PhD Program Requirements

Doctoral (PhD) Program Requirements


In addition to the University doctoral degree requirements listed in the PSU Bulletin, a candidate for the Ph.D. degree in electrical and computer engineering must complete a minimum of 80 graduate credits consisting of at least 45 ECE graduate credits, 8 elective graduate credits and at least 27 credits of ECE 603 (dissertation).  Of the 45 ECE credits, 32 credits must come from ECE lecture courses (24 lecture credits if the student successfully completed an ECE MS Thesis).  The 8 elective credits may come from any academic department, but must be lecture credits only.

Each Ph.D. must have at least one journal publication. Specific course requirements depend on the student’s area of emphasis, and the student’s program must be approved by his/her academic adviser. Students in the Ph.D. program in Electrical and Computer Engineering are required to pass a comprehensive examination (written or oral) after completing a substantial amount of coursework. They are also required to obtain approval of their proposed research plan by their doctoral committee before they can be advanced to candidacy. A dissertation containing a real contribution to knowledge based on the candidate’s own investigation and a final oral dissertation defense are required. The dissertation must show a mastery of the literature of the subject and be written in credible literary form. The defense is public and its schedule must be posted in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at least two weeks in advance. Please contact the Graduate Coordinator ( to schedule the defense and announcement.  

Lecture courses taken under the undifferentiated grading option (P/NP) shall not be used to satisfy any graduate degree program requirements.  All coursework must be completed with a grade of B- or better.

Students should choose a research topic and adviser for their dissertation.

Check List for Ph.D. Degree Requirements

  1. Appointment of the Advisory Committee (ECE-PhD-1)
  2. Study Plan (ECE-PhD-2) Approved by the Advisory Committee
  3. Research Proficiency Exam Passed
  4. Doctoral Dissertation Committee Approved (GO-16D)
  5. Residency requirement
  6. Dissertation Proposal Approved (GO-23D)
  7. Advancement to Candidacy
  8. Minimum of 3 years beyond BS degree
  9. Journal Publication Requirement
  10. Final Oral examination – Dissertation Defense (GO-17D)
  11. Dissertation Signature Page

Doctoral Degree Timeline

Study Plan Approved by the Advisory Committee

Students are required to complete a tentative degree plan that has been approved by their advisory committee not later than the second quarter of their residence at PSU. A Ph.D. Study Plan form for this purpose is available in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department Office. Coursework taken without adviser approval may not be accepted as part of a student's program.

Research Proficiency Exam

Every Ph.D. student is required to take the Research Proficiency Exam (RPE) by the end of their second year at PSU. Students shall demonstrate their ability to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate a body of knowledge within their domain of research. This satisfies the university’s Comprehensive Exam requirement.

  • Years are counted from the term in which the student enters the Ph.D. program.
  • Extensions to the two-year period may be granted by the student's advisory committee in consultation with the ECE director of graduate studies. In particular, part time students may routinely obtain an extension to three years. The extension cannot exceed the university limits, which are currently 5 years if entering with MS degree and 7 years otherwise.

The exam consists of a written research paper and an oral presentation:

  • Students must complete the scholarship methods sequence before taking the RPE
  • The student is assigned a three-person RPE committee created by her/his advisor, and with approval by the ECE graduate committee.
  • The committee members must be knowledgeable in the research area. If appropriate, one member of the committee may be a faculty member from a different department or institution, with approval of the ECE graduate committee.
  • The student conducts research on a problem and writes a paper that is in a format appropriate for publication at a conference or workshop in that research area. Standard formatting can be used as appropriate for that area.
  • The student schedules the RPE presentation with the RPE committee.  
  • Presentations can take place at any time during the academic year, and need not be coordinated with each other.
  • The presentation is open to all and the paper is circulated to the faculty two weeks before the presentation
  • The format is typical technical talk that first motivates the problem, then describes related work, followed by the research contributions.

The 3-person committee decides on a Pass/Fail/Retake:

  • A decision to pass must be unanimous
  • In case of a retake, the student must retake the exam within six months
  • The exam can only be taken twice

Dissertation Proposal

All Ph.D. students must successful present a proposal of the dissertation subject to an approved dissertation committee. Students have a maximum of three years from the completion of comprehensive examinations to advancement to candidacy. Under no circumstances may a student defend their proposal more than two times. This rule applies even if the faculty adviser or dissertation committee members change. Failure to comply with this requirement and its deadlines will result in automatic dismissal from the Ph.D. program.

A proposal defense is not valid without a dissertation committee approved by the office of graduate studies. A completed GO-16D Appointment of Doctoral Dissertation Committee must be submitted to the ECE Department at least six weeks prior to the tentative proposal date. The PhD dissertation committee must consist of not less than three ECE faculty members, all of which must hold tenure/tenure-track faculty appointments in the ECE department equal or greater than 0.5 FTE. The committee chair must hold an ECE tenure/tenure-track faculty appointment.

Not less than two weeks prior to the date of the exam the student shall give each dissertation committee member a written proposal describing the research topic of the PhD dissertation. This written proposal submitted to the committee for approval should be sufficiently detailed and clear to provide a blueprint for the study to follow. The proposal is expected to include the following:

  1. General nature and present status of knowledge of the problem.
  2. The theoretical and empirical framework within which the proposed problem exists.
  3. The significance of the proposed research and its likely contributions.
  4. The research methodology to be used.
  5. A timeline for conducting the research and completion of the dissertation

The committee will have at least two weeks to read a student’s written proposal and make a decision if the student is ready for the exam. The exam can be postponed to allow the student to make improvements indicated by the Ph.D. dissertation committee members.

The defense is public and its schedule must be posted in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at least two weeks in advance. Please contact the Graduate Coordinator ( to schedule the defense and announcement.

The exam itself begins with an oral presentation by the student describing the proposed research effort, which will be the topic of the PhD dissertation. The dissertation committee may ask the student questions about the oral presentation, the written proposal or any questions necessary to determine if the student has a sufficient background and preparation necessary to conduct the research. The exam shall not exceed three hours.

Advancement to Candidacy

Once the dissertation proposal is approved, the student will be advanced to candidacy.  The student is informed by the Dean of Graduate Studies of advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree. A doctoral candidate has a minimum of four months and a maximum of five years from the effective date of advancement to candidacy to complete all requirements for graduation.  Failure to comply with this requirement and its deadlines will result in automatic dismissal from the Ph.D. program. Please see “Graduate Studies” section of the PSU Bulletin for more details.

PhD Program Progress Review Policies

Once a student has passed the comprehensive exam, the ECE graduate affairs committee will ask each PhD student to submit evidence of progress toward completing the degree. The following are evidence will be considered:
- Present a poster or presentation at the annual ECE PhD day.
- Publish and present a conference paper.
- Publish a journal paper.
- Give a graduate seminar

Absent this evidence, a 2 page progress report must be submitted.

The submission deadline for any evidence of progress is due by April 30th. The annual evidence of progress will become part of the student’s file.

The ECE graduate affairs committee, after consulting with the student’s advisory or dissertation committee advisor, can put students on probation for one year if no or insufficient progress is reported. A letter signed by the Graduate Program Director and the Department Chair will notify the student of the probation period.

If the graduate committee, after consulting with the student’s advisor, determines that insufficient progress was made during the probation period, the student can be dismissed from our graduate program.

If a faculty advisor wants to appeal, he/she can make a motion during a faculty meeting to overturn the committee’s decision to dismiss the student. The advisor must notify the department chair in writing of the appeal within 20 days of the committee's decision.