Graduate Student Survival 101

OnLine Course Advising

Thesis Writing Tutorials

Templates for Writing




Welcome to the University of Utah J

Useful Links:

Dr. Cynthia Furse

ECE Graduate Secretary: Lori Sather

Graduate School

International Center

Electrical and Computer Engineering Department

Other Useful Phone Numbers

Mentoring Programs


Should I do part time or full time graduate school?

What Can I do with a PhD?


What to Do When -- Semesters 0 1 2 3 4+

Disclaimer: This website is meant for Furse student guidance only. The specifics relating to policies of UU or the ECE Department are included only for reference. Official postings / notifications take precedence over this webpage. Verify all policies through official channels.


Before You Start:

Highlights of STUFF you will probably want to know

  • Graduate Handbook: (MS) (ME) (PHD) Please READ (yes, really READ) the Graduate Handbook for your degree. Graduate policies do change periodically, but provisions are generally made to enable students to complete their degree according to the Graduate Handbook when they first enrolled.
  • Funding and Health Insurance
    • In order to be a TA!!! International Students must take the ITA workshop in August. See details in link above. Students with a degree from an English-speaking university MAY qualify for a waiver. Apply EARLY! See Sally Reed for details of being a TA. Taking the ITA workshop does Not guarantee a TA position.
    • There are some travel funds for students to attend conferences. See Graduate School website for details.
  • Forms:
    • You will need a lot of different forms while you are here. They are listed on the department website for each degree. For permission to publish your own or others copyrighted material, see the thesis office. If they aren t there, contact Lori Sather.
  • Transfer / Non-Matriculated Credit:
    • Up to 6 credits of transfer credit (such as from another university or extra classes taken at UU while you were completing your undergrad degree BS/MS or BS/ME students are exempted from this rule) or 9 credits of Non-matriculated credit (classes taken at the UU after you completed your BS but before you were admitted to the grad program) may be transferable. Bring syllabus for the non-UofU classes you have taken that you would like to transfer, and discuss with your advisor early in semester 1. Apply for approval of transfer credit with Lori Sather.
  • Residency Requirement Students must take a certain number of credits/semesters at UofU. See the Graduate Handbook for your degree for details.
  • Continual Registration If you are NOT registering for credits in fall or spring semester between when you start and when you graduate, you must turn in a Request for Leave of Absence Form. See Lori Sather.
  • Changes to Program of Study If you decide to change your program of study, you must apply for an Amendment to Program of Study Form.
  • Special Studies If you really need information in a class we do not teach, you may do a special studies ( self taught ) course. See your graduate handbook for details. Apply for Special Studies well in advance, as this request must be approved by the Graduate Committee. Talk with your advisor, and get forms from Lori Sather.
  • Credit / NoCredit All research credits are CR/NC. Also, if you are taking a non-ECE course, you might be allowed to take the courses CR/NC. This is at the discretion of your supervisory committee.
  • Proficiency Requirement If your BS degree is not ECE, you may be required to take basic ECE courses to gain these skills. Generally these courses are not covered by the tuition waiver, and are not included in the program of study (ie. they are extra ) See your graduate handbook for details.
  • Thesis Credits You can t register for thesis credits until your Supervisory Committee is set up, so do this during semester 1.
  • Deadlines (there are other deadlines, too)
    • Thesis / Dissertation Proposals: Semester Weeks 1-7. (Prepare proposal the semester before) MS students must defend proposal at least one semester before thesis defense. PhD students must defend proposal at least 2 semesters before dissertation defense.
    • Qualifying Exam (Oral Presentations): Second Semester Weeks 10-12. Schedule with Lori Sather the semester before you want to take it. You will receive your papers early in the semester, and complete your written portion by about week 8 or 9.
    • Thesis / Dissertation Defenses: Any Time. Must be completed before first day of classes to count for the previous semester. The thesis office and graduate school have extra deadlines for graduation in a specific semester. Don t forget to tell Lori Sather when you are scheduled, so she can advertise it!
    • Be Kind to Your Committee: If you give any written material to your committee less than a week before your exam/proposal/defense/etc. EXPECT them to be grumpy. Grumpy committees are not good things. They also have the right to refuse to let you defend/propose until they have had at least TWO weeks to review the material. Don t take chances. Write early.
    • Be Kind to Your Advisor (especially Dr. Furse): If it is getting close the end of the semester, expect that every other student who is nearing defense in your research group and others is flooding their advisors with reams of paper needing detailed editing. Write early, and submit each section as it is ready, rather than the entire thesis/dissertation at once. Know when your advisor is traveling, and give them printed copies before they leave. Plane time is often good for thesis editing.
  • Graduate Student Advisory Committee (SAC) If you have a problem with the department or a suggestion for improvement, first talk with your advisor. If you still have a problem, the SAC is the voice of the students to the department. Talk with your SAC representative.


OK, now let s really get started :)


Note: A PhD is just a more spread out version of this schedule.

