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Ph.D. Program

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is conferred by the School of Engineering primarily in recognition of competence in the subject field and the ability to investigate engineering problems independently, resulting in a new contribution to knowledge in the field. The work for the degree consists of engineering research, the preparation of a thesis based on that research, and a program of advanced studies in engineering, mathematics, and related physical sciences.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination shall be written and shall include subject matter deemed by the major department to represent sufficient preparation in depth and breadth for advanced study in the major. Only those who pass the written examination may take the oral qualifying examination.

Students currently studying at Santa Clara University for a master’s degree who are accepted for the Ph.D. program and who are at an advanced stage of the M.S. program may, with the approval of their academic advisor, take the preliminary examination before completing the M.S. degree requirements. Students who have completed the M.S. degree requirements and have been accepted for the Ph.D. program should take the preliminary examination as soon as possible but not more than two years after beginning the program.

Only those students who pass the preliminary examination shall be allowed to continue in the doctoral program. The preliminary examination may be repeated only once, and then only at the discretion of the thesis advisor.

General Requirements

Thesis Advisor

It is the student’s responsibility to obtain consent from a full-time faculty member in the student’s major department to serve as his/her prospective thesis advisor.

It is strongly recommended that Ph.D. students find a thesis advisor before taking the preliminary examination. After passing the preliminary examination, Ph.D. students should have a thesis advisor before the beginning of the next quarter following the preliminary examination. Students currently pursuing a master’s degree at the time of their preliminary examination should have a thesis advisor as soon as possible after being accepted as a Ph.D. student.

The student and the thesis advisor jointly develop a complete program of studies for research in a particular area. The complete program of studies (and any subsequent changes) must be filed with the Graduate Services Office and approved by the student’s doctoral committee. Until this approval is obtained, there is no guarantee that courses taken will be acceptable toward the Ph.D. course requirements.

Doctoral Committee

After passing the Ph.D. preliminary exam, a student requests his or her thesis advisor to form a doctoral committee. The committee consists of at least five members, each of which must have earned a doctoral degree in a field of engineering or a related discipline. This includes the student’s thesis advisor, at least two other current faculty members of the student’s major department at Santa Clara University, and at least one current faculty member from another appropriate academic department at Santa Clara University. The committee reviews the student’s program of study, conducts an oral comprehensive exam, conducts the dissertation defense, and reviews the thesis. Successful completion of the doctoral program requires that the student’s program of study, performance on the oral comprehensive examination, dissertation defense, and thesis itself meet with the approval of all committee members.


The doctoral degree is granted on the basis of achievement, rather than on the accumulation of units of credit. However, the candidate is expected to complete a minimum of 72 quarter units of graduate credit beyond the master’s degree. Of these, 36 quarter units may be earned through coursework and independent study, and 36 through the thesis. All Ph.D. thesis units are graded on a Pass/No Pass basis. A maximum of 18 quarter units (12 semester units) may be transferred from other accredited institutions at the discretion of the student’s advisor.

Ph.D. students must undertake a minimum of four consecutive quarters of full-time study at the University; spring and fall quarters are considered consecutive. The residency time shall normally be any period between passing the preliminary examination and completion of the thesis. For this requirement, full-time study is interpreted as a minimum registration of eight units per quarter during the academic year and four units during summer session. Any variation from this requirement must be approved by the doctoral committee.

Comprehensive Examinations and Admission to Candidacy

After completion of the formal coursework approved by the doctoral committee, the student shall present his/her research proposal for comprehensive oral examinations on the coursework and the subject of his/her research work. The student should make arrangements for the comprehensive examinations through the doctoral committee. A student who passes the comprehensive examinations is considered a degree candidate. The comprehensive examinations normally must be completed within four years from the time the student is admitted to the doctoral program. Comprehensive examinations may be repeated once, in whole or in part, at the discretion of the doctoral committee.

Thesis Research and Defense

The period following the comprehensive examinations is devoted to research for the thesis, although such research may begin before the examinations are complete. After successfully completing the comprehensive examinations, the student must pass an oral examination on his/her research and thesis, conducted by the doctoral committee and whomever they appoint as examiners. The thesis must be made available to all examiners one month prior to the examination. The oral examination shall consist of a presentation of the results of the thesis and the defense. This examination is open to all faculty members of Santa Clara University, but only members of the doctoral committee have a vote.

Thesis and Publication

At least one month before the degree is to be conferred, the candidate must submit to the Office of the Dean of Engineering two copies of the final version of the thesis describing the research in its entirety. The thesis will not be considered as accepted until approved by the doctoral committee and one or more refereed articles based on it are accepted for publication in a first-tier professional or scientific journal approved by the doctoral committee. All doctoral theses must also be reproduced on microfilm by University Microfilms International, which keeps on deposit the master microfilm copy and responds to requests for copies by individuals and libraries.

Time Limit for Completing Degrees

All requirements for the doctoral degree must be completed within eight years following initial enrollment in the Ph.D. program. Extensions will be allowed only in unusual circumstances and must be recommended in writing by the student’s doctoral committee, and approved by the dean of engineering in consultation with the Graduate Program Leadership Council.

Additional Graduation Requirements

The requirements for the doctoral degree in the School of Engineering have been made to establish the structure in which the degree may be earned. Upon written approval of the provost, the dean of the School of Engineering, the doctoral committee, and the chair of the major department, other degree requirements may be established. The University reserves the right to evaluate the undertakings and the accomplishments of the degree candidate in total, and award or withhold the degree as a result of its deliberations.

The departments of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering are collaborating to offer a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary topics related to Bioengineering. Faculty from both departments will co-advise the Ph.D. students and the degree will be awarded by the Department of Electrical Engineering.