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College of Optical Sciences: Graduate Program

The College of Optical Sciences offers four graduate degrees in Optical Sciences:
Master of Science (M.S.) in Optical Sciences
Master of Science (M.S.) in Photonic Communications Engineering
Dual Master of Science (M.S.) in Optical Sciences and MBA Eller College
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Optical Sciences

The College of Optical Sciences also offers two Graduate Professional Certificates, one in Optical Sciences and the other in Photonic Communications Engineering.  The latter Certificate was started for the 2014-2015 academic year. The Graduate Professional Certificate Programs require successful completion of 15 units of optics graduate courses with grades of B or higher. There is no core curriculum for the Optical Sciences Certificate, but the Photonic Communications Engineering has a suite of classes that must be taken with a small level of choice for two classes. Students are free to specialize in specific areas of optics, or take any optics graduate level courses, on campus or through distance. Assessment will be based on successful completion of 15 units of optics graduate course work with grades of B or higher and submission of a Certificate Plan of Study.

M.S. Degree
The M.S. Degree in Optical Sciences can be completed on campus or by distance affording flexibility for the student. There is no core curriculum for this M.S. Degree. Students are able to specialize based on course selection in specific areas of optics, or take a variety of optics courses. Some students elect to follow the Ph.D. Core Curriculum particularly if they are interested in applying to the Ph.D. Degree program. Students decide on either the non-thesis or thesis option. Both options require successful completion of two one-unit optics labs. The non-thesis option includes 35 completed course units, three of which are either an approved graduate level technical writing course or OPTI 909, Master’s Report. The thesis option includes 24 optics course units and eight thesis units. In collaboration with their faculty advisor, students will prepare their Plan of Study for acceptable optics course and transfer course work. A three-member faculty committee will evaluate the M.S. thesis or approve the non-thesis report prior to the final oral exam. The non-thesis M.S. Final Oral Exam will primarily assess knowledge of optics coursework as determined by the three-member faculty committee.  For those doing a Master’s report, this report tends to be primary focus of discussion. The thesis option M.S. Final Oral Exam will assess both knowledge of optics coursework and an acceptable thesis as determined by the three-member faculty committee. Thus, assessment will include a combination of coursework completion with grades of B or higher, demonstrated research (for the thesis option), technical writing toward completion of a thesis, Master’s report, or technical writing course; and presentation skills and optics knowledge through an oral exam.

Dual M.S./MBA Degree
The Optical Sciences’ Dual Degree M.S. student must complete 35 units of coursework with grades of B or higher. Of the 35 required units, 26 units are optics coursework and labs. In addition, during the summer semesters the student must complete three units of OPTI 909, Master’s Report. In addition to the 29 required optics units, two MBA courses (six units) each with grades of B or higher will be considered transfer units for a total of 35 units. Students are required to complete two M.S., Plans of Study, one for each Master’s Program. The Plans of Study must be submitted during the fall semester of the second year of the program. Note: 17 units may be “double dipped” toward meeting the dual degree requirements. Students must submit to both Optical Sciences and Eller College of Management a copy of both Plans of Study. The Optics M.S. final exam will consist of an oral presentation based primarily on the Master’s report and the MBA summer project. Assessment will include a combination of coursework completion with grades of B or higher, technical writing toward completion of a technical paper/Master’s report, and presentation as determined by the three-member faculty committee, one of which will be an Eller College of Management faculty member. Eller College of Management is responsible for assessment of the MBA requirements toward awarding this dual degree.

Ph.D. Degree
The number of units for the Ph.D. degree 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 course units with grades of B or higher is required. Of the 54 course units two units will be laboratory courses. However, with approval of the student’s dissertation professor, this number may be reduced to 45 units. There are no exceptions to this requirement of a minimum of 45 units. Independent Study 599 units must meet Graduate College Policy and be approved the Associate Dean of Academic Programs. All Ph.D. students must take at least one graduate course in each of eight topic areas as defined by the College of Optical Sciences Ph.D. Core Curriculum. The Comprehensive Exam will be based on the material in six of those courses. All Ph.D. students must have a minor at The University of Arizona, and the most common case for a Ph.D. student in Optical Sciences is to also minor in Optical Sciences; however it is also possible to minor in another department. Students taking courses outside Optical Sciences toward a minor in that department must meet with the graduate advisor of the other department to ensure all requirements for the minor are met.


Expected Learning Outcomes: 

Upon completion of the Ph.D. program in Optical Sciences, students will:

  1. Demonstrate a breadth of understanding in optical science and engineering, as well as a depth of understanding in a sub-discipline of optical science and engineering.
  2. Apply understanding by demonstrating clear, critical, and creative independent thinking which makes an original and significant contribution to advance the knowledge base in the field of optical science and engineering.
  3. Demonstrate the ability to communicate technically (both in writing and orally) and produce publishable research.
  4. Have the ability to employ professional, ethical, and scientific principles of discipline.
  5. Be able to work effectively with optical components, optical and electronic instruments, or computers in an optics laboratory.