Semester 1:

  • Choose/register for classes. If you know what area you are interested in, talk with the temporary advisor in that area. Here is online advising for EM students. Most students take 3 technical classes plus graduate seminar. See Furse MS spread sheet. Furse PhD spread sheet
  • International Students from non-English speaking countries: Take SPEAK Test or International Teaching Assistant Workshop SET test. Provide results to Lori Sather.
  • Research Literature Search: Begin literature search on your topic. Discuss with your advisor what you are looking for. This will become the basis for chapter 2 of your thesis.
    • See Furse s Favorite Thesis Outline for details on what should be in chapter 2.
    • Begin a Word file that summarizes each paper you find of interest (typically a few sentences). Write as much of chapter 2 as you can. See Tutorials for UU Thesis Format and templates.
    • Include the complete reference for each paper. See IEEE Reference format.
    • Additional suggestions for your literature search are here.

Near end of Semester 1:

  • MS Students begin preparing for proposal defense by choosing a topic and ideas for your thesis at the end of this semester. See notes on proposal defense under Semester 2. Set up your Supervisory Committee (3 members), and turn form in to Lori Sather before start of semester 2.
  • PhD Students Talk to Holly about scheduling your qualifying exam early in the next semester. See details under Semester 2. Set up your Supervisory Committee (5 members), and turn form in to Lori Sather before start of semester 2.

Semester 2:

  • Classes. Most students take 2-3 technical classes plus graduate seminar.
  • Thesis credits. Students take 6-10 hours of research credit for their MS thesis. You must register for 3 credit hours the semester you defend your thesis/dissertation, the semester of your qualifying exam (PhD students), and the semester you defend your proposal. You may register for more (the department will ask you to if you are receiving a tuition waiver), but you will only get credit for the number of hours listed on your program of study. Also, there is a maximum number covered by your tuition waiver, special requirements for summer semester, etc. See Lori Satherfor details. In order to register for thesis credits, your Supervisory Committee must be set up (form signed and turned in), and Lori Sather will give you the codes to sign up.
  • Choose a thesis area and advisor. Turn in a Supervisory Committee form to Lori Sather by this semester s drop deadline. Your advisor will help you choose a committee. MS students need an advisor plus 2 committee members. PhD students need an advisor plus 4 committee members, with one of those from outside the department.
  • Program of Study Form: Turn in your program of study to Lori Sather by the drop deadline of this semester.
  • MS Students -- Thesis Proposal: This semester you should write and may defend your thesis proposal (comprehensive exam). Your proposal must be done at least one semester (two semesters for PhD) before you want to defend, and must be done in the first 7 weeks of the semester (THIS semester is best). You must be registered for at least 3 credits the semester you do your proposal. Your proposal will consist of two parts:
    • Written Proposal: This is a 10 page (MS) or 15 page (PhD) proposal in NSF or NIH format (Dr. Furse generally uses NSF). You should give this to your committee 2 weeks before the proposal defense.
    • Oral Proposal Defense: Prepare a 15-20 (MS) or 20-30 (PhD) minute presentation about your proposed work. This should be a summary of your written proposal.
      • About a month before you want to defend your proposal, schedule your comprehensive exam with your committee.
      • Reserve a room.
        • ECE Conference Room (Talk to Anna in ECE office)
        • Others: Mechanical Engineering Conf Room, SCI Conference Room, Chem Eng Conf Room, Bioengineering Conf Room, Sch of Comp Conference Room, ECE Chair s Room. Talk to staff in each department to schedule. Most of these rooms have projectors built into the rooms. If you have to schedule a different room for some reason, check on a projector, and schedule one with Anna if the room does not have one available.
      • Prepare Slides:
        • See Tutorials for information on preparing Power Point slides and presentations.
        • EMPHASIZE the contributions (research objectives) of your work and their broader impact. Thoroughly describe the methods you will be using.
      • REMIND your committee by email a couple of days in advance about the time and location of your proposal.
  • PhD Students : Qualifying Exam Receive your papers weeks 1-2 in the semester, and defend your Qualifier in the middle of this semester (weeks 10-12 are best, check with Holly on scheduling). You must be registered for at least 3 credit hours the semester you do your qualifying exam.

Semester 3:

Classes: Most students take 2-3 technical classes this semester, plus some thesis credits.

Research: Work on obtaining results from your research. Students should be writing the methods and results for their first paper.

PhD Students Dissertation Proposal. See notes for thesis proposal under Semester 2 above.

Semester 4:

  • Classes: Most students take 2 classes this semester, plus at least 3 thesis credits (MS students will defend).
  • MS Thesis Defense (PhD students typically defend in semester 6-8)
    • Written: Complete the thesis writing. It works best for me if you give me a chapter at a time as you complete it, electronically. I will then use the track changes tool (Word: tools-track changes) to suggest changes. You should give a final copy of your written thesis to your committee 2 weeks before you want to defend. Also give a copy to the thesis editor for a format check at this time. Make sure to find out the thesis deadlines. See information under semester 1 for outline and format.
    • Oral Defense:
      • Prepare a 20-30 (MS) or 30-40 (PhD) minute presentation on your work. Follow the same steps as in your proposal defense (slide preparation, room schedule, etc.).
      • You must be registered for at least 3 credit hours the semester you defend.
      • You have to successfully defend before the first day of classes in the following semester in order to be considered defended during that particular semester and not have to pay tuition for the next semester.




Last updated Feb. 2012.