RPI Engineering

Graduate Program Policy

Financial Aid and Matriculation for Graduate Students

  1. All new graduate students should pursue a common core course curriculum. In addition, Ph.D. intended students should register for PhD dissertation credits, while MS intended students should register for MS dissertation credits.
  2. All Ph.D. intended students, and well as Master’s students contemplating doctoral studies, need to pass the Doctoral Preliminary Examination in order to pursue the doctoral degree.
  3. Master’s degree candidates may receive up to a maximum of 24 months of financial support.
  4. To be eligible for continuous financial support beyond 24 months, a student must pass the Doctoral Preliminary Examination following the regulations delineated below.
  5.  Financial support means support in the form of a fellowship, graduate research assistantship, teaching assistantship and/or scholarship.  The maximum financial support allowed by the Materials Science and Engineering Department is 60 months for a doctoral student, including the support obtained while a Master’s student at Rensselaer. 
  6. The Department Chairperson may adjudicate deviations from these policies for leaves of absence or other extenuating circumstances.

Coursework Requirements

  1. All graduate students are required to complete a sequence of five core MSE graduate courses including Advanced Thermodynamics, Advanced Mechanical Properties, and Advanced Structure and Bonding offered in the Fall semester, and Advanced Electronic Properties and Advanced Kinetics, offered in the Spring semester, for a total of 18 hours of course credits.
  2. In addition to the graduate core courses, all Ph.D. and ME students are required to select a minimum of three graduate-level (6000) courses offered by any department from the School of Engineering and/or School of Science. All MS students are required to select a minimum of two graduate-level (6000) courses offered by any department from the School of Engineering and/or School of Science The course selection must be approved by the student’s academic advisor and graduate curriculum coordinator prior to the enrollment in the courses.
  3. Students who have completed a Master’s degree prior to their enrollment to the MSE graduate program may have some of the course requirements specified in items 1 and 2 waived, provided that: (i) they have completed an equivalent graduate-level course at their prior institution; (ii) they obtain a waiver approval from the faculty member assigned to a given course as well as from the MSE Department Head.

Credit Hour Requirements

  1. Doctorate Degree (PhD) requires a minimum of 72 credit hours, including 27 coursework hours (18 core course credits and 9 elective course credits) and 45 research credits.
  2. Both the Master of Science degree (M.S.) and Master of Engineering degree (M.Eng.) require completion of a minimum of 30 credit hours. The Master of Science degree requires a minimum of six credits of research work leading to an M.S. thesis. A three-credit capstone independent study project is required for the M. Eng. degree. This means that an M.S. degree program consists of the 18 credit hours of core courses, 6 credit hours of elective courses, and 6 credit hours of M.S. thesis research work. On the other hand, an M.E. degree program consists of the 18 credit hours of core courses, 9 credit hours of elective courses, and 3 credit hours of capstone independent study project.

M.S. Thesis

A MS degree student recommends to his/her advisor the faculty members for the Advisory Committee, with approval required by the Department Head and final appointment formally made by the Dean of the Graduate School.  The committee shall consist of three faculty members including the student’s advisor. The Committee's responsibility is to ensure that the thesis topic is suitable for the Master degree, and certify the Master thesis are up to degree standards. Although the thesis advisor provides primary guidance and supervision of the thesis work, the student is encouraged to meet with Committee members. Before graduating the student is required to held a public presentation conveying important aspect of the thesis. Examples of such presentation include an oral talk at workshop or a conference or a seminar at RPI.

