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Ph.D. Degree Requirements

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The Doctor of Philosophy degree is the highest academic degree conferred by the university. The student who receives it must have demonstrated proficiency in some broad subject of learning and have demonstrated the ability to critically evaluate work in this field. The student must have shown ability to work independently in the field and must have made an original contribution to the advancement of knowledge.

General Requirements

Admission Requirements

Students with or without an MS interested in the PhD should apply directly to the PhD program and not to the MS program. While some students who complete an MS do continue to the PhD, admission does not follow automatically with the conferring of the MS Degree or successful completion of the preliminary examination by an MS degree student. The student must reapply to the PhD program and must be recommended by his or her advisor.

Residence Requirements

The minimum residence requirement shall be six semesters of scholarly work beyond the attainment of an acceptable bachelor's degree. Not fewer than four semesters of residence credit, at least two of which must be consecutive in one academic year, must be earned at the University of Colorado. The last two semesters of the residence requirement must be earned on campus, except in unusual circumstances subject to the approval of the dean of the Graduate School. Residence credit may be earned for coursework completed with distinction, for participation in seminars, or for scholarly research performed here or elsewhere under the auspices of the University of Colorado. Not more than two semesters of residence credit may be allowed for an acceptable master's degree. For further residence information, see the University of Colorado Catalog.

Academic Requirements

A minimum of 60 semester hours of coursework and thesis credit combined beyond the bachelor's degree will be required for all PhD degrees within the department. Of that minimum, students must complete at least 30 hours of coursework at or above the 5000 level and 30 hours of doctoral thesis credit.

A maximum of 10 of the thesis hours accrued prior to the semester of passing the comprehensive exam may be counted toward the required 30. Up to 10 hours taken during the semester of passing the comprehensive exam may be counted toward the required 30 hours. At no time shall a doctoral student register for more than 15 hours of 5000-level or above courses or register for more than 10 thesis hours in a single semester. Normally a student must have earned at least three and not more than six semesters of residence credit before admission to candidacy.

Following the semester in which the comprehensive exam is taken and passed, the student must be continuously registered each fall and spring for thesis hours until successful defense of his or her thesis or formal withdrawal from the program. Students admitted to candidacy for degree will register for and be charged for 5 hours of credit for each full term of doctoral work. Students who are off-campus and using no university facilities may register for 3 thesis hours. However, off-campus status (3 credit hours of thesis) is considered part-time enrollment. Continuous registration during the academic year will be required until all requirements for the degree are completed. It is expected that the student and advisor will consult each semester as to the number of hours for which the student will register, consistent with the classification identified above. Students who are admitted to the Graduate School with deficiencies may expect to receive little or no residence credit until the deficiencies have been removed (the Graduate School rules require that at least 30 semester hours of 5000- and 6000-level coursework appear in the Application for Candidacy).

For further residence information see the University of Colorado Catalog.

Preliminary Examination

A preliminary examination is required of all PhD candidates to test fitness for the program and to determine areas of weakness. The examination is given annually in January; the content and form of the exam will be determined by the faculty members of the respective areas it covers.

The probable areas that will be covered are:

  1. Biomedical Engineering
  2. Communications and Digital Signal Processing
  3. Computer Engineering
  4. Dynamics and Controls
  5. Electromagnetic, RF, and Microwaves
  6. Nanostructures and Devices
  7. Optics and Photonics
  8. Power Electronics and Renewable Energy Systems
  9. Remote Sensing
  10. VLSI/CAD

Optoelectronics and Nano doctoral students must take the PhD preliminary examination the first May after entrance to the program. Controls doctoral students must take this in April, and Remote Sensing students must take this in July. All others must take the preliminary examination by the first or second January after entrance to the program, OR after completing their first 18 credit hours, OR as recommended by their faculty advisor.

Complete information about the preliminary examination will be e-mailed by the graduate advisor, Room ECEE 1B63 and/or by the faculty chairing the respective exam in that year.

