photo of grad student in front of writing on a whiteboard

PhD Degree

The PhD program provides a wide variety of research and course opportunities from control theory to nanofabrications; device fabrication to image processing; communications to quantum mechanics; and optics to VLSI design. Collaboration is possible between departments and research centers within and outside of the College of Engineering.

Below is a basic overview of the PhD requirements that graduate students must follow to receive their PhD degree. For more specific guidelines, it is the student's responsibility to consult the year of entrance ECE Graduate Student Survival Manual.

PhD Course Requirements

Students are required to take courses for breadth and depth and to establish a GPA.

NOTE: Computer Engineering and Communications & Signal Processing students should consult the year of entrance Graduate Student Survival Manual for details on course requirements.



PhD Examinations

Screening Exam

Screening Exam

Screening Exam

The purpose of the PhD Screening Examination is to screen candidates for continuation in the doctoral program. This exam is not required for admission into the PhD program; however, to remain in the PhD program, all students are required to pass the exam. A minimum cumulative GPA of 3.30 is required to take the exam.

The PhD Screening Exam evaluates the candidate's knowledge in major and minor areas of study. The ECE PhD Screening Examination Handbook provides a description of each of the examination areas.

A student's choice of major examination area should conform to their area of interest as indicated by the choice of the research advisor and PhD committee.

Qualifying Exam

Qualifying Exam & Advancing to Candidacy

Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam provides the Doctoral Committee with a basis for student evaluation and guidance and the student with an opportunity to review, organize, and demonstrate his/her knowledge. It is understood that upon passing the Qualifying Examination, the student has presented an approved dissertation research proposal and has demonstrated substantial readiness to undertake the research.

The exam is oral with a focus on the dissertation problem and is administered by the student's Doctoral Committee. It will include considerable depth in the student's area of specialization, as required for the successful completion of the dissertation.

Before the qualifying exam, a student must form a dissertation committee of four people (three of whom must be ECE faculty).

Advancement to Candidacy

Upon spending three consecutive quarters in residence on the campus and passing the Qualifying Exam, a student is eligible for advancement to candidacy, giving them additional privileges and access to more resources.

International students' nonresident tuition is waived for nine quarters beginning the quarter after the advancement to candidacy.

Defense Exam

Defense & Dissertation

Defense & Dissertation

The dissertation is written on a subject chosen by the candidate that is related to an area of study in ECE. The student must demonstrate their ability to carry out independent investigation and study.

  • Defense Exam: The candidate defends the dissertation in a public presentation. The Committee meets with the student after the Examination to discuss any areas that need revision or additional work.
  • Approval: by the candidate's Doctoral Committee
  • Dissertation: after the approval of the dissertation formatted according to the Graduate Division's required dissertation format
  • Submission: to UCSB Graduate Division

Graduate Student Resources

Learn more about the PhD program on the ECE Current Students page

  • Requirements and Study Plans
  • Milestones: progress from entry to graduation
  • Procedures: processes that a PhD student goes through
  • FAQs: Frequently Asked Questions

Degree Timeline (typical)

The normative time established by the ECE Department to complete a doctoral degree is five years including the time worked on the MS degree, although many students require less time.

  • Screening Exam: at the latest by the end of the second year of matriculation as a grad student. See the most current Screening Exam Manual since this differs from area-to-area.
  • Qualifying Exam: must be done by the end of the 4th year of grad matriculation
  • Defense Exam / Dissertation: the 6th year