Doctoral Preliminary Examiniation

The purpose of the Doctoral Preliminary Examination is to determine the preparedness of the student for engaging in doctoral studies.  The scope of the examination includes the content normally contained in a bachelor’s degree program in the materials science and engineering field, as well as the graduate core content normally taken by first-year graduate students at Rensselaer, as described in the Coursework Requirements section above.  Passing this examination is required to be considered a doctoral degree candidate, and to qualify for doctoral studies financial aid.  The following regulations apply to all students intending to pursue doctoral studies:

  1. Students intending to pursue doctoral studies will conclude their first year of study with the Preliminary Examination, to be taken during the first scheduled examination period after their second semester. That is, students beginning their graduate studies in the Fall semester will normally take the Preliminary Examination in late May of the following year, whereas students beginning their graduate studies in the Spring semester will normally take the Preliminary Examination in January of the following year.
  2. A student must have a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 in the graduate school at Rensselaer in order to be allowed to take the Preliminary Examination.  In addition they must have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 in the five graduate core courses in item 3) below.
  3. The Preliminary Examination requires first-year graduate level proficiency in the following three curricular areas: thermodynamics, kinetics, structure and defects, and materials properties, as covered by the 5 graduate core courses described above.
  4. The Preliminary Examination consists of an oral exam, administered by an oral examining committee of faculty chosen by the Department Head or his/her designee each semester to give oral exams for that period.  The oral committee cannot include the student’s thesis advisor. Committees will consist of four faculty members.  The committee will represent the basic areas delineated in Item 3. 
  5. The student may select the chairperson of the oral exam committee from among its members, as well as the order in which the examiners will call on the student.
  6. The oral examination will be graded on a Pass/Fail basis with each committee member evaluating and voting on the entire oral exam performance, not just on the answers to the committee member’s questions in a particular subject area.  To pass the oral exam, there must be unanimity among the examiners.
  7. Students who fail the first oral exam will be allowed to repeat the oral exam once. The original committee will re-examine the student at the time of next examination period (in either January or May) on subject matter limited in scope to the areas deemed to have been of inadequate performance during the previously failed oral exam.  The entire committee may ask questions and will judge the student’s performance, with unanimity of the committee required for a pass. In the event that an original committee member is unavailable at the time of the re-examination a substitute will be assigned by the Department Head.
  8. The second oral exam is final, and no student will be allowed a third opportunity to take the exam. 
  9. The above rules apply to all students contemplating doctoral studies.  Extreme, unusual and mitigating circumstances may be brought to the attention of the Department Head for consideration and evaluation.   

The Candidacy Examination

The purpose of the Candidacy Examination is to provide the graduate student with useful and timely input regarding the thesis topic and its implementation.  The student recommends to his/her advisor the faculty members for the Candidacy Committee, with approval required by the Department Head and final appointment formally made by the Dean of the Graduate School.  This Committee's responsibility is to ensure that the thesis topic is suitable for doctoral work and is sufficiently focused such that a reasonable and sustained effort by the student should result in successful completion of the thesis in a reasonable period of time, generally approximately four years from entrance to the graduate program.  In addition, the Committee is responsible for determining that the student's knowledge in the thesis topic area is adequate in scope and depth for pursuit of the thesis, and if not, to recommend remedial actions. Although the thesis advisor provides primary guidance and supervision of the thesis work, the student is encouraged to meet regularly with Committee members, either singly or collectively, throughout the thesis work.  The Committee should be viewed as an asset for providing timely research guidance and assistance prior to the final thesis submission.

To accomplish these goals the following regulations apply:

1)    The Candidacy Examination must be taken within one year of the date of passing of the Doctoral Preliminary Examination.

2)    The student, in consultation with the thesis advisor, shall recommend to the Department Head, no later than three months prior to the Candidacy Examination, those faculty members who might best serve on the Committee.

3)    The thesis advisor serves as chairperson of the Candidacy Committee, which must contain at least two additional full-time faculty members from the Materials Science and Engineering Department and at least one additional full-time faculty member from outside the Department but internal to Rensselaer.  Generally, a Committee consisting of four or five members is sufficient, but the Committee may have more members when warranted by the thesis topic.  If appropriate, the Committee membership may include an external member from either industry or another academic or research institution (e.g., a national laboratory).  In the event that a student has two or more advisors, their presence on the committee will be treated as a single entity.  That is, two additional departmental faculty members must serve on the committee.

