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. 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 (see below)

Typical Timeline for PhD Students:

  • Enter in Fall quarter.
  • Department Qualifying Exam before the end of the 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. Graduate Coordinator 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:


Program Requirements:

MAE PhD Program Requirements Checklist (Students will use this checklist to plan their Doctoral program coursework and to make sure they are meeting Degree requirements)


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.  

Incoming PhD students should take courses (9, 4-unit courses) to prepare for their Department Qualifying Exam (DQE). See the DQE guidelines below. 

See Course Offerings for course schedule.  MAE Graduate Course Structure

MAE 205 Graduate Seminar requirement for PhD Students:

MAE 205. Graduate Seminar (1 unit)

Graduate seminars deal with current topics in fluid mechanics, solid mechanics, applied plasma physics and fusion, chemical engineering, applied ocean sciences, energy and combustion, environmental engineering,  dynamic systems, controls and materials science. Topics will vary. (S/U grades only)

All MAE PhD students who joined the program in or after Fall 2017 are required to take 3, 1-unit seminars [i.e. MAE 205]) before they Advance to Candidacy.

The requirement each time a Student enrolls in MAE 205 is to attend 6 Seminars (these should be the MAE Graduate Seminars) <-- All confirmed Seminars will be listed here, Seminar flyers will be sent periodically by email to all MAE Graduate Students (re: the time, date and content of ea. Seminar)

Currently most MAE Graduate Seminars will be held remotely instead of in person or on campus.

MAE 205 Student FAQ:
Will attendance at other JSOE/UCSD Seminars count towards completion of MAE 205?
No, you may not attend other JSOE or STEM related Seminars for MAE 205 credit. All Seminars attended for MAE 205 credit must be MAE Graduate Seminars.
Can I attend any MAE Graduate Seminar or must I attend only Seminars that are related to my Research Area?
You are welcome and encouraged to attend any of the MAE 205 Seminars for credit (don't limit your attendance just based on the subject/topic)

There are 3 PhD Exams: 

Please contact your PhD Graduate Coordinator ( at least 4-6 weeks in advance of the exam date, when planning to take one of your exams, to ensure you have met exam requirements and have the proper paperwork. 

Submit an entry to the MAE Graduate Exam Form at least 4 Weeks prior to any of the following MAE Graduate Exams:

-Department Qualifying Exam

-Senate Exam (Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy) 

-Doctoral Dissertation & Final Defense

 This is required so that all necessary arrangements can be made. Not notifying MAE of Exam or Defense details in time may result in delays to the award of a Student's Degree. Exams should not be scheduled for the last week of any quarter (UCSD Academic Calendar)

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 Member
  3. MAE Faculty Member or Faculty Member Outside of MAE
  4. (Optional) MAE Faculty Member or Faculty Member Outside of MAE

A PhD student must successfully pass 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.   

Graduate Students must notify an MAE Graduate Coordinator of their intent to hold the DQE at least four weeks prior to the exam via the MAE Graduate Exam Form

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

Course Requirements

All PhD students must complete 36 units of coursework (9, 4-unit courses) prior to taking the DQE. Students should work with their faculty advisor and their DQE committee members to identify suitable courses that will prepare them to make meaningful research contributions. The course plan MUST be approved by the faculty advisor and the DQE committee members (via the DQE form) and all courses except for MAE 299, by rule, must be taken for a letter grade. 

  • 6 of the 9 courses must be 200-level MAE courses.
  • 3 of the 9 courses must be 200-level or upper-division undergraduate courses in a STEM field.

Students entering the program with a Master’s Degree may: 

  • Satisfy course requirements with graduate-level coursework taken at other Universities if approved by the faculty advisor and the DQE committee members via the DQE form.
  • Use up to 12 units of MAE 299 to replace 3 of the 9 required courses.

Exam Requirements

All PhD students must complete the DQE by the end of their second year in the program. The DQE will be based on material covered in at least 3 of the 9 courses, as agreed upon by the DQE committee. In the event that a student fails the examination, they will be allowed to retake the exam one additional time. In the event that they fail the second exam, they will not be permitted to continue in the program.

 2. Advancement to Candidacy Senate Exam:

Note: You MUST have completed 3 units of MAE 205 (Graduate Seminars) with a "S" grade before you are eligible to Advance to Candidacy.

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, have made initial progress, and have an approved doctoral committee.

Graduate Students must notify an MAE Graduate Coordinator of their intent to hold the Senate Exam at least four weeks prior to the exam via the MAE Graduate Exam Form

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. Graduate Students must be enrolled in at least 6 units per quarter following their Advancement to Doctoral Candidacy in order to establish Academic Residency.

Formal advancement to candidacy requires the student to pay a candidacy fee after their Doctoral Advancement Form is approved by the UCSD Graduate Division. 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.

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

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 on 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, prior to taking the exams. 

The student sends a list of committee member names to the PhD Graduate Coordinator (via MAE Graduate Exam Form) The Graduate Coordinator then constitutes the committee. This committee conducts the qualifying examination, supervises the preparation of the dissertation, and administers the final examination.

The committee members should be selected by the Student and their Faculty Advisor.

Effective FA21, the committee must consist of 4 members composed of the following UCSD Senate Faculty:

  • Minimum of 4 members with UC San Diego faculty appointments
  • At least 1 member must have a primary appointment in a different department than the chair's primary department 
  • At least 2 members must be from MAE
  • At least 1 member must be tenured or emeritus
  • Proposed members from other UC campuses, other universities, or industry are exceptions and must be requested in writing

 For questions concerning the committee email the PhD Graduate Coordinator or see the Graduate Division website for Appointment of the Doctoral Committee

The default method for the doctoral committee to conduct graduate examinations (doctoral qualifying examination and final dissertation/thesis defense) is when the student and all members of the committee are physically present in the same room. The Graduate Council recognizes, however, that practical exigencies do not always make this possible. Therefore, exams are allowed to be held remote or in a hybrid format. 

It is expected that there will be synchronous participation by all committee members in the scheduled exam. If an unavoidable situation arises that affects a committee member’s ability to participate synchronously, the committee chair (or co-chairs) may decide how to proceed. There must be sufficient expertise among present members to examine the student. If a committee member must be absent for the scheduled exam, it is permissible for one absent committee member to examine the candidate on a separate date. The committee chair, or one co-chair, must participate synchronously in the scheduled exam.

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 Graduate Coordinator. 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 2020, the earliest you can defend would be in Fall 2020. Again, the earliest would be Fall 2020, 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. 

Graduate Students must notify an MAE Graduate Coordinator of their intent to hold the Dissertation and Final Defense at least four weeks prior to the exam via the MAE Graduate Exam Form

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. 

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, 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.