Doctoral Degree in Mechanical Engineering

Requirements and Residency

There are no formal course requirements for the Ph.D. degree beyond the colloquium requirements. Course requirements are established solely by the doctoral committee. Typically a degree requires 30 or more course credits beyond the M.S. degree.

You must spend at least two consecutive semesters in a twelve-month period as a full-time registered student, during which time you are engaged in full-time academic work at the Penn State University Park campus, before taking your comprehensive exam.

Ph.D. Candidacy

You must be approved for qualifying by the graduate faculty, based partly on the results of an exam given to assess your potential to excel in Ph.D. studies and conduct high-level research.

The Graduate School requirements for the candidacy examination are:

  • The examination must be taken within three semesters of entry into the doctoral program, not including summer sessions.
  • You must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester in which the examination is taken.
  • You are required to demonstrate a high level of competence in the use of the English language, including reading, writing, and speaking.

We strongly encourage you to take your qualifying exams as early as possible. The exam will be administered each fall and spring semester. The Graduate Programs Office will e-mail dates to all graduate students.

The qualifying exam will consist of three sections. Each section will include a written and an oral exam, in the same topic area. Students may select topic areas for the three sections from these topics: Solid Mechanics, Rigid Body Mechanics, System Dynamics, Thermodynamics, Fundamentals of Engineering Analysis, Fluid Mechanics, and Heat Transfer.

Comprehensive Exam

The comprehensive exam should cover the specific areas of mechanical engineering, designated by your Ph.D. committee, which relate to your program. The comprehensive exam will consist of an oral examination, administered by your doctoral committee, including a presentation of a proposal related to thesis research and a structured oral examination

The comprehensive examination will also require a written proposal related to your planned research, which should contain:

  1. Statement of the research problem
  2. Literature review
  3. Preliminary results, if available
  4. Work plan describing methods of analysis and/or experimentation
  5. Most significant results expected from the research and their impact on the current state of the art in the main research area
  6. Time schedule

A written exam may also be given at the discretion of the committee.

Dissertation Defense

The purpose of this examination is for students to defend their Ph.D. dissertation. In the interim between successful completion of the comprehensive examination and the final oral examination, the following regulations apply:

  1. Requests for scheduling the dissertation defense should be made in writing by your doctoral committee chair to the associate head of graduate programs. The Graduate Programs Office will then request the exam be scheduled through the Graduate School.
  2. You must be continuously registered and maintain your student status until you pass the final oral examination and your thesis is accepted by your doctoral committee. ME 601 and ME 611 are for Ph.D. thesis preparation and are full-time, non-credit courses. Students may register for one or more credits of ME 600 to satisfy this requirement.
  3. If a period of more than five years has elapsed between passing of the comprehensive examination and the completion of your program, you are required to pass a second comprehensive examination before the final oral examination can be scheduled.
  4. The final oral examination may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed after the comprehensive examination was passed, although the Department Head may grant a waiver in the case of an outstanding student.
  5. The final oral examination will be administered by your entire doctoral committee and will be a defense of your dissertation. The final oral exam will be publicized and members of the academic community are encouraged to attend.
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With more than 60 faculty members, 330 graduate students, and 800 undergraduate students, the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering embraces a culture that welcomes individuals with a diversity of backgrounds and expertise. Our faculty and students are innovating today what will impact tomorrow’s solutions to meeting our energy needs, homeland security, biomedical devices, and transportation systems. We offer B.S. degrees in mechanical engineering as well as resident (M.S., Ph.D.) and online (M.S.) graduate degrees in mechanical engineering. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

Department of Mechanical Engineering

137 Reber Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-865-2519