4)    The Materials Science and Engineering Department alone (the Department Head or his/her designee) may schedule the Candidacy Examination and recommend a Committee to the Graduate School for final approval.

5)    In preparation for the Candidacy Examination, the graduate student will prepare a Candidacy Proposal delineating the thesis topic, a historical review of the topic, the proposed research and its relevance to the field of study.  Generally, the document length should be from six to fifteen pages and need not, but may, contain new or original data or theoretical calculations.  In fact, the document serves its intended purpose best if it identifies the bigger picture and the background and importance of the proposed research.  This document should be distributed to the Committee members at least one week prior to the Candidacy Examination. 

6)    The Candidacy Examination will include a presentation by the student of a synopsis of the thesis topic, the proposed research, and its relevance to the field of study.  This presentation should be from 20 to 30 minutes in duration if conducted without questions.  However, the student should expect questions throughout the presentation that will typically result in an overall presentation time of about one-hour.   This presentation is followed by a period in which the Committee members may ask detailed questions relating to the overall thesis area.  Typically, the meeting is of two hours total duration, and the student is expected to demonstrate the background knowledge and skills deemed essential for conducting research in the chosen field.

7)    The Committee will vote “Acceptable” or “Unacceptable” on the Candidacy Examination and make recommendations regarding both the chosen topic and its scope (appropriate, too wide or too narrow), as well as the student's preparedness in the field of study.

8)    Should the student’s performance on the Candidacy Examination not be acceptable, a second examination must be scheduled and repeated with the same Committee.  The time interval between the initial and the second examination should be sufficient to correct specific shortcomings identified by the Committee, but not longer than six months.

9)    In the event that a second examination is also unacceptable, the Committee may recommend disallowance of any “doctoral student stipend bonus” that is being received by the student.  In such a case, the student’s stipend reverts to, or remains at, the level paid to a Master’s degree candidate.  Reinstatement is at the option of the Committee following an acceptable examination.   In the event of three unacceptable attempts, the Committee may also recommend discontinuance of all financial support.  The Department Head has final authority for both approval and implementation over any and all changes in stipend recommended by the Committee.

10) The Candidacy Committee serves as the Final Examining Committee for the thesis defense, except in extenuating circumstances to be adjudicated by the Department Head.

11) Upon successful completion of the Candidacy Examination, the student is expected to meet regularly with the Candidacy Committee, and not less than once per semester.  These meetings may be held with the Committee members individually or collectively, as circumstances dictate.  Active and continuous interactions with the Committee is highly beneficial to the student’s rate of progress toward completion of the thesis.  Failure to maintain active collaboration with the Committee may result in severe difficulties during the final Thesis defense.

The Thesis Defense

The final examination for doctoral studies is the Thesis defense that represents the culmination of a substantial amount of scholarship and effort by the student.  The Thesis defense is conducted after the thesis advisor (or advisors) has (have) approved the student’s draft of the thesis document, and then submitted it to the Thesis Committee for their evaluation.  If the Committee has been properly used throughout the evolution of the thesis, then the defense should not generate any major difficulties or problems with the work or its conclusions, notwithstanding possible objections to the writing or organization of the thesis document.

The Thesis defense provides a mechanism for the dissemination of the work to the technical community at large.  Experience has shown that problems often arise when the student, thesis advisor and Committee have not had adequate and meaningful interactions on a continual basis during the course of the work.  Simply put, there should be no reason for the unexpected when it is Thesis defense time.

A tradition (traceable to Martin Luther posting his thesis on the church door for all to read and criticize) dictates that the defense is open to the public.  However, it is generally recognized that both the Committee members and the doctoral candidate are often more comfortable with at least a portion of the thesis defense being “private”. 

