Doctoral Programs Overview

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Engineering

The College of Engineering offers

  • a post-bachelor’s PhD in engineering
  • a post-master’s PhD in engineering

Note: In addition to the above, a combined Doctor of Philosophy in biomedical engineering and Doctor of Medicine (MD/PhD) is offered jointly with the BU Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine. This program has different requirements; please see more information in the Engineering Bulletin and the Chobanian & Avedisian School of Medicine Bulletin on this program.

Programs of Study

Students can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in the following disciplines at the College of Engineering:

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Computer Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Materials Science & Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Systems Engineering

Admission to either the post-bachelor’s or post-master’s PhD normally requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in engineering or its equivalent in a closely related field. Applicants who hold a bachelor’s degree are eligible to apply to the post-bachelor’s PhD program, and applicants who hold a master’s degree are eligible to apply for a post-master’s PhD program.

Course Requirements

Post-Bachelor’s PhD Program

Post-bachelor’s students are required to complete a minimum of 64 credits applicable to their degree; 32 credits must be structured courses at the 500 level or higher. A minimum of 16 credits of research/dissertation is required.

Post-bachelor’s PhD students can earn the MS degree upon fulfillment of the degree requirements of their department/division. Students must apply for the degree by contacting the Graduate Programs office.

Post-Master’s PhD

There are no structured course requirements for post-master’s PhD students, but such students are required to complete 32 credits applicable to their degree, all of which must be at the 500 level or higher. A minimum of 8 credits of research/dissertation coursework is required. Some departments may have structured course requirements.

Coursework used to fulfill the PhD degree requirements may not be used to fulfill the requirements of any other degree program.

Full-Time Study

Doctoral students who have completed all course requirements, or hold appointments as teaching fellows or research assistants, are considered full-time students and should be enrolled for a minimum of 2 credits per semester. Full-time status enables students to access libraries, laboratories, instructional staff, and other academic facilities at the University.

Residency Requirement

Each student must satisfy a residency requirement of a minimum of two consecutive regular semesters of full-time graduate study at Boston University. Full-time study in this context means full-time commitment to the discipline as determined by the senior associate dean for academic programs.

In order to graduate, students must be registered as part- or full-time students in the semester in which they complete degree requirements and in the preceding semester.

Qualifying Examination

The student’s area of concentration determines the specific nature and scope of the qualifying examination. Students must pass a comprehensive examination covering basic knowledge in an area of specialized study selected from the following: biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, systems engineering, mechanical engineering, or materials science & engineering. Students who are unable to pass the qualifying examination are withdrawn from the PhD program. Individual departments/divisions coordinate administration of the qualifying exam. The qualifying exam is limited to two attempts. Departments/divisions may limit attempts to one, if they so choose.

Mathematics Requirement

Students must satisfy a mathematics requirement, which is determined by the department/division and approved by the college.

All PhD students must complete both the qualifying exam and the mathematics requirement by the end of their fifth semester.

PhD Candidacy

A student in a College of Engineering PhD program will be accepted to PhD candidacy upon successful completion of the qualifying examination and the mathematics requirement. At that time, the student will receive formal notice of acceptance to PhD candidacy. The maximum period allowed between matriculation and acceptance to PhD candidacy is usually five semesters, but departments/divisions can specify a lesser time frame. Under no circumstances will a student who is not a PhD candidate be allowed to defend a completed PhD dissertation.

Responsible Conduct of Research Requirement

All PhD students must complete the Advanced Responsible Conduct of Research program prior to defending the prospectus. Refer to for further information.

Teaching Requirement

PhD students may be required to teach for two semesters. The student should consult with the respective department/division concerning this requirement.

Research and Dissertation

Students may register for research with approval of the faculty member concerned. Students may register for dissertation credits only after completing their prospectus, and with their advisor’s approval. A candidate for the PhD degree may not register for more than 12 credits of research/dissertation in a single semester.

Dissertation Prospectus Defense

Within two years of becoming a candidate, the student is expected to present an oral dissertation proposal to the prospective dissertation committee and obtain approval for the written dissertation prospectus. The committee evaluates the potential of the proposed research and the student’s academic preparation to engage in dissertation research. Upon approval of the committee members and the departmental associate chair or the division associate head, the student submits the PhD Dissertation Prospectus Defense Form to the department/division office.


A PhD candidate is expected to prepare and carry out an independent and original research project in partial fulfillment of the dissertation requirement. The dissertation committee must consist of College of Engineering (tenured or tenure-earning) faculty. Occasionally scholars from outside the University serve on dissertation committees. A “Special Service Appointment” form must be submitted to the senior associate Dean for academic programs for approval of all committee members from outside the University.

Final Oral Examination

Students shall present themselves for a final oral examination in which they must defend their dissertation as a worthy contribution to knowledge in their fields and demonstrate mastery of their field of specialization as related to the dissertation. The Examining Committee is composed of at least five members of which two must be (tenured or tenure-earning) faculty from the student’s academic department/division. Each department/division determines the appointment of the chair.

Time Limit

Both the post-bachelor’s and post-master’s programs must be completed within five years of the individual’s acceptance into PhD candidacy. Once entered, PhD candidacy will expire on the fifth anniversary and after such time will be renewed only if the student requalifies for candidacy as determined by the department/division and the College Graduate Committee.

PhD program deadlines can be found on the Graduate Program Deadlines page.

For more detailed information concerning each PhD program, please refer to the Programs page.