Earn your doctorate in aerospace engineering

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A minimum of 36 credit hours of coursework beyond the bachelor's is required for the Doctor of Philosophy in aerospace engineering. At least 12 of these credits must be completed at the University of Maryland. A minimum of 12 semester hours of dissertation research is also required. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA.  

In addition to the coursework requirement, Ph.D. candidates must complete a qualifying exam and pass a research proposal examination. All Ph.D. students must pass an oral exam, administered by a committee of five graduate faculty members, in defense of their dissertation.

Program Guide

For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in aerospace engineering, the student is required to complete a minimum of 36 semester hours of coursework beyond the bachelor’s degree. Courses should be listed on the Doctoral Coursework Plan as early as possible in the program and must satisfy the following requirements:

  1. Major Area: Not less than 18 semester hours shall be within one departmental core area of specialization:
    (Note that courses taken to satisfy this requirement may actually be drawn from other core areas in the department or from other departments, as long as the chosen courses all relate to the area of specialization in a meaningful way.)
    • Aerodynamics and Propulsion
    • Flight Dynamics and Control
    • Rotorcraft
    • Space Systems
    • Structural Mechanics and Composites
  2. Minor Area: At least six semester hours (two courses that relate to each other) shall be from one of the other departmental core areas of specialization in the department or from another department. At least three semester hours must be at the 600 level or higher.
  3. Math/Science Requirement: Not less than nine semester hours of coursework must emphasize mathematics, physical sciences, life sciences, or computer sciences. At least three semester hours must be at the 600 level or higher. No more than three semester hours can be from the College of Engineering. The one engineering course that can count toward this requirement must not be a course that could apply to either the major or minor concentration area.
  4. At least nine semester hours of the credits taken to satisfy (2) and (3) above, must be at the 600 level or higher.
  5. The student must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA in all coursework.
  6. Graduate credit hours for courses completed previously at other universities may be applied to the doctoral coursework requirement in some cases. For example, most students entering with an M.S. degree will be granted 24 credits of coursework assuming their M.S. degree is in a closely related field. However, all students must pass the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination and Ph.D. Comprehensive Examination in the department and must satisfy the major, minor, and math/science requirements with their coursework. In addition, to facilitate the student becoming familiar with the faculty of the department, all Ph.D. students must complete a minimum of twelve semester hours of coursework in the department. It is preferable that at least six semester hours be taken from faculty other than the advisor and that these be in the student's major area of specialization.

All students entering the Ph.D. program must pass both a qualifying examination and a comprehensive examination. The purposes of these exams are (1) to assess the student's aptitude and ability to be successful in the Ph.D. program, and (2) to assess the student’s knowledge in his/her technical area at an introductory graduate level.

Students who matriculate into the Ph.D. program with an M.S. degree must take the qualifying examination no later than their third semester. Students who matriculate into the Ph.D. program with a B.S. degree must take the qualifying examination no later than during the second semester after they have accumulated 18 or more credits, or during their fourth semester of study, whichever occurs first. Those students who pass the qualifying examination become eligible to take the Ph.D. comprehensive examination. The Ph.D. comprehensive exam is normally taken within one year after the qualifying examination. Only under extenuating circumstances, the student’s advisor may petition the graduate committee for an extension of the deadline.

Students who do not pass the qualifying examination during their first attempt may, on the recommendation of their examining committee, be allowed to repeat the examination once more. Under no circumstances will a student be permitted to repeat the qualifying examination more than once. The same rule applies for repeating the comprehensive examination.

Students who have exhausted their opportunities to pass the Ph.D. qualifying examination or to pass the comprehensive examination within the specified period will not be allowed to continue in the Ph.D. program. Such students will be permitted to remain in the program for one additional semester, after which their graduate admission will either be terminated or, upon the student’s request and eligibility, be transferred to the M.S. program.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

