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Dartmouth engineering PhD students acquire technical depth in their chosen focus area while also gaining breadth of knowledge in related fields. Graduates are skilled not only in engineering, but also in problem-solving, communications, risk-taking, leadership and innovation that generates human-centered impact.
Dartmouth offers a diversity of concentrations with collaborative synergies between engineering disciplines. Graduate students are expected to propose a plan of study that supports their interests on a path unconstrained by disciplinary boundaries. At the time of graduation, PhD students may elect one of the six program areas to be reflected as a “concentration” on their transcript, upon verification by the Thayer Registrar that they have satisfied the courses for that program area.
PhD students may elect to focus their coursework and research in one or more of the following program areas:
The industry research option is for:
“Students in our Innovation Program take classes at Tuck School of Business. They learn about contracts and patents. They attend conferences for entrepreneurs. They start building a professional network while they’re still students.”
—Doug Van Citters, Associate Professor Engineering
Students interested in entrepreneurship can augment their PhD in engineering with the PhD Innovation Program (PhD-I), which adds courses in technology business practices and taking research discoveries to market. Students in this program meet all PhD requirements, including passing an oral qualifying exam and defending a thesis proposal, along with additional PhD-I requirements.
The PhD+MD combines a PhD in engineering sciences with an MD from Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth. Students must apply to the Geisel School as well as to Thayer School, indicating their specific interests.
The Medical Physics Education Program is available to PhD students in engineering and the physical sciences. This program is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Physics Education Programs (CAMPEP) and prepares graduates for a career in clinical medical physics.
As part of the Dartmouth ecosystem, engineering students can take advantage of Tuck School of Business, Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship, and thought leaders and industry contacts within Dartmouth’s extraordinary alumni network.
PhD students interested in administration and management may obtain an Engineering Management Certificate by completing any three of the following courses in addition to their PhD requirements:
Candidates may enroll in other engineering management courses or, for additional tuition, courses offered by Tuck School of Business.
Interested PhD students may serve as teaching assistants for courses that have a problem session, tutorial, or laboratory component. In special cases, a student may participate in the design and development of a special topics course or a laboratory exercises for a lecture course.
Students become eligible for these positions following completion of the oral qualifying exam.
More formalized teacher training, offered through the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning, is also available to engineering PhD students.
The foundation for doctoral engineering degree work is undergraduate preparation in science, mathematics, and engineering principles. Applicants must hold a bachelor's or master's degree to be considered for the program.
Students admitted to the program who are not prepared to complete the first-year requirements are advised to enter the MS program and petition to be admitted to the PhD program.
Students who have prior graduate training may be considered for advancement to candidacy after completing one or two terms of the first-year doctoral program.
The PhD program of study is developed based on each student's background and professional interests in consultation with the advisor and first-year advisory committee. Students are required to take 8–10 courses, reflecting the distribution shown below. Beginning in Spring 2023, students with prior graduate credits may transfer up to half of their courses to count toward this requirement. In addition to engineering and applied mathematics, PhD students also participate in the required seminars and workshops.
Courses leading to acquiring breadth of knowledge in engineering sciences
Courses in the student's area of research, chosen to increase depth of knowledge and expertise. These courses should be selected in concert with the thesis advisor.
The PhD program can also be undertaken part-time: students interested in this option should contact the Senior Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education.
All PhD students, upon matriculation, are required to attend a series of workshops in ethics and sign a statement that they agree to abide by the honor principles established by Dartmouth. See Graduate Academic and Conduct Regulations for a full statement of academic honor.
Students in the PhD program are expected to spend at least nine terms in residence, three of which will take place after successfully completing the oral qualifying examination.
Students who are registered and enrolled in two or more courses per term are considered full-time and as being “in residence.”
Students typically take approximately four to five years to complete the requirements for the PhD.
See PhD Innovation Program Requirements for details.
