Your MSE Department Contact:

Professor I-Wei Chen
Professor and Graduate Group Chair

Dr. Mahadevan Khantha
Senior Lecturer and Faculty Advisor
Office: 221 LRSM

Ms. Irene Clements
Graduate Program Coordinator
Office: Room 201, LRSM
Phone: 215-898-8337



Graduate Degree Procedures

All rules and regulations contained in the current Bulletin on Graduate Study in Engineering and Applied Science apply to all graduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The following statements of procedures, rules, and regulations are additional specifications and details for graduate students in Materials Science and Engineering who matriculated during Fall 2004 or later.

A regular graduate student is regarded as one studying towards a degree (MSE or Ph.D.), i.e.; he/she is a degree candidate. An unclassified student is one who is permitted to enroll in specific courses but is not studying for a degree. Regular students may be either full-time or part-time; unclassified students are part-time. A student whose principal activity is studying for a degree is considered a full-time student. Also, any student receiving a full stipend through a fellowship, grant, or contract is considered a full-time student. In the event of an ambiguity, the Department Chairman in consultation with the Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research will decide whether a student is full-time or part-time. Normally, a full-time student is registered for four course units each semester (except for teaching fellows who are allowed to register for three course units each semester). The maximum course load for part-time students is two course units per semester.

Registration requirements are determined by the University and by the School. At present, all regular students are required to remain registered continuously. This means they must register for four course units (unless they are teaching fellows) each fall and spring semester and two course units of MSE 999 in the summer until graduation. Part-time students must register for at least one course unit each fall and spring semester. When all the requirements for the degree have been met and the student has only to submit the thesis or defend the dissertation, he/she may register for either the master's registration fee or the dissertation fee. To be eligible to register for 995, a student must have completed four years of full-time study (4 c.u.'s each semester and both summer sessions) equal to 40 course units. If he or she came to SEAS with a Master's degree, up to eight of those credits can be transferred as course units to the Ph.D. program upon the approval of the Graduate Group Chair (GAC - 9/14/94). No more than five transferred courses can be counted toward to the 10 courses required for the Ph.D. program. Masters students may transfer up to 2 course units. A student may take 995, which also carries full-time status with 0 credit units, up to eight semesters.
This continuous registration requirement may be lifted only if the student applies for, and is granted, a leave of absence. On the leave of absence - it is only granted for medical or military reasons. All other requests to leave SEAS are granted as withdrawals without prejudice (meaning they can request to be readmitted, no reapplication required).
All full-time graduate students are expected to attend departmental seminars; consistent absences can result in removal from the graduate program.

Graduate Group Committee
The admission of students to the graduate program, the setting of degree requirements, the granting of exceptions to the requirements, and the approval of the awarding of degrees are all decided by the Graduate Group Committee in Materials Science and Engineering under the general supervision of the Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research. The Graduate Group Committee consists of all the members of the faculty of Materials Science and Engineering plus selected faculty members from other departments of the University. The Graduate Group Chair supervises and records the formal progress of the students, arranges the preparation and evaluation of examinations, schedules the preliminary oral examination, etc.

During orientation each student will meet individually with the MSE Graduate Advising Committee to select and approve the first year course selection based on the student's undergraduate transcript and the student's needs and interests. This meeting will be held on the day of departmental orientation. An official course approval form must be filled and signed by the committee members and the student and entered in the student's departmental file. Typically students will register for four courses in their first semester, and three courses plus one research course unit in their second.

During the first month of residence each student must attend presentations given by each of the faculty that provide an overview of their research programs. After additional individual meetings with the faculty by a specified date in late September each student should submit to the Graduate Group Chair a list of three faculty members (in order of preference) whom the student would like to have as advisor. The Faculty will assign students to advisors in accordance with these choices, subject to limitations imposed by the availability of research support, the wishes of the faculty members, and the existing distribution of students among advisors. The faculty advisor is principally responsible for the student's program and progress. The advisor must approve all course registrations and any requests by the student for changes in status or for permission to deviate from normal requirements and procedures.

A student may at any time without prejudice request a change of advisor, and the request will be honored if it is in any way possible. Such a change should normally be made before the end of the first year of study or, for students proceeding to doctoral studies, at the completion of work for the Master of Science in Engineering degree, since a change in research topic will probably be required.

Master of Science in Engineering Degree

An entering student who does not hold a Master's degree in science or engineering and plans to obtain the MSE degree will be enrolled in the Master of Science in Engineering program.

