E. Both grades will be used toward calculation of GPA.

The grade replacement opportunity is no longer available to graduate students.

Graduate students must maintain a GPA of 3.0. Students who have a cumulative GPA of less than 3.0 will be placed on academic probation. Probationary status may impact current or future funding opportunities. Students whose GPA is below 3.0 for two consecutive semesters will be converted to nondegree status by the Graduate College.

Graduate College Thesis and Dissertation Waiver

The Graduate College thesis and dissertation waiver only waives of nonresident tuition. Students classified as Arizona residents are not charged nonresident tuition. Students on appointment as graduate research assistants or associates or graduate teaching assistant ors associates already receive a waiver of nonresident tuition as a benefit of the appointment.

Eligibility is limited to two semesters for Ph.D. students.

The maximum value of a Graduate College thesis and dissertation waiver is six units. To apply, contact the graduate academic progress coordinator in the Academic Programs office. The deadline for an approved waiver is one week in advance of the Bursar's Office tuition payment deadline.

Immunization Requirement and Health Insurance

Before newly admitted graduate students can register, they must submit proof of measles and rubella immunizations. Distance learning M.S. students will need to submit immunization records prior to their semesters on campus. Graduate students are required to enroll for student health insurance in UAccess Student in the fall semester. Those who enroll in the fall semester will be automatically enrolled for spring semester health insurance when they register for spring classes.

Note: Graduate students finishing in May who enroll in the spring-semester health insurance are covered through mid-August.


With instructor approval, the Graduate College allows one year for completion of incompletes. Students must negotiate an incomplete and the length of an incomplete with the instructor. Courses graded with an "I" will automatically revert to an "E" at the end of one year, unless the instructor completes and submits a change of grade form. With approval of the instructor, extensions to allow extra time may be granted, but a petition must be signed by the instructor and submitted to the Graduate College before the end of the semester. For assistance in submitting a petition, please contact the graduate academic progress coordinator in the Academic Programs office in Meinel 403.

It is the student's responsibility to communicate with the professor in regards to meeting the requirements for incompletes.

Independent Studies

OPTI 599: Independent Study units must meet Graduate College policy and be approved by the associate dean for academic programs. Before enrolling in OPTI 599, you must complete an independent study proposal form (DOC) and submit it to the Academic Programs office in Meinel 403 for the associate dean's approval. Once approved, you will be registered for OPTI 599.

JobSearchers Email List

Job announcements, company presentations and on-site recruitment interviews are distributed via email to the JobSearchers email list. Contact Melissa Sarmiento Ayala at to be added to the list.

Employment opportunities are also announced in the OSC weekly newsletter, Watts Up!

Minor in Optics

Students majoring in other disciplines may elect to minor in optical sciences by completing 12 units of approved optical sciences course work with a grade of B or higher. They must also have one College of Optical Sciences faculty member serve on their 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 Meinel 403. 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.

Ph.D. Plan of Study

Working together with their dissertation director, all doctoral students in the College of Optical Sciences are required to file a doctoral plan of study prior to taking the Ph.D. written comprehensive examination. This plan specifies the balance between course work and dissertation units for the Ph.D. degree. The requirements for the plan of study include a minimum of 18 units of dissertation and a total of 54 units of course work beyond the B.S. degree. However, with the approval of the student's dissertation director, this number may be reduced to 45 units. There are no exceptions to the minimum requirement of 45 units.

The plan of study must include the eight selected core courses as defined in the College of Optical Sciences Ph.D. core curriculum. It must also include at least two optics laboratory courses, and one of these two labs must be hands-on. Students who can demonstrate that they have previously had equivalent hands-on laboratory experience may request a waiver reducing the requirement to one optics laboratory course. A grade of B or higher is required for all courses on the plan of study. OPTI 599: Independent Study units must meet the Graduate College policy and be approved by the associate dean for academic programs. Note: OPTI 597B is cannot count toward requirements for the Ph.D. program.

One C-graded course may be listed on the doctoral plan of study with approval of dissertation director and associate dean. Students submitting plans of study with 45 units or a C grade must submit a 45-unit or C grade waiver form signed by their dissertation director.

Transfer units may be included if approved by the associate dean for academic programs upon the student's completion of an evaluation of transfer form. Approved transfer courses will be listed in the transfer section of the plan of study.

Completed plans of study should be submitted to Academic Programs in Meinel 403 for approval by the associate dean and processing to the Degree Certification Office at the Graduate College.

Waivers to these requirements may be granted by the associate dean for academic programs if 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.

Program Withdrawal

A student who elects to withdraw from the University by dropping all classes after having paid registration fees must initiate such a procedure by contacting the Dean of Student's Office. A withdrawal may not be initiated after the last day of classes of any semester and must be completed before the beginning of final examination period. If a student requests a medical withdrawal and would like a tuition refund, he or she must contact the Campus Health Service and provide medical documentation. If a student withdraws for medical reasons and is beyond a refund period, medical documentation is not required.

Progress Interviews

The College of Optical Sciences requires that every graduate student schedule a progress interview once a year with a professor of their choice, the associate dean for academic programs or the graduate academic progress coordinator. Yearly progress interviews should be completed prior to spring break.

