Electrical Engineering PhD Handbook

The PhD Program requires advanced coursework and research in preparation of a thesis defense in our modern areas of interdisciplinary research.

This schedule summarizes the requirements and due dates for the Ph.D. degree. Students who have not completed requirements or submitted required forms to the Graduate Coordinator by the due dates may be dropped from the program. All students who are on visas must be registered for at least nine credit hours of coursework in every semester (excluding summer), including their final semester, unless they receive permission from the Department Graduate Committee prior to the beginning of the semester.

Requirement Process Due Date
Supervisory Committee 5 members

The chair of the committee must be a regular ECE faculty member; the majority of the members must be ECE faculty; at least one member must be from outside the department.

If a student has not identified a prospective research adviser a temporary adviser will be assigned who will act as interim committee chair.   They should meet to discuss their background and program of study. The adviser should be assigned by the sub-area chair according to students’ research interest.

Submit a Request for Supervisory Committee Form

Re-submit the form to make a change

A permanent supervisor should be established by the beginning of the 3rd  semester.
Program of Study At least 30 semester hours of coursework beyond B.S. degree including:

  • 4 hours of graduate seminar
  • 30 hours of research
  • 12 hours of coursework at the University of Utah
Submit a Program of Study Form A program of study must be established by the beginning of the 3rd semester. .

All requirements for the degree (coursework and all examinations including defense) are to be completed within 7 consecutive years. Semesters where the student takes a formal leave of absence do NOT count as part of the 7 years.


Amendment to Program of Study Resubmit a Program of Study Form for approval prior to registering for added courses Changes must be made before an added class is taken; classes cannot be dropped after they have been completed
Proficiency Requirement Yes, students with a non-EE/CE B.S. degree must complete additional steps to satisfy the ECE proficiency requirements Submit Fulfillment of Proficiency Requirements Form  






Residency Requirement At least one year (two consecutive semesters) of full-time academic work; a full load is 9 credit hours
Qualifying Exam Make arrangements with the Graduate Coordinator  during first week of semester 3rd semester. Must be taken in the 3rd semester and must be passed by the before the end the 4th  semester.  Failure to timely complete this lead to dismissal from the program.
Research Comprehensive Exam

(Dissertation Proposal)

Pass a Research Comprehensive Exam administered by the supervisory committee (including defense of a written formal dissertation proposal) Notify the Graduate Coordinator at least one week prior to the date of the exam Needs to be passes by the end of the fifth semester of study (may not be taken in the same semester as the dissertation defense)
Final Oral Exam

(Dissertation Defense)

At least 14 hours of Thesis Research Notify the Graduate Coordinator at least one week prior to the date of the exam Defend the dissertation at the end of coursework requirements; the defense must be done at least two semesters after the comprehensive exam

*Please note that international students must be full-time students.

Program of Study

A student must complete and submit the Program of Study Form before the beginning of the 3rd semester and before taking the Qualifying Exam and the Comprehensive Exam (dissertation proposal).  After it is approved by the student’s Supervisory Committee and the Director of Graduate Studies it will be submitted to the Graduate School for approval.

Modifications to the Program of Study may be made by submitting an Amendment to Program of Study Form for approval prior to registering for added courses with the supervisory committee and obtaining required approval before enrollment in any added courses. Completed courses cannot be removed from the program of study. Credit towards obtaining a degree will not be granted for classes taken prior to approval of the form, unless the student is changing degree status.


All requirements for the degree (coursework, qualifying exam, proposal defense, dissertation defense and completion of dissertation, etc.) are to be completed within 7 consecutive years. Semesters where the student takes a formal leave of absence do NOT count as part of the 7 years. Coursework listed on the Program of Study must consist of:

      • 2 hours of Graduate Seminar (ECE 7900 & 7910). For students with an MS degree from the University of Utah ECE 6900 and 6910 is acceptable.  New Ph.D. students are required to enroll in ECE 7900 during the first semester.
      • 2+ credit hours of ECE 7951 Teaching Mentorship course. This is a new requirement for all Ph.D. students starting in Fall 2022.  Students admitted to the Ph.D. program prior to Fall 2022 are not required to enroll in this course, although it is strongly encouraged. It is suggested to be completed during the 2nd year of studies after the graduate seminar courses have been completed.
      • 14+ semester hours of ECE 7970 Thesis Research
      • 30+ hours of graduate courses (5000-7000 level) beyond the B.S. degree, in Electrical and Computer Engineering and allied fields. (Included in this total can be a transferred MS degree from another University)
        • Allied fields include Computer Science, Math, Physics, or other College of Engineering courses.
      • 12+ hours of coursework at the University of Utah*. Students with an Engineering Master’s degree from the University of Utah (30 credit hours) will not be required to complete 12 hours of additional coursework.
        • ECE 7970 Thesis Research will not count towards this requirement.

