Department of

Electrical Engineering

Serving society through excellence in education, research, scholarship, and public outreach


IV.  Ph.D. Program in Electrical Engineering

The doctoral student's goal will be to establish his/her reputation as a researcher with a broad supporting base in laboratory and/or analytical techniques, and with experience in presenting original research results at conferences and in refereed journals. The Department of Electrical Engineering welcomes highly qualified students with B.S. or M.S. degrees in electrical engineering, as well as in related engineering and science disciplines. The Ph.D. candidacy requirements, while centered in electrical engineering, are also intended to allow students with diverse backgrounds to efficiently move toward attaining their Ph.D. degrees. To these ends, the student will complete admission to candidacy procedures (Section IV-B-2 of this booklet) to verify a sufficient base of study, be evaluated for English proficiency and presentation skills during a 15-20 minute technical presentation, develop a dissertation proposal to be presented at an oral comprehensive exam (thesis proposal exam), conduct the proposed research, and disseminate the results through the dissertation and related publications. As part of the program, the student will complete 39 technical course credits and 2 colloquium credits beyond the B.S. degree, with at least 30 of these course credits at the 500 level (i.e., at most 9 credits may be 400 level). No more than 3 of these credits may be individual studies (E E 596) and only members of the Department of Electrical Engineering graduate faculty may instruct electrical engineering individual studies courses. Courses not in electrical engineering require approval of the research supervisor. Undergraduate individual study course (EE 496) will not count toward program credit requirements. A Ph.D. student with graduate credits from other institutions may request the approval of the graduate program coordinator to count related technical course credits toward the Ph.D. credit requirement. A maximum of 24 such credits may be counted. Students with MS Degrees entering the Ph.D. program will be required to take a minimum of 15 course credits, with no 596 credits counting toward this total, with at most 3 credits at the 400 level, and with at most 6 credits outside of EE. EE 596 taken as entrance to PhD candidacy cannot be counted toward the PhD course requirements.

A.  Adviser and Committee

The chairperson of the student’s general area committee will select an interim (temporary) academic advisor at the beginning of the first semester. Each student is encouraged to visit members of the graduate faculty during the first semester and strive to complete a Graduate Student/Faculty Advisor Agreement Form by the end of the first semester. These visits will assist in the selection of the research advisor and help identify potential committee members. The advisor is expected to be the research supervisor when the student is supported as a research assistant. The student should select his/her research advisor no later than the end of the second semester after admission as a Ph.D. student and should form a doctoral committee no later than the end of the semester after the student has completed admission to candidacy procedures. The committee will consist of at least three members of the Department of Electrical Engineering graduate faculty and one non-electrical engineering graduate faculty member. At least two members must be tenured/tenure-track in the Department of Electrical Engineering. The chairperson or one co-chairperson of the committee must be a Department of Electrical Engineering graduate faculty member and have a tenured/tenure-track appointment or joint, courtesy or dual title appointment in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Either the chairperson or one of the co-chairpersons will normally be the primary research supervisor. In addition to the chairperson, at least two members of the doctoral committee should have a specific interest in the dissertation or in a closely related area. Additional graduate faculty and/or special members (as defined in the Graduate Degree Programs Bulletin and approved by the Dean of The Graduate School) may be appointed to the committee. The committee must be recommended by the Department and appointed by the Dean of The Graduate School. The student must request the appointment of the committee through the graduate program staff assistant. If a student wishes to change his/her advisor to a new advisor, a written notification must be submitted to the department head. This petition must be reviewed and approved by the new advisor.

B. Admission to Candidacy

Admission as a Ph.D. student does not imply admission to candidacy, which is granted only by the Graduate Committee after the student completes all the admission to candidacy procedures. The decision for or against candidacy is reported to The Graduate School. Positive recommendations are entered on the transcript but failures are not recorded.

1. Eligibility

Only registered Ph.D. students with a GPA of at least 3.0 are eligible for admission to candidacy. A student must complete all admission to candidacy proceduresno later than the beginning of the fourth semester (excluding summer) after entry to the Ph.D. program.

