McMaster Physics and Astronomy Graduate Student Wiki

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Welcome to the Department of Physics & Astronomy wiki, maintained by graduate students for graduate students. Slowly, we hope to collect all the information useful to graduate students in our department. See anything wrong or missing? Let us know, and contribute.

A disclaimer: The official source of information is always the Graduate Calendar and the policies of the University and the Department. If there is a difference between that information and something presented here, the official university documents should be taken as correct. If you're not sure or want clarification, talk to the Associate Chair.

Academic and professional life

Degree requirements

  • Courses - Current course offerings, requested courses
  • Committee Meetings - How often do I need them? What is required? What forms are needed before/after?
  • Comprehensive Exams - Requirements, what to expect, old questions

Day-to-day in the department

Graduation and post-grad life

Writing papers


  • TAing - Rights and responsibilities, TA preferences, health and dental plans, etc.


As a general note, Mara is a useful resource for any financial question you might have. Her door is always open (in ABB-241).


  • Scholarships- Important info about student tuition and scholarships, or related.


We would like to emphasize the importance of managing your research expenses carefully. As a graduate student the ratio of your income to potential expenses incurred can be very high. It is of the utmost importance you avoid credit card interest payments, by either being prudent in your expense report filing, or as a last resort by leveraging the low interest rates offered by a student line of credit as compared to a credit card.

There are two options for students to pay for conference/summer school registration fees and flights:

  • Use the P&A Dept Diners Mastercard, which can be obtained from Mara. You will need to mark down the date you used the card and detail of the charge in the table within the Diners card envelope.
  • Use your own funds, and get reimbursed via direct deposit through the Mosaic system.

In either scenario, you must give copies of all your receipts and boarding passes to Mara or another administrator (e.g. Rose, Tina).

  • Per diems can be reimbursed through Mosaic after the conference or summer school by filling out an expense form and giving it to Mara or another administrator along with your food receipts. There is a standard per diem of $17 per meal (CDN if you are in Canada or US for elsewhere) however you should discuss with your supervisor before attending the conference or summer school if you will be getting the standard per diem, or a reduced per diem.
  • If you require additional funding for travel see "Travel specific awards" under Scholarships

For more information on reimbursements, see complete policy here.

Teaching Assistant (TA) Income

  • Much of a graduate student's income typically comes from a teaching assistantship (see TAing for more details). Generally, a teaching assistantship consists of 260 hours per year paid at ~$40 per hour (exact hourly pay may vary from year to year), i.e. ~$10,400 per year.

Opening a Student Line of Credit

  • Most banks (e.g. TD, RBC) offer student lines of credit up to $16,000 as long as you have a cosigner. Interest rates can be Prime + 1% or 1.5%. To get the process started, find a cosigner who is willing to give the bank their tax reports for the past couple years, and set up a meeting at the bank with one of their financial advisers.

Living in Hamilton --- non academic life

Your experience during your time in graduate school will be shaped as greatly by your time spent off campus as the time spent on it. Hamilton can offer a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and finding the aspects of the city that you enjoy most can make a huge difference in your happiness and productivity during your time at McMaster.

Where to live

The part of the city that you choose to live in will probably be the greatest deciding factor in determining what sides of Hamilton you see or do not see. Fortunately, McMaster's location within Hamilton gives you a lot of different options when choosing where to live with options ranging from a gritty urban core with a thriving arts scene, to century homes in a friendly neighbourhood, to an idyllic small town setting, all within biking distance of campus. Typically students will live in one of five different areas, depending on their lifestyle preferences; more specifically, popular locations include

Getting around

  • All graduate students at McMaster have access to the HSR bus service included in their student fees.
  • Hamilton also has a bike share program, SoBi. They have many payment plans, and a very attractive $70/year plan for McMaster Students.
  • For transportation outside the city of Hamilton there the following services: GO transit (bus and train service to the greater Toronto area; a one way trip to Toronto is ~$10), Greyhound (bus service to a variety of locations in Canada and the United States), and Coach Canada (bus service to a variety of locations in Canada and the United States). All these services have stops on campus.


Rent varies depending on the living accommodations you choose (e.g. one bedroom apartment or a bedroom in a house), and its location within the city. For a bedroom in a house with a few other people you can expect to pay $300-600 per month depending on the location and what other amenities are provided. For a one bedroom apartment you can expect to pay $700-1200 depending on the location, what other facilities are in the building (e.g. fitness room) and how recently the apartments have been built/renovated. Bachelor apartments as well as two bedroom apartments (with rent split between the two occupants) tend to be much cheaper options than a one bedroom with similar living conditions, often two bedroom units cost as little as $200 per month more than a one bedroom of comparable quality i.e. $1200/2people vs $1000/1person.

For a list of housing ads (including prices) targeted towards McMaster Graduate students/Faculty/Staff see


In terms of groceries, you can check out the Metro, Fortinos, Food Basics, and Nations flyers to get an idea of prices (you can use the postal code L8S 4L8 if prompted).

Major grocery stores

Farmer's Markets

Restaurants, bars, and cafes


Theatre Live Music Sports Nightlife Art Movies Dance

Festivals and events

Hamilton (and surrounding areas) has a variety of events throughout the year. Some notable ones include

  • Supercrawl
  • Art crawl
  • Hamilten short play festival
  • Hamilton Fringe
  • Locke Street Festival
  • Festival of Friends
  • Winona peach festival (Winona)
  • Westfest
  • Sound of music festival (Burlington)
  • Because Beer
  • Sew Hungry
  • Hamilton Film Festival
  • AGH BMO World Film Festival

New Students

General information

  • New Students - Course registration, living in Hamilton, etc.

Interprovincial students

International students


Finding conferences

As a graduate student you are expected to be actively searching for conferences/summer schools where you can present your work, network with other scientists, and stay connected to contemporary research. This can be hard if you do not know where to look, and so below we present some useful tools.


The Canadian Astronomy Data Centre maintains an updated list of future (and past) astronomy conferences over the next ~year.

Quantum Condensed Matter

Soft Condensed Matter


AMO Physics

Ultracold atom news

Generic "quantum" conferences

Young Atom Opticians - Typically held in Europe

DAMOP Annual Conference

High Energy Physics

HEP-Inspire database


Reviews and recomendations

How to apply

Funding sources


This section contains information about computing in the Physics and Astronomy department.

Note: RHPCS is mentioned as a useful resource for computing support throughout the following pages. Before contacting RHPCS consult your supervisor to avoid surprise charges to their account. RHPCS charges per email & hour of support, so your supervisor may want to limit the use of RHPCS's services. Your supervisor, groupmates or other department members may be able to help with your computing issues as well. You can also request administrative privileges from RHPCS if you are comfortable managing your own machine.

Day-to-day problems and solutions

High-performance computing

  • Computing - Getting set up, high performance computing, e-mail, etc.

Tips and tricks


MediaWiki Guide

Consult the User's Guide for information on using the wiki software.