Robotics 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. Failure to comply to this deadline may result in being dismissed from the program.

All coursework is to be completed within 7 consecutive calendar 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

Must satisfy the ECE proficiency requirement to graduate

Submit a form Fulfillment of Proficiency Requirements to the ECE Office

Proficiency Requirements







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)
Dissertation Final Exam 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.

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.


All coursework is to be completed within 7 consecutive calendar years. Coursework listed on the program of study must consist of:

    • All students must complete at least 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.
    • A minimum of 30 hours of graduate courses (5000 level or above) beyond the B.S. degree, in Electrical/Computer engineering and allied fields. (Included in this total can be a transferred MS degree from another University)
      • Allied fields include Computer Science, Math, Science, or other College of Engineering courses.
    • 2 semesters of Graduate Seminar (7900, and 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.
    • At least 2 credit hours of the 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.
    • At least 14 semester hours of thesis research (ECE 7970).
      • Students may only register for thesis research after they have set up a supervisory committee.
    • 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. Students cannot register for Special Studies without prior permission from the Graduate Committee. Permission is obtained by completing and filing the Special Studies Request form with the Graduate Coordinator. The general guidelines state that for every hour of credit, a course generally requires two hours of study per week outside of class. Therefore, it will be understood that for every credit hour of Special Studies, the student will be expected to spend three hours per week on the activity. Special studies courses from other departments cannot be used for the program of study. Special Studies may not include the material of any class taught by the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department.


    • 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.

The Ph.D. supervisory committee consists of five faculty members. At least three of the committee members must be regular ECE faculty members, and at least one must be from outside the ECE Department. The committee conducts the student’s written and oral Qualifying Examinations, the Research Comprehensive Examination, and the dissertation defense.

Each student forms a supervisory committee whose members guide the student’s graduate program. Students must form this committee by the beginning of the second semester of study.

Any regular Electrical & Computer Engineering faculty member may serve as a supervisory committee chair. After the faculty members have agreed to serve on a supervisory committee, the student should file a completed Request for Supervisory Committee form with the Graduate Coordinator in the ECE Office. A committee may be revised, if necessary, by submitting a Request to Change Supervisory Committee Personnel form. The Graduate Committee approves all supervisory committee forms; final approval is granted by the Dean of the Graduate School.

Faculty outside of the ECE Department may supervise a student, but the student must have a regular ECE faculty member serve as co-chair. Individuals who are not faculty members may serve on a supervisory committee if approved by the supervisory committee chair and the Graduate Committee. A current vita for any non-university member must be submitted with the Supervisory Committee form.  The Supervisory form is required to be completed by the beginning of the 3rd Semester.

PhD Supervisory Committee Form

After consulting with the approved supervisory committee chair, the 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 receiving approval from the Department Graduate Committee, the Program of Study is submitted to the Graduate School for their approval.

Modifications to the Program of Study may be made by re-submitting a 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.

Students must be registered for at least three credit hours in the semester in which they take an exam. The Research Comprehensive Exam and Final Oral Exam (oral dissertation defense) may not be done during the same semester. The defense must be done at least two semesters after the comprehensive exam.

Ph.D. Qualifying Examination

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

The ECE graduate committee has recently approved a new procedure in administering the ECE PhD qualifying exam. Please read the new instructions below.  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.   1. Organize your 5 member PhD Supervisory Committee (4 ECE Tenure Line Faculty, 1 Outside Dept. members).
  2.       Contact the Graduate Coordinator to inform him 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 is emailed the approval paperwork and which is 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.

Dissertation Defense and Requirements

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 mus t provide the ECE 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. A “Report of the Final Oral Examination for the Ph.D. Degree” form will be completed by the ECE Graduate Coordinator for approval signatures during the defense, and the Graduate Coordinator will submit the form to the Graduate School.

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


Office: MEB 2110D