2. Procedure

Each student in the Ph.D. program is required to complete the following components of the EE entrance to candidacy process:

  • Successful completion of the designated core courses in their primary and secondary areas of specialization (a grade of B or better is expected) - the area table is in Section II-D of this booklet.
  • Successful completion of 3 credits of EE 596 research immersion course (a grade of B or better is expected).
  • Written or oral candidacy exam in the primary area of specialization.

Please note: the majority of core courses are offered fall semester only.

Each student in the Ph.D. program is required to complete a candidacy exam in his/her primary specialization area. The purpose of the candidacy examination is to assess whether the student is capable of conducting doctoral research based on evidence of critical thinking or other measures that the Electrical Engineering Graduate Faculty view as important to a successful doctoral student. The format of the exam is determined by faculty members responsible for the primary core course in the specialization area chosen by the student. This may be a written exam, an oral exam, or a combination of the two. Each student must submit a candidacy exam registration form to the EE graduate program staff assistant at least two months prior to the scheduled date of the exam, and no later than the end of the second semester in the Ph.D. program.

A written candidacy exam will be composed of 6 questions from the student’s primary specialization area (Area Table, First Column). Students will be required to answer 5 of 6 questions. The questions will be based on fundamental material found in the core course and the respective prerequisite courses for the student’s primary specialization area (Area Table, Column 2). The exam duration will be four hours. No books or notes will be allowed unless indicated otherwise. Students should bring pens or pencils, erasers, and calculators, but no paper. Each problem will be scored from 0 to 10 with 7 being the minimum passing grade.

An oral candidacy exam will be administered by a committee of at least three tenured or tenure-track faculty members in the department, including the student’s adviser. The student will be informed about the specifics of the oral exam format no later than one month prior to the exam. The questions during the exam will be based on fundamental material found in the core course and the respective prerequisite courses for the student’s primary specialization area (Area Table, Column 2). At the completion of the exam each committee member will submit a score from 0 to 10, with 7 being the minimum passing grade, reflecting the student’s performance during the exam.

A student may review his/her written test or discuss his/her performance during the oral exam with the candidacy exam coordinator. No student is permitted to personally contact the faculty members who graded the exam questions or served on the oral exam committee. If a student wishes to dispute the outcome of an exam, he/she must submit a written petition to the candidacy exam coordinator, who will then contact the student after the re-evaluation is completed.

The written and/or oral examinations will be scheduled for the 2nd week of classes during the Fall and Spring semesters.

The graduate committee will consider the two core course grades, the EE 596 research immersion course grade and the candidacy exam score in making the decision regarding admission to Ph.D. candidacy.

Students who do not pass the written or the oral candidacy exam may take it again the next time it is offered. Students who are unsuccessful in their second attempt will be disqualified from the Ph.D. program in EE.

3. Appeals

The graduate committee will consider student petitions giving special attention to inputs from the student’s area faculty and research adviser. The primary criteria that the graduate committee will consider will be based on evidence of quality of accomplished research and potential for future research. This evidence should include statements by at least one and preferably two EE professors commenting on past and expected research, as well as a list of papers published or accepted for publication in refereed journals or conferences. The primary evidence can be strengthened by a statement of willingness of a faculty member to provide supervision and financial support for the candidate's research. The graduate committee will also consider GPA, EE research immersion and core course grades, written and oral exam scores and improvement in performance from the previous exam. Proximity to the pass threshold is not by itself sufficient grounds for reversing a decision.

C. Communication and Language Competence

The Ph.D. student shall demonstrate competence in the use of the English language for purposes of both written and oral communication. He/she should be able to communicate technical material in a clear, concise, and well-organized manner. The research advisor or the doctoral committee may require that the student take formal courses in technical writing, speech, etc., if it is determined that the communication skills are inadequate. There will be various communication experiences throughout the program, starting at the beginning of the first semester at Penn State.

1. Writing Requirements

PhD students who have been admitted to PhD candidacy must take a test of written English. This test is given during the last month of the spring semester every year and is scheduled by the EE Department. Non-native English speakers who have successfully completed ESL 116G or native English speakers who have successfully completed a technical writing course (e.g., ENGL 202C at Penn State) will be exempt from this test. Students who fail the test will be required to take ESL 116G (B or higher required).

