Ph.D. Program

To earn a doctoral degree in the Materials Science & Engineering (MSE) program, students must follow the general rules and regulations for the Doctoral degree as established by the Graduate School in the latest Graduate Catalog. There are additional requirements for a PhD degree in MSE that are detailed under Sec. I – Requirements.

The typical duration of a Doctoral degree is 5 years beyond the Baccalaureate degree or 3 years beyond the Master’s degree. Most graduate students enrolled in the PhD program are supported by some form of an assistantship (graduate, research, or teaching). Research assistantships are funded by grants from the federal government, the State government, or private industry. Graduate and teaching assistantships are funded by the University. All forms of assistantships carry with them a stipend and an attractive benefits package, including medical and dental insurance. Most assistantships include at least partial coverage for tuition.

I. Requirements

The key requirements of the Graduate School are: the students must maintain an overall GPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0), submit a Plan of Study (PoS) to the Graduate School, pass a General Examination, and successfully defend their thesis. The details of the requirements of the Graduate School towards a PhD degree are given in the latest Graduate Catalog (

In addition to these, the MSE program requires that

  1. The students must successfully complete 3 Core Courses (MSE 5301, 5309, and 5334) and maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0) in these courses.
  2. The student must pass a written Qualifying Examination.
  3. The student must pass a General Examination which consists of a written PhD thesis proposal and an oral presentation to the Advisory Committee. Each student shall select his/her own Advisory Committee. This Proposal must be approved by the student’s Advisory Committee and the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty Council.
  4. The student must enroll in the Graduate Seminar MSE 6401 every semester.
  5. The student must serve as a teaching assistant for 2 semesters.
  6. The student must prepare and orally defend a research thesis.

II. The Qualifying Examination

All students seeking candidacy for the PhD degree must sit for a written qualifying examination. To be eligible for the examination, the student must be admitted for study in the Doctoral program and must file an application form with the MSE Graduate Program Coordinator. Furthermore, beyond normal research and outreach obligations associated with any student fellowships, students must have completed three graduate courses with at least a cumulative GPA of 3.0 by January of their first year. The classes must include:

  1. one MSE core course; 
  2. one other MSE graduate level course (MSE 5000+, i.e. core or elective);
  3. and either:
    1. another MSE graduate level course (core or elective);
    2. or (only with approval from your advisor or the MSE Director of Graduate Studies):
    1.  a graduate level course in a materials-related program;
    2. or [only for those matriculating with a prior masters degree in a materials related field] 3 credits of MSE 5099 (independent study) or GRAD 6950 (PhD Research).

The examination is given once a year after the first semester of full-time graduate study in the doctoral program and measures the student’s level of preparedness to pursue advanced graduate coursework and research in MSE. Students are expected to demonstrate a high level of aptitude in the physical sciences and mathematics and to be knowledgeable in the application of these topics to the structure, properties, and processing of condensed states of matter. The qualifying examination is administered by a panel of five members of the MSE graduate faculty designated by the Chair of the Graduate Program. The panel reviews the student’s performance in the examination and in the three graduate classes and renders a decision on candidacy for the PhD degree. Students who are unsuccessful may be offered the option to continue graduate study in the MSE program towards an MS degree. Petitions to retake the examination are rarely granted.

III. The Plan of Study (PoS)

The student shall put together a PoS under the guidance of his/her Principal Advisor. All PhD students entering the MSE PhD program have to take two MSE core courses and another graduate level class in their first semester and maintain a 3.0 GPA. “Furthermore, the PoS should include the three designated MSE classes (9 credits) and an additional 21 credits of advanced coursework tailored to the student’s specific interests for a minimum 30 credits of class work. Under normal circumstances a maximum of 12 of these elective credits may be taken outside the MSE program. For those entering with a masters degree in the same or a closely-related field of study, they must complete at least 15-credits of content coursework (a max of 6 outside of MSE). The student must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0) in the core courses and an overall GPA of 3.0 (out of 4.0) or above. In general, the PoS should include coursework providing coverage of structure, processing, and properties of materials. The PoS must also include at least 15 credits of Dissertation Research (GRAD 6950) and the total number of credits should not be less than 45, excluding MSE 6401. The core course requirement may be modified if the student has passed equivalent courses in a different department at the University of Connecticut, or at a different university in a similar graduate program. Such decisions shall be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by the Chair of the Graduate Program.

IV. The General Examination: Dissertation Proposal

Before the General Examination, a PoS must have been submitted to the Graduate School for approval. For the General Examination, the student prepares a written PhD thesis proposal and presents it orally to a faculty committee. This exam is scheduled on an individual basis after coursework and language requirements are completed. The student is required to submit a written Dissertation Proposal to his/her Advisory Committee. This committee shall consist of 1 Principal Advisor and 2 Associate Advisors. The Principal Advisor and at least one of the Associate Advisors must be members of the graduate faculty in the MSE field of study. The remaining Associate Advisor must be approved by the Principal Advisor, based on suitable qualifications to reasonably advise and assess the student’s work.

The student shall orally present and discuss the Proposal in front of a panel comprising the Advisory Committee. Two additional experts must approve of the proposal, either in person at the oral presentation, or following the event in writing. Overall, at least 3 of the 5 individuals approving the Proposal must be MSE graduate faculty. It is expected that the student will have acquired a comprehensive knowledge of fundamental Materials Science and Engineering principles regardless of the elective courses taken prior to the examination. If this competency is not demonstrated adequately during the oral examination, the Advisory Committee may recommend that additional courses be taken above and beyond those included in the student’s PoS. If the Proposal is not acceptable to the Committee, the Committee shall suggest amendments, whereupon the student shall revise and re-submit the Proposal. The Proposal must receive unanimous approval by the entire Advisory Committee. The student shall submit the Proposal to the Graduate School for approval by the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty Council. The student shall also deliver a copy of the approved Proposal to the Graduate Records Office.

V. The Research Thesis and Defense

The majority of the student’s research project shall be performed on campus under the supervision of the Principal Advisor. The residency requirement shall be fulfilled by conducting full-time research and study at least for 2 consecutive semesters at the Storrs campus. Portions of the research may be performed at outside facilities as deemed necessary.

The student shall submit the written thesis to the Examination Committee for review, at least two weeks before the Defense date. This Committee shall consist of the original Advisory Committee from the Proposal (3 persons, at least 2 of whom must be members of the MSE graduate faculty), plus two additional members approved by the Advisor. At least 3 of the 5 members of the overall Examination Committee must be MSE graduate faculty. The student shall present an oral Thesis Defense, which will be open to the public. Following the public presentation and discussion, the student shall be examined orally by the Examination Committee and the other faculty members present. The thesis research must be publishable in a refereed journal in the field.