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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;

Present a literature review to the Doctoral Advisory Committee at the end of year 1

Present a research seminar in year 2

Submit a dissertation and pass a final oral exam.

In addition to developing technical skills and knowledge in their research area, students have the opportunity to participate in professional development opportunities so that they are prepared for their post-graduate career. Opportunities include developing communication skills (presentation and written), grant writing, teaching & mentorship, leadership & professionalism, and are tailored for each student’s career goals.

Required Courses

All APS graduate students must pass 6 courses of 3 credit hours each and 2 seminar courses of 1 credit hour each in their first year (20 credit hours total):  one cohort course, two electives, and one seminar in the fall semester and one cohort course, two electives and one seminar 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).  Cohort courses strengthen each student’s background in materials science and are mandatory. In addition to the 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 potential elective courses available. Students who enter the program with a M.Sc. degree or similar degree 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.

The Materials Science and Engineering seminar course (MTSC710) is a required course for all first-year students.  The course offers an opportunity for students to develop their Individual Development Plan, explore careers, practice their presentation skills, and learn about the research of other MTSC graduate students. Second-year students will present a research seminar to first year students in MTSC710. Students will develop a flyer to promote their presentation, and faculty and other graduate students could attend.  The presentation will include the results of the student’s literature review, preliminary research results and future directions. Successful completion of MTSC710 will earn one (1) credit.

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.  Students will need to receive appropriate signatures on Part 1 of the Doctoral Exam Report and submit the report to the APS Student Services Manager. Please note that the literature review is a substitute for the preliminary written exam on the Doctoral Exam Report form.


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 are encouraged to explore beyond their specific field of research by regularly attending departmental and other seminars.  A variety of speakers present their work in APS departmental seminars including external speakers from industry and other universities, APS and affiliated departments and current APS graduate students.

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 at least 5 faculty members and includes the student Ph.D. advisor. The DAC chair must be a member of the APS faculty. Students must complete and submit the Report of Doctoral Committee Composition by October 1st in the first year of the program to the APS Student Services Manager.

The DAC supports each student through developing their scientific excellence and professional skills. Students document short- and long-term professional goals in their individual development plan (IDP). The IDP is a living document, reviewed and updated at least annually with the DAC to support each student with a plan tailored to their career goals. Download the DAC form here and submit via email to the APS Student Services Manager.

First Doctoral Oral Exam

There are two oral exams. The first oral exam is coordinated with the student’s DAC. The oral exam will ascertain if the student has acquired 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.  Students are expected to submit the final approved prospectus to the APS Student Services Manager.

The first oral 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 from collaborative research at one of the national labs. Committee members review proposals and research plans during the oral exam, ask questions and give suggestions and feedback. The oral exam typically lasts 1.5 hours and should be completed by the end of year 2.  Students will need to receive appropriate signatures on Part II of the Doctoral Exam Report and submit the report to the APS Student Services Manager.

Dissertation and Final Oral Exam

The final oral exam is coordinated with the student’s DAC.  Students will need to receive appropriate signatures on Parts III and IV of the Doctoral Exam Report and submit the report to the APS Student Services Manager.

Additional details from The Graduate School can be viewed here.