  1. The minimum requirement for the award of a Materials Science and Engineering Masters of Science degree is the completion of ten course units of graduate level work and a research thesis. At least five of the course units must be courses in materials science other than 999, Thesis/Dissertation Research. Five other electives can be selected from graduate course offerings from departments in SEAS or the Physical Sciences. A maximum of one independent study (MSE 899) and two research course units (MSE 999) can be included in the electives. A graduate student is expected to maintain an average grade point average of 3.0 or better and may be required to withdraw if this condition is not met. The course MSE 999 is graded as S or U (Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory) and does not affect the grade-point average.
  2. Upon successful completion of the course work, all students supported by a research fellowship must also complete a MSE research thesis according to the specifications of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. The thesis must be read and approved by the advisor and by one other faculty member. Upon fulfillment of this requirement a Degree Certification form is signed by the advisor and Graduate Group Chair and sent to the Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research for approval.
  3. In certain cases a terminal Master's degree candidate may request to submit a project report in place of the thesis. The MSE Graduate Group must approve this request. The project report is a written account of a comprehensive (non-experimental) study of an engineering or scientific problem. It should include a statement of the problem, a review of the background literature, a summary of the present status of the subject, and suggestions for future work. The report must be read and approved by the advisor and one other faculty member. A student who submits a project report may include no more than one course unit of MSE 999 (thesis research), in the ten course units required for the degree.
  4. The minimum time required for the completion of the MSE degree requirements is one calendar year. The normal time is three to four terms.
Dual-Degree Master's Program

Students undertaking a dual master's degree program in Engineering and Wharton who want their MSE in Materials Science are required to meet the normal requirement of the Department, namely ten course units of graduate level work. It is possible that the thesis or the research report could also meet the requirement for a project report imposed by the other program. The student's advisor in Materials Science determines the acceptability of the thesis or report topic.

Of the non-999 courses, at least six must be MSE courses at the 500 level or higher. The remaining courses must have substantial scientific, mathematical, or engineering content. Graduate courses in science, engineering, or mathematics will normally qualify; certain Wharton courses will also qualify. These include courses in Marketing, Economics, and all graduate courses in Statistics, Operations Research, and Decision Sciences. However these must be approved, in advance, by the student's advisor in Materials Science and by the Graduate Group Chair.

