Ph.D. qualifications & dissertations

Post-graduate education students in the College of Engineering represent the best and brightest minds in advanced engineering and technology. Graduate students work closely with faculty in their chosen field to develop and fulfill expectations for scientific research and study. The information below provides students and potential students with college criteria for successful completion of a doctorate degree from any department within the College of Engineering. Use the links to the right to review a specific section or scroll through the text provided.

Qualifying exam

The examination comprises written and/or oral parts, and may include review of a thesis proposal (described in this section). The student will be considered to have passed the qualifying examination when he or she has successfully completed all the required parts. A candidate must take the qualifying examination at the time specified by the department. Upon satisfactorily passing the examination, the student will be accepted as a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. If the student has not already received a Master's degree, upon application and provided that all other requirements have been met, he or she may be granted the degree of Master of Science at the next commencement.

Passing the Ph.D. qualifying examination admits a student to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree for a period of no longer than six calendar years. If, at the end of this six-year period, the Ph.D. has not been awarded, the student must reapply for admission to the graduate program and will be judged competitively with other students applying at the same time.

If the student is re-admitted, he or she may, at the discretion of the department, be requested to pass the qualifying examination again before the Ph.D. is awarded. A student may petition for extension of the six-year limit under extenuating circumstances such as a forced change of advisor, military service, or prolonged illness. Note that the time limits on the duration of Ph.D. candidacy outlined here are more restrictive than those of the general university policy.

Ph.D. dissertation overview

Thesis proposal
The thesis proposal generally will be presented to the Dissertation Committee (see below) reasonably early in the student’s tenure as a Ph.D. student, within the time limits specified by the department. The purpose of the thesis proposal is to allow the student to demonstrate that the proposed research is likely to meet the criteria for doctoral dissertations, stated below, and that the proposed research can be accomplished in a reasonable period of time.

Ph.D. dissertation committee
The dissertation is prepared under the supervision of a faculty advisor who also usually serves as the chair of the Dissertation Committee. The Dissertation Committee shall consist of a minimum of four members. At least two of these will be full time Carnegie Mellon faculty affiliated with the candidate’s academic department, and at least one will be a person who is not primarily affiliated with the candidate's department. Departments may impose additional constraints on the make-up of the Committee.

The Dissertation Committee shall review and approve satisfactory thesis proposals, and act as the examining body for the final public examination of the candidate on the thesis subject. It is recognized that faculty leaves or other absences may require substitutions to be made on the Dissertation Committee. Any such substitutions, however, should conform with the rules on the composition of the Committee.

Ph.D. dissertation
The doctoral dissertation must embody the results of extended research, be an original contribution to knowledge, and include material worthy of publication. It should demonstrate the candidate’s ability to conduct an independent investigation, to abstract principles upon which predictions can be made, and to interpret in a logical manner facts and phenomena revealed by the research. (In the event that irreconcilable differences arise between a student and his or her faculty advisor on whether the dissertation research is ready to be defended, appeal may be made to the Department Head to resolve those differences.) The dissertation must be prepared in accordance with the College of Engineering thesis and dissertation document standards.

Ph.D. dissertation time table

  • Completion of Written Dissertation—not more than six years after being admitted to candidacy.

  • Submission of Dissertation to Committee—at least one and one-half months before the Final Grade due date for the semester in which completion is planned.

  • Public Announcement of Defense—at least two weeks before Dissertation Defense.

  • Dissertation Defense—at least 15 days before the Final Grades Due date for the semester in which completion is planned.

  • Submission of Dissertation to the Department—by the following due dates: May graduates, 10 days before the Final Grades for Graduating Students Due date; August graduates, two days before the Final Grades Due date; December graduates, two days before the Final Grades Due date.

  • Submission of Dissertation to the Dean of the College of Engineering—by the Final Grades Due date for the semester in which completion is planned.

Upon completion of the dissertation, copies must be submitted to the Dissertation Committee according to the departmental regulations. If the dissertation is accepted by the Committee, the candidate is eligible for a final public examination. A public announcement of the date, time, place, candidate name, title, and dissertation committee must be posted in each engineering department at least two weeks prior to the date of the exam.

