Ph.D. Program in CBE at NC State
Overview and Roadmap
Students typically enter the Ph.D. program in Fall with a goal to prepare themselves as independent researchers and future leaders in industry, academia, and national laboratories. While a majority of our students have a background in Chemical Engineering, we strongly encourage students from any allied discipline to apply to our graduate program. Our Ph.D. students work closely with a research advisor and an advisory committee, and publish peer-reviewed scientific papers based on their research efforts. Students often collaborate with other researchers and research groups, travel to conferences, and have internships with government or leading industry research labs. Completion of the degree is accomplished by writing and defending a scholarly dissertation. Successful culmination of the PhD however requires following university and departmental guidelines and requirements through a prescribed roadmap. We provide highlights of the steps here with discussion of specifics in subsequent sections.
- Students are required to take four core chemical engineering courses (12 cr. hrs.) and a minimum of two elective courses (6 cr. hrs.)
- Students are also required to pass two research-based courses, Introduction to Research (CHE 701) and Research Proposition (CHE 702).
- All first-year students are required to register and attend the departmental seminar (ChE 801); other students not in their last semester need to attend 2/3 of the seminars each semester. Final semester students need not register/attend.
- There are 3 major exams towards obtaining a Ph.D.: qualifying exam, preliminary exam and final dissertation defense.
- Students need to meet annually with their thesis committee to assess progress towards their degree.
- Students are required to have a thesis committee consisting of at least four faculty members with the thesis advisor serving as the chair of the committee; the makeup of the committee is discussed later.
- Students can get an M.S. enroute to a Ph.D. without additional work when they meet certain criteria (passing prelim and completing 30 cr. hrs. of courses)
- Students need to complete two semesters of Teaching Assistantship (TA) as part of their curriculum typically during their second year.
- Students need to maintain full-time status by registering for at least 9 cr. hrs. each semester (but no more than 15); registration needs to be completed before semester starts and no later than 10 days after the semester starts to maintain health insurance, tuition waiver and visa status (for international students)
- Students need to complete 72 cr. hrs. (if coming with a B.S.) or 54 cr. hrs. (if coming with a Masters), in courses and research (CHE 895), to be eligible for a doctoral degree. Students who complete these hrs can subsequently register for 3 cr. hrs. and still be full-time.
The following table highlights the pathway of important chronological requirements that doctoral students follow during their tenure here. The courses listed below reflect only the required courses, while the Pre-Defense meeting indicates a meeting with the thesis committee that a student needs to have 2-3 months prior to the final defense. This meeting can occur during any semester that a student is close to wrapping up the doctoral work. We show here instances of this happening during the student’s 8th-10th semesters.
Roadmap Towards Ph.D. Completion
Coursework for the First Semester
As students get ready to join their doctoral program in Fall, there is a sense of excitement and sometimes apprehension of how to navigate the first semester. Questions often coming to mind include, what courses do I have to take, and when do I register for the courses.
The Department has a fixed set of courses that students are required to take during their first semester. The graduate student support staff ensures that all students are registered for these courses during summer before the start of the fall semester.
First Semester Courses for Ph.D. Students Entering with a Bachelor’s Degree
- Option 1: ChE Core Concepts I, ChE Elective, ChE 701, ChE 801, ChE 596
- Option 2: ChE Core Concepts I, ChE 713 (Chemistry students with Physical Chemistry background, ChE 701, ChE 801, ChE 596
Students spend the first half of their entering semester (Fall) deciding on who they want to work with and on what research topic. Picking the right research group is very important as this will be the ‘academic home’ for a student for the next several years. In most cases, it will also define their professional career pathway beyond their Ph.D.
The essential elements of finding the ‘right’ advisor comes down to attending presentations of all CBE faculty members, reading relevant research articles, meeting faculty members of interest, attending their group meetings and talking to fellow graduate students in those groups.
- Aug/Sep: Attend faculty presentations
- Aug-early Nov: Meet with faculty members (could be multiple times)
- Aug-early Nov: Attend group meetings of interested faculty, talk to students in the groups
- Mid Nov: Submit three choices of advisor
- Late Nov: Faculty meet to discuss choices; students informed of their advisor
- Jan: Join research group
We ask that students meet with a minimum number of 5 faculty members during the advisor selection process and get signatures from them verifying such discussions. Students will turn in their top 3 advisor choices in November, the exact date will be specified later during the semester.