Upon completion of the M.S. in Optical Science, M.S. in Photonic Communication Engineering, and dual M.S./MBA degrees, students will:

  1. Demonstrate mastery of a broad range of basic optics knowledge, or an in-depth understanding of at least one specific area within the optical sciences.
  2. Demonstrate an ability to communicate their knowledge and understanding to others both orally and in writing.
  3. Be able to work effectively with optical components, optical and electronic instruments, or computers in an optics laboratory.
Assessment Activities: 

Direct Measurement of Student Outcomes:

  1. Ph.D. Written and Oral Comprehensive Exams:  Ph.D. student performance on the written and oral portions of the comprehensive exam provide the best indicator of how well they have been able to retain and integrate the knowledge they have gained from their core coursework, and are able to communicate their knowledge in both written and oral form.  Further the Optical Sciences’ Graduate Curriculum Committee has instituted the use of an oral comprehensive exam rubric that is used during each individual exam.  Feedback from the Optical Sciences’ Written Comprehensive Exam Committee and the compilation of Oral Exam scores to the Graduate Curriculum Committee is used to identify apparent gaps in student knowledge and have been significant factors in the decision to make modifications to the core course curriculum.
  2. Ph.D. Dissertation Proposal Exam:  This exam allows the faculty on each Ph.D. student’s dissertation committee to evaluate how well the student is able to formulate a coherent, original research plan and is prepared to successfully complete it.  This form is used by the student’s dissertation committee to submit and track individual objectives for the completion of the dissertation.
  3. Written Dissertation (Ph.D.)/Thesis (M.S.) and Oral Defense of Dissertation (Ph.D.)/Thesis (M.S.):  The act of writing a written dissertation/thesis and defending this dissertation/thesis in order to complete the Ph.D./M.S. degree directly measures the students’ ability to communicate technically (both in writing and orally) and to produce publishable research.  The oral defense allows the faculty on each student’s dissertation/thesis committee to evaluate the quality of the student’s research work and their written dissertation/thesis, as well as the student’s ability to communicate the rationale and results of that work in both written and oral form.  All Ph.D. students are required to complete the written dissertation and defense of their dissertation.  Master’s students have the option of completing the thesis and defense of their work or completing a separate non-thesis defense.
  4. Master’s Non-Thesis Defense:  The Master’s students who do not complete a thesis and defend their work will complete a final oral exam in which the student’s faculty committee will question about their coursework, which provides an evaluation of how well they have been able to retain and integrate the knowledge they have gained from their coursework.  For those who have written a Master’s report, the report often provides the focus of discussion for the oral exam.
  5. Core Course Outcome Measures- In development.  Moving forward, the College will be examining the expected learning outcomes of each core course required for the various graduate degrees and developing assessment measures to align these course objectives to program level outcomes.

Indirect Measurement of Student Outcomes:

  1. Yearly Progress Interview: The progress interview required each year for all graduate students provides the faculty and the student with an annual evaluation of how well the student is progressing through the graduate program and an opportunity to address any problems that may appear. 
  2. 1st Year Graduate Student Progress Report: The progress report for 1st year graduate students is required to be submitted by each student entering a graduate program.  The interview is used to identify and ensure that each student has obtained a commitment from a research advisor, in ensuring that they are receiving proper technical advising through the duration of their studies
  3. Optics Industry Feedback: Feedback is received from the College’s Industrial Affiliates and other industry partners who have hired recent graduates, both formally at the feedback session in the College’s biannual Industrial Affiliates Workshops or informally through contacts at meetings and recruiting trips. This feedback is particularly valuable in telling the College how well it is doing in preparing students for a career after graduation, while also providing assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of College graduates who have been in the workforce for a significant time after graduation. 

Other Assessment Measures: While these assessment measures do not align specifically with program level outcomes, these assessment techniques are used by various committees to provide feedback on program effectiveness.

