Our PhD program requires a commitment of typically five years and consists of coursework, a preliminary examination, and original research guided by one or more faculty advisors that culminates in a dissertation and defense.
The program is fully-funded, which means that, subject to satisfactory progress, the student receives full coverage of tuition and fees, as well as a stipend. These funds come from a combination of faculty research funds, departmental fellowships, and instructional funds if the student assists in teaching during certain terms. Students are encouraged to apply for outside funding, particularly merit-based fellowships, as having external support will typically provide the student with more flexibility in projects.
Regardless of the ultimate source of funding, the student is advised by a faculty member who supervises and guides the research. These faculty advisors participate in the admissions process by selecting students that are appropriate for available projects. Therefore, every student admitted into the PhD program has already been selected for a project by one or more faculty members.
Prospective students seeking admission are encouraged to review the research of the faculty and initiate contact to assess the availability of potential research projects.
The following information pertains to students admitted into the PhD program.
A master’s degree is not required to be admitted to the PhD program. Our graduate program is very selective and only approximately 10% of the PhD applicants to our program are admitted. Learn about the academic background of students admitted.
The PhD degree requires a sound background in fundamental aerospace engineering courses which is assessed by the preliminary examination. The PhD dissertation requires a student to demonstrate the ability to pursue and solve an original research problem, which implies the ability to carry out independent research.
Rackham recognizes the value of intellectual breadth in graduate education and the importance of formal graduate study in areas beyond the student’s field of specialization. Cognate courses are those that are in a discipline or area different from a student’s field of study but are related or connected with some aspect of this field. All cognate coursework must be approved by the graduate program.
The cognate requirement may be satisfied in two ways:
The College of Engineering’s Responsible Conduct of Research and Scholarship program is designed to engage students to be able to recognize, address, and resolve ethical issues in classroom, professional and research settings. The program consists of four mandatory two-hour workshops each offered 10 times per year. The student must complete all four workshops before advancing to candidacy.
The preliminary examinations (prelims) consist of two tests, both oral, and both administered by committees. These are the oral coursework examination, typically taken at the end of the second or third semester, and the oral research examination, typically taken in the second or third year. A full description of both exams is given in the Doctoral Graduate Student Handbook.
This is an oral examination that covers material taught in the five courses (noted above in “Preliminary Examination coursework”). It is administered by a 3-member committee over 90 minutes. The preliminary examination is scheduled twice each academic year, once in early December and once in early May. To sign up please complete the Coursework Examination Sign-up form (PDF).
This is an oral examination that consists of a research presentation followed by questions from a committee, which is typically the thesis committee. It is administered over 1 hour, at a time mutually agreeable to the student and committee. Scheduling of the exam is the responsibility of the student and can be done at any time in the year. The student must also provide a research document, in the format of a conference paper approximately 10 pages in length, to the committee at least one week in advance of the exam.
Pass/Fail/Retake decisions for the coursework examination are made in a faculty meeting at the conclusion of the examination period. Each coursework examination committee (CEC) presents a summary of the test performance and states the decision. The faculty then discuss and vote on the outcome. Students will receive written feedback, on a standardized form filled out by the CEC, about their coursework examination performance.
On the research exam, the research examination committee makes a Pass/Fail/Retake decision and communicates it to the student with feedback on performance. If deficiencies are found, students will be encouraged to retake the exam when appropriate. There is no limit to the number of retakes of the research exam, but failing the research exam is grounds for dismissal from the PhD program.
Candidacy can occur once the student:
Doctoral research is carried out under the supervision of a faculty advisor and a dissertation committee; the dissertation committee should normally be formed within one year after the student has achieved doctoral candidacy status. The student should expect to meet with her/his dissertation committee immediately after it is formed and at least on an annual basis up to the PhD defense.
Each student must initiate research activity with his/her advisor in the first year of graduate study at U-M. In order to complete the PhD degree, the student must carry out original and publishable research, present the results in a written dissertation, defend the dissertation at a final oral defense, and complete the final post-defense (see Rackham’s Dissertation Handbook for additional details). The defense presentation represents the culmination of the student’s research and is given to the committee and other faculty and students. The student must be able to clearly and concisely present his/her research and must be able to answer questions from the committee and others in attendance.
PhD candidates should download the AE Defense flyer template and update it with their own photo, dissertation abstract and event details to spread the word to lab mates and colleagues who would like to attend the department’s oral defense events. Send your completed flyer to Ruthie Freeman two weeks before your event to have it shared it with the department.