Students are expected to gain further writing experience by preparing research reports, conference papers and refereed journal articles as they report on their original findings before their final defense. The doctoral committee is expected to review and critically evaluate any of the student's written work, including the dissertation proposal, interim reports and manuscripts.

The dissertation is to meet the standards set forth by The Graduate School and is to be evaluated by the doctoral committee for the quality of the writing as well as technical content. At the beginning of the research, each student should obtain a "Thesis Guide" from the Thesis Office web page. Thus, the written or graphical materials generated from time to time can be in the format acceptable to The Graduate School.

2.  Oral and Presentation Requirements

All international PhD students will be interviewed at the beginning of their study for evaluation of oral English skills. Those who have deficiencies will be required to take ESL (English as a second language) courses during their first year (preferably their first semester). Those who score at least 220/300 on the Penn State American English Oral Proficiency Test will not be required to take ESL courses for oral English. However, students who would like to be considered for teaching assistantship positions must score at least 250/300 in the test or successfully complete ESL 118G.. During the first year, students whose first language is not English must demonstrate speaking and listening skills.

Presentation skills of all PhD students will be evaluated after formal completion of all procedures required for admission to PhD candidacy. Each student will make a 15 to 20 minute presentation on a technical topic to a group of students and faculty including their research advisor. This presentation will be coordinated by the research advisor and should take place no later than the first semester after passing the candidacy exam. Students found to have deficiencies in presentation skills will be required to take a course to develop these skills.

The student will make an oral presentation of approximately 30-minutes in length to the doctoral committee on the dissertation problem and the approach to its solution. This thesis proposal presentation is a part of the comprehensive exam.

The student is encouraged to travel to conferences to make oral presentations of his/her work.

In addition, an oral presentation on the results of the dissertation research is required. This presentation will be a part of the final dissertation defense.

D. Comprehensive Exam

The Ph.D. candidate will take the comprehensive exam following completion of a major portion of the course work and submission of the Ph.D. proposal to his/her committee members. The student will be responsible for determining a time for the exam that is acceptable to the committee. The student will then notify the graduate program staff assistant. The graduate program coordinator will request that the dean of The Graduate School schedule the exam. The exam must be scheduled at least three weeks prior to the exam date. The dissertation proposal must also be submitted to the doctoral committee at that time (as each committee member prefers, either as pdf attachment to email or as a hard copy). The exam may be canceled if documents are not delivered to committee members at least three weeks prior to the exam date.

A thesis proposal is required for the comprehensive exam. Though the nature of this proposal is under the jurisdiction of the doctoral committee, it is recommended that it should be prepared by adhering to the guidelines provided for research proposals submitted to such agencies as the National Science Foundation. That would require limiting the size of the main body of the proposal to the equivalent of fifteen single-spaced pages of text. This proposal should contain, as a minimum, the background and motivation for the research being undertaken, the specific problems to be tackled, and the approach as well as methods to be adopted for attempting the solution together with a summary of any preliminary results. Any additional material that does not belong to the core of the proposal, but provides either justification of the proposed scheme or documentation of preliminary efforts, could be included in an appendix.

All members of the committee must participate in the comprehensive exam. One committee member may participate by telephone in special circumstances. Permission for telephone participation must be obtained from The Graduate School prior to the exam date. The student and at least three members (including the chair) must be physically present at the exam.

The graduate program coordinator will submit this request for scheduling the comprehensive exam when:

  • the committee has been appointed
  • the committee members have approved the date
  • all conditions stipulated after the candidacy exam have been met
  • any required English courses have been completed

The comprehensive exam will consist of three parts:

  • the oral presentation of the thesis proposal (including a discussion of the importance of the problem and the current state-of-the-art in related areas)
  • the oral examination by the doctoral committee which will seek to determine the student's qualifications to pursue the proposed dissertation research, i.e., the preparation in the appropriate specialized and related areas, and the student's general background and knowledge
  • the committee's verbal evaluation of the student's progress and recommendations for any additional course work and research

Upon completion of the comprehensive examination, the chairperson of the student's doctoral committee will report the result to the graduate program coordinator who will forward it to the dean of The Graduate School. The Graduate School requires a favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the committee for passing this examination.

