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Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Course Requirements

Doctoral students must complete a required series of 20 course units (CUs) of graduate-level courses and research units.  A minimum of 11 CUs must be graduate level courses that are not lab study (ESE 898), independent study (ESE 899) or research (ESE 999).

Beyond these eleven course units, no more than six CUs can be research units (999), no more than two CUs can be independent studies (899), and no more than one CU can be a lab study (898) within the 20 CU required.  Additional research units (999) may be taken in order to maintain a full-time status (see below), in excess of the 20 CU requirement.  Independent Studies and Lab Studies must include a detailed description of the material covered and the grading scheme used and be approved by the Graduate Group Chair.  For further information on how to apply for independent studies or lab study, please visit the ESE Academic Regulations page.

The coursework is structured in order to emphasize both depth in the research area of the student as well as breadth in their education.  The coursework of each Ph.D. student must be grouped in depth, breadth, critical thinking and elective categories with the approval of a faculty advisor:

Depth Requirement: At least five graduate-level courses in areas supporting the research of the Ph.D. student.

Breadth Requirement: At least two graduate-level courses which are distinct from the major research area. The courses may be thematically linked in a 500-600 sequence or may represent two 500 level courses both distinct from the major research area. Independent Studies cannot be used in this category.

Critical Thinking Requirement: At least two graduate-level courses satisfying formal analytical reasoning. Courses that satisfy this requirement include graduate courses in Mathematics, Engineering Mathematics, Statistics, or Discrete Mathematics and the following Physics courses: 516, 518, 529/530, 531, 532, 611, 612, 661, 662.  Courses from other departments may be used provided they have a clear focus on mathematical reasoning and techniques and have been pre-approved.  Independent studies cannot be used in this category.

Electives: The remaining course units may be added to the above groups or may simply be grouped in a free electives category. The grouping of the courses will be outlined by the students in consultation with their advisors in a proposed Ph.D. Planning Guide. The Ph.D. Planning Guide will be updated every April throughout their Ph.D. career in order to reflect changes in courses, course offerings, and research focus. This will allow (every May) the Graduate Group to offer feedback to both the student and their advisor regarding Ph.D. requirements. The approval of the final Ph.D. planning guide will be performed by the Committee of the Research Proposal Examination and the Graduate Group Chair.

Additional Requirements

Residency Requirement: 11 CUs must be completed at the University of Pennsylvania with at least six CUs as courses other than lab study (898), independent study (899) or research (999).

Transfer of Credit: Ph.D. candidates are permitted to transfer up to nine CUs from other programs. A maximum of five CUs of any transfer credits can be counted against courses that are not lab study (898), independent study (899) or research (999) courses. Transfer of credit must be approved by the Graduate Group Chair and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs. Courses counted towards an undergraduate degree will not be considered for graduate credit unless in an approved submatriculation program.

Full-Time Status: Doctoral students are considered to be full time students if they are registered for at least three CU in the Fall and Spring semesters. 

Registration: Before registering every semester, Ph.D. students must also complete the Faculty Advisor Sign-Off Form, which allows advisors to guide as well as monitor the coursework of their Ph.D. students.

Minimum Grade Point Average: A 3.0 cumulative average must be maintained as a PhD student.

ESE 995 Registration: Students who have completed five years of full-time status are eligible for ESE 995 courses, which allow students to maintain a full-time status with reduced tuition fees. A student may take 995, which also carries full-time status with 0 credit units for up to eight semesters.

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