The purpose of these interviews is to discuss the student's goals, keep track of his or her progress, flag potential or actual problems, and help avoid future difficulties. Interviews normally last between 15 and 20 minutes. Students must complete and submit a yearly progress interview form to the Academic Programs office, Meinel 403.  The associate dean for academic programs will read these reports to address any futher problems that may require attention.

Teaching Assistant Policy

To obtain a position as a teaching assistant, a student must enter his or her enter name, email address and course desired on the list posted in the Academic Programs office. The posting of the list will be announced via email at the end of each semester. Generally, Ph.D. students are given priority over M.S. students. All else being equal, earlier volunteers will be given priority over later volunteers. Exceptions may be made on a case-by-case basis. TA assignments are dependent on course enrollments and are generally made a few weeks before the start of the semester.

Transfer Courses

Approved courses for transfer are listed in the transfer section on the plan of study. The official transcript for all transfer courses must be submitted to the Degree Certification Office after they are approved by the associate dean for academic programs. Generally, 12-18 units of appropriate graduate courses may be transferred from other universities with approval. International students should submit a transfer evaluation form and submit English-language transcripts to the Degree Certification Office for evaluation after courses are approved by the associate dean for academic programs.

All students should request evaluation of transfer courses in their first semester.

Time to Degree Completion

Ph.D. students are allowed either 10 years from date of admission or five years after passing comprehensive exams to complete their degrees, whichever works better for them.

UAccess Student

UAccess Student is a password-protected service that allows you to access your personal information and student account balance. You will need your NetID and PIN. Your PIN on your official University of Arizona Certificate of Admissions. If you lose your PIN, you must go to the Graduate College Admissions Office in Admin 322.

It is important you verify your student account information before the payment deadline each semester and each time you change your course schedule. Your account balance must be paid in full by the payment deadline date each semester in order to avoid late payment penalties. Additional penalties are charged on the 21st day of each semester.

Wireless Internet Access

To obtain wireless Internet access you must first register your computer with the OSC Help Desk.

Campus Resources and Links

  • Bursar's Office
    Student accounts, questions about tuition payments, etc.
    University Services Building, Room 104; 520-621-3232
  • Campus Health
    Check-ups, pharmacy, psychological services, etc.
    Highland Commons, 1224 E. Lowell St. (northwest corner of Highland and 6th Street); 520-621-6490
  • Career Services
    Career counseling, job postings, interview skills and resume writing
    Student Union Memorial Center, Room 411; 520-621-4224;
  • CAPS
    Counseling and Psychological Services offering counseling to students to help them cope with personal and family problems. Licensed professionals provide treatment for anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, family problems, food and body concerns, alcohol and drug concerns, and other life crises.
    Highland Commons, 1224 E. Lowell St. (northwest corner of Highland and 6th Street); 520-621-3334
  • Child Care and Family Resources
    Provides consultation appointments to assess needs and issues, customized referrals, sick child and emergency back-up care, elder care, financial assistance, etc.
  • Curriculum and Registration
    Class registration, grades, transcripts, forms and policies
    Administration Building, Room 210; 520-621-3113;
  • Degree Certification Office
    The Graduate College Degree Certification Office monitors academic accomplishments, assures that University and Arizona Board of Regents degree requirements are met, assists in obtaining correct forms and signatures, and files exam results to keep students on the path to graduation
    Administration Building, Room 316; 520-621-3609
  • Disability Resource Center
    Facilitates full access for disabled students, faculty, staff, and visitors through the proivsion of reasonable accommodations, adaptive athletic and fitness programs, assistive technology, etc.
    1540 East 2nd Street; 520-621-3268;
  • Financial Aid Office
    Student loans and work study
    Administration Building, Room 203; 520-621-1858;
  • International Student Programs and Services
    Represents and advocates for international students; liaisons with academic and other departments as well as state, federal and foreign agencies; provides immigration and tax advising
    935 North Tyndall Avenue; 520-621-4627
  • Legal Services
    ASUA provides free, confidential legal advice for students from a trained attorney.
  • Motorist Assistance Program
    Assists with vehicle issues including jump-starts, flat tires and keys accidentally locked in cars; provided free by Parking and Transportation Services
    Works to reduce campus incidences of sexual assault and relationship violence
    Old Main, Room 228; 520-626-2051;
  • Off-Campus Housing
    Provides weekly updated off-campus housing, roommate notices and Tucson utility contact information
  • Ombuds Program
    Help you deal with problems students might have with the University; provides informal means of problem resolution in cases of University-related disputes
    President's Office, Administration Building, Room 712; 520-626-5589
  • Parking and Transportation Services
    Provides parking options and promotes transportation alternatives and shuttle routes
  • Residency Classification
    Provides instructions for obtaining Arizona residency for tuition purposes
    Education Building, Room 122; 520-621-3636
  • Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques Center
    Provides enhanced, for-fee services for students with documented learning disabilities
    1010 North Highland Avenue; 520-621-1242 
  • UA Police Department
    1852 East First Street; 520-621-8273; for emergencies dial 911
  • Women's Resource Center
    Organization devoted to providing resources and information about women's issues
    Located among the ASUA offices, 3rd floor of the Student Union next to the bookstore; 520-621-3919
  • Veterans Education and Transition Services
    Offers information and services related to the Montgomery GI Bill benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs
    Administration Building, Room 313; 520-621-9501