Application must be made in advance to take the examination. Students who fail will generally be given one more opportunity to repeat the part(s) that they failed, the next time the exam is given.

Degree Plan

Early in their PhD program, students must develop an informal degree plan with the aid of the academic advisor. A satisfactory program will be determined in consultation with the academic advisor and/or in consultation with the faculty member with whom the student wishes to do research for the PhD thesis; this faculty member normally becomes the chair of the student's thesis committee. This program will be tailored to the area of academic interest and should represent a coordinated approach to the attainment of the student's goals. The degree plan may include the courses previously applied toward the master's degree, which should be so indicated, and should total at least 30 semester hours of 5000- and 6000-level courses, but more hours will usually be required at the discretion of the committee. Of the 60 hours (MS plus PhD) necessary for the minimum fulfillment of the academic requirement for the PhD degree, at least 9 hours must be in 5000- and 6000-level courses in technical math, science or engineering fields outside of the student's core specialization area. This requirement may be fulfilled using courses either outside or inside the department. Courses meeting this requirement must be approved by the student's advisor and the director of graduate studies. A student entering the University of Colorado with an MS degree from another institution, who has at least 6 hours of credit for non-electrical engineering graduate courses, shall be required to take not more than 3 hours of 5000- or 6000-level non-electrical engineering courses to fulfill the non-electrical engineering course requirement.

Quality of Work

Students are expected to complete with distinction all work in the formal courses that apply toward the degree. A course grade below "B-" will not be counted toward the minimum requirements for the degree but will be considered in the overall grade-point average with the exception of a foreign language course used to fulfill the language requirement. In general, a course may not be repeated for the purpose of raising the grade.

Telecommunications and Engineering Management courses may not be used for the PhD degree. In some instances, some ECEN 5000 course work whose actual content is Telecomm or Power Management-based, less technical, and for non-majors, can never count toward a Ph.D. degree in the ECEE department. These courses have been numbered as ECEN 5006, 5007, or 5017. There might be other course numbers in the future. These same course numbers, just listed, are sometimes technical courses for ECEE majors that fully count.

If the course syllabus has 3000 (ideally 4000) level pre-reqs in the same field (e.g. Applied Math for an Applied Math grad course, or, in most cases, ECEN for an ECEN course), then the 5000-level course will be considered a grad-level course with sufficiently technical content in the respective area. The key is that if it is a course designed to be taken by students without an undergrad in the field of study, it's not a tech grad course in that field.

In cases of doubt about a particular course, the student should contact the advisor and director of graduate studies for prior approval.

Credit by Transfer

Up to 21 hours of graduate work of high quality done in a recognized graduate school elsewhere may be accepted provided it is recommended by the department and approved by the dean of the Graduate School. Credit will be transferred only after the student has passed the preliminary examination.

A student who has received an MS degree from the University of Colorado may apply those coursework credits towards the PhD degree provided that they meet the requirements of the degree.

No graduate credit will be accepted that was earned as an undergraduate student elsewhere.

Research Advisor

A student who is ready to begin research work for the thesis will request a faculty member to act as chair of the thesis committee. (Students should place their major effort on their research problem after they have passed the comprehensive examination for the PhD degree but may begin their research before then if the chair approves.)

If the research advisor is different from the student's initial advisor, the appropriate changes in the thesis committee must be initiated by the student.

Important: The ability to perform significant and independent research is a prime requisite for the PhD degree. This research must be completed under the supervision of a graduate faculty member, and it is the student's responsibility to choose a topic and find a faculty member who will act as research advisor. This is an important step and should be done early in the program to ensure the probability of completion. The student should select a thesis topic and find a research advisor before beginning the program.