The faculty members meet together to discuss the final choices turned in by the students and assign the final choices. Most of the students end up getting an advisor from their first or second choice. However, conflicts can arise in terms of two or more students listing the same projects/advisors. In that case the DGP works with the students to resolve the situation.
Qualifying for the Ph.D. and Second Semester Course Work
A unique feature of our doctoral program is the replacement of the traditional written qualifying examination with a comprehensive evaluation of the student’s performance in all the core courses along with the research proposition course. This process takes place at the end of the first academic year.
Second Semester Course Guideline for Ph.D. Students
The Research Proposition course (ChE 702) is a hallmark of our program designed to better prepare students to function at high levels of productivity in both their PhD studies and careers, and to teach the mechanics of effectively communicating to a general and technical audience orally and in writing. While details are provided in the course syllabus, the essential elements include:
- Writing a literature review (2-3 pages) on research topic
- Creating TOC graphic and research summary understandable to a general audience
- Providing preliminary research results
- Learning to provide 3-minute oral synopsis of thesis topic
- Writing a research proposal (~ 3 pages) delineating research plan. This is done in discussion with advisor.
- Present research proposal to 3-4 member faculty committee that includes advisor, and course instructor.
For students entering our program with M.S. degrees, they can re-defend their thesis to a three-member faculty committee immediately upon entering the program. Satisfactory performance in this re-defense waives the Research Proposition course (CHE 702) requirement.
- ChE 702 instructor presents student performance in all required courses to the entire faculty in a meeting late April
- Faculty discusses the results
- Students who have passed all the courses satisfactorily are recommended to ‘officially’ advance to the Ph.D. program
Students failing to qualify for the Ph.D. program are asked to obtain an MS degree with thesis, following which they are required to re-defend their thesis in front of a three-member faculty committee, provided they plan to re-enter the Ph.D. program. This committee, which cannot include members of the student’s M.S. committee, then re-evaluates the student and decides if he/she will be admitted into the Ph.D. program.
Teaching Assistantship (TA) Requirements
Students are required to complete two semesters of Teaching Assistantship (TA) as part of their Ph.D. degree requirement. This is independent of the funding source from which a student is supported. For example, a student supported through a fellowship (e.g., NSF) or a PI’s grant still needs to meet this requirement. The students undertake this responsibility during their second academic year in the program. Because the number of TA slots exceeds that of available ‘mandatory’ TAs, the Department requests other students to ‘volunteer’ for TAing a course each semester. These students are provided a supplement in addition to their stipend. The mechanics of the process is given below.
- Students are TA for a course in each of their 3rd and 4th semester (i.e., Fall and Spring of their second academic year).
- Prior to each semester, the DGP sends out an email listing all the courses and how many TA positions are available for each
- Students submit 3 choices of courses
- DGP assigns TA responsibility taking into account student preferences but also departmental needs
- The TA responsibility is in addition to students doing their normal research activity but is not onerous as multiple TAs are assigned for larger classes to keep the workload equitable and manageable.
- Each semester, there are TA slots available that are not filled up by the students doing their required TA assignments.
- The department needs students to volunteer to help TA these courses.
- DGP sends out email prior to each semester listing courses that need TAs.
- Students who have already done their TA requirements are requested to volunteer for additional TAship upon consultation with their advisors.
- Departmental supplements are provided to these students in addition to their normal pay.
Thesis Committee & Plan of Work
Each student is required to form a Graduate Advisory Committee (often called Thesis Committee) and to create a Plan of Work (PoW) following completion of their first academic year. The names of the committee members as well as the PoW needs to be submitted through the MyPackPortal to get approved by the Graduate School. Details on the logistics of this submission can be obtained from CBE Graduate Office.
The advisor(s) serves as the chair (or co-chairs) of the thesis committee. The primary function of the committee is to advise the student in all aspects of the educational program and to monitor and evaluate progress toward and completion of the degree.
- The committee must be active throughout students’ programs, meeting annually with the student to assess progress and provide guidance.
- The annual meeting can be an hour-long event with all members present where the student makes a presentation and get feedback. It can also be done by meeting committee members individually. It is left up to the chair and student to decide on the format.
The thesis committee should consist of at least 4 members (including the advisor or co-advisors). The student should consult his/her advisor to decide on the other members of the committee. The composition of the committee can be varied, depending on the need of the research:
- 3 members from CBE with one from outside the department. In this case, the outside person will also serve as a Graduate School Representative (GSR). The role of the GSR is to ensure that all exams are conducted in a fair manner.