Students who have passed the comprehensive exam and who have met the residency requirement may register for EE 601 in subsequent semesters. This is an inexpensive way to register as a full time student. Such a student may take 3 additional credits with reduced tuition or 3 additional credits for audit with no extra charge.

E.  Final Oral Exam

The final oral exam must be completed within 8 years of admission to candidacy and within 6 years of passing the comprehensive exam. A minimum of five months must have elapsed since the comprehensive exam. The student’s advisor must sign the thesis approval form before the thesis may be distributed to the other committee members. At least three weeks before the exam date, the student will distribute copies of the thesis (either as a pdf email attachment or a hard copy, depending on committee member’s preference) to the committee members and submit the request to schedule the final oral exam to the graduate program staff assistant. The exam may be canceled if documents are not delivered to committee members at least three weeks prior to the exam date. Before forwarding this request to the dean of The Graduate School, the graduate program coordinator will require that the student has either completed or registered for all necessary course work.

The dean of The Graduate School then notifies the members of the doctoral committee and the student by letter regarding the time and place of the examination. This examination, open to the public, relates in large measure to the dissertation but may cover the entire field of study. The doctoral committee determines the exact examination procedure. All members of the committee must participate in the final oral exam. One committee member may participate by telephone in special circumstances. Permission for telephone participation must be obtained from The Graduate School prior to the exam date. The student and at least three members (including the chair) must be physically present at the exam. The results of the examination are reported to the graduate program coordinator and the dean of The Graduate School. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the committee is required for passing. If the student fails, it is the responsibility of the doctoral committee to determine whether or not another examination may be taken. The approval of the dissertation rests entirely with the doctoral committee and the department head.

Final oral exams and dissertation submissions must meet The Graduate School’s published deadlines for graduation at the end of that semester or summer session.

F.  Other Constraints

To be eligible for the candidacy, comprehensive, and final oral exams, a student must have a minimum grade point average of 3.0, must be registered, must have no missing or deferred grades, and must have satisfied any provisional requirements for admission.

Over some twelve-month period, while enrolled in the Ph.D. program, the student must be registered for full-time academic work at the University Park campus for at least two consecutive semesters (excluding summer).

After passing the comprehensive exam, a student must maintain continuous registration for each fall and spring semester until the Ph.D. dissertation is accepted. Students who fail to register are subject to retroactive tuition assessments.

G.  Ph.D. Time Limits

Area Selection

The primary and secondary specialization areas for the completion of admission to Ph.D. candidacy procedures must be declared in writing by submitting the Candidacy Exam Registration Form to the Graduate Program Office no later than the end of the second semester after admission into the Ph.D. program. The specialization areas may not have the same core course.

Admission to Candidacy

A student must complete all admission to candidacy procedures no later than the beginning of the fourth semester (excluding summer) after entry to the Ph.D. program. Each student must submit a candidacy exam registration form to the EE graduate program office at least two months prior to the scheduled date of the exam, and no later than the end of the second semester in the Ph.D. program.

Committee Appointment

After admission to candidacy, a student's Ph.D. committee must be appointed no later than the end of the following semester (excluding summer).

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam may be scheduled only after the student has completed most of the required course work (i.e. 3 credits remaining), received English proficiency certification, and satisfied all conditions stipulated during the test of English proficiency and presentation skills. (The dissertation proposal must be provided to the members of the Ph.D. committee and the comprehensive exam must be scheduled with the graduate program staff assistant at least three weeks prior to the exam date.)

E E 601

Registration for E E 601 is permitted only for semesters following the semester in which the student has passed the comprehensive exam and met the residency requirement. A student may register for E E 601 (full time dissertation research, zero credits) to maintain the required continuous registration between the comprehensive and final oral exams at reduced tuition.

Final Oral Exam

The final oral exam must be scheduled no less than 5 months or no more than 6 years after passing the comprehensive exam. (The thesis must be provided to the members of the Ph.D. committee and the final exam must be scheduled with the graduate program staff assistant at least three weeks prior to the exam date.)

Program Time Limit

A doctoral student must complete the program and submit an accepted thesis within eight years of passing the candidacy exam.