NanoEngineering Doctoral Degree Program

The Ph.D. Program is intended to prepare students for a variety of careers in research and teaching. The emphasis is on research. All students, in consultation with their advisors, develop appropriate course programs that will prepare them for the Preliminary Qualifying Examination and for their dissertation research. These programs must be planned to meet the time limits established to advance to candidacy and to complete the requirements of the degree. A Ph.D. in NanoEngineering requires the selection of a specific focus [Biomedical Nanotechnology, Molecular and Nanomaterials, or Nanotechnologies for Energy and the Environment], and consists of the successful completion of 10 courses: the 5 required core courses, 3 electives from the student’s selected focus, and 2 electives from any of the two remaining focuses, the ENG-10X courses (for team engineering, leadership, and entrepreneur skills) or from an approved list of electives from other departments across campus, with advisor’s consent. While only one degree title is offered, NanoEngineering’, the choice of a specific focus area is to ensure that the graduate student curriculum is both tailored to their interest and sufficiently in-depth to ensure a complete understanding of their field of interest.


After completing the M.S. degree (or meeting equivalent requirements) and meeting the minimum standard on the comprehensive examination to be admitted to or continue in the Ph.D. program, a student must:

  1. Meet all the university’s residency and other requirements.
  2. Successfully complete 10 courses: the 5 required core courses, 3 electives from the student’s selected focus, and 2 electives from any of the two remaining focuses, which have been approved by the student’s dissertation advisor.
  3. Enroll in NANO 200, as required. See “Courses” for descriptions.
  4. Pass the Literature Review Examination. This requirement must be successfully completed within one year after passing the Comprehensive Examination.
  5. Pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination (Senate Exam) to be advanced to Ph.D. candidacy.
  6. Successfully complete and defend a dissertation, which in the opinion of the dissertation committee, contains original work that should lead to publication of at least one significant article in an appropriate refereed journal.

In principle, it should be possible to finish the M.S. degree in three quarters, and a Ph.D. in an additional three years. Ph.D. time limits are as follows: Pre-candidacy—four years; Support limit—six years; Total time limit—seven years. (See “Graduate Studies– Ph.D. Time Limits” for further explanation.)


Departmental Examinations

All Ph.D. Students are required to pass four examinations. The first is a written Comprehensive Examination, which should be taken within three to four quarters of full-time graduate study. The second is a Literature Review Examination (detailed below), which should be completed by the end of the second year. The third is the Ph.D. Senate Exam (often referred to as ‘Advancement to Candidacy Exam’). The last is the Dissertation Defense.

Students must notify Graduate Advising at least 4 weeks in advance of the exam date, by entering the information into the PhD Exam Form.


The Comprehensive Examination

The examination will consist of questions from each of the five-core courses. A passing grade is 60 percent for successful completion of the Master’s degree, and 70 percent for qualification to the Ph.D. program. The examination will not exceed six hours in duration. The examination is usually administered in the second or third week of the spring quarter. Typically, students take the exam after completion of the core courses, preferably in the first year, and no later than the second year. This exam may only be retaken once before the end of the second year of study.


The Literature Review Examination

The Literature Review Examination tests the student’s ability to prepare and present a comprehensive overview of a topic based on existing journal literature. It should be a comprehensive oral discussion of the literature (3-5 key papers), scientific theory, problems or theoretical deficiencies, and possible areas of research in some area related to nanoscience or nanoengineering. The topic may be in the general area in which the student plans to pursue his or her thesis research, or it may be in an unrelated field of NanoEngineering. The topic must be approved by the three faculty member committee in advance of the seminar. The length of the prepared material should be around 40 minutes, but 90 minutes should be scheduled (to ensure adequate time for questions and discussion). The Literature Review Examination will conclude with a short preliminary overview of the student’s research project or their research proposal (approximately the last 20% of the presentation). This exam must occur within one year of the student having passed the Comprehensive Examination. The exam will be evaluated using a rubric distributed to the student ahead of time. The presentation is open to the public, but the faculty questioning period is not.


The Ph.D. Senate Exam: Upon completion of formal course requirements, each student will be required to take a written and oral qualifying examination that will advance the student to candidacy in the Ph.D. Program. It is often known as the “Senate Exam” or “Advancement to Candidacy” exam. Prior to this examination, each student, in consultation with his or her faculty advisor, will establish a dissertation committee of four faculty members. The committee will include the student’s Ph.D. advisor as the Chair of the committee. The committee will consist of two faculty members who are affiliated with the NanoEngineering Department. At least one member must be from a primary appointment (department) different from the committee chair’s, at least one member must be tenured or emeritus. The thesis advisor will have the major responsibility for the student’s research and dissertation.


At UC San Diego, the University “Candidacy/Senate” Examination is a requirement for a Graduate Student to complete satisfactorily, once a thesis project has been decided upon. It is strongly recommended, except in special circumstances, that the student complete this examination prior to the end of the first 3 years in the Program. The format for this examination is consistent with the highest standards held by UC San Diego. The Student should write a detailed Candidacy report in the format of an NIH, NSF, or similar grant proposal. The project and the report should be interdisciplinary and should have input from the thesis advisor. Any publications or supplementary material may be attached. It is expected that the student will meet at least annually with the Committee to update the members on his/her progress. Please note that there is a $50 candidacy fee upon completion of the examination.


Dissertation Defense: This is the final Ph.D. examination. Upon completion of the dissertation research project, the candidate writes a dissertation that must be successfully defended in an oral examination and public presentation conducted by the doctoral committee. A complete copy of the student’s dissertation must be submitted to each member of the doctoral committee two weeks before the defense. It is understood that this copy of the dissertation given to committee members will not be the final copy, and that the committee members may request changes in the text at the time of the defense. This examination may not be conducted earlier than three quarters after the date of advancement to doctoral candidacy. Acceptance of the dissertation by the Office of Graduate Studies and the University Librarian represents the final step in completion of all requirements for the Ph.D. degree.


Teaching Experience: Prior to the dissertation defense, the candidate must serve at least one quarter as a teaching assistant, with the responsibility to hold a problem-solving section one hour a week.


Annual Evaluation: In the spring of each year, the faculty advisor evaluates each doctoral student’s overall performance in course work, research, and prospects for financial support for future years. A written assessment is given to the student after the evaluation. If a student’s work is found to be inadequate, the faculty may determine that the student cannot continue in the graduate program.