- All 4 members from CBE. In this case, the student, with the help of the graduate school, has to find a GSR from another department. The GSR can be from any college or department.
- All 4 members from CBE with the caveat that 1 of the CBE members is an associate faculty of another department. In that case, this faculty member will be listed under that department in the PoW and also serve as GSR.
- 2 members from CBE and 2 from outside the department. In this case, one of the two members from outside the department will serve as the GSR also.
- includes both a list of the course work to be undertaken (in all programs) and the dissertation topic.
- has research and course credit hours adding up to 72 (BS students) or 54 (MS students).
- includes the names of the thesis committee members.
- is developed by the student with possible help from the advisor.
- has to be approved (electronically via MyPackPortal) by the committee and the DGP prior to submission to the Graduate School for final approval.
- can be modified at any time to reflect changes in coursework, etc.
The Preliminary Exam is a major milestone in the student’s Ph.D. program. It consists of both a written and oral component. The purpose of this exam is to measure research aptitude, preparation (including knowledge of a specialization area), and proper research methodology. It is expected that the student will have conducted an extensive literature search of a problem area, identified a research problem, obtained preliminary research results in that area, and have a clear plan for future work needed to complete the Ph.D.. CBE students need to complete the prelim exam by the end of their 4th semester, typically Spring semester of their second year.
- Consists of MAXIMUM 15 single/30 double spaced text, excluding figures, references. This should be in a legible font, so font 12 Times Roman or equivalent is recommended.
- While varying in format from group to group should include motivation, literature review, methodology, research plan and preliminary results.
- Should be developed in concert with advisor guidance and discussion.
- Should be given to the committee members at least 10 days in advance prior to the oral exam date (grad school rule is 14 days but CBE is more flexible).
- This examination is conducted by the student’s advisory committee, with the student making a ~35-40 minute presentation on his/her written document.
- It is expected that the student will work with his/her advisor to fine tune the presentation prior to the official exam.
- Two hours should be allocated for the exam to cover presentation, questioning by the audience and, more importantly the committee, and follow-up discussion by them.
- Its scheduling (time and day) needs to be approved by the Graduate School by submitting a scheduling form through MyPackPortal. This needs to be done at least 2 weeks in advance of the exam. CBE Graduate Office has more information on this.
- The exam is open to all faculty members and students of CBE including the question/answer section. However, relatives and friends are not allowed.
- Three outcomes are possible; unconditional pass, conditional pass and fail (happened only once in the past 30 years). For conditional pass, the students are asked to meet a certain number of conditions. Once these conditions are met, the student passes unconditionally. All these information has to be submitted to the Graduate School for their approval.
M.S. Route to a Ph.D.
Students are eligible to receive a Master of Science (M.S.) degree on their way to a Ph.D. Typically this happens between their 4th and 6th semester once they have met the requirements for it. Students who enter with a M.S. in chemical engineering are not eligible for this degree.
To qualify for getting the M.S. degree, students must:
- complete 30 credit hours of courses, and
- pass their preliminary (often referred to as prelim) examination.
Since the prelim exam typically takes place in the student’s 4th semester (spring of their second year), they can get this degree either at the end of their 4th semester or fall or December of that year, depending on when they get the prelim done.
In terms of the required 30 cr. hrs. of course completion, please note that research credit towards a Ph.D. (e.g., ChE 895 or ChE 893) do not count towards this total. As such, one can envision a scenario of the following courses as an example towards those counting towards the M.S.:
- 17 cr. hrs. from the core (ChE 711, ChE 713, ChE 717, ChE 715) and other required courses (ChE 701, ChE 702, MSE 601)
- 4 cr. hrs from seminar (ChE 801) taken every semester during the first two years
- 6 (or 3) cr. hrs. from research project courses ChE 597 and ChE 798; students should sign up for these anytime during their second through the fourth semester.
- 3 (or 6) cr. hrs. from elective courses
Registration, Full-time Status & Credit Hour Requirement
University guidelines require that students are registered as full-time students throughout their duration here. In addition, a student entering with a B.S. degree is expected to complete a total of 72 cr. hrs. of course work and research to be eligible for a Ph.D. The cr. hr. requirements drop down to 54 if a student enters the Ph.D. program with an M.S. degree. Not to panic, if a student has successfully completed all their research goals before attaining the desired the cr. hr. limit, he/she will certainly be allowed to obtain the Ph.D. degree.
- Students enrolled in 9 credit hours, or more are considered full-time. Although students are permitted to enroll in up to 15 credit hours, they are recommended not to.
