Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

​In accordance with KAUST regulations, the Ph.D. program in ErSE includes the following requirements:
  1. Successful completion of Ph.D. coursework; 
  2. Designating a research advisor; 
  3. Passing a subject-qualifying examination; 
  4. Obtaining candidacy status; 
  5. Preparing, submitting and successfully defending a doctoral dissertation.  

Coursework Requirements

Students entering the Ph.D. program must complete at least 96 credit hours, including the required coursework for the M.S. degree plus at least two courses at the 300 level.  The required coursework is outlined below: 
M.S. Courses

      • Four core courses
      • Four elective courses from ErSE or another program, as agreed upon with the student’s advisor
      • Graduate seminar
Ph.D.​ Courses

      • Two ErSE courses at the 300 level
      • Two elective courses
      • Graduate seminar
Students entering the program with a relevant M.S. from another institution may transfer coursework toward the requirements of the M.S. degree listed above upon the approval of the program. 
Students entering the program with a M.S. from KAUST may transfer coursework toward both the M.S. and Ph.D. requirements listed above upon the approval of the program and based on their program of study at the University. 
Students entering with a B.S. from another institution may transfer up to 9 credits of graduate level coursework towards the above requirements upon the approval of the program. In addition, students entering with a B.S. may also qualify to earn a M.S. degree by satisfying the M.S. degree requirements  as part of the Ph.D. program.

Designation of a Research Advisor

If a student is admitted to the Ph.D. program without a research advisor, an interim advisor will be assigned. The student must identify a permanent research advisor by the end of his/her first academic year of enrollment in the program.

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination tests the student’s knowledge of materials covered in his/her degree coursework. The exam includes both oral and written components. The student will be provided a list of examination topics in advance. The exam is administered by an examination committee chaired by the advisor. The committee consists of the advisor and minimum of two faculty members selected by the advisor and the student. In special cases one faculty member may be substituted by a Ph.D. holding research staff member with a relevant background. Students admitted with a Master’s degree should complete the qualifying exam within one year from the start of the program; students admitted without a Master’s degree should complete the qualifying exam within two years from the start of the program. The possible outcomes of the exam are: pass, conditional pass, failure with retake, and failure. In the case of failure with retake, the student must retake and pass the exam within three months of the date of the first exam.  Students who are not permitted to retake the exam, or who fail the retake, will be dismissed from the University.

Dissertation Committee

A dissertation committee is formed by the student under the guidance of the advisor. Chaired by the advisor, the committee must include at least four members of which at least 3 must be KAUST faculty members. The Chair and one additional member must be an affiliated faculty member. The committee must also include one external examiner who must write a report on the thesis and may be asked to attend the thesis defense, but will not be required to do so unless required by the committee. A qualified visiting Professor may be involved as an on-campus committee member. The Committee membership must be endorsed by the Dean and approved by the Registrar for compliance. The committee members must agree to interact with the student to discuss the student’s progress. The student must submit an annual written progress report to the dissertation committee. All committee members must be designated as dissertation readers.

Candidacy Status

After successfully completing all coursework requirements, passing the qualifying examination, identifying an advisor and forming a dissertation committee, a student gains candidacy status by presenting a doctoral research proposal and obtaining approval to pursue the proposed research from the dissertation committee.

Research Proposal Defense

A Ph.D. student must submit a written research proposal to the dissertation committee at least two weeks prior to an oral defense of the proposal. The defense consists of an oral presentation by the student followed by a question and answer session. The oral defense must be attended by a minimum of three members of the dissertation committee; an active participation by electronic means such as a SKYPE call is considered as attendance. The committee will determine if the proposal qualifies as a dissertation topic in the area and if the candidate is capable of completing the research project as proposed. The committee’s decision can take the form of pass, conditional pass, fail with retake, or fail. In the case of fail with retake, the committee will provide feedback to the student, who must prepare and pass a repeat examination within three months. Students who are not permitted to retake the exam, or who fail the retake, will be dismissed from the University.  Each student is expected to defend the research proposal by the end of his/her second academic year in the program.

Dissertation Defense

The student must prepare and submit a doctoral dissertation on original research conducted by the student. The student must schedule a dissertation defense after the dissertation has been submitted. The dissertation defense will include a defense of the doctoral dissertation and a test of the candidate’s knowledge in the specialized field of research. The format of the dissertation defense will be a public seminar presented by the candidate, with an open question and answer period, followed by a private examination by the dissertation committee. The possible outcomes of the exam are pass, conditional pass, or fail. After a successful defense, the final version of dissertation must be submitted within two months and must be signed by the supervisor and all dissertation committee members.