Ph.D. Requirements and Timeline 


To earn a Ph.D. in Materials Science in the Applied Physical Sciences department, students must:

Complete a set of required courses;

Submit a written literature review;

Participate in seminars;

Complete a preliminary doctoral oral exam, an original research project culminating in a dissertation, a research seminar and a final oral exam.

In addition to developing technical skills and knowledge in their research area, students have the opportunity to develop professionally so that they are prepared for their post-graduate school career. Professional development opportunities are broad and students can tailor these opportunities for their career goals. Opportunities include developing communication skills (presentation and written), grant writing, teaching & mentorship, leadership & professionalism, among others.

Required Courses

All APS graduate students must pass 6 courses of 3 credit hours each in their first year (18 credit hours total):  one cohort course and two electives in the fall semester and one cohort course and two electives in the spring semester. The fall cohort course is an Advanced Materials Science course (MTSC780) and the spring cohort course is a Scientific Computing for Material Science course (MTSC785). Both cohort courses strengthen each student’s background in materials science and are mandatory. In addition to the two cohort courses students select two elective courses/semester in the first year. Elective courses are selected in close consultation with the Ph.D. advisor and are based on research interests and academic background. There are many other potential elective courses available. Students who enter the program with a M.Sc. degree or similar and who have passed equivalent courses elsewhere should make this known to their Ph.D. advisor. In consultation with their Ph.D. advisor, graduate students may take additional courses in year 2 if deemed necessary.

Doctoral Advisory Committee

Students work closely with their Ph.D. advisor to decide on a doctoral advisory committee (DAC) by end of September in the first year of the program. The DAC serves as the academic advisory team for each student’s graduate career and selecting DAC members is an important decision for students. The DAC consists of 5 faculty members from which at least 3 committee members must be from APS and includes the student Ph.D. advisor. In addition to the Ph.D. advisor a committee chair should appointed. Both Ph.D advisor and committee chair must be APS faculty members. Among other roles, each student’s DAC supports the student through developing their Individual Development Plan (IDP). Students document short- and long-term professional goals in the IDP. The IDP is a living document, is reviewed at least annually with the DAC and can be modified over time. Download the DAC form here and submit via email to the APS Student Service Manager.

Literature Review

At the end of the first year (typically early May) students will write a literature review. The literature review is intended to prepare students and their advisor for their specific research, the oral defense, which will take place towards the end of the second year, and future publications. View details on how to write a literature review and how the review is graded here. Students are encouraged to start the literature review after classes have finished in May. The literature review is due August 15 of the start of the second year as a graduate student.


To become a successful scholar, it is important that students look beyond their specific field of research. Students are exposed to a variety of cutting-edge research topics during their APS graduate career and the seminars broaden this exposure. A variety of speakers present their work in seminars including external speakers from industry and other universities, APS and affiliated departments and current graduate APS graduate students.  There will be opportunity for students to present their literature review results and their research. The literature and research seminars are a great way to practice and refine presentation skills. Registering for Seminar (MTSC710) will earn you one (1) credit.

Preliminary Doctoral Oral Exam

The oral exam, also known as prelim, is an exam coordinated with the student’s DAC. The prelim will ascertain if the student has the knowledge and skills needed to be successful in research. Two weeks prior to the exam students submit a written prospectus to their DAC. The prospectus describes a detailed research proposal. The prelim exam includes a 45-minute presentation of the student’s research project aim in the context of the existing literature and research results to date. It is recommended that students also present their possible next steps (future work!) and elaborate on what is needed in order to be successful in their research. For example, it could be that the research would benefit from an internship at another university or industrial partner. Or, it could be important to spend time at one of the national labs. These types of plans are presented during the preliminary oral exam. Your committee members will ask questions and give suggestions and feedback, where needed. Typically, the prelim exam lasts 1.5 hours. The prelim exam should be completed by the end of year 2.

Dissertation and Final Oral Exam

See Graduate School guidelines here.