Brown University School of Engineering

PhD Requirements

The Ph.D. degree is achieved through an intensive program of coursework and independent research in any one of the following areas: (1) Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, (2) Electrical Sciences and Computer Engineering, (3) Fluids and Thermal Sciences, (4) Materials Science, (5) Mechanics of Solids and Structures and (6) Biomedical Engineering. Each Ph.D. student must be affiliated with one of these research groups, and the faculty in that group will play a central role in defining this program and evaluating student progress. 

New Ph.D. students are strongly encouraged to arrange meetings with individual faculty members in their groups during their first semester in residence and to select a research advisor shortly thereafter. At that point, the student, with the approval of his or her advisor, shall devise an appropriate program of study ensuring breadth of knowledge as well as depth of knowledge in a major area that supports the planned dissertation research. The normal residence requirement for the Ph.D. degree is the equivalent of three years of full-time study beyond the Bachelor's degree (i.e. 24 tuition units). At least two semesters beyond the Master's degree must be spent exclusively in full-time study at Brown, although most engineering Ph.D. students spend four to five years in residence at Brown.

General Requirements

The specific requirements for the Ph.D. vary between the different groups. However there are some general requirements that cover all Ph.D. candidates.  These can be summarized as:

  1. Residency Requirement: (University Requirement). The student must complete three years full-time study beyond the bachelor’s degree (i.e. 24 tuition units).  Two semesters beyond the bachelor’s degree must be spent exclusively in full-time study at Brown University.
  2. Research Thesis: The student must write and present (“defend”) a Ph.D. dissertation.  The thesis must embody the results of original research and significant creative thought and give evidence of high scholarship.  The dissertation and the oral defense must be approved by the faculty advisor, one other member of the engineering faculty, and one additional reader outside the School, or within the School but outside the research group, as appointed by the Director of the Engineering Graduate Programs in consultation with their faculty advisor.
  3. Course Requirements: Students in the Ph.D. program typically take a comprehensive series of courses in the area of their expertise, as well as several other courses in mathematics, physics, engineering and other related disciplines. There is also ENGN 2980: “Reading, Research and Design”, which can be taken for course credit. The number and choice of courses is made in close consultation with the student's advisor who must approve the student's choice at the beginning of each semester.  Each research group can define specific courses, which are considered essential for their Ph.D. students.
  4. Preliminary Examination:  This is a comprehensive examination covering the student’s main area of expertise and must be taken no later than the sixth semester of graduate study for a student entering with an Sc.B., and no later than the fourth semester of graduate study for students entering with an Sc.M.The exact timing and format of the exam varies between the different research groups.  The details are outlined in the sections below.  The results of the examination are presented to the Graduate Committee, along with the student’s academic record, and the recommendations of both the group representative and the student’s Ph.D. advisor.  The Graduate Committee then decides whether to certify the student as a Candidate for the degree of Ph.D. in Engineering. In the event of a failing grade, the Graduate Committee will decide whether to re-examine the student, require remedial action, or to request their withdrawal from the graduate program.
  5. Minor Study: Ph.D. candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency in at least one area outside their main expertise.  As with the preliminary examination, the number of minor areas of study, and the method by which proficiency is demonstrated is defined and administered by each of the research groups.
  6. Other requirements: Some of the research groups in the division have additional requirements including research proposals, progress summaries.  These are outlined in the following section.

Research Group Procedures

Each group administers their respective Ph.D. program and defines the details of coursework, the preliminary exam and other requirements (e.g. progress review). These requirements, along with the details of each group’s administration of the preliminary examination are outlined in the following sections. 

Milestones for Progress
Group Progress Reviews Preliminary Exams
Biomedical Annual Completed by one month past semester 4/Written and Oral
Chemical and Biochemical Completed at end of 2nd semester Completed by end of 5th semester/Oral
Electrical and Computer Completed in 3rd semester/Oral Completed in 6th semester/Oral
Fluids and Thermal Sciences Completed after 2nd semester/Faculty review only Completed by 5th semester/Written and Oral
Materials Science Completed in 4th semester/Written portion of preliminary exam Completed in 5th semester/Oral portion of preliminary exam
Mechanics of Solids and Structures Completed in 3rd semester/Oral Completed in 5th semester/Oral

Chemical and Biochemical Engineering

Progress Review

An in-depth faculty review of the student’s progress at the end of the 2nd semester in the program. This report is shared with the student in writing.

Preliminary Examination

Before the end of the 5th semester in residence, the student will prepare and present a proposal for his or her thesis research, consisting of a written document followed by an oral examination of approximately two hours duration presented to a faculty committee of not fewer than three members including the advisor. The document and presentation should describe a plan for original research, including scientific or technological motivation, background on the relevant literature, statement of objectives, preliminary research results, and research plan with description of methods. The document should be submitted to the committee no later than two weeks prior to the oral portion of the exam.  During the presentation, the student will be expected to demonstrate a sound grasp of the fundamental concepts and methodologies of the field, not limited to the specific research proposed. The committee reports to the Engineering Graduate Committee on the outcome of the examination, which covers the document, oral exam, and a review of the student course work and research progress to date.  If the performance is unsatisfactory, the committee will also make on recommendation on whether or not the examination may be repeated after a certain time has elapsed.

Minor Area

The student will, in consultation with their advisor, select one minor area of study satisfied by passing at least two courses forming a cohesive subject, but distinct from the student’s main discipline.  Proficiency is demonstrated by receiving grades of B or higher in the courses constituting the minor.