- Students who are not enrolled full-time by Census Day (the 10th day of classes each semester) lose eligibility for the Graduate Student Support Plan (GSSP) (e.g., health insurance). International students will be out of compliance with their visa requirements.
- As a standard practice, students in their 2nd-5th year should register in each semester for 9 cr. hrs. of ChE 895, 1 cr. hr. of ChE 801. If they need or want an elective/course, this would be on top of these courses.
- Continuous enrollment means there is no break in your enrollment/registration.
- Students however do not need to register during summer to maintain continuous enrollment (see more details later)
- If you have a break in your enrollment, you will need to re-apply to the program. However, it is possible to file a Leave of Absence for up to two (2) semesters during your academic career at NCSU, if there is a need for it.
- Students are not required to be enrolled over the summer semester UNLESS they are scheduling their final exam/defense, their funding source (e.g., external fellowship) requires it, or they have medical issues that require frequent visit to the health center.
- If you are scheduling final defenses/exams over the summer, students should register for at least one credit in the summer term in which you defend. Generally, defending graduate students will register for 1 credit of ChE 896 which is a 10-week summer session.
- Students taking their PhD Preliminary exams over the summer however are not required to be registered.
- For summer internship, international students need to register for COP 500; however, US citizens/permanent residents do not need to register.
- For internship during a semester, all students need to register for COP 500. In addition, international students need prior approval from the Office of International Services (OIS). The internship should cover the entire semester as students cannot start or end an internship during the middle of a semester.
- For students who have completed all of the credit hour requirements for the degree, including research credits and the Preliminary Exam (e.g., 72 cr. hrs.), but need to complete research and/or writing and dissertation defense, they can register for a minimum of three (3) credit hours of ChE 895 (Research) for each of their subsequent semesters.
- In certain cases, international students who are in their very last semester may file a Reduced Course Load (RCL) form through the Office of International Services (OIS) and register for just one (1) credit hour. Please see the CBE Graduate Office if you feel this applies to you. If you are eligible, this request must be made before the first day of classes of the requested semester.
Dissertation and Final Oral Exam
Ph.D. students must write a dissertation and complete a Final Oral Examination conducted by the student’s Thesis Committee. Unanimous approval by the Advisory Committee is required to pass the Final Examination and be eligible for receiving the Ph.D. diploma. It is suggested that students consult with their thesis committee at least 2-3 months in advance to get their approval in moving forward with the final defense. For full details on Final Oral Examination and dissertation requirements, refer to the relevant section of the Graduate School Handbook.
- This should reflect an original contribution to the field. There is no specified format or length for the dissertation. It will be governed by the advisor and his/her group style.
- As a general guideline, most dissertations have chapters that are self-contained that are published, submitted or draft forms of manuscripts. These chapters are preceded by an introduction/background and followed by conclusions/ future work chapters.
- Dissertation chapters can contain co-first author chapters. In other words, the same chapter can be put in both co-first authors’ dissertation. There should however be a footnote explaining that this is the case.
- Students should give their dissertation to the committee members at least 10 days in advance of the final defense.
- Following successful passing of the oral exam (discussed next), students need to electronically submit their thesis. Please follow the Graduate School’s ETD (Electronic Thesis and Dissertation) guidelines. The CBE Graduate Office can help in this regard.
- The student makes a formal presentation of his/her research work to the student’s advisory committee
- The presentation should be ~40 minutes long, the content varies depending on the research group dynamics. Some students present overview of their entire thesis while others tend to focus on some aspects of the work and go more in depth.
- Two hours should be allocated for the exam to cover presentation, questioning by the audience and, more importantly the committee, and follow-up discussion by them.
- The final oral schedule (time and day) needs to be approved through the Graduate School by submitting a scheduling form via the MyPackPortal. This needs to be done at least 2 weeks in advance of the exam. CBE Graduate Office has more information on this.
- By university rules, the final presentation is a public event. So, it is open to all members of the CBE community as well as friends and family of the student.
- Three outcomes are possible: unconditional pass, conditional pass and fail (not happened in the past 30 years). For conditional pass, the students are asked to meet a certain number of conditions. Once these conditions are met, the student passes unconditionally, and is eligible to receive the Ph.D. diploma. Outcome of the exam has to be submitted to the Graduate School for their approval.
Students who have successfully passed their oral exam and whose thesis has been accepted by the Graduate School should Apply to Graduate in MyPackPortal. The CBE Graduate Office can guide you towards this joyous outcome!