The following regulations pertain to the Thesis Defense process:

1)    The Thesis Defense may be scheduled only after a minimum of one scholarly paper based on the thesis research has been co-authored by the student and thesis advisor and submitted to a refereed journal or refereed conference proceedings.  The manuscript must be made available to the Committee.

2)    The student must submit a draft of the thesis to the thesis advisor no less than 30 working days prior to the proposed date for the Thesis defense.  However, it is general practice that the student and thesis advisor collaborate continually for several months on the thesis draft.

3)    A draft of the thesis that has been approved by the thesis advisor must be submitted to the Committee no less than 15 working days prior to the proposed Thesis Defense date.  It is the student’s responsibility to insure that the Committee members will be available during the proposed time period for both reading the thesis and attending the defense.

4)    Upon receipt of the advisor-approved thesis draft by the Committee, the Department Head will post notices regarding the time, date and location for the Thesis defense, which is open to the public.  No defense will be scheduled unless all conditions of candidacy, submission of a manuscript to a refereed journal, thesis advisor approval of the thesis draft, and timely distribution of the draft thesis to the Committee have been met.

5)    The thesis advisor serves as the chairperson of the thesis defense meeting.

6)    The student should prepare no more than a one-hour oral presentation of the thesis emphasizing the relevance and principal achievements of the work.  It is common for the Committee members to ask short questions of a clarification nature throughout the presentation, and the student should be prepared to answer these questions accordingly.

7)    Following a period in which all attendees may ask questions of any nature relevant to the thesis, the meeting will be limited to the student, thesis advisor and Committee members during which time additional questions of a more comprehensive nature may be asked.

8)    The Committee will vote to accept or reject the thesis document.  Tentative approval of the thesis document may be given if revisions are required.  These revisions may include changes in grammatical, organizational and/or scientific content and conclusions, generally requiring as few as one to two days to complete. The student should not expect to obtain immediate acceptance of the thesis, solely because a thesis defense has been given.  In a more serious situation, substantial revisions involving additional laboratory work or computations, for example, may be involved.  The need for substantial additional work or revision is often a consequence of insufficient interaction between the student and Committee members prior to the thesis defense.

9)    The Committee has the authority and responsibility to request confirmation and inspection of all revisions to the thesis, especially if substantial revisions are required.  In the event that the requested revisions are minor, the Committee also may elect to have the thesis advisor act on their behalf in reviewing the changes to the thesis.  A unanimous vote of the Committee is required for all actions, since all Committee members are ultimately asked to sign the thesis and thereby signify their acceptance.

10) In the unlikely event that the Committee is unable to reach a unanimous decision regarding acceptance of the thesis, after revisions, the Committee shall meet with the Department Head and an ad-hoc committee of department faculty assigned by the Departmental Head to resolve the issues involved.  If a resolution cannot be obtained, the final authority for adjudicating the disputed actions rests with the Departmental Head, who may, for example, elect to replace a Committee member.

11) The final thesis must conform and adhere to all rules and requirements of the Rensselaer Graduate School, especially insofar as typing, formatting, acid-free paper, etc. are concerned.  It is the student’s responsibility to meet these requirements.  Acceptance of the thesis content is the responsibility of the student’s Committee, but this acceptance does not imply conformity of the thesis document to the Graduate School rules and requirements.


1)    The regulations contained herein shall pertain to all students whose first graduate semester at Rensselaer is Fall 2008, or later.

2)    Graduate students already enrolled prior to June, 2008, will be examined according to the old rules, which included an oral as well as a written part of the Doctoral Preliminary Examination.  Graduate students enrolled prior to June 2008 who have already taken the Doctoral Preliminary Examination once, but have not passed it, will be re-examined according to the rules in place at the time of the first examination.

3)    The Candidacy Examination and Thesis defense rules and regulations apply to all graduate students.

It is the responsibility of the student to provide the Department with a copy of his/her thesis upon completion.