  1. Examining Committee: The Ph.D. Qualifying Examination will be administered by an examining committee, which will be comprised of three full-time faculty from the Department of Aerospace Engineering. The examining committee will consist of the student’s advisor, a chair, and a third member. The chair of the committee and the third member will be selected by the director of Graduate Studies and the department chair in concurrence with the advisor. Students will be notified of the composition of their committee via email.
  2. Registering for Exam: It is the student’s responsibility to register for the Ph.D. qualifying exam as early in the semester as possible and without fail by the first Friday of the month before the exam is to take place (so, by the first Friday of October for the fall semester and by the first Friday of February for the spring semester). To register, please fill out the sign up form (sent out each semester). Once you have been informed of the composition of your examining committee, you should contact the chair of the committee to make the necessary arrangements for the actual exam.
  3. Dates of Exam: The start date of the Ph.D. qualifying exam will be the first Friday of November for the fall semester exam and the last Friday of February for the spring semester exam. Each student will have a topic assigned to them on that Friday, a summary write-up will be due the following Friday, and then an oral exam will be held the following week.
  4. Exam Topic: On the first Friday of the Ph.D. qualifying exam, each student will be given a research topic and a relevant bibliographical reference in some aspect of his/her technical area. The topic will be selected by the chair of the examining committee and must be concurred with by the advisor. The topic will be different for each student and will not be the specific topic in which the student has done his/her Master’s thesis.
  5. Exam Preparation and Requirements: The student will study the pertinent literature on the assigned topic in order to be able to formulate questions suitable for investigation within the topic and to outline his/her approach to carrying out such an investigation. The results of this study are to be summarized in no more than three type-written pages formatted as follows: single-spaced, 12-point type, and one-inch margins all around. The summary must consist of the following: a section reviewing the assigned literature, a section identifying an issue related to the topic that the student wants to focus on, and a section describing a research approach (experimental or theoretical) to solve or clarify the selected issue. Note that this entire effort is to be performed by the student alone with no help from faculty or other students. A copy of the summary is to be submitted to the graduate secretary by noon on the following Friday (7 days after the topic is assigned).
  6. Exam Format: The Ph.D. Qualifying Exam will be given orally. The assigned topic will be the starting point for the oral discussion and will lead to a number of questions that will test the student’s aptitude and ability to do original and independent research at the doctoral level, as well as his/her basic engineering knowledge.
  7. Committee Decision: For the student to pass the exam, the decision of the three members of the examining committee must be unanimous. The examining committee will confer immediately after the exam, and make their decision known to the Graduate Office. The student will be notified about the outcome of the exam in writing. If the decision is negative, the student may be allowed to repeat the exam in the same semester. A new examining committee will be assigned to the student for the retake examination, but the same examination procedure will be followed. The student’s advisor may participate as an ex-officio member of the new examining committee.

Ph.D. Comprehensive Exam

  1. The student becomes eligible to take the Ph.D. comprehensive exam by passing the Ph.D. qualifying exam. The comprehensive exam should be scheduled as soon as the student becomes eligible. The student aided by his/her advisor is responsible for scheduling the comprehensive exam.
  2. The student and the advisor are also responsible for organizing the comprehensive examining committee and obtaining the approval of its membership by the Director of Graduate Studies. The committee will consist of at least 5 members, with at least one member representing the field of mathematics, physical sciences, life sciences, or computer sciences, and one member representing the student's minor area within the department.
  3. In the comprehensive examination, the student is responsible for all course material listed on the student's doctoral coursework plan.
  4. The normal duration of the examination is in the range of two to four hours.
  5. If two or more members of the committee vote not to pass the student, the student fails the exam. The comprehensive exam may be repeated only once. The second attempt on the oral should be taken within one semester of the failure.

The student must apply for and be admitted to candidacy within five years of admission to the doctoral program. Admission to candidacy occurs after successful completion of the comprehensive examination and approval of the doctoral dissertation proposal. Once these milestones are complete, an advisor-approved form for advancement to candidacy must be submitted to the Graduate School. Any doctoral student admitted to candidacy must register for a minimum of one credit every Fall and Spring semester thereafter until the degree is awarded.

