Requirements listed here are in addition to Graduate Council policies listed under GCAC-600 Research Degree Policies.
Students must complete a minimum of 36 credits of courses and dissertation research credits at the 500, 600, and 800 level as a part of their Ph.D. program. Students must take a minimum of 21 credits of courses based on the program of study. However, the student’s adviser might require a student to take additional courses to address deficiencies and needs. Students must also complete a minimum of 15 dissertation research credits that must include a minimum of 12 credits of ENGR 600.
The minimum 21 credits of course work is divided into the three categories:
- the common core (9 credits)
- courses focused on the student’s chosen specialty (minimum of 6 credits)
- interdisciplinary cognate courses (minimum of 6 credits)
All required courses must be at the 500 or 800 level. 400-level courses may play a role in a student’s course of study; although they will not be considered as satisfying any degree requirements, an adviser may require 400-level courses to fulfill an identified deficiency. Students who have completed all required course work may, with the permission of their adviser, register for the required dissertation research credits. The common core consists of three courses (9 credits) that students will take during their first year. These three courses teach students about engineering systems, prepare them for interdisciplinary research, and equip them with the skills necessary to design, execute, communicate, and publish their research.
The common core courses are also intended to give new students to the program a shared experience together, one that helps them to bond with the program, become acquainted with one another, and explore opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. The three common core classes are:
- ENGR 502: The Smart City
- ENGR 503: Interdisciplinary Research Methods in Engineering
- SYSEN 507: Systems Thinking
Note: If a student enters the program with coursework in systems theory, the adviser may waive the third required course (SYSEN 507) and replace it with an additional cognate course or course within the student’s specialty.
Students will take at least 6 credits within their specialty. To determine their specialties, students will work closely first with the adviser and then later with the Ph.D. committee. A single engineering field, such as mechanical engineering, might constitute a student’s specialty. However, a student might also choose a specialty that draws from two or more engineering fields. For example, a student wishing to specialize in sustainable energy might take courses in environmental, mechanical, and electrical engineering. If the adviser and/or Ph.D. committee, in consultation with the student, do not believe that 6 credits of course work is sufficient to prepare the student for the dissertation’s research project, the student might be asked to take additional course work.
Students will take a minimum of 6 credits of interdisciplinary cognate courses. Cognate courses must exist outside a student’s specialty and must complement a student’s chosen dissertation research area. Interdisciplinary cognate courses play a crucial role in helping this Ph.D. program achieve its objective of offering an interdisciplinary education. Students will work closely with their adviser and/or Ph.D. committee to choose appropriate cognate courses. The adviser/Ph.D. committee will also be responsible for determining whether a given course contains sufficient complementary content and prepares the students for their chosen dissertation topic to qualify as a cognate course. For example, a student planning to conduct research in environmental engineering might take a cognate course in chemistry, biology, environmental science, or civil engineering. Advisers might also ask this student to venture outside SSET to take a course in public policy if their planned dissertation research involved working with government.
Students will be required to complete a minimum of 15 credits of dissertation research in Engineering Systems. For 12 of the 15 credits, students must register for ENGR 600. Students may take ENGR 600 or 610 after passing the comprehensive examination to fulfill the minimum 18 credits.
The student must pass both the qualifying examination and the comprehensive examination before advancing to the candidacy and dissertation phase. A minimum grade-point average of 3.00 in courses taken at Penn State University will be required for admission to the qualifying examination, the comprehensive examination, and the final oral examination (the dissertation defense), as well as for graduation. See below for more information about these milestones.
The Qualifying Examination
The qualifying examination’s purpose is to help faculty determine whether the considerable investment of time, resources, and effort required by the student has a high likelihood of resulting in the completion of the Ph.D. degree. In order to take the exam, a student will be required to possess a grade-point average of 3.00 or higher for all work done at Penn State University while a graduate student. The exam will be offered every December and May, just after the conclusion of the semester. Students become eligible to take the exam after they have completed the required core courses. All students will be required to take the qualifying examination prior to the start of their third semester of entry into the doctoral program. It will be the responsibility of the Ph.D. program director both to schedule the exam and to ensure that it is offered within the prescribed time limits.
The qualifying examination will consist of written and oral components. It will determine whether the student has the potential to develop the knowledge and skills that the program has defined in its Learning Objectives. The examination will test students on their critical thinking skills, which are indispensable for a researcher in this field. The oral component will allow faculty to ask follow-up questions. The qualifying examination will be written by the qualifying examination committee, which will be selected by the program director.