  1. Course/ Teacher/Teaching Assistant (TA) Evaluations: The course evaluations provided by the students at the conclusion of each course provide information about how well the students feel they are learning the material taught. The TA evaluations provide a method by which the TA is reviewed by the professor for their service in the classroom.  While these assessment techniques are not directly related to a particular program outcome, these tools provide feedback on instructor and TA effectiveness and course utility within the program.  The results are tabulated by the Academic Programs and provided to the College’s Executive Committee when they do their annual review of each faculty member. In addition, a copy of the evaluations is returned to each faculty member after they have turned in their course grades at the end of the semester.  Finally, the numeric results are posted on the College website for perusal by any interested individual.  These evaluations are taken very seriously, and poor evaluations have been the basis for the re-assignment of a course to a different faculty member on two separate occasions in recent years.
  2. Exit Interview:  These surveys, conducted by Academic Program Staff, provide good information about how well the students feel we have prepared them for their post-graduate careers at the time they have finished their degree and are about to leave The University.  Because they allow the students to give us their overall perspective on the program when they have completed it, they are even more valuable than the individual course evaluations students provide.  The results of the exit interviews are tabulated, and any items that appear to indicate significant problems are communicated to the College’s Graduate Curriculum Committee, research advisor, and/or the Associate Dean, as appropriate.
  3. Periodic Student Survey:  This survey is administered to all students on a periodic timeframe and is generally used to generate student response for the Academic Program Review.  It is used to gauge the overall satisfaction with the academic programs, gather input from the students on an anonymous basis and to assess the Academic Programs office.  Both the Associate Dean of Academic Programs and various College faculty committees examine results of this survey.

Table 1.  Grid of the direct and indirect measurement of the learning outcomes for the M.S. and Ph.D. programs along with a listing of additional programmatic assessment methods.

Assessment Findings: 

Specific Data that has been generated through use of the assessment activities include:

Ph.D. Written Comprehensive Exam Summary: the compilation of the average and the lowest passing score for the written comprehensive exam are listed below.  This data is tracked and examined each year by the College’s Preliminary Exam Committee for trends during the construction of the exam. 

Ph. D. Oral Comprehensive Exam Summary:  The rubric from each committee member is collected upon completion of a student’s oral comprehensive exam.  The results are examined by the College’s Graduate Curriculum Committee on a semester-by-semester basis.

Optics Industry Feedback: The compilation of the College’s Industrial Affiliate survey responses, along with talking points from feedback sessions are discussed with the College’s Graduate Curriculum Committee.  The following data has been compiled from the past two years on graduates already working at their location and/or based on their interviews with our students.

Course evaluation results: One of the greatest tools that instructors utilize term after term is the feedback they receive from students’ responses on the teacher course evaluations.  These evaluations given at the end of the semester provide students with the opportunity to make recommendations for future improvement of the course.

Period student survey:  Results from the last periodic student survey are compiled by student leaders in the College of Optical Sciences and distributed to faculty. 

Change in Response to Findings: 

The College’s Graduate Curriculum Committee (appointed by the Dean, members serve for two years) meets at minimum once a month during the academic year to discuss course topic sequencing, program requirements, and other factors affecting the graduate level degree programs.  The following changes have been instituted as a result of these meeting and assessment findings:

  • Institution of a formal Ph.D. Dissertation Proposal Exam form
  • Institution of the Ph.D. Oral Exam Rubric use
  • Changes made to core level requirements (additional course, OPTI 503A, added to mathematical requirements and the structure of this requirement was changed to allow for more specialization within the four research foci of the College.)
  • Introduction of Practical Optics Workshops.  Specialized workshops offered to students and industry members.  The goal of these workshops is to teach students practical, hands-on knowledge that is not typically received in a standard classroom or laboratory environment.
  • Introduction of a new course sequencing (OPTI 600A-E) which allows students to enroll in one-unit more specialized courses of interest.  These courses are offered for one-third of the semester, such that a student can take three in sequence.
  • Institution of OPTI 792: Directed Introductory Graduate Research.  This 1-3 unit course allows for 1st year graduate students to be exposed to graduate level research by being assigned specific tasks.  The graduate research advisor and the student agree upon a list of required deliverables and measure the completion of these tasks using a grading rubric.
  • Approval of the Accelerated Masters Program (AMP).  The 2015-2016 Graduate Curriculum Committee has proposed a draft AMP that is now in circulation within the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee, and will likely be instituted in a future academic semester.

It is important to note, the College’s Graduate Curriculum Committee has made significant changes to the use of evaluation and assessment measures with the introduction of new assessment tools.  In the future, this committee will be charged with developing a new assessment method to align core course objectives to program level objectives.

Additional changes as a result of assessment findings, instituted by the Faculty Academic Steering Committee (FASC), that affect the graduate programs in the College of Optical Sciences includes:

  • 1st year Ph.D course and testing requirement-  previously, students were required to complete a written and oral comprehensive exam, but were not required to schedule this exam within a given time frame.  The change to this requirement now states that all incoming students must complete a specific number of units during their first year and all must pass the new qualifying exam.  It is important to note that the FASC committee will be developing a new tracking rubric for assessment purposes in the near future.
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Updated date: Tue, 10/18/2016 - 16:37