Foreign Language Requirement

PhD students whose native language is English must demonstrate first-year proficiency in one foreign language suitable to their thesis committee by completion of one of the following:
  1. presenting a transcript with a grade of "C" or better in at least three semester hours of a second semester, college-level language course;
  2. Presenting a transcript showing a grade of "C" or better in two years of high school language;
  3. registering for any second semester, college-level course in a foreign language and passing it with a grade of "C" or better; or
  4. attaining advanced placement credit for one year of college-level foreign language in undergraduate work.
The language requirement must be met before the PhD comprehensive examination may be scheduled.

A student whose native language is not English will, by passing courses and by completing graduate work at the University, demonstrate sufficient ability in English to meet the language requirement.

Any exception to these rules must be made in a formal petition to the director of Graduate Studies with written approval of the student's advisor.

Admission to Candidacy and Comprehensive Examination

At least two weeks before the comprehensive examination is attempted, the student must apply for admission to candidacy for the PhD degree. Forms can be obtained in the ECEE graduate office, ECEE 1B63.

Upon completion of the formal coursework and fulfillment of the language requirement, the student must pass a written and/or oral comprehensive examination which examines mastery of graduate coursework and the capabilities of performing the proposed research. This examination will be taken by arrangement with the members of the thesis committee appointed by the director of Graduate Studies upon the recommendation of the thesis advisor. The committee must have a minimum of five members; at least one must be from outside the department. Three of the five members must be Boulder Campus resident Graduate Faculty members.

The student must be registered the semester of the examination.

The comprehensive examination must be taken not later than three calendar years after acceptance into the program. In case of failure, the examination may be attempted once more after a period of time determined by the examining board.

Before admission to candidacy for the degree, a student must:

  1. Earned at least four semesters of residence credit,
  2. passed the language requirement,
  3. the comprehensive examination.

The student must be registered at the University for the fall and spring semesters each year between the passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the thesis defense. After passing their comprehensive exams, doctoral students are not allowed to go on the Time Off Program.

Students should consult the University of Colorado Catalog regarding additional rules relative to the comprehensive examination.

Thesis and Final Examination

A thesis proposal must be submitted by the student to the thesis committee, preferably at the time of the comprehensive examination, but not later than the end of the semester in which the comprehensive examination is completed. The thesis proposal should outline the area of study and describe the problem in sufficient detail to clearly indicate the contribution of the proposed work.

A thesis based upon research work done with consulting advice from the student's Thesis Committee should be finished in typewritten form (in accordance with rules furnished by the Graduate School Office) at least 30 days before the date of the final examination, and should be made available to the Final Examination Committee at least two weeks before the student takes the final examination. One bound copy of the thesis is required for the department in addition to the electronic copy required by the Graduate School.

The student must register for a minimum of 30 hours of doctoral thesis credit. This credit will not be included in calculating the student's GPA.

After the thesis has been accepted, a final examination time will be arranged by the student and members of the Final Examination Committee, which usually consists of the members of the student's thesis committee. The student is responsible for notifying the Graduate School and the ECEE graduate office of the final examination two weeks before the test date and for supplying the thesis title and abstract. The student must be registered--full-time--at the time the final examination is taken. (This usually means 5 thesis hours--even if an off-campus student not using campus facilities, and, even if during summer semester).

A student who fails the final examination may attempt it again upon recommendation of the committee.

Time Limit

All work, including the final examination, should be completed within six years from the time of admission. Work done earlier will not be accepted for the degree unless validated by a special examination. A student is expected to complete the work with reasonable continuity.

Doctor of Philosophy Flowchart

The Doctor of Philosophy flowchart illustrates the required steps to complete the degree requirements on time. The students should familiarize themselves with this sequence, the time schedules, and the rules of the Graduate School as outlined in the University of Colorado Catalog, since students are responsible for their own programs.

Contact Information

  • Adam Sadoff, Graduate Program Advisor, ECEE 1B63, (303) 735-0490, Adam.Sadoff@colorado.edu
  • Robert McLeod, Graduate Director, ECEE 1B47, (303) 735-0997, Robert.Mcleod@colorado.edu