Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. program is designed to give students a broad and deep understanding of materials science and engineering so that they will have long and fruitful careers as researchers. When a student graduates from our program, he or she will be one of the world's leading experts in the area of their dissertation research, but will also have the intellectual tools needed to move into new research areas as the field grows and develops.

During the first two years of the Ph.D. program, students are required to take at least ten courses from our core curriculum, attend the weekly colloquium lectures to learn about cutting edge materials science research, locate a faculty research advisor, and become involved in that research group.

The core curriculum consists of the following ten courses:

  • MATSCI 201 Quantum Mechanics
  • MATSCI 202 Materials Chemistry
  • MATSCI 203 Atomic Arrangements in Solids
  • MATSCI 204 Thermodynamics and Phase Equilibria
  • MATSCI 205 Waves and Diffraction in Solids
  • MATSCI 206 Imperfections in Crystalline Solids
  • MATSCI 207 Rate Processes in Materials (Kinetics)
  • MATSCI 208 Mechanical Properties of Materials
  • MATSCI 209 Electronics and Optical Properties of Solids
  • MATSCI 210 Organic and Biological Materials

Students are expected to find a research group to join by the start of Winter Quarter. During the summer after the first academic year, students typically work intensely on research under the guidance of a professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department or a professor from another materials-related department.

In the second year, students continue to do research and typically take one or two courses per quarter. Between October and January, they take a qualifying examination, which they must pass to be formally admitted to candidacy for a Ph.D. degree. In the first part of the exam, students give a 20-minute presentation on their proposed area of dissertation research. A committee of professors, which includes the student's advisor, then questions the student on the proposed topic for twenty minutes. Finally, the professors ask questions for 80 minutes on topics from the core curriculum. Students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of the fundamentals of materials science and to show that they can think clearly on aspects that are important for their research. Students who do not pass the qualifying exam can attempt it one more time in the Spring Quarter. It is not uncommon to pass one part but not both parts on the first try.

Once students pass the qualifying exam, they continue to take classes and do their dissertation research. Students are required to take 48 technical and seminar units (approximately sixteen quarter-long classes).

The final stage of the Ph.D. program is to write a dissertation and pass the university oral examination, which involves giving a public seminar defending the dissertation and answering questions from a private panel of four professors. Most students complete the entire program in five years and receive several employment offers as they write their dissertation.

A more complete listing of the requirements for the PhD program is given in the Materials Science and Engineering section of the Stanford Bulletin.