Doctor of Philosophy / PhD

On To Ph.D.

Upon completion of the requirements for the M.S. degree, students are not automatically eligible for admission to the Ph.D. program. M.S. candidates who wish to pursue a doctorate must submit an application for a change in status to the Committee on Graduate Affairs. The application must be approved and signed by a Bioengineering faculty member who expects to serve as the student’s Ph.D. advisor. An ad hoc faculty committee will review petitions. If the committee recommends that the student has good potential for success in the doctoral program, the student will be given the opportunity to take an oral examination equivalent to the Ph.D. Departmental Qualifying Examination. At the time of that exam, an assessment will be made on admission to the Ph.D. program. A change of status from a master's program to the doctoral program requires that the student meet the minimum grade point average required by the department of doctoral candidates.


Studies for the Ph.D. degree generally include one year of core courses leading to the completion of a Departmental Ph.D. Qualifying Examination. Elective courses are selected in the second year to compliment research interests.   The candidate then identifies a topic for original dissertation research, completes a Senate Qualification Examination, and carries out this work under the direction of a dissertation advisor, culminating in a Dissertation Defense Examination. There is also a requirement for four quarters (at 25% time or the equivalent) of teaching experience as a graduate student instructor. The average time for completion of a Ph.D. has been 5 years. Graduates typically pursue careers in research and/or teaching in academia or research institutions, or careers in the medical device or other bioengineering-related industry.

Each student will be assigned an initial faculty advisor at the time of admission to develop an appropriate plan of study. Later, as the student becomes more familiar with the faculty members and their research activities, he/she may transfer to another advisor with more compatible research interests. All students, in consultation with their advisors, develop course programs that will prepare them for the Departmental Qualifying Examination and for their dissertation research. The student is encouraged to engage in research early and no later than at the end of the first academic year. These programs of study and research should be planned to meet certain time limits: Qualifying Exam at the end of the first year and Senate (University Qualifying) Exam by the end of the third year. The Final Defense is typically done between four to six years.

Requirements for Ph.D. Students

Bioengineering has adopted a teaching requirement for all Ph.D. students admitted during or after Fall quarter 1991. It is required that all graduate students seeking a Ph.D. degree obtain teaching experience before taking the Academic Senate Qualifying Exam. In 1995, after the UCSD General Catalog went to press, this requirement was increased for all new supported graduate students in Bioengineering. The total teaching requirement for new Ph.D. students is two quarters at 50% effort (20 hours per week) or the equivalent four quarters at 25% effort (10 hours per week). At least one quarter of teaching experience at 25% effort is required during the first year prior to the Departmental Qualifying Exam. The teaching requirement must be completed prior to the Senate Exam. New students should discuss enrolling for the teaching requirement course (BENG 501) with their faculty advisor.

Teaching Experience

Teaching Experience is required of all bioengineering Ph.D. students. The teaching requirement must be completed prior to taking the Senate Qualifying Exam.

Teaching experience is defined as service as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) in a course designated by the department. The total teaching requirement for new Ph.D. students is two quarters at 50% effort (20 hours per week) or four quarters at 25% effort (10 hours per week). At least one quarter of teaching experience is required during the first year, normally during the Winter or Spring Quarter (prior to the Departmental Qualifying Examination). The teaching experience should be taken as a course for academic credit (Bioengineering 501). New students should discuss enrolling for the teaching requirement course (BENG 501) with their faculty advisor and must contact the Student Affairs Office to plan for completion of this requirement.

After the student has successfully passed the Departmental Qualifying Examination and fulfilled the teaching experience requirement, a Doctoral Committee (or Senate Committee) of five faculty members will be appointed by the Dean of Graduate Studies on behalf of the Academic Senate. Students should consult the Student Affairs Office regarding the composition of this committee. The students’ knowledge of a thesis area and the research plan will be thoroughly examined (Senate Qualifying Examination) by this committee. Upon completion of thesis research and its acceptance by the advisor, the thesis is presented in a Dissertation Defense Examination to the members of the Doctoral Committee for approval.

Teaching Resources


Ph.D. Time Limit Policy: Pre-candidacy status is limited to three years. Doctoral students are eligible for university support for six years. The defense and submission of the doctoral dissertation must be within seven years.

Evaluations: In the spring of each year, the faculty evaluates each doctoral student’s overall performance in course work, research, and prospects for financial support for future years. A written assessment is given to the student after the evaluation. If a student’s work is found to be inadequate, the faculty may determine that the student cannot continue in the graduate program.


A bioengineering Ph.D. student is required to pass three examinations. The first is a Departmental Qualifying Examination that must be taken immediately following the candidate's first academic year of enrollment and is usually scheduled in the month of July. The exam is designed to ensure that all successful candidates possess a strong command of the engineering and life science subjects that form the foundations of bioengineering research at a level appropriate for the doctorate. It is administered by a committee designated by the department, consisting of departmental faculty members and, in some cases, one other faculty member from a related academic department (e.g., MAE, ECE, Medicine).

The Senate Qualifying Examination is the second examination required of bioengineering Ph.D. students. In preparation for this examination, students must have completed the Departmental Qualifying Examination, the departmental teaching requirement, all required coursework, obtained a faculty research advisor, and identified a topic for their dissertation research and made initial progress. At the time of application for advancement to candidacy, the Graduate Council appoints a Doctoral Committee responsible for the remainder of the student’s graduate program. The committee conducts the Senate Qualifying Examination, during which students must demonstrate the ability to engage in thesis research. This involves the presentation of a plan for the thesis research project. The committee may ask questions directly or indirectly related to the project and general questions that it determines to be relevant. Upon successful completion of this examination, students are advanced to candidacy and are awarded the Candidate in Philosophy degree.

The Dissertation Defense is the final Ph.D. examination. Upon completion of the dissertation research project, the student writes a dissertation that must be successfully defended in a public presentation and oral examination conducted by the Doctoral Committee. A complete copy of the student’s dissertation must be submitted to each member of the Doctoral Committee approximately four weeks before the defense. It is understood that this copy of the dissertation given to committee members will not be the final copy and that the committee members may suggest changes in the text at the time of the defense. This examination must be conducted after at least three quarters of the date of advancement to doctoral candidacy. Acceptance of the dissertation by the Office of Graduate Studies and Research and the university librarian represents the final step in the completion of all requirements for the Ph.D. There is no formal foreign language requirement for doctoral candidates. Students are expected to master whatever language is needed for the pursuit of their own research.

Combined MD

M.D./Ph.D. Program:

The School of Medicine and the Graduate Division have developed a joint M.D./Ph.D. program. The candidate must be admitted independently to both the UCSD School of Medicine and the Department of Bioengineering (via the Medical Scientist Training Program).  Candidates are accepted into UCSD's Medical School first and apply to the BENG Ph.D. degree during their second year of medical school study.  Additional information on the program can be found at:

Interested students are encouraged to contact the MST Program Manager, Mary Alice Kiisel, at 858-534-0689 or