Electrical Sciences and Computer Engineering

Progress Review

An oral presentation of approximately 40 minutes duration to a forum of faculty and graduate students summarizing their research progress by the end of October in their 3rd semester (second year in residence). Their academic advisor and at least two other members of the faculty will formally evaluate this presentation and make a recommendation to the Engineering Graduate Committee regarding the student's ability to continue in the Ph.D. program and to undertake doctorate-level research.  Students normally prepare for this examination by completing ENGN 2980, and by conducting independent research during the summer months.

Preliminary Examination

With the approval of their academic advisor, students must choose a Preliminary Examination Committee consisting of four examiners.  These examiners will conduct an oral examination of the student no later than the end of the sixth semester in residence. Two examiners must be in the student's major research area(s).  The two other examiners must be in minor areas outside the student's immediate research area. The Preliminary examination will presume that students are prepared in two minor areas outside the student’s main expertise. 

Minor Areas

Students are prepared in two minor areas outside the student’s main expertise by completing courses in each of the chosen minor areas, in consultation with their advisor.  These areas will be represented by two examiners in their oral preliminary examination.

Fluids and Thermal Sciences

Progress Review

An in-depth faculty review of the student’s progress at the end of the second semester in the program. This report is shared with the student in writing.

Preliminary Examination

Before the end of the fifth semester in residence, the student should take the preliminary exam, which establishes Ph.D candidacy. The students should prepare a written document describing a plan for the student’s own Ph.D. research, including scientific or technological motivation, background on the relevant literature, statement of objectives, preliminary research results, and research plan with description of methods. The research proposal should be submitted to the committee who are expected to provide feedback. 

The student should then schedule an oral presentation and defense of the research proposal.  The committee members and any other interested faculty should participate in the presentation and exam.  During the presentation, the student will be expected to demonstrate a sound grasp of the fundamental concepts and methodologies of the field, not limited to the specific research proposed.   The advisor and graduate director will work with the candidate to define which fundamental areas the student should be able to show proficiency in during the oral examination.  The committee reports to the Engineering Graduate Committee on the outcome of the examination, which covers the written proposal, the oral presentation, the oral exam, and a review of the student course work and research progress to date.  

As a guideline, the proposal should be 15-25 pages long (1.5 spacing, not-including cited references), and should be professionally formatted in a manner similar to a research publication.   The document must be submitted to the exam committee at least two weeks prior to oral defense.  For the oral proposal defense, the students should be prepared to present for 30 minutes and the entire exam should last less than two hours. 

Minor Areas

The student will, in consultation with their advisor, select one minor area of study satisfied by passing at least two courses forming a cohesive subject, but distinct from the student’s main discipline. 

Materials Science

Progress Review

This portion is the official written portion of the preliminary exam taken in their fourth semester.  This exam consists of two parts to be taken in two three-hour sessions.  In the morning session, the students will be examined on thermodynamics and kinetics (paralleling the course work in ENGN 2410 and ENGN 2420).  In the afternoon session, the students will be examined on mechanical properties and crystallography (paralleling the course work in ENGN 2430 and ENGN 2490).

Preliminary Examination

Students complete the oral portion of their preliminary exam through a presentation of their proposed research in their 5th semester.  In preparation for this presentation, they will be responsible for reading and understanding a number of seminal papers (typically on the order of 10) critical to the completion of their thesis research.  These papers will be chosen in consultation with the student’s adviser and another faculty member chosen by the student and his adviser. During the presentation, the student will be expected to demonstrate understanding of the important scientific and technical issues in his proposed research, as well as an understanding of the relevant issues contained in the assigned papers. 

Minor Areas

Each student must show proficiency in two minor areas of study.  Proficiency is demonstrated by receiving grades of B or higher in the courses constituting the minor. Two courses are required to fulfill the minor, of which at least one must be a 200-level course.  The choice of appropriate courses for the minor areas will be determined by the Materials Science graduate student representative.  The sequence ENGN 2010 and ENGN 2020 may be used to fulfill the minor requirement in the area of applied math.

Mechanics of Solids and Structures

Progress Review 

The progress review is administered during the second semester in residence for students entering with the master's degree and during the third semester in residence for students entering with the bachelor of science degree.  It includes a one-half hour oral presentation of independent work by the student, based either on a project in progress or on completed work, and a review of progress in the academic program of study by the examination committee.  The committee’s recommendation to the Engineering Graduate Committee following this review as to whether or not a student will be allowed to continue will be based on an evaluation of the research presented and achievements in formal course work. Since students enter the graduate program with diverse backgrounds, this Review also should establish whether or not deficiencies exist in a student's preparation and, if so, he or she will be so advised.  The subsequent program can then be planned to correct any deficiencies prior to the taking of the Preliminary Examination. 

Preliminary Examination

In the fifth semester an oral examination of approximately two hours duration is designed to test the student's knowledge of the major field of study as well as knowledge of two minor fields selected by the student and the research advisor. The student is expected to demonstrate a sound grasp of the fundamental concepts and methodologies of the major field, and to demonstrate a proficiency in specific topics in the minor areas.  The examination committee consists of a major area examiner, one examiner in each to the two minor areas, the Graduate Representative, and the student’s research adviser. This committee reports on the outcome of the examination to the Engineering Graduate Committee; if the performance is unsatisfactory, it also makes on recommendation on whether or not the examination may be repeated after a certain time has elapsed. 

Minor Areas

The Preliminary Examination will presume that the student has a level of knowledge in each of two minor areas corresponding to successful completion of two graduate courses in each of the minor subjects. Possible minor subjects include applied mathematics, materials science, physics, biology, geology or another discipline in engineering or science. If applied mathematics is to be one of the minor areas, two courses beyond ENGN 2010 and ENGN 2020 or equivalents should have been successfully completed.