First-year qualification

At the end of each academic year, the MSE faculty will review the academic and research performance of each first year doctoral student to determine if they are qualified for continued study. The main factors are the candidate’s core and two-semester QPAs, and their advisor’s assessment of research performance. (See Appendix A of the Ph.D. Student Handbook.) If the candidate passes this review, then they will continue as a student in good standing. If the candidate fails the review they will leave the doctoral program prior to the start of the next academic year. This decision is based on faculty consensus.

Research performance evaluation

Before the end of the third semester, each candidate must take a research performance evaluation. The research performance evaluation committee consists of three MSE faculty members, at least two of whom have primary affiliations in the MSE department; two committee members are selected by the candidate and the advisor, and one is appointed by the department head. The advisor does not participate directly in the Q&A phase of the evaluation. The RPE committee should constitute a core of the committee for both the thesis overview and dissertation defense. The outcome of the RPE will be based on a combination of input from the advisor and the research performance evaluation of the committee members.

The candidate must submit a written proposal of no more than 15 pages and deliver it to the committee members at least 10 calendar days prior to the evaluation; if the deadline is not met, then the committee shall cancel the scheduled event, and a new date shall be set. See the mandatory RPE document conventions.

During the exam, the candidate makes an oral presentation of their research proposal lasting no more than 30 minutes. The slides for the presentation must be numbered sequentially. The presentation is followed by questions from the committee. Only MSE faculty are permitted to attend the Research Performance Evaluation.

During the research performance evaluation, the candidate is expected to demonstrate:

  1. a fundamental understanding of research goals of the project
  2. a knowledge of background literature related to the project
  3. an understanding of the research tools that are used to accomplish project goals
  4. a hypothesis for the experiments performed to date and for the immediate future
  5. an ability to develop a research plan
  6. an ability to produce and analyze their own research results
  7. an ability to integrate materials fundamentals that are relevant to the project

The RPE committee members each fill out an “MSE RPE Committee Checklist and Evaluation Instructions” form. (See Appendix C of Ph.D. Student Handbook.) At the conclusion of the evaluation, the candidate receives immediate oral feedback on both the strengths and the weaknesses in all areas listed above, and the results are communicated to the department. The candidate will be provided with a written summary of the RPE within two weeks. Passing this evaluation allows candidates to remain in the Ph.D. program. If a candidate fails the evaluation, they may be permitted to make a second attempt before the end of the fourth semester. In such cases, a new committee is appointed by the department head, with one member from the original committee and two new members.

Course requirements

In addition to the research requirements, doctoral students are also required to complete 96 units of course work.* This includes 36 units of MSE core classes that must be completed in the first semester. The remaining units may be made up of graduate level classes in the MSE department or graduate level classes in the other departments within the College of Engineeirng, the School of Computer Science (SCS), or the Mellon College of Science (MCS). Classes outside of MSE must be approved by the student's advisor. While the 96 unit curriculum should be comprised entirely of graduate classes, it is generally permissible to include one senior level MSE undergraduate class, with the exception of 27-454, 27-555, and 27-556.

*Please note: Students enrolled in the MSE Ph.D. program are required to complete at least 12 units of 27-991 Materials Science and Engineering Teaching Internship between their third and seventh semesters. Students should discuss the appropriate time to apply for and fulfill this requirement with their academic advisor(s). No more than 24 units of 27-991 can count toward the coursework requirement of the Ph.D. program.

Grades

To remain a candidate for the Ph.D. degree, a student must have a QPA greater than or equal to 3.0 for the MSE core courses taken in the first semester or have a QPA greater than or equal to 3.0 by the end of the first two semesters in graduate level coursework that includes the MSE core courses. The first-year QPA calculation includes only courses offered by the MSE department. Courses involving independent study or supervised reading are not counted toward the 96-unit requirement and are not used in the calculations to the QPA. Master of science course 27-699 Professional Skills in Materials Science and Engineering also does not count toward the Ph.D degree requirement and is not used in the calculations to the QPA. Finally, all of the courses in the 96 unit graduate curriculum must be taken for credit and completed with a QPA greater than or equal to 3.0 by the time of graduation (thus, pass/fail classes can not be counted toward degree requirements).

To remain a candidate for the Ph.D. degree after the first fall semester, a student must:

  • have a letter grade in each of the six MSE core courses
  • have a core QPA greater than or equal to 3.0
  • have no more than two core grades below a B
  • have no core grades of C- or below

If the student does not satisfy any one of these criteria, then continuation in the Ph.D. program will be at the discretion of the MSE faculty. In addition to these criteria, to remain a candidate for the Ph.D. degree at any point after the first fall semester, and at graduation, the overall QPA, excluding independent project and research grades, must be 3.0 or above.

All full-time graduate students must also enroll, attend, and actively participate in the graduate seminar course (27-774) each semester in which they are registered as full-time students. 

Course assistant

All doctoral students in the department are expected to act as course assistants. The duties of course assistants include grading homework, providing assistance to faculty and staff in laboratories, and proctoring exams. Graduate students who are in their first or final semester of studies or are part-time are excused from participation in this activity.

Students enrolled in the MSE Ph.D. program are required to complete at least 12 units of 27-991 Materials Science and Engineering Teaching Internship between their third and seventh semesters. Students should discuss the appropriate time to apply for and fulfill this requirement with their academic advisor(s). No more than 24 units of 27-991 can count toward the coursework requirement of the Ph.D. program.

English language requirement

In a continuing effort to improve technical and interpersonal communication, it is the policy of the department that all international students, whose first language is not English, should attempt to pass the Intercultural Communications Center’s International Teaching Assistant (ITA) test before graduation at the doctoral level.

Research performance reporting

Graduate students will submit a research report each semester by the last day of classes, using the template provided in Appendix B of the Ph.D. Student Handbook. The advisor will evaluate the report and assign a letter grade, which then becomes the student’s research grade for that semester. If the student’s research progress is insufficient, according to the expectations of the advisor, then a letter grade no higher than a “C” will be assigned and the advisor will spell out in writing, as part of the research report, which aspects of research the student is expected to improve upon. A “C” grade also signifies department intervention. A student who has received a “C” grade will receive close scrutiny during the next semester’s research report evaluation; the student is expected to specifically describe how he/she has addressed any issue(s). Two consecutive semesters with a “C” or below grade automatically imply termination from the graduate degree program.