For degree requirements, please see General Announcements. Note: An automatic master's degree is not offered to PhD degree candidates in the department.


The minimum semester hours of coursework (one course usually consists of three semester hours) required of PhD students is tabulated as a function of the degree held upon entrance into the program. Students with an MS need 18 hours of coursework. Students with a five-year BS, 30 hours; with a four-year BS, 36 hours; and with a 4-year BA., 42 hours. In all cases, a student's course of study is formulated in consultation with the thesis director and must be approved by the department.

Qualifying Examination

By the end of the third semester of study in the MECH graduate program, all PhD students must successfully complete a Qualifying Exam (QE).

The QE is a two-part exam covering mechanical engineering topical knowledge (via oral exam) and research aptitude (via research evaluation). The purpose of this examination is to determine whether the student is qualified to conduct independent research at the technical level required for the PhD thesis.

The student's grasp of fundamental concepts in their field and related fields of interest will be examined. A committee consisting of three faculty members of the department will administer the examination.

The outcome of the QE will be either “pass,” in which case the student continues in the program, or “fail,” in which case the student is eligible for a retake of the part(s) of the exam (oral exam and/or research aptitude) deemed unsatisfactory. This retake must occur no later than the end of the semester following the original examination. Only one re-take of the qualifying exam will be permitted. If the student is not successful at the retake, they will not be approved to move forward in the PhD program.

Candidacy Evaluation

All PhD students are required to conduct a Candidacy Evaluation. The Candidacy Evaluation (CE) involves the evaluation of a written document and an oral presentation, prepared and delivered by the student.

The CE provides an assessment of the student’s research progress and feasibility of any additional proposed research that the student intends to complete for their PhD thesis. The evaluation is administered by the student’s PhD Thesis Committee. The Candidacy Evaluation should be scheduled when all coursework and department requirements are completed (typically after six semesters), but no later than the ninth semester of study.

The Candidacy Evaluation will usually take place one year before the intended PhD defense date.

Language Requirement

The Department of Mechanical Engineering does not have a foreign language requirement for its graduate degrees. It is recommended that every student is proficient in at least one computer language.

Research & Thesis

Each candidate for the PhD must complete a thesis that constitutes an original contribution to scientific knowledge. The thesis will be digitally preserved in the library. Instructions for preparation of theses can be obtained at the appropriate time through the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.

Final Thesis Defense

Upon completion of the thesis, each candidate for the PhD degree must pass a final public oral examination.

A committee consisting of at least four members will conduct the examination. Three, including the committee chair, must be members of the department. One member must be from another department within the university. With the approval of the Director of Graduate Studies (or Department Chair*) and Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, one of the committee members from the department or the other-department member can be replaced with a tenured or tenured-track faculty member from another university with academic standing comparable to Rice’s. When replacing the other-department member, the petition from the DGS (or Department Chair*) to the GPS must include a proper justification for that replacement. The justification needs to be based on the outside-Rice member bringing to the committee a level of related expertise that is beyond what would otherwise be available at Rice, including from other departments. The members of the committee will be announced early enough so that the candidate may discuss with them the nature of the thesis research and the contents of the thesis.

The thesis must be made available to the members of the examining committee at least two weeks before the examination date. Although the examination will be concerned primarily with the candidate's thesis, the questioning may also cover other areas. The oral defense may be scheduled at any time except during official examination periods.

Public announcements of the oral examinations for the doctoral degree must be made at least two weeks in advance.

* When the DGS is on the committee

Thesis Deadline

Students must observe the deadlines set by the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for submission of the final thesis to receive their degree for either January or May conferral. Otherwise, students have six months from the date of defense to submit their final thesis to the Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies.


Normally, three or more years of study past the bachelor's degree are required for the PhD degree. The minimum residence requirement for the PhD degree is four semesters (fall/spring) of full-time study at the university.

Graduate Seminars

All PhD students must attend at least 75% of the MECH seminars for their first three years in the department and must register for MECH 606 each semester during that time.

Instructional Assistance

All PhD students are required, as part of their research degree program and educational experience, to provide instructional assistance to the department. This instructional assistance, which could be in the form of grading, lecturing, assisting in labs, or developing course material, will not exceed ten hours per week for four semesters.