MAE Doctoral Program

The Doctor of Philosophy 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.

Program of Study

The MAE Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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.

Applied ocean sciences students are expected to demonstrate proficiency in mathematics and oceanography. Accordingly, when planning course programs they should enroll in MAE 294A-B-C (Methods in Applied Mechanics) and in some of the Scripps Core Courses, such as 210A (Physical Oceanography), 240 (Marine Chemistry), and 270A (Biological Oceanography).

Computational Sciences students should refer to their web site for complete details.

The student's program of study is determined in consultation with the advisor who supervises the student's activities until the appointment of the doctoral committee. The typical MAE doctoral program involves three stages:

The first stage involves preparation for the Departmental Qualifying Examination and typically takes three to six quarters of full-time graduate work.

The second stage involves identification of a dissertation research topic and the Ph.D. Senate (Qualifying) Examination. Passing this examination allows the student to advance to candidacy.

The third or in-candidacy stage is devoted primarily to independent study and research and to the preparation of the dissertation. A minimum interval of three-quarters of academic residence should elapse between advancement to candidacy and the filing and final defense of the dissertation.

PhD Qualifying Exam

An MAE Ph.D. student is required to pass three examinations. The first is a Department Qualifying Examination (DQE), which should be taken within three to six quarters of full-time graduate study. This examination is intended to determine the candidate's ability to pursue successfully a research project at a level appropriate for the doctorate.

Guidelines for the exam:

  • Oral exam by a committee of three committee members: Faculty advisor, MAE faculty member, and MAE or out of MAE faculty member. A 4th member is optional and can be MAE or outside MAE, but still within UCSD. The committee is to be selected by the student and his/her faculty advisor.
  • The exam will be based on material taught over 36 units in three areas: Major (4 courses), Minor (2 courses), and Advanced Topics in Basic Science or Mathematics (3 courses). Students should use the Graduate Course Structure for MS and PhD students to see how the classes are placed into groups and to organize their DQE.
  • If the minor is chosen from a department other than MAE, a further graduation requirement is that the student take another two courses from an MAE Major area.
  • A student can take the DQE exam twice. If the student fails the exam after the second attempt, the student will not be able to continue in the PhD program.

Students are not required to take particular courses in preparation for the departmental examination. If a student feels already confident in the material in a given area, they can proceed with the test; however, the scope of the examination in each area is associated with a set of graduate courses, generally MAE courses. A candidate can assess the level of knowledge expected for the examination by studying the appropriate syllabus and discussing the course content with faculty experienced in teaching the courses involved.

Students should use this DQE Example to see how to organize their classes and to properly fill out the DQE form, provided by the PhD Academic Advisor.

Senate Exam- Ph.D. University Qualifying Exam

The Senate Exam (University Qualifying Exam) is the second examination required of MAE Ph.D. students. In preparation for the Senate Exam, students must have completed obtained a faculty research advisor, and have identified a topic for their dissertation research and have made initial progress. The 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. The committee may ask questions directly or indirectly related to the project and general questions that it determines to be relevant. 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 three quarters of continuous academic residence at UCSD. The C. Phil. degree cannot be conferred simultaneously with or following the award of a Ph.D. degree.

The Doctoral Advisor

A MAE PhD student is typically assigned a Doctoral Advisor (also known as faculty advisor/research advisor/PhD advisor/PI) during the admissions process.    In very rare cases, students may be admitted without an assigned doctoral 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 PhD Program 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 Doctoral Advisor, they must first meet with the PhD Program 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, Joana Halnez, here:

The Doctoral Committee

At least three weeks prior to a scheduled Senate examination (four weeks if you are establishing your committee during the spring quarter), the student and the department arrange for the appointment of the doctoral committee. This committee conducts the qualifying examination, supervises the preparation of and passes upon the dissertation, and administers the final examination.

The Committee consists of a minimum of five or more officers of instruction, no fewer than four of whom shall hold professorial titles of any rank. The committee members should be selected by the student and their faculty advisor. The committee must consist of three MAE faculty members (one of which is the student’s advisor) and two members from outside of the MAE Department and, therefore, out of the research area of the student. Of these two outside members, one must be a tenured faculty member. Consult the departmental Graduate Advisor for further details or see the Office of Graduate Studies website for Appointment of the Doctoral Committee and/or  Doctoral Committee Membership Table.

Membership of the Ph.D. committee must comply with the Manual of the San Diego Division, Academic Senate, Regulation 715, which states:

A Doctoral Committee of five or more members shall be appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies under the authority of the Graduate Council. At least five of the committee members shall be officers of instruction and no fewer than four shall hold professorial titles (of any rank). The committee members shall be chosen from at least two departments, and at least two members shall represent academic specialties that differ from the student’s chosen specialty. In all cases, each committee must include one tenured or emeritus UCSD faculty member from outside the student’s major department. [Am 10/26/93].

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 MAE Academic Advisor no less than three weeks prior to the senate examination or defense of the dissertation. The advisor will prepare the official reconstitution documentation and obtain required signatures. The request must include departmental affiliation of the members of the proposed reconstituted committee and the reason(s) for requesting the change.

Advancement to Candidacy

The doctoral committee administers the senate examination and authorizes the issuance of the Report of the Qualifying Examination and Advancement to Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy. 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.

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

Dissertation and Final Examination

The Dissertation Defense is the final Ph.D. 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..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 examination may not be conducted earlier than three quarters after the date of advancement to doctoral candidacy.


A NOTE ABOUT THE FINAL DEFENSE: ALL Committee members MUST be present at the defense. If a member needs to Skype in due to extenuating circumstances, a letter of exception must be reviewed by the Dean of the Graduate Division in advance of the exam. This letter must be written by the advisor and endorsed by the dept. chair. Without exception, the Final Defense Committee Chair and outside tenured member are required to be present at the exam.

The final defense/degree paperwork must be signed by ALL Committee members with a "wet signature." It cannot be scanned. The Committee Chair should sign before all other Committee members. If a Committee member is out of the country, the final forms will have to be mailed to her/him and returned before the student is considered completed.


The student must make two separate appointments with the Office of Graduate Studies. 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 Office of Graduate Studies and upon approval by the Dean of Graduate Studies, 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 Studies, represents the final step in the completion by the candidate of all requirements for the doctor of philosophy degree. All dissertations and theses submitted in partial satisfaction of Ph.D. or master's degree requirements shall be cataloged and shelved in the university library and submitted to University Microfilms, Inc., for publication.

Typical Timeline for Ph.D. Students

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

Important Dates to Remember

Watch TritonLink for current deadlines and announcements so you don't miss any important dates.

California Residency

It is UCSD policy that U.S. citizens on support will not have out of state tuition paid by the University after their first year. Therefore, if you do not receive California residency prior to the start of your second year, you will be responsible for out of state tuition. For all information concerning residency, visit the UCSD webpage on California residency.