PhD Requirements


Download the UCSB Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Handbook for complete information about degree requirements, policies and procedures, financial aid, and more. (PDF file)


Click to expand for a typical activities and requirements sequence in our graduate program.

The Chemical Engineering PhD degree at UC Santa Barbara is awarded to PhD candidates following successful defense of the dissertation. Students must first satisfy the candidacy requirements and advance to candidacy. For an updated and complete guide to degree requirements, please download the Chemical Engineering Graduate Student Handbook

Ph.D. program LEVEL objectives

PLO1: Core knowledge of Chemical Engineering
1.1  Students will master and integrate the fundamental thermodynamics, transport, kinetics, and design concepts that are central to chemical engineering.  
1.2  Students will master the necessary mathematics for original research in chemical engineering.  

PLO2: Scholarly communication
2.1  Students will demonstrate the ability to communicate their research findings in oral presentations to both specialized and non-specialized audiences.
2.2  Students will be able to relate their specialized research to core chemical engineering concepts and to technological and/or societal needs.
2.3  Students will write reports on their research which can be understood by a non-specialist chemical engineering audience.
2.4  Students will write technical papers on original research and publish their results in peer-reviewed journals.

PLO3: Independent research
3.0  Students will demonstrate the ability to review, understand, and summarize the literature in their areas of specialization.
3.1  Students will be able to formulate research objectives, hypotheses, and original research plans.
3.2  Students will independently execute original research and analyze the findings.
3.3  Students will relate their results to previous findings and explain the impact of their results on future research.


Prior to candidacy, the student must:

  • Attend the New Student Information Meeting.
  • Attend the Laboratory Safety Course.
  • Attend the UCSB TA Orientation Workshop.
  • Attend the Sexual Harassment Prevention Training.
  • Attend the Diversity Awarness Training.
  • Satisfy the requirements for English as a Second Language (international students).
  • Satisfy core and elective course requirements (36 units total).
  • Satisfy the GPA requirements.
  • Submit satisfactory research progress reports in a timely fashion.
  • Present at the First Year Graduate Student Symposium.
  • TA in at least one quarter of the second, third and fourth academic years. Exceptions for not fulfilling the TA requirement must be approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee.
  • Register and be in residence for six quarters, to satisfy the residency requirement.
  • Complete Ph.D. Form I to nominate the Dissertation Committee.
  • Submit a written candidacy report and pass the oral candidacy exam.
  • Complete Ph.D. Form II to report the outcome of the candidacy exam, and pay the fee for advancement to candidacy.

Following advancement to candidacy, the student must:

  • Write a brief report and meet with the dissertation committee once per year to discuss it.
  • Present a seminar once at the annual graduate student symposium on some aspect of the dissertation research. Students unable to meet this requirement due to the timing of the symposium may substitute a ChE 290 seminar.
  • Submit and orally defend the dissertation.
  • Complete Ph.D. Form III to report the outcome of the dissertation exam.
  • File the dissertation with the Graduate Division.Write an annual report and meet with the dissertation committee once per year to discuss it


Research progress reports

Prior to and in preparation for the Candidacy Exam, each graduate student is required to write and submit research progress reports that are assessed by the advisor and filed by the Graduate Affairs Committee (GAC).  The goals of these reports are:

  • to engage the student in concrete planning of research activities
  • to provide the student with early experience and feedback in technical writing that will lead into the preparation of his or her candidacy report
  • to gather formal, documented feedback from the student advisor that assesses progress thus far and offers recommendations moving forward

The reports are due on July 15 of the first year and January 15 of the second year.

First-year symposium

On the last Tuesday before Fall instruction begins, all PhD students near the end of their first year of graduate study will give a short presentation to the department.  Students will present the moti-vation for their project, their project objectives, and their early research progress if applicable.  The symposium will be attended by professors and graduate students of chemical engineering.  The first year symposium has several purposes:

  • to encourage research progress in the first summer
  • to encourage early advice on projects from the department
  • to stimulate thinking about research projects (often highly specific) in the broader context for a general chemical engineering audience
  • to encourage intra-department collaborations at early stages

Candidacy examination and advancement to candidacy

A comprehensive candidacy exam is required for advancement to candidacy.  The exam provides an early forum for the dissertation committee to judge research progress and direction.  It involves a written candidacy report prepared by the student and an oral candidacy examination with the student's dissertation committee.  The candidacy exam is normally completed by the end of spring quarter of a student’s second year, but it must be completed by August 31 of that year at the latest.   

