Your ESE Department Contact:

Graduate Programs Coordinator



Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Provisional Doctoral Committee

All doctoral students are required to assemble a provisional doctoral committee at the end of their 2nd year.

The committee will consist of 2, possibly 3, faculty members in addition to the student's advisor.  One of the faculty members will act as the chair of the committee and will need to be from ESE.  The student's advisor cannot act as the committee’s chair.  Other committee members can be internal to ESE or external.  It is suggested that having at least one of the committee members be from outside SEAS or Penn would be beneficial.  Qualified industry researchers are eligible as external committee members.  In addition to faculty committee members, it is also recommended though not required that a senior Ph.D. student be part of the committee to add a student’s perspective during the committee’s meetings. 

The composition of the committee can be adjusted on a yearly basis, but only one faculty member can change each year in order to ensure adequate continuity.  The committee is expected to eventually morph into the student's thesis proposal committee, although this is not required.  Given the intent of providing assistance and feedback to the student on his/her research and overall progress towards a Ph.D., it is expected although not required that the general research expertise of committee members will be at least loosely connected to the student’s research area.

Each Ph.D. student is expected to make a yearly presentation to his/her provisional doctoral committee once it is formed.  The first presentation should take place before the end of the third year.  The presentation should describe the student’s research efforts over the past year, as well as his/her plans for the coming year.  At the discretion of the student and his/her advisor, the presentations may be open to the public, or the audience limited to committee members. The committee is expected to provide feedback regarding the student's progress or lack thereof towards a successful thesis, and offer advice of both technical and logistical natures aimed at improving the student's chances of success.  The committee’s assessment will be documented in a short report by the committee chair in collaboration with the student's advisor and other committee members.  The student will be provided with a copy of the report and another copy will be kept on record in the ESE office.

While the yearly presentation serves as an official forum for the committee to provide feedback to the student, the expectations are that interactions between the student and members of his/her committee will not be limited to this yearly event.  In particular, faculty committee members commit to being available to meet with the student on a regular basis and upon request.  Fostering such interactions is one of the main motivations for the provisional doctoral committee.  Such regular exchanges are key to offering our Ph.D. students the opportunity of a richer educational experience, as well as the ability to develop broader contacts that may prove useful upon starting their professional life, e.g., because of their longer term exposure to the student’s work, committee members would be in a better position to both advertise the student’s work outside Penn as well as write better recommendation letters when requested to do so.

The committee's recommendations are only advisory in nature.  The student's advisor remains the sole judge of whether or not the student is making adequate progress in his/her research.  Remedial actions, if any, will be implemented at the decision of the student's advisor and under his or her control. This will change if and when the provisional doctoral committee morphs into the student’s proposal committee and ultimately thesis committee, at which point these committees will assume their standard prerogatives.

<< Return to Ph.D. Degree Requirements