PhD Program

The Doctor of Philosophy degree is designed to give students in-depth study in a particular research emphasis. Compared to our master’s students, a larger percentage of doctorate students receive funding. In the workforce, doctorate graduates generally earn more than graduates with only a Masters degree. They have the flexibility to choose a career in industry, research, or education.

Applicants for the PhD program with a Bachelor of Science degree may be accepted directly into the Doctoral program without completion of a Master of Science degree. These students are encouraged to pursue the milestone Master of Science (non-thesis) degree as part of their Ph.D. program.

Additional information on PhD student policies can be found on the University’s Graduate School website.

Program Requirements

  • Selection of a Research Advisor/Committee Chair
  • Completion of the PhD Qualifying Examination
  • Formation of the PhD Supervisory Committee
  • Successful Oral Defense of the PhD Research Proposal
  • Completion of an approved Program of Study (coursework and research hours)
  • Completion of an approved research program
  • Successful Oral Defense of the PhD Research
  • Approval of a written Dissertation

Research Advisor/Committee Chair

Each student should have a permanent faculty advisor at the time of admission. If not, the student must select a permanent advisor by the end of the first semester their of Ph.D. degree work. The advisor oversees the Ph.D. student’s program, gives recommendations for selecting courses, and supervises the dissertation research. Without petitioning the department and the Grad School, the advisor must be a tenured/tenure-track faculty member within the department.

PhD Qualifying Examination

The first checkpoint in a doctorate student’s career is the Qualifying Exam. Students must pass this exam in order to be ‘admitted to candidacy’ in the Ph.D. program. The exam is directed at testing students’ understanding and application of basic concepts and mastery of technical knowledge in different areas. The exam is administered during the 12th week of each Fall and Spring semester. Students must attempt the Qualifying Exam before the end of their 3rd semester in the Ph.D. program. It is recommended that students attempt the exam earlier in their program whenever possible. Refer to the Ph.D. Qualifying Exam Student Instructions for detailed exam information and procedures.

Supervisory Committee

Within one semester of the successful passage of the qualifying exam, a five-member Supervisory Committee is selected (summer does not count as a semester). The chair of this committee is the student’s permanent advisor. The committee chair selects the other members of the committee in consultation with the student. The Graduate Committee may make recommendations regarding committee membership. The Supervisory Committee must be approved by the department’s Director of Graduate Studies and the Grad School. Without petitioning the department and the Grad School, the majority of the committee must be tenure-line faculty members from the department. At least one member must be from outside the Department. Failure to form a supervisory committee within one semester of passing the qualifying exam will result in the student being placed on probation for failure to make due progress.

*Note: Students may submit a petition for exception to policy for either the chair of the committee or the majority, but not both.

Research Proposal

The second checkpoint is the research proposal defense, which must be conducted within two semesters of passing the qualifying examination and at least 8 months prior to the dissertation defense (summer does not count as a semester). The proposal defense assesses the student’s research abilities and is administered and evaluated by the student’s supervisory committee. Passing the proposal defense indicates that the student’s proposed dissertation research is approved by the committee and can commence. Failure to propose within two semesters of passing the qualifying exam will result in the student being placed on probation for failure to make due progress.

Students are required to submit a written research proposal and a proposal summary to their supervisory committee 2 weeks prior to the oral defense. The written research proposal must follow either the University Thesis Office’s format or a standard format such as those suggested by NSF, DOE, NIH, or other funding agencies as appropriate. The proposal must include a detailed research/project description and an associated bibliography. The student may provide a short bio-sketch and a budget, if relevant. The research proposal must be 15 pages or less, excluding the bibliography. The proposal summary should be about 1 page and includes an abstract, a description of each of the major aims the Ph.D. research, and a timetable of major milestones and events.

Program of Study

The Program of Study and dissertation work is completed under the direction and approval of the supervisory committee. The committee chair (usually the student’s advisor) should assist the student in planning the Program of Study and should encourage breadth by selecting of one or more courses outside of the department in areas such as basic mathematics, science, and other engineering topics. The cumulative GPA of courses listed on the program of study must be greater than or equal to a 3.0 with no grades lower than B-.

Course Requirements (minimum of 47 Total Credit Hours)
Minimum of 33 credit hours in courses relevant to the student’s academic program (graded B- or better)

  • Majority of course credit hours must be in ME EN (6000 or above)
    • Minimum of 6 credit hours in ME EN classes at the 7000 level
    • Remaining credit hours from Math, Science, or Engineering (including ME if desired)
    • Students following established Ph.D. tracks (e.g., Robotics) may deviate from the majority of credits in ME EN based on the track’s requirements
  • Students with a conferred MS degree in Mechanical Engineering or related field may apply up to 21 graduate course credit hours in Math, Science, and Engineering towards the required 33 credit hours, pending Ph.D. Supervisory Committee and Director of Graduate Studies approval
  • No more than 3 credit hours of Independent Study (ME EN 6950)
    • An Independent Study with a student’s Ph.D. advisor must be separate from their dissertation topic and must be approved by the department’s Graduate Committee
  • No more than 3 Seminar credit hours
  • Note: a student’s research advisor or supervisory committee may require additional course credit hours
  • Minimum of 14 credit hours of ME EN 7970, Ph.D. Dissertation Research (graded CR/NC)
    • All additional research credit hours must be ME EN 7970
  • Additional course guidelines
    • No more than 9 non-matriculated credit hours graded B or better
    • No more than 6 transfer credits hours graded B or better
    • Only courses in engineering, mathematics, and science are acceptable
    • The student must obtain an overall GPA of at least 3.0 from all courses used on their Program of Study

Preliminary Program of Study Approval
By the end of their first semester, the student must:

  • Obtain and fill out the Ph.D. Preliminary Program of Study form.
  • Select graduate courses after consultation with their temporary or permanent advisor.
  • List all taken and planned classes on the form that are to count toward the Ph.D., including research hours.
  • Obtain signature approval from their advisor and then submit the form to the Graduate Advisor.