*Ph.D. students may take up to three semester hours of ECE 7950 (Special Studies) which will count toward the required 12 coursework hours. If a student has taken three hours of Special Studies for their Master’s degree, they may not take more hours of Special Studies for their Ph.D. degree. Special Studies courses from other departments cannot be used for the program of study.

Additional Criteria

    • A minimum GPA of 3.0 on coursework listed on the program of study with no grade lower than C- is required for graduation. A student who receives a grade lower than C- in a course listed on the program of study must repeat that same course and receive a higher grade. Courses cannot be deleted from the program of study after they are taken.
    • Students who receive an “Incomplete” grade in a class must complete the class by the following semester, even if the semester is the summer semester.
    • Coursework cannot be used for more than one degree on the same level.
    • Cross-listed courses must be registered through the ECE course numbers.
    • A course taken for 5000-level credit cannot be taken again for 6000-level credit.
      • Where a course has both a 5000- and 6000-level number, the 5000-level version is intended for undergraduates and the 6000-level version for honors and graduate students. The two versions of the class will meet together, but extra work will be expected of honors and graduate students.
    • No Graduate Seminar course (ECE 6900, 6910, 7900, 7910) may be taken more than once to satisfy the requirement. Each seminar course has different requirements and may not be substituted for each other.

All students who are on visas must be registered for at least 9 credit hours of coursework in every semester (excluding summer) unless they receive permission from the Department Graduate Committee prior to the beginning of the semester.


Each student forms a supervisory committee with members who will guide the student’s graduate program and conduct the student examinations (Qualifying Exam, Research Comprehensive Exam, and Final Oral Exam). The Ph.D. supervisory committee consists of five members – at least three of the committee members must be tenure-line ECE faculty members, and at least one must be from outside the ECE Department.

A student must form their committee by their second semester of study by completing the Request for Supervisory Committee Form. A committee may be revised, if necessary, by submitting an Amendment to Supervisory Committee Form.

Committee Member Criteria

A student’s Ph.D. faculty advisor is the committee chair. The chair* and majority of the committee (3 out of 5 committee members) need to be:

  1. University of Utah Faculty
  2. Electrical and Computer Engineering (as Academic Home Department)
  3. Tenure-Line**

A list of faculty and their classifications can be verified on the OBIA Faculty Information page. If a committee member does not meet all three of these requirements, they are considered an Outside Committee Member. A PhD Supervisory Committee is required to have at least one Outside Committee Member. If one of the committee members is not University of Utah faculty, the student must request and submit their Curriculum Vitae (CV) and a Justification Letter for approval by the Graduate Committee. For more information, read Rules for Outside Member Necessities.

Any exceptions to these criteria must be submitted as a petition and are not guaranteed approval by the Dean of the Graduate School.

*Tenure-line faculty outside of the ECE Department may supervise a student as a co-chair with a tenure-line ECE faculty member.
**Adjunct ECE faculty are not tenure-line and may serve as an Outside Committee Member

Ph.D. have three exams that they must pass to be awarded the degree:

  • Qualifying Exam
  • Research Comprehensive Exam (Dissertation Proposal)
  • Final Oral Exam (Dissertation Defense)

Students must be registered for at least 3 credit hours in the semester in which they take an exam. The Final Oral Exam must be done at least 2 semesters after the Research Comprehensive Exam.

Qualifying Exam

All Ph.D. students must pass a Qualifying Exam, as specified by the Graduate School. The Qualifying Exam consists of a written part and a possible oral part. Students must take the Qualifying Exam during the second semester of study.

The ECE graduate committee has recently approved a new procedure in administering the ECE PhD qualifying exam. Students who plan to complete Qual. exam in the Fall 2021 semester will have a choice to follow the previous version of the EE track procedure or this new procedure described below:

Before the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination, the student’s supervisory committee will meet (whenever possible) to discuss the Ph.D. candidate, their area of research, and to set the exam questions. The exam should consist of 3 to 5 questions that test the candidate’s breadth of ECE knowledge as it pertains to the candidate’s likely area of research. Questions may require the candidate to review a paper, but they are not restricted to this form. The Qualifying Exam may consist of a written part and an oral part. Students must take the written part of the Qualifying Examination no later than their third semester of study while the oral part may at the discretion of the supervisory committee be delayed to be part of the dissertation proposal defense.