The student must complete and obtain committee approval of the Ph.D. dissertation. The Ph.D. dissertation research should represent a significant contribution in a given field of endeavor. It should typically be of sufficient quality and scope that it would be suitable for publication as a full-length paper in an archival journal. The procedure for supervision and review of the dissertation is as follows:

  1. The student must register for at least 12 semester hours of ENAE 899 (Ph.D. thesis research) over the course of his/her doctoral program, in addition to the 36 semester hours of coursework.
  2. After successful completion of the Ph.D. comprehensive examination, the advisor forms a dissertation committee. This committee must be composed of at least 5 faculty members (including the advisor) as outlined. It is recommended that this committee, if possible, have the same membership as the Ph.D. comprehensive examining committee, and in fact no member can be dropped from the committee without explicit permission from the Director of Graduate Studies. The Director of Graduate Studies will also review the membership of the dissertation committee for its appropriateness to the topic.
  3. The student must submit to his/her advisor a thesis proposal consisting of a summary of the intended dissertation topic and a critical review of the literature. Upon approval by the advisor, a copy of the thesis proposal is to be distributed to the committee and included in the student's permanent file.
  4. The dissertation committee, and particularly the advisor, is responsible for ensuring that the dissertation research meets the accepted standards of originality and independent effort.
  5. The student will give a pre-defense oral report on the progress of his/her research to the dissertation committee. This should take place when the student is 50-80 percent finished with planned research so the committee can actively share in the research and make constructive comments. The student is responsible for scheduling this pre-defense, in agreement with the advisor.
  6. After approval of a majority of the committee, the student must undergo a final oral defense of his/her dissertation. This defense may be scheduled during any semester. The scheduling is the responsibility of the student. The defense is to be conducted during normal business hours. No exam should start prior to 8:00 a.m. or later than 3:30 p.m. Notification of the defense should be posted at least 5 working days prior to the defense.
  7. The student is responsible for providing each committee member and the department with a typewritten advisor-approved copy of the dissertation at least ten working days prior to the defense. The department copy is to be delivered to the graduate program secretary and is then made available to the entire departmental faculty.
  8. The dissertation defense will first consist of an oral presentation of the thesis to the examining committee and will be open to the public. The remainder of the defense will be open only to members of the Graduate Faculty of the University. After the examination, the committee will vote privately on the outcome of the examination. Two or more negative votes constitute failure of the exam. Revisions to the thesis may be recommended. These revisions should be reviewed and approved by the advisor or by all members of the committee before the Report of Examining Committee form is signed.
  9. The final dissertation defense may be repeated, if necessary, only once.
  10. The student must provide the department with a final revised copy of the thesis in electronic form (PDF file) via e-mail. Copies of the thesis must also be provided to the Graduate School in accordance with the Thesis and Dissertation Manual.
  1. A dissertation committee must consist of a minimum of five members, at least five of whom must be regular members of the University of Maryland Graduate Faculty. At least three members of the committee shall be full-time faculty who are members of the Aerospace Engineering Department; the Graduate Committee can be petitioned for a waiver of this requirement in case of dissertations based on multidisciplinary research, when this rule would prevent the dissertation committee from having the required background and expertise. Additional committee members may be required or invited to serve at departmental discretion.
  2. Each dissertation committee will have a chair, who must be a regular member of the graduate faculty and a full-time faculty member of the Department of Aerospace Engineering. Dissertation committees may be co-chaired upon written recommendation of the Graduate Director and the approval of the Dean of Graduate Studies and Research.
  3. Each committee shall have appointed to it a representative of the Dean for Graduate Studies and Research. This person must be a regular member of the graduate faculty at the University of Maryland and must be from a department other than the student's home department. In cases where a student is in an interdisciplinary department or program, the dean's representative must be from a program outside of those departments and programs involved in the interdisciplinary endeavors.
  4. Individuals from outside the University of Maryland system may serve on dissertation committees provided their credentials warrant this service and upon the written request of and justification by the advisor. These individuals must, however, be in addition to the minimum required number of regular members of the College Park Graduate Faculty.
  5. Graduate Faculty who terminate employment at the University of Maryland may be regarded, for dissertation-committee service purposes, as members of the Graduate Faculty for a 12-month period following their termination. During that time, they may chair individual dissertation and thesis committees and work with students as necessary. After that time, they may no longer serve as chair of a dissertation committee, although they may take on the position of co-chair or committee member. If, after this 12-month period, these individuals continue to serve on a committee (as co-chair or member) they must be in addition to the minimum required number of regular members of the College Park Graduate Faculty. After they leavethe university, faculty may not serve as the dean's representative.
  6. The doctoral dissertation committee must be submitted for approval by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Graduate School, using the Nomination of Thesis or Dissertation Committee form. This form must be submitted at least 6 weeks prior to the dissertation defense.