The Graduate Advisor will obtain approval from the Director of Graduate Studies before filing the form in the student’s departmental records. If the form is not approved, the Graduate Advisor will return the form to the student.

Final Program of Study Approval
Upon registering for their final course(s), the student must:

  • Obtain and fill out the Ph.D. Program of Study form.
  • List all classes that are to count toward the Ph.D., including research hours.
  • Gather signature approval from their committee members, and then submit the form to the Graduate Advisor.

The Graduate Advisor will input the information from the form into the electronic records system via CIS. The Director of Graduate Studies will electronically approve the Program of Study.

Milestone Masters
Once the student has passed the Qualifying Exam and completed at least 30 course hours, they may receive a Master of Science, non-thesis degree as a “milestone” MS. The student forms a 3-member committee for the MSNT and completes a program of study with 30 credit hours of coursework. The student then and submits the following completed paperwork to Graduate Advising:

  • Request for Supervisory Committee
  • Program of Study form

Once this paperwork has been submitted, the MS degree will be awarded the following semester.

Dissertation and Oral Defense
The final checkpoint in the Ph.D. program is the dissertation defense, which is given at least 8 months after the research proposal and in the student’s last semester. This defense is open to the public and is an in-depth explanation of the student’s doctoral research. The defense is the final examination in the doctoral program. It can be broken down into three parts: a written exam, a public oral exam, and a closed oral exam.

View detailed Ph.D. Defense Instructions.

Written Dissertation
The dissertation manuscript serves as the written portion of the exam. The student must receive dissertation content approval (by private/pre-defense if required) before they may schedule and conduct their final oral examination. The dissertation’s contents, results, and conclusions associated with the student’s doctoral research are provided to the supervisory committee for their review and evaluation. For formatting and organization of the manuscript, please follow the manuscript guidelines outlined by the Graduate School. At a minimum, the dissertation must:

  • Include a dissertation summary that is a succinct description of a student’s accomplishments and the deliverables achieved.
  • Reflect an understanding of the current and past state of knowledge in the chosen research area through a comprehensive literature review of the subject
  • Clearly state the goals of the research and justify its value to the engineering and scientific community
  • Demonstrate a fundamental and original contribution, which significantly advances engineering science in the chosen area of research

Because the department values timely dissemination of results, some portion (e.g., a chapter) of the dissertation must have been submitted for publication in a committee-approved, peer-reviewed journal at the time of the defense. Yet, committee members may have differing publication requirements for their students. Therefore, in some cases, students may not qualify to defend until they have met these publication requirements.

Prior to scheduling and conducting their dissertation defense, the student must complete any content corrections recommended by the supervisory committee.

Oral Defense Format
After receiving dissertation content approval, the student will conduct the final oral examination. The student will coordinate the required public announcement and scheduling of the defense with the Graduate Advising Office.

The defense begins with the student’s presentation of the doctoral research. The student will be evaluated on presentation skills as well as the content. Members of the audience may ask the student relevant questions. After the public question-and-answer session, the audience will be excused. After the open portion of the exam, the closed oral exam begins. The committee may pursue additional discussion and questions with the student. The acceptability of the research effort, the content and conclusions of the dissertation, and the student’s oral defense are considered along with other factors, as appropriate. The committee then dismisses the student and votes to determine whether the student passes the exam. The chair then meets with the student to inform him/her of the committee’s decision, and the reasons for that decision.

Manuscript Approval
The last step to confer a Ph.D. degree is formatting and submitting the department approved dissertation to the Thesis Office.

  • Once the committee approves the dissertation content and the student has passed their oral defense, they must obtain department approval by providing Graduate Advising with:
    • their manuscript
    • signed approval and defense forms
    • a Grammarly report showing that no major grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors are in the manuscript
  • The student’s Graduate Advisor will indicate any required changes to the dissertation’s formatting
  • The student must complete all required changes before submitting it to the Thesis Office.
  • Once the manuscript is uploaded to the Thesis Office’s submission system, all committee members and the department chair will provide their electronic approval of the dissertation.
  • Once any Thesis Office corrections are finished, the student must then work with the Thesis Office to submit their manuscript to ProQuest (or USPACE) for online viewing.
  • The dissertation must be approved by Thesis Editor no later than eight months from the date of the oral defense. This eight-month deadline includes dissertation corrections, supervisory committee approval, department chair approval, and final approval by the Thesis Office. If this requirement is not met, any prior approvals of the dissertation will be voided, the student will have to re-register for at least one dissertation credit, and re-defend the dissertation.
  • After each of these steps is completed, the student will be cleared for graduation. Please note that a student is not considered “graduated” for merely passing the defense. The dissertation must also successfully pass corrections and be published before a degree may be awarded.

Residency Requirement
At least one year of the doctoral program must be spent in full-time academic work at the University of Utah. This means that for two consecutive semesters, the student must be registered for 9 or more credit hours.

Time Limits
A maximum time of seven years is allowed for completion of the Ph.D. degree. If the student requires additional time, the student’s advisor must submit a petition to the Director of Graduate Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School requesting an extension with a plan for completing the program.

Students can monitor their degree progress and milestones by logging into CIS, locating the Graduation panel under their Student Information, and clicking on “Graduate Student Summary.” It is the responsibility of the student to monitor and ensure the correctness of their online records.