Students who want to complete the Qualifying exam should complete the following steps.

  1. Organize your 5 member PhD Supervisory Committee (4 ECE Tenure Line Faculty, 1 Outside Dept. members).
  2. Inform the Graduate Coordinator that you would like to start the Qualifying Exam process by the 3rd week of the semester.
  3. The Graduate Coordinator will email the committee requesting to select the 3 to 5 questions appropriate for a PhD Qualifying Exam.
  4. The chair of the PhD Supervisory Committee may organize a meeting in person or via Zoom with the committee member to select the exam questions.  It is acceptable that questions may be submitted by email to the committee chair for review.
  5. The chair of the PhD Committee forwards the exam questions to the student and sets a 5-week deadline, the student is expected to email the entire committee their Qualifying Exam answers to the questions by the 5-week deadline.  Request for an extension is discouraged because it demonstrates a lack of planning and judgment that is essential for success in a PhD program.  Exceptions are rare, however, they may be approved by the PhD Committee supervisory on a case by case basis.
  6. Once the student submits the exam, please allow up to 2 weeks for the committee to evaluate the Qualifying Exam.  The Chair notifies the student of the recommendation of the committee, to pass, fail or retry.  Students may be allowed one chance to revised their original submission. The oral part of the exam is at the discretion of the supervisory committee and be delayed to be part of the dissertation proposal defense.
  7. The Committee chair notifies the Graduate Coordinator when the Qualifying Exam is passed and the committee submits the approval paperwork which is to be processed in the Graduate Records system immediately.

It is the student’s responsibility to follow up with the committee and the PhD Supervisor to ensure that the steps described above are followed according to the timeline described above before the last day of the semester.

Research Comprehensive Examination (Dissertation Proposal)

Ph.D. candidates must take a Research Comprehensive Examination (dissertation proposal) to be administered by their supervisory committee at a time determined by that committee, but no later than the fifth semester of study.

The candidate writes a proposal on their research in the NSF or NIH format which would include only the technical proposal and the vita sections. The page limit for the proposal should be 15 pages for Ph.D. students.

The choice of which format to use would be based on the area of research. The faculty advisor would help the student choose. The following are the links to the NSF and NIH websites for their format information.

This proposal should be submitted to the members of the candidate’s supervisory committee at least two weeks before the comprehensive exam.

Students must notify the ECE Graduate Coordinator at least one week before they are going to take the Research Comprehensive Examination.  Based upon the written report and oral discussion, the committee will recommend Pass, Fail, or Retry. In the event of a Retry, the candidate must repeat the process the following semester, even if that semester is summer. Only one Retry will be allowed. No retries will be allowed if a candidate fails the Research Comprehensive Exam.

Final Oral Exam (Dissertation Defense)


The Final Oral Examination (oral dissertation defense) is conducted by the supervisory committee according to Graduate School regulations. A student will be passed only if the committee is satisfied that the dissertation research and documentation are unquestionably of the quality that will bring distinction to the candidate and the department. The committee may request further work of the candidate before a final decision is made.

All students must understand that they are responsible for ensuring that the submitted dissertation meets the requirements of the Graduate School for proper format. Ample help is available from the Graduate School Thesis and Dissertation Editor in the form of a Style and Format Guide as well as seminars. Dissertations with improper format will be rejected.

The student must provide the Graduate Coordinator with the following information at least one week before the date of the dissertation defense: the defense date and time, room, and a copy of the abstract and title of the dissertation. The Final Oral Exam (Dissertation Defense) form will be completed during the defense, and the Graduate Coordinator will submit the form to the Graduate School.

Dissertation Requirements

The supervisory committee must give preliminary approval of the dissertation prior to the defense. The defense can be scheduled after this approval. The student must provide one copy of the dissertation to the chair of the supervisory committee at least three weeks before the defense, and one copy to each of the other committee members at least two weeks prior to the defense.

After successfully defending the dissertation, the student must upload the final version of their dissertation to the Graduate School. You will be required to know the UNIDs of each of your faculty members. If you do not have these, you can contact the Graduate Coordinator.

Detailed policies and procedures concerning the dissertation are contained in A Handbook for Theses and Dissertations published by the Graduate School.

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Additional Questions?

One of our program contacts will happily answer any additional questions or concerns you may have.

John Bolke

Phone: 801-581-6943

Email: john.bolke@utah.edu

Office: MEB 2110D