Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Requirements

The Doctor of Philosophy degree requires both coursework and research accomplishments. Required for graduation:

  • 30 credits total (entering the program with an MS Degree).
  • 60 credits total (entering the program without an MS Degree). Students entering without the MS must also complete our MS Degree coursework curriculum.

No specific courses are required in addition to those specified for the MS-thesis curriculum, though your thesis advisor may require you to take additional courses. Research credits (MSE 5990 and MSE 6990) count towards the required course credit requirements.

Students who obtain an MS degree from somewhere other than Michigan Tech, or who are admitted directly to the PhD program, must take the core courses that are required for the MS degree. These courses may be waived if similar courses have been taken elsewhere, subject to approval of your thesis advisor and the graduate program director.

Core Courses for the PhD Program

Students must also successfully complete the PhD Qualifying Examination.

Candidacy can be achieved by the student after they have successfully completed:

  • the oral qualifier exam,
  • the written comprehensive exam, and
  • the course of study plan approved by their PhD committee.


The Michigan Tech MSE program does offer an online degree with admission on a case by case basis. There is no residency requirement in the online program, but off campus students are expected to be on-site for the oral qualifying exam, the proposal defense and the dissertation defense.

Qualifying Examination

The Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) PhD Qualifying Process will consist of a Qualifying Exam and a Comprehensive Exam. The oral qualifier and written comprehensive exam are offered once per year, in late spring and late summer respectively. It is expected that you will take the oral qualifier exam at the end of the spring semester after having completing one full fall semester. The written comprehensive exam should be undertaken in the summer session after completing one full fall semester. Taking the exams with less residence time in the graduate program is possible, i.e., after one semester of residence. Delaying these exams requires consultation with your research advisor and the MSE Graduate Program advisor.

The Comprehensive Examination is intended to allow the PhD candidate to demonstrate competency in the breadth of topics associated with the Materials Science and Engineering (MSE) discipline.

The Comprehensive Exam will consist of 10 problems, 2 on each of the following 5 topics:

  1. Phase Diagrams
  2. Kinetics
  3. Structure-Property
  4. Mechanical Behavior
  5. Electrical-Magnetic-Optical Properties

The scope of the exam will be based on the textbook, Fundamentals of Materials Science and Engineering. An Integrated Approach 5th edition. W.D. Callister, Jr. & D.G. Rethwisch, John Wiley & Sons. You need to be have an understanding of all areas of the textbook that relate to the 5 exam topics. To reiterate, the comprehensive exam emphasizes the learning material in the Callister textbook and you really need to make an in depth study or review of the Callister textbook in preparation for the comprehensive exam.

The exam will take place on a single day in July or early August within the time period 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. (10 problems) and 1 p.m. - 4 p.m. (10 problems). You will have one hour (12 - 1 p.m.) for lunch break (lunch not provided). The exam will be evaluated by the 7 to 8 Professors that authored the exam problems. Your best preparation for the Comprehensive Exam is to study the Callister textbook!!!

The Qualifying Exam is intended to allow the PhD candidate to demonstrate the ability to study technical literature relevant to his/her dissertation research topic, identify a significant scientific or engineering question, propose an experimental approach that promises to answer that question, and to conduct and interpret preliminary experiments. The main elements of the Qualifying Exam process will be:

  • Written Research Proposal: The candidate will prepare a hypothesis-based detailed research proposal. This proposal should be based, at least in part, on preliminary research during the first year of enrollment in the PhD program. Information regarding the recommended format and structure of the proposal can be found in Preparation of the PhD Qualifying Exam Proposal.
  • Oral Defense of the Proposal: The candidate will present an oral defense of the research proposal.

Preparation for the PhD qualifying exam may be aided by the reading the following:

The examining committee for the research proposal will consist of three members of the MSE graduate faculty proposed by the MSE Graduate Program Committee and approved by the MSE Department Chair. The candidate's advisor is not eligible to serve on the examining committee, but may attend the oral defense. The Department Chair may also attend the oral defense as a non-voting ex-officio observer. The committee must receive the research proposal and approve scheduling of the oral defense at least two weeks prior to its scheduled date. The oral defense will not be open to the public; and will consist of a short (25 minute maximum) presentation of the proposed research, after which the candidate will respond to questions by the committee. The oral examination is intended to probe the depth of the candidate's understanding of fundamental issues relevant to the proposed research and interpretation of preliminary research results.

Outcomes of the Qualifying Exam will be one of the following

  • Pass
  • Fail (the candidate may retake the PhD Qualifying Exam not more than one additional time the following Spring)

The examining committee will determine the outcome by a majority vote at the conclusion of the oral defense.

