MAE Doctoral Program

MAE Ph.D. Degree Overview: 

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is a research-oriented degree, which requires individual study and specialization in a field or the interfacing of several fields. It is not awarded solely for the fulfillment of technical requirements such as academic residence and course work. Candidates are recommended for the doctorate in recognition of having mastered in depth the subject of their discipline, and having demonstrated the ability to make original contributions through research to knowledge in their field of study. More generally, the degree constitutes an affidavit of aptitude in scholarship, imaginative enterprise in research, and proficiency in communication, including teaching.

The MAE PhD program is intended to prepare students for a variety of careers in research and teaching. Depending on the student's background and ability, research is initiated as soon as possible. In general, there are no formal course requirements for the PhD. All students, in consultation with their advisors, develop course programs that will prepare them for the MAE Departmental Qualifying Examination and for their dissertation research. However, these programs of study and research must be planned to meet the time limits established to advance to candidacy and to complete the requirements for the degree.

Typical Timeline for PhD Students:

  • Enter in Fall quarter.
  • Department Qualifying Exam by middle of 2nd year.
  • Advance to Candidacy Senate Exam prior to completion of 4th year.
  • Defend Dissertation usually by the end of 5th year.


Click for a list of the different Majors within Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Students can change their Major, with approval from Faculty Advisor, by submitting an online Change of Major form 

Faculty Advisor:

A MAE PhD student is typically assigned a Faculty Advisor (also known as research advisor/faculty advisor/PI) during the admissions process. In very rare cases, students may be admitted without an assigned faculty advisor.  Students are not necessarily bound to their assigned advisor for the duration of their PhD program, but very careful consideration is given to the assignments, and students must speak with the Ph.D. Academic Advisor prior to requesting a switch.  The Graduate Affairs Committee and corresponding faculty members take this process very seriously and strenuously endeavor to ensure a good match between student and advisor.

If a student would like to change their Faculty Advisor, they must first meet with the PhD Academic Advisor to discuss their reasons for the change. Then, the student must complete this form, which must be approved by the Chair of the MAE Graduate Affairs Committee.  For additional questions, please contact PhD Academic Advisor here:

Course Selection:

Enroll in courses through WebReg on Tritonlink

Some courses may require Prerequisites and you may need to place a request through Enrollment Authorization System (EASy). If you'd like to request to enroll in a course with Prerequisites through EASy ensure to comment: Under "Justification" that you've taken similar courses to the ones listed in "Prerequisites" and then submit your request. 

To be considered a full-time registered student you must enroll in 12 units every quarter. 

All PhD students entering the program (with or without an M.S. degree) are required to take, at minimum, 6 courses. 

Incoming PhD students should take courses to prepare for their Department Qualifying Exam (DQE). See the DQE guidelines below. 

There are 3 PhD Exams: 

Please contact PhD Academic Advisor when planning to take one of your exams to ensure you have the proper paperwork. 

1. Department Qualifying Exam (DQE):

The PhD Department Qualifying Examination (DQE) is intended to determine a PhD candidate's ability to successfully pursue a research project at a level appropriate for the doctoral degree.  The DQE is an oral examination administered by a committee of three faculty members, one of whom must be the student's faculty advisor; a fourth committee member from another department is optional. 

3 Committee Members:

  1. MAE Faculty Advisor
  2. MAE Faculty
  3. MAE or outside MAE Faculty
  4. Optional 4th member MAE or Outside MAE

A PhD student must take the DQE before the end of their second full year in the program (at the conclusion of their first six quarters in residence).  The DQE is required of all PhD students, regardless of previous institution or degree level.  A written or oral M.S. examination or a preexisting M.S. degree do not serve as substitutes for the DQE. 

A student can take the DQE twice; if the student fails the exam after the second attempt, the student will not be permitted to continue in the PhD program.   

Prior to taking the DQE, PhD students must submit the DQE Form to the PhD Advisor with Section I completed (including student and advisor signature).

The DQE will be based on material taught over 36 units (9 courses) in three specialization areas:

  • Major (4 courses)
  • Minor (2 courses)
    • If the minor is chosen from a department other than MAE, the student must take two additional courses from an MAE Major area. 
  • Basic Science or Mathematics (3 courses). 

Courses must be selected from the Graduate Course Structure for MS and PhD students.    

A PhD student entering the program without a Master's Degree must complete 36 units of coursework (9, 4-unit courses) with the following conditions:

  • 6 of the 9 courses must be 200-level MAE courses, MUST be approved by the faculty advisor, and MUST be taken for a letter grade.
  • 3 of the 9 courses must be 200-level or upper-division undergraduate courses in a STEM field, MUST be approved by the faculty advisor, and MUST be taken for a letter grade.

A PhD student entering the program with a Master's Degree must complete 36 units of coursework (9, 4-unit courses) with the following conditions:

  • 6 of the 9 courses must be 200-level or upper-division undergraduate courses in a STEM field, MUST be approved by the faculty advisor, and may be taken S/U.
  • 3 of the 9 courses must be 200-level MAE courses, MUST be approved by the faculty advisor, and MUST be taken for a letter grade. 
  • A maximum of 12 units of MAE 299 may be used to replace 3 of the 9 required courses and MUST be approved by the faculty advisor.  

 2. Advancement to Candidacy Senate Exam:

Students are required to take 3, 1-unit seminars [i.e. MAE 205]) before they Advance to Candidacy.