Upon satisfactorily passing the final public examination, the candidate will be recommended for the doctoral degree. Copies of the dissertation must be presented to the appropriate Department Head and to the Dean of the College of Engineering for approval, as described in the college's thesis and dissertation document standards.

(policy revised 1/6/2010)

All but dissertation (ABD) status

After completion of all formal Ph.D. degree requirements other than the completion of and approval of the doctoral dissertation, and the public final examination, doctoral candidates shall be regarded as ABD (all but dissertation). The College of Engineering and CMU rules recognize two categories of ABD (All but Dissertation) doctoral students:

  • ABD Students In Absentia (Registrar code:ABS).
  • ABD Students In Residence.

University policies governing ABD status are available at: The major features of these policies are summarized below, and college-specific procedures are described.

In absentia status for ABD candidates
An ABD doctoral candidate may, upon departmental certification thereof, be regarded as being in absentia when and, so long as, the following three conditions concur:

  • The candidate has been enrolled as a full-time doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University for at least one academic year. Part-time graduate enrollment may, at the department's discretion, be counted pro rata towards this total.
  • The candidate does not receive a stipend predicated on his or her status as a graduate student or doctoral candidate and paid by or administered by the university (whether teaching or research assistantship, scholarship, or fellowship).
  • The student does not require substantial use of University resources. Note: Departmental certification of this condition shall be subject to guidelines established by the school or college. Typically, substantial use shall include: office space other than desk space, if available; all but minimal use of laboratory space or university-furnished laboratory equipment and expendables; and all use of computer resources that is not specifically exempted for thesis text preparation. In absentia candidates shall be permitted use of the libraries or consultation with faculty or students (in particular, with a thesis advisor or members of the advising and thesis committees). The university will provide in absentia candidates with identification for access to the library and other services permitted under the guidelines.

ABD students in absentia will not be certified by the university as a "student" for immigration or loan purposes. "Non-resident alien" students on J-1 or F-1 visas who become ABD in absentia must continue to follow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations and maintain their status as "full-time students." Any questions about employment or about leaving Carnegie Mellon for extended periods of time should be coordinated with the Office of International Education (OIE).

While an ABD candidate is in absentia, no formal enrollment or payment of tuition shall be required to maintain doctoral candidacy status, with the exception of the academic semester in which the degree requirements are to be completed.

An ABD candidate who is in absentia shall be required to change from In Absentia to In Residence and enroll for a minimum of five units of graduate study during the final academic semester in which the degree requirements are to be completed; in default of which a fee equal to the corresponding tuition shall be paid before the degree is conferred. The student cannot receive any financial support from the university.

In addition, all ABD students in absentia will be responsible each semester for the technology fee, which provides them with an Andrew email id and access to university-licensed software.

In residence status for ABD candidates
ABD students in Residence may be certified as full-time students for immigration purposes. Ordinarily, ABD students in Residence in the College of Engineering are required to register for a minimum of 36 units of academic credit per term, except that: "Under exceptional circumstances, ABD students who are self-supported, and who can demonstrate financial hardship, may petition the College through the departments for permission to register for 5 units of thesis research per semester." The exceptional circumstances for such approval include:

  • Self-supporting with demonstrated financial hardship.
  • At least three years of full-time student status.
  • Good standing and progress towards a degree.
  • No more than two semesters of required work; ABD with In Residence status and 5 units of tuition per term will not be allowed for more than two semesters of work, where a summer is considered to be one semester.

Download the ABD petition template

All doctoral degree candidates enrolled as In Residence students and who are supported by the university must be registered for thirty-six units for the entirety of their final semester and will be assessed full-time tuition. If a student completes all Ph.D. degree requirements and is certified by:

  • September 30th (in the fall), or February 28th (in the spring), tuition will be adjusted to $0; however, they will remain enrolled for thirty-six units for the semester.
  • October 31st (in the fall), or March 31st (in the spring), tuition will be adjusted to 50% of the full-time tuition; however, they will remain enrolled for thirty-six units for the semester.
  • After October 31st (in the fall), or after March 31st (in the spring), but BEFORE the first day of the next semester, tuition will not be adjusted and they will remain enrolled for thirty-six units for the semester.
  • Fees will not be adjusted.

Doctoral candidates' departments shall notify the Registrar's Office of the appropriate financial arrangement.

(policy revised 10/06/2011)