Research Proposal Examination

The Research Proposal Examination is taken after the Qualifying Examination has been passed. It is administered by the student's Advisory Committee for the purpose of reviewing and evaluating the student's proposed plan for research. Once a student has identified a research problem in consultation with his or her research advisor, has become familiar with the related literature, and has devised a plan for research, the Research Proposal Examination should be scheduled. A paper describing the proposed research, not exceeding 15 pages in total length, should be distributed to the Advisory Committee one week prior to the scheduled exam. The student should prepare a 30-minute talk outlining the problem and hypothesis with a description of the proposed research methods and design of experiment (DOE) to test the hypothesis. A presentation of the scope of the proposed work and an estimated timeline will inform both the candidate and the committee of the feasibility of the program. The remainder of the exam will be devoted to questions and answers related to the proposed research. Although no special form is needed for scheduling this examination please consult the MSE office assistant to schedule a room, advertise the talk to the department and University community, and prepare the Report on Research Proposal Examination. The Advisory Committee will be given the Evaluation of Graduate Learning Objectives (GLO) to complete during the Examination. Both Report and Evaluation forms are retained for departmental records. Upon successful completion of the Research Proposal Examination, the student completes the Petition to Enter Candidacy for signed approval of his or her advisor and submits it to the Graduate School.

Doctoral Dissertation and Final Oral Examination

The final examination may be scheduled any time after a period of two academic semesters following the successful completion of the Research Proposal Examination and upon completion of the dissertation in satisfactory form. It is the responsibility of the student to be aware of the most current policies and rules regarding graduation (check with the Graduate School and their website). Two weeks prior to the final examination a completed draft of the dissertation, prepared in accordance with the manual "Instructions Concerning the Preparation of Theses and Dissertations", must be submitted to the Graduate School. Students must schedule their defense using the Current Students tab on MyMichiganTech. The student is responsible for obtaining all necessary signatures on said form, as well as scheduling a room for the defense with help from an office assistant as needed. The dissertation is also distributed to the Advisory Committee at this time. One week before the oral examination, the student submits a defense title and abstract to the office assistant so that announcements can be sent to the department and University community. The day of the defense, the student completes the Report on Final Oral Examination for subsequent approval; the Advisory Committee completes the Evaluation of Graduate Learning Objectives and Assessment of Final Defense for departmental record. Following the oral defense, the PhD candidate incorporates all corrections and suggestions of the Advisory Committee into the final dissertation. Students can familiarize themselves with the deadlines, dissertation submission policies, and necessary graduation forms via the Graduate School’s website.

Current versions of all tracking forms are available online at Degree Completion Timelines.

Note to International Students: Visa requirements for international students often change. International students should stay well informed of current visa requirements through International Programs and Services or the Graduate School related to timelines and possible changes of status after graduation.

Timeline for Completion

It is the responsibility of graduate student to be familiar with MSE department policies as outlined in this handbook, and with Graduate School policies as outlined in the Graduate School Catalog. It is the responsibility of each graduate student to be sure that Masters or Doctoral forms are completed and authorized in a timely fashion, and are filed with the MSE office assistant or Graduate School as prescribed.

How long should it take you to complete your PhD program? Those who enter the program with a Masters may complete the PhD in as little as three years. Others, perhaps entering with a Bachelor’s, may take four or five years. Durations greater than eight calendar years require approval from the Graduate School.

The table below shows some typical milestones for your program, and indicates a typical range of times by which you should reach that milestone.

Typical milestones in a PhD program and typical timeframes in which they are completed.
What: When (semesters, including summer semester):
Choose a research advisor Within 2
Complete required coursework

Without MS, 5 to 6

With MS, 0-3 (depending on whether you have satisfied core course requirements.)

Choose a committee 2 to 4
Pass qualifying exam 2 to 4
Pass research proposal examination 3 to 6
Enter Candidacy / Start writing products to be included in dissertation 3 to 6
Dissertation Defense / Final Oral Examination 6 to 10
Form Schedule for the PhD
Form: Term Due:
Advisor and Committee Recommendation Form By end of first academic year naming research advisor
Responsible Conduct of Research

Basic by the end of first academic year

Advances by the end of third semester

Report on Qualifying Examination

Within first two years in PhD program

Submit advisory committee approved form to MSE

Advisor and Committee Recommendation Form

Semester following passing qualifying exams naming advisory committee

Degree Schedule*

Semester coursework is complete or

Semester before petition to enter candidacy

Report on Research Proposal Examination*

Upon passing oral research proposal exam

Submit advisory committee approved form to MSE

Petition to Enter Candidacy*

*These three forms are often submitted at the same time.

One week prior to the first day of classes in the semester student plans to enter candidacy

Schedule Defense

Two weeks prior to oral defense

Schedule using the Current Students tab on MyMichiganTech with draft copy of dissertation to graduate school and advisory committee

Report on Final Oral Examination

Day of Defense

Complete for advisory committee signatures following oral defense

Approval of Dissertation, Thesis, Report

Complete all revisions, obtain advisory committee approvals, submit form to graduate school

Within one week submit dissertation, thesis, report to Digital Commons and ProQuest

Workspace Cleanout Form

Before graduating/leaving

Survey of Earned Doctorate; Exit Survey

Before completing degree

Current versions of all tracking forms are available online at Degree Completion Timelines.