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.  PhD students, in consultation with their faculty advisors, develop appropriate course programs that will prepare them for the Preliminary Qualifying/Comprehensive, Literature Review, and Advancement/Senate Exams, and for the defense exam of 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 approved courses in the student’s selected focus area, and 2 electives from the approved courses in any of the two remaining focuses, the ENG-10X courses (for team engineering, leadership, and entrepreneur skills), or a graduate level course from a department in JSOE engineering, mathematics, or general science (Biology, Physics, Chemistry), with the faculty 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.


PhD Course & Program Requirements

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 approved courses in the student’s selected focus area, and 2 electives from the approved courses in any of the two remaining focus areas, which have been approved by the student’s dissertation advisor.  See focus areas and approved courses on the Nano MS web page.
  3. Any courses that are not JSOE engineering, sciences, or math, graduate or upper division level courses, must be approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee, prior to enrollment.
  4. In addition, students must enroll in NANO 200 every quarter, (note, Nano 200 units do Not count in the degree units). See “Courses” for descriptions. 
  5. Pass the Literature Review Examination. This requirement must be successfully completed within one year after passing the Comprehensive Examination.
  6. Pass the Ph.D. Advancement to Candidacy or Senate Exam, before the Pre-Candidacy Time Limit (PCTL) deadline, to be advanced to Ph.D. candidacy.
  7. 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 Time Limit (PCTL)—four years; Support Time Limit (SUTL)—six years; Total Registered Time Limit (TRTL)—seven years. (See Time to Doctorate Policy for further explanation.)  Note, the UC does not award duplicate degrees, and students who already hold a Master's degree are not eligible for another Master's degree. 

Departmental Examinations

All Ph.D. Students are required to pass four examinations. The first is a written Comprehensive Examination or Qualifying Exam, 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 planning to take the Literature Review Exam, Advancement to Candidacy / Senate Exam, Defense Exam, or who need to Reconstitute the doctoral committee, or change exam information already submitted, need to notify the department's Graduate Coordinator at least 4-5 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 70 percent for qualification to the Ph.D. program, and is 60 percent for successful completion of the Master’s degree.  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.  If a student fails the exam after the second attempt, the student will not be permitted to continue in the PhD program.  Note, the UC does not award duplicate degrees, and students who already hold a Master's degree are not eligible for another Master's degree.


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 Literature Review Committee should have 3 members, your faculty advisor, and 2 other faculty of the department. 

Students planning to take the Literature Review Exam need to notify the department's Graduate Coordinator at least 4-5 weeks in advance of the exam date, by entering the information into the PhD Exam form.


The Ph.D. Senate Exam: Upon completion of formal course requirements (see above), 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.  The senate exam must be successfully completed before the Pre-Candidacy Time Limit (PCTL).

In preparation for the Senate Exam, students must have obtained a faculty research advisor, have identified a topic for their dissertation research, have made initial progress, and have an approved doctoral committee.  Students must have completed 3 quarters of continuous residency and be registered in the quarter in which they advance.  Senate exams taken during the summer will be recorded for the following fall quarter, and the student must be enrolled for fall before it will be recorded.  Students must have a GPA of 3.0 or above in upper division and graduate coursework, and no more than eight units of F and/or U grades.  Residence is established by the satisfactory completion of six units or more per quarter, at least some of which must be at the graduate level.

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.  Note: the advancement to candidacy fee will be posted to student billing, after Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs has received, and processed the advancement form.

Doctoral Committee 

Prior to the Senate Exam, each student, in consultation with their faculty advisor, will establish a dissertation committee of four UCSD faculty members. The committee will include the student’s faculty 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 doctoral committee chair (faculty advisor) will have the major responsibility for the student’s research and dissertation.  Doctoral Committee Guidelines

PhD Students must notify the department's Graduate Coordinator of their intent to hold the Senate Exam at least four weeks prior to the exam via the PhD Exam Form.

Reconstituted Doctoral Committee

For a variety of reasons a doctoral committee may need to be reconstituted. The request for reconstitution of the membership of a doctoral committee must be submitted to the department's Graduate Coordinator in the PhD Exam Form. The Graduate Coordinator will prepare the official reconstitution documentation and obtain required signatures. The request must include the reason(s) for requesting the change.


Note: There should be 3 registered quarters between the Advancement to Senate Exam and the Final Defense. 

3 registered quarters total, which includes the quarter the student officially advances and the quarter they file for graduation. Summer does not count, only regular academic year quarters are counted. For example, if you advance in Winter, the earliest you can defend would be in Fall, as long as you are registered in all three quarters between Winter and Fall.


Dissertation Defense: 

Note: You MUST have at least 1 quarter of Teaching Assistant Experience before your Final Defense Exam

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 Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Affairs and the University Librarian represents the final step in completion of all requirements for the Ph.D. degree.

PhD Students must notify the department's Graduate Coordinator of their intent to defend at least four weeks prior to the exam via the PhD Exam Form.


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.