The candidacy report should outline progress made toward the completion of the student's research project. In addition, it should indicate clearly the proposed directions for future research. The report should be prepared in consultation with the research advisor, but the student must write it. Each report will contain a description of the research project, including a discussion of the background literature, a description of the basic experimental or theoretical procedures employed, results obtained, and a coherent plan for future studies. The report should also contain at least one section or appendix that discusses explicitly how each of the core chemical engineering area of thermodynamics, kinetics, and transport broadly contribute to the scope of the student’s proposed research.

The oral component of the candidacy exam is attended by the exam committee (i.e., the future dissertation or thesis committee) and should be scheduled for at least 2 hours. The length of the student’s presentation (if uninterrupted) should be approximately 30-40 minutes with typically 25-30 slides. The primary emphasis of the Oral Exam is a student’s research progress and associated themes. Additional subject-matter questions that broadly relate a student’s research to the core areas of chemical engineering are also an important component. Questions and discussion of core chemical engineering principles during the oral examination will be guided by the student’s treat-ment of these areas in his or her written report. 

To be eligible for advancement, the student must have been registered for three consecutive quarters, have a GPA of at least 3.0, clear all I (incomplete) or NG (no-grade) entries on the transcript and satisfy the Department’s candidacy requirements. The Department requires a higher 3.25 GPA in core graduate courses for advancement to candidacy.

After advancement to candidacy

Teaching assistantships

Participation as a TA is a significant part of the Ph.D. experience that engages graduate students in the broader educational mission and functions of the Department and University.  The Department views the requirement to TA as an essential component of graduate education.”  All graduate students must be employed as either a TA or reader for one quarter of each academic year for their second, third, and fourth years in residence.  Students with fellowships that prohibit such employment will be excused for the duration of the fellowship.

Annual meetings with dissertation committee

To encourage frequent contact between a student and his or her dissertation committee, a student who has successfully completed the candidacy exam is required to meet with his or her dissertation committee at least once each academic year. In preparation for these meetings, the student prepares a one or two-page progress report that includes future plans for dissertation completion. Failure to meet with the committee annually may result in the reduction or loss of financial support. The deadline for meeting with the committee and submitting a copy of the report is September 30th.

Graduate student symposium

Approximately one year prior to the Ph.D. defense, all Ph.D. students are required to give an oral presentation on his/her research at the annual graduate student research symposium.  Typically, the presentation requirement will be completed at the beginning of the fifth year, allowing for potential incorporation of constructive feedback from symposium attendees into the thesis.  

The Graduate Student Symposium is typically held on the first Friday in October.  It is organized by a group of graduate students that may freely consult and draw upon the guidance of the Graduate Advisor and Graduate Affairs Committee.  Planning begins in April of each year and is generally the responsibility of the rising fifth year graduate students (i.e., the likely presenters).

Final Ph.D. dissertation defense

The University and the Chemical Engineering Department establish the rules and regulations for this defense. The Department requires that all students give an open, advertised defense in a venue that allows attendance by interested parties. Upon completion of a seminar-style presentation by the candidate, the dissertation committee, as well as interested faculty, remain for the defense portion of the exam.

Normative time

Normative time is the number of twelve-month years that a department considers reasonable for completion of a particular Ph.D. program by a full-time student who matriculates with no deficiencies. This time is measured from the quarter a student begins graduate study at any level at UCSB, and therefore includes time spent in the M.S. program here. The normative time in Chemical Engineering is 5 years.

Degree deadlines

The departmental normative time differs from the institution-wide degree deadline. In in every Department, the degree deadline is seven years for a Ph.D., and four years for an M.S. degree. Students who exceed degree deadlines may petition the Graduate Council for an extension. Normative time, however, cannot be extended for individual students. Normative time is a departmental statement of ideals, not of actual averages or of individual possibilities.