Note: You MUST have taken the 3 unit seminars before you Advance to Candidacy Senate Exam. 

The Senate Exam (University Qualifying Exam) is the second examination required of MAE PhD students. In preparation for the Senate Exam, students must have obtained a faculty research advisor, have identified a topic for their dissertation research, and have made initial progress.

Upon successful completion of this examination, students are advanced to candidacy and are awarded the Candidate in Philosophy (C.Phil.) degree. The minimum residence requirement for this degree is 3 quarters of continuous academic residence at UCSD. The C. Phil. degree cannot be conferred simultaneously with or following the award of a PhD degree.

Formal advancement to candidacy requires the student to pay a candidacy fee to the cashier prior to submitting the form to the Dean of Graduate Studies for approval. Currently this fee is $50. Students must maintain a GPA equivalent to 3.0 or better in upper-division and graduate course work undertaken with a total of no more than eight units of F and/or U grades in order to take the senate examination and advance to candidacy.



The faculty committee conducts the Senate Exam, during which students must demonstrate the ability to engage in thesis research. This involves the presentation of a plan for the thesis research project, and progress on this project thus far. 

Recommended Starting Fall 2019 Written Proposal: 

A written proposal of the student's research topic must be submitted to the committee at least 2 weeks before the oral exam. This written proposal must be 5-15 pages long and must clearly outline a literature review, the critical question that is being addressed in this thesis, and a detailed plan how this question will be answered. This should lay out the problem that the students wishes to address, accompanied by a thorough review of the literature to provide context. It is often helpful to discuss it with each committee member in advance. The committee may ask questions directly or indirectly related to the project and general questions that it determines to be relevant. 


The Doctoral Faculty Committee 

For the Advance to Candidacy Exam and for the Final Defense Exam the committee must be constituted. 

The student sends a list of committee member names to the PhD Academic Advisor. The PhD Academic Advisor then constitutes the committee. This committee conducts the qualifying examination, supervises the preparation of and passes upon the dissertation, and administers the final examination.

The committee members should be selected by the student and their faculty advisor.

The committee must consist of 5 members composed of the following: 

  • MAE Faculty Advisor (Chair)
  • MAE Faculty 
  • MAE Faculty 
  • Outside MAE Faculty (within UCSD has to be Tenured or Emeritus)
  • Outside MAE Faculty (within UCSD)


  • MAE Faculty Advisor (Chair)
  • MAE Faculty
  • MAE Faculty
  • MAE Faculty
  • Outside MAE Faculty within UCSD (has to be Tenured)

The committee must include at least one tenured or emeritus member from outside the student's major department. For questions concerning the committee email the PhD Academic Advisor or see the Graduate Division website for Appointment of the Doctoral Committee

The preferred means to conduct the qualifying exam is when all committee members are physically present. Graduate Council, however, has determined that a doctoral committee member can participate in one of three ways: 1) physically present (meaning they are in the room), 2) telepresent (meaning they participate by live video teleconference), or 3) in advance (if they must be absent on the exam date, it is permissible to examine the candidate in advance of the exam date).

  • More than half of the doctoral committee must be physically present. No more than two members may be telepresent. 
  • The committee chair, or one co-chair, must be physically present. 
  • The outside tenured member must be physically present or telepresent. 
  • If an emergency situation arises that affects the number of committee members present, the committee chair (or co-chairs) may decide how to proceed. There must be sufficient expertise among present members (either physically or telepresent) to examine the student. 

If the committee does not issue a unanimous report on the examination, the Dean of Graduate Division shall be called upon to review and present the case for resolution to the Graduate Council, which shall determine appropriate action.

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 PhD Academic Advisor. The PhD Academic Advisor 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 quarters between the Advancement to Senate Exam and the Final Defense. 

3 quarters total, which includes the quarter the student officially advances and the quarter they file for graduation. Summer is not included, just the regular academic year. Just for clarification, if you defend in Winter 2019 then the soonest you would be able to defend in Fall 2019. Again, the earliest would be Fall 2019, as long as you are registered in all three quarters.


More information about the Exam Policies can be found on the Graduate Division Website

3. Dissertation and Final Defense Examination:

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

The Dissertation Defense is the final PhD examination. Upon completion of the dissertation research project, the student writes a dissertation that must be successfully defended in an oral examination and public presentation conducted by the doctoral committee. The final defense must be open to the public. 

A complete copy of the student's dissertation must be submitted to each member of the doctoral committee approximately four 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 suggest changes in the text at the time of the defense. The form of the final draft must conform to procedures outlined in the publication: Instructions for the Preparation and Submission of the Doctoral Dissertation are located at the provided link. 

The final defense/degree paperwork must be signed by ALL Committee members with a "wet signature." It cannot be scanned. 

The student must make two separate appointments with the Graduate Division Office.

  • The first appointment will be scheduled prior to defending and will cover, in person, formatting of the dissertation, and forms required to graduate.
  • The second appointment is when the candidate submits the dissertation and all final paperwork to the Graduate Division Office.

Upon approval by the Dean of Graduate Division, files the dissertation with the university archivist, who accepts it on behalf of the Graduate Council. Acceptance of the dissertation by the archivist, with a subsequent second approval by the Dean of Graduate Division, represents the final step in the completion by the candidate of all requirements for the doctor of philosophy degree. 

    Important Dates to Know:

    Calendar with Registration Deadlines for the Academic Year and other Calendars with Deadlines on Triton Link. 

    MAE PhD Student Handbook 2019-2020