During the first year of the PhD program, students prepare for formal candidacy by taking courses and participating in faculty-directed research projects. Review notes for new PhD students (.pdf) and the PhD checklist (.pdf).
Each student works with a faculty advisor and two additional Thayer faculty members. This group helps each student develop a first-year program of study, which the student emails to the Thayer Registrar during the first week of the term. A typical first-year program of study includes:
Graduate-level courses completed with a grade of B or higher (can be a combination of Dartmouth courses and courses taken at another institution beyond BS or BE degree requirements) (six courses)
ENGG 296: Graduate research completed with a grade of B or higher (three terms)
At the end of each year, students meet with their faculty advisor to review grades, goals, achievements and future plans in research, formal coursework, and extracurricular activities. This meeting, and a corresponding written report, is required for every year that a student remains registered in the PhD program.
Following the first-year meeting, before the fall of second year, the advisor provides the Thayer Registrar a written report describing a student’s annual performance.
Following a positive outcome of this first annual meeting, the student is expected to complete the oral qualifier examination before the end of the Fall term.
The second annual meeting should occur at the end of the student’s second year, and a successful outcome of this would allow the student to progress to the PhD thesis proposal presentation before the end of the third year.
Students who are not progressing in a normal manner are transferred to the MS program with the understanding that they may later request to be reconsidered as PhD candidates.
Once advanced to PhD candidacy, students work with a special advisory committee to make sure that all degree requirements are met.
Knowledge of the principles and methods of engineering, applied science, and applied mathematics underlying the anticipated thesis research demonstrated by coursework and oral qualifying examination.
The oral qualifying exam (ENGG 194), a set of questions put forward by an oral examination committee to the candidate, normally takes place before or during the fifth term of the student's program, or in exceptional circumstances early in the sixth term. The exam is open to the faculty, but not to the general public.
The committee tests the candidate's knowledge of principles and methods underlying the field in which advanced work is to be performed. The exam covers material selected by the candidate's advisor in consultation with the examining committee and includes coverage of mathematical techniques appropriate to the research area. The structure of the preparation for the exam is flexible.
The student prepares a description of the planned exam, obtains signatures of the advisor, committee members, and the director of the MS and PhD programs, and submits this to the Registrar (103 MacLean or email@example.com) at least one month prior to the exam date.
The examination committee consists of four members — the Chair plus three Dartmouth faculty examiners, with at least two of the examiners from Thayer School. A Thayer faculty member other than the student's advisor chairs the committee. This chair is assigned by the director of the MS and PhD programs.
The examination committee gives the student a pass, fail, or conditional pass result. Students who fail may retake the oral examination — one time only — within the following three months. Upon passage of the exam or fulfillment of the conditions of the conditional pass (before the assigned deadline) and with a letter of support from the advisor, the student is admitted to PhD candidacy pending vote by the Thayer faculty.
Knowledge of one or more areas outside of or secondary to the candidate’s main area of specialization demonstrated by the program of study or a presentation of research proposal or a project in an area outside the main area of specialization.
The faculty advisor helps the candidate plan a demonstration of technical breadth, which is approved by the Graduate Program Committee. The plan details one of the following options:
The candidate demonstrates mastery of an area of specialization by writing and defending a thesis proposal within the first 18 months of candidacy. A thesis committee, approved by the director of the PhD program, advises the candidate on the proposed thesis research and administers the defense of the thesis proposal defense.
The PhD examination committee consists of a minimum of three full-time Dartmouth faculty members of which a minimum of two must be from Thayer (including the dissertation advisor) and an external member with a faculty equivalent research appointment outside of Dartmouth. The external member may participate in meetings in person or via video conference.
The candidate's proposal—a presentation of the proposed thesis research—explains the scope and importance of the proposed research and plans for its completion. The defense presentation should be understandable, at least in a general way, to students and faculty not in the subject area.
Two weeks before the defense, candidates must:
Students who do not pass may be permitted to present the proposal—one time only—within the following three months.