This same committee will also administer the oral portion of the exam by meeting with each student shortly after the completion of the written portion. The qualifying examination committee is also responsible for evaluating the student’s performance on the exam (written and oral), assigning a grade of pass/fail, and providing constructive feedback. Both the oral and written portions of the qualifying examination will also provide faculty with the opportunity to assess the student’s command of the English language (see “English Language Requirement” below).
The Comprehensive Examination
Each student must pass a comprehensive examination to become a Ph.D. candidate. The comprehensive exam will test the student on the specific knowledge and training that the student will need to conduct dissertation research. The responsibility for scheduling the comprehensive exam rests with the student and their Ph.D. committee chair. The comprehensive examination will be administered and evaluated by the student’s Ph.D. committee (formed no later than one calendar year following the date of the student’s successful completion of the qualifying examination). The comprehensive examination will combine a presentation with an oral defense. In evaluating the comprehensive examination, the Ph.D. committee must determine whether the student possesses the ability to independently conduct a research project in the student’s chosen specialty under the supervision of the student’s dissertation adviser and considering the program’s defined learning objectives.
The Dissertation and Defense
All students must have their dissertation proposals approved by their Ph.D. committee. Students will work with their dissertation adviser to compose the dissertation research proposal. The student will prepare a written dissertation proposal for the Ph.D. committee to review. The Ph.D. committee chair will allocate time in the comprehensive exam’s oral defense to discussing the proposal. The Ph.D. committee may give its approval of the proposal during this event, or it may request revisions and an additional meeting. If the student does not have a proposal ready at the time of the comprehensive exam’s defense, the chair will schedule a later meeting of the committee and student to discuss the proposal and approve the proposed dissertation research.
When the Ph.D. committee agrees that the student is ready to defend the dissertation, the student will schedule the final oral examination in consultation with their Ph.D. committee chair (GCAC-608). The responsibility for scheduling the final oral examination rests with the student in consultation with their Ph.D. committee chair. The final oral examination shall consist of a public oral presentation of the dissertation followed by a closed discussion between the student and the student's Ph.D. Committee. During this event, the Ph.D. committee will examine the student on the dissertation and related areas.
Training in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)
During the first year of study, students in the Ph.D. program will be required to meet the university’s two-part SARI requirements. First, students will complete the online course, Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR), in CITI (Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative). Second, students will participate in 5 hours of in-person, discussion-based educational activities that address the following topics related to the Responsible Conduct of Research:
- Data acquisition, management, sharing, and ownership
- Publication practices and responsible authorship
- Peer review
- Research misconduct
- Conflicts of interest and commitment
- Intellectual property
To ensure that all students take this training and understand its significance in their own research, SARI training will be incorporated into the curriculum of the required Research Methods course (ENGR 503). Completing all SARI requirements will be a prerequisite for scheduling the comprehensive exam.
English Language Requirement
A candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy must demonstrate a high level of competency in the use of the English language, including reading, writing, and speaking. This is a part of the language and communication requirement for the Ph.D. To fulfill this requirement, each doctoral student will need to demonstrate English proficiency in both the written and oral portions of the qualifying examination. A student’s verbal communication skills will be assessed by the examining faculty. If a student’s performance is judged “unsatisfactory,” the student may be required to complete remedial course work in English to improve proficiency. All language deficiencies must be removed before the student can schedule the comprehensive examination. International students should note that passing the TOEFL/IELTS admissions requirement does not demonstrate that they have achieved the level of competence expected of Ph.D. students at Penn State. It will be the responsibility of the student to meet these requirements by taking, if necessary, remedial measures to demonstrate an acceptable level of proficiency in the English language. The student’s advisers will be available to help the student locate the appropriate English-language instruction and resources.
A Ph.D. student is required to complete the program, including acceptance of the doctoral dissertation, within eight years after the date of successful completion of the qualifying examination, not including approved leaves of absence as outlined in GSAD-906
Over a twelve-month period, the Ph.D. student must spend at least two consecutive semesters, exclusive of summer sessions, as a registered full-time student engaged in academic work at Penn State Harrisburg. Courses with the numbers 601 and 611 cannot be used to meet this requirement.
Students scheduled to take the Qualifying Examination must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester (excluding summer session) in which the examination is scheduled. Students scheduled to take the Comprehensive Examination or Final Oral Examination must be registered as a full-time or part-time graduate degree student for the semester (including summer session) in which the examination is scheduled. Post-Comprehensive Examination doctoral students may satisfy this requirement by registering for ENGR 601 or ENGR 611.