The candidate demonstrates professional competence by completing ENGG 197: PhD Professional Workshops, which is offered each Winter term by the faculty and outside experts. The workshop emphasizes skills in completing competitive proposals, business funding, patenting, research team organization, teaching, résumé and CV creation, and job search techniques. The candidate generally completes the workshop in one of the latter years in residence.
Each candidate completes a competitive research proposal or a business plan for critique by two expert referees selected from among faculty, outside experts, and/or corporate representatives.
Candidates who have submitted a competitive research proposal to a funding agency or a business plan to a venture capitalist or financial institution prior to completing the workshop may petition to have the proposal or business plan fulfill this requirement.
Candidates demonstrate their significant contribution to engineering knowledge and professional expertise in the chosen area of study by performing original research. The PhD examination committee consists of a minimum of three full-time Dartmouth faculty members of which a minimum of two must be from Thayer (including the dissertation advisor) and an external member with a faculty equivalent research appointment outside of Dartmouth. The external member may participate in meetings in person or via video conference. The research is reviewed through all of the following means:
PhD students typically enter with full support from either a Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) or an external fellowship.
Tuition for the 2022–2023 academic year, is covered by the GRA, which includes instruction, insurance coverage, use of instructional facilities, and healthcare service through the College infirmary. Books, room, board, and incidentals are the responsibility of the student.
Students who obtain an external fellowship that fully funds their PhD—such as from NSF, DOD, NASA, or DOE—will receive an additional yearly stipend from Thayer for the duration of their PhD.
PhD students typically enter with full funding support from either a Graduate Research Assistantship (GRA) or an external fellowship. GRAs, funded by contract research, are available to well-qualified candidates enrolled in degree programs with thesis requirements. Most PhD funding includes full tuition cost coverage plus a monthly stipend. GRAs also include health care coverage for those who opt for college insurance. As with all graduate students, Thayer’s commitment to financial assistance will continue as long as a student remains in good academic standing and is making normal progress in fulfilling degree requirements.
Graduate research assistants are expected to devote 20 hours per week to research when enrolled in two non-research courses, 30 hours per week when enrolled in one, and essentially full time between terms and when enrolled only for research. They are expected to be in residence full time, including between terms.
Since graduate research assistants are not regular employees of Dartmouth, they do not earn vacation time per se. However, College holidays apply to them. In addition, they may anticipate one-half week of time off for each academic term of appointment, to be arranged with their faculty advisor.
Although responsibilities are defined in terms of hours per week, the emphasis is on the quality of the student's performance. Continuation of any appointment into succeeding terms is conditional upon satisfactory performance and progress toward degree requirements.
Students who accept GRAs may not engage in any additional employment without prior approval of the director of the MS and PhD programs. Such employment is usually limited to 10–12 hours per week.
There are a number of scholarship, fellowship & grant programs offering financial awards that are available to PhD graduate students. Visit our "Scholarship, Fellowship & Grant Programs" webpage to learn more.
Only complete applications will be considered for admission. (See application instructions for full details).
A complete application includes:
The engineering PhD program deadline to receive all application materials is December 15 for priority consideration.
In most cases, the Admissions Committee will render decisions by April 30.
Students admitted with engineering deficiencies must complete required undergraduate engineering courses.
Students who need more than three courses will enroll initially as a special student.
Students with insufficient engineering background may want to apply to the Bachelor of Engineering (BE) program.
Engineering PhD students typically are funded through a professor’s sponsored research or a fellowship. Students interested in applying to the PhD program are encouraged to reach out to individual faculty members to discuss potential projects.
During the application process, applicants should indicate all areas of interest in order to be considered for the widest possible range of opportunities.
Interviews and visits are set up for applicants at the recommendation of faculty members. Applicants are encouraged to reach out to faculty members they are interested in working with to discuss their research opportunities.
Part-time studies are available for local residents who can meet the requirements for admission.