Ph.D. Degree
  1. The Ph.D. degree is awarded by the Graduate School of Arts and Science rather than by the School of Engineering and Applied Science; as a result, there are certain differences in the specifications for written dissertation and certain formal requirements to be met. Information on these is available from the Office of the Associate Dean for Graduate Education of the School of Engineering and Applied Science. All applications for the PhD degree are made through the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
  2. A minimum requirement for the Ph.D. is the successful completion of twenty (20) course units of graduate-level work. Course units taken for the MSE degree may be included in the twenty course units. The seven courses during the first two semesters should be selected following the procedure specified in section (d) below. During the rest of the graduate study, students are required to take for credit at least three additional graduate courses, either in Materials Science or other SEAS or Physical Science departments. Deviations from this procedure require written approval by the advisor and the Graduate Chair. The record of courses taken and grades received by each student will be reviewed by the Graduate Group each year. A graduate student is expected to maintain an average grade of B or better and may be required to withdraw if this condition is not met. This requirement is enforced by the Associate Dean for Graduate Education. Each course unit of MSE 999, Dissertation Research, is graded "S" or "U" (Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory).
  3. Each student in the Ph.D. program will be associated with a dissertation committee of at least four members, including the advisor. Students should meet with their advisor, prior to the fifth semester after matriculation, to select candidate members of the student's Ph.D. Dissertation Committee. During the fifth semester after each student's matriculation at Penn, the Graduate Group will approve the membership of each dissertation committee. One member of the committee must be from outside the Department or outside the University. The functions of the dissertation committee are to provide the student and the advisor with additional sources of information, guidance, and criticism of the research project, and (normally) to serve as members of the examining committee for the preliminary oral examination and dissertation defense. The entire MSE Graduate Group must approve any changes in the dissertation committee.
  4. It is a University requirement to have a documented yearly progress report. The Dissertation Committee meets at least once annually with the student to review the student’s progress. The student prepares an Annual Dissertation Progress Report and the committee gives timely feedback (within one month) and confirms whether progress is satisfactory. A copy of the signed progress report is submitted to the Supervisor/Advisor and Graduate Group Chair and is documented by the school in the student’s academic record.
    It is clearly in the interest of the student to report on their progress in research to the members of the dissertation committee at appropriate intervals. However, the advisor is at all times principally responsible for the progress of the student.
  5. To qualify formally for the Ph.D. program, all students must complete seven (7) approved courses. Typically, four of these will be taken in the first semester and three in the second. Three core courses are required including MSE 520 “Structure of Materials”, MSE 530 “Thermodynamics”, and MSE 545 “Phase Transformations”. Students may only place out of a core course if they demonstrate equivalent knowledge as determined by the course instructor and Graduate Group Chair. Each student must maintain a GPA > 3.0 each semester and > 3.25 overall for the seven approved courses (see below) to satisfy the Ph.D. academic requirement. Course selection will depend on previous experience and area of interest. Courses can be selected from offerings within the MSE department and other departments in SEAS as well as the Physical and Biological Sciences. The course sequence will be determined and approved by the MSE Graduate Advising Committee members during orientation (typically the day before classes begin in the Fall). It is possible that an entering student may already be equipped with knowledge of materials science to an advanced level and may petition to pursue an educational program excluding certain courses. In such a case, the graduate group committee will organize a special examination that will provide an opportunity for the student to demonstrate his/her mastery over the knowledge claimed. A student transferring from other graduate programs can only include transferred courses in the seven courses with the approval of the MSE Graduate Group. The Graduate Group Chair must approve any changes in the first year course selection. Students should register for one research credit in their second semester reflecting the expectation that they participate in research. Students are required to take a total of 10 graduate level courses (5XX or greater). In addition to the seven approved courses, three other courses are required. Within the ten courses, students are expected to include courses outside of their research area to gain a broader understanding of materials science and engineering.
  6. Entrance to the Ph.D. program will be subject to the following academic requirement:
    A student must meet the academic requirement for the Ph.D. degree after 2 semesters by having a GPA = 3.25 in their 7 approved courses. For example, this is equivalent to 2 A’s and 5 B's. Any student with a GPA < 3.25 after 7 approved courses must automatically enter the Master's program.
  7. In Year 1, to qualify formally for the Ph.D. program, students satisfying the Ph.D. academic requirement must also pass the Oral Qualifying examination. This examination is held at the end of May after the second semester, and will test their potential in identifying and investigating significant research questions and the depth of their understanding and intellectual integration of the materials covered in the 7 approved courses.
    As part of this examination the student will write and defend a paper based upon their research area of focus in materials science. This paper must incorporate a thorough analysis of two or more important and significant research papers in the published scientific literature and include a proposed research plan. The student should be able to debate the fundamental background, significance and results of the research paper(s) and the research plan, illustrate its importance in Materials Research, and demonstrate that they are able to integrate the knowledge gained in their coursework. Normally the student's written paper will be approximately 20 single-spaced pages (including figures), plus a one-page (single-spaced) description of their research progress. The oral presentation to the examining committee will include: 1) A 10-minute update of their research progress and 2) a 30 minute (maximum) critique of their chosen paper. The committee will consist of three faculty; the student’s advisor will not be present.  However, the advisor will grade the student’s research performance one-week in advance of the Oral Qualifying examination.
    Eight weeks before the examination, all students must submit an abstract of their written paper (no more than 250 words) with a separate paragraph describing their research progress in the first year (no more than 250 words). Along with the abstract they must include copies of the selected research papers.  After approval of the abstract by the Graduate Group Chair (within 2 weeks of research paper submission), the final written paper should be completed and submitted to the Graduate Group Chair one week before the examination.
    Any student who fails the oral qualifier has the option of retaking the examination within six weeks after their first attempt. Students failing the retake will automatically enter the terminal Master's program.
    Should a student require an extension of any Ph.D. qualification deadline, approval must be received from the entire MSE Graduate Group.
  8. In Year 2 during the third semester, all students qualifying for the Ph.D. program must submit an Annual Dissertation Research Progress Report (one page, single-spaced, one figure) signed by the thesis committee members to the Graduate Group Chair by December 1. The student should discuss the background, motivation, progress of their research, and a brief summary of future work.
  9. In Year 3 during the fifth semester, all Ph.D. students will write and submit an updated research proposal to the Graduate Group Chair and his/her dissertation committee before December 20th. The proposal (20 pages maximum) should describe the focus of the student's thesis project, identify the technological and scientific importance of the work, outline the theoretical or experimental approach to be followed, and include any results obtained. The advisor must approve the proposal by the end of December.
    An oral examination will be scheduled by the department in the following January, approximately three weeks after the submission of the proposal to the dissertation committee. The purpose of this research review is to evaluate the motivation and capability of the student for their research, based on their demonstration of a depth of understanding, independence of thought and progress.  The committee will also provide advice and/or suggestions for the future directions.  The student will be expected to make a short (no more than 30 minutes) presentation on their research topic. If the committee decides the student is seriously deficient in their capability to conduct the research it can recommend a second oral examination to be taken no later than 3 months after the first attempt.  If the committee still feels the student is deficient after the second examination they can recommend immediate withdrawal from the Ph.D. program.
  10. In Year 4 during the seventh semester, students will be scheduled to perform a 15-min oral presentation in December/January to their dissertation committee or to a committee that comprises at least 3 faculty members in the same research field (as approved by the Graduate Group Chair). The students will discuss their progress (e.g. significant discoveries, publications, proceedings, and abstracts) and anticipated work for completion of their thesis.  The committee will review the PhD candidate’s progress and determine whether the student’s progress is sufficient in all aspects or not. If the committee decides that the student is seriously deficient in research progress, it can recommend a follow-up oral presentation to be taken no later than 3 months from the first review.
  11. If the students do not complete ANY of the above requirements on time (without prior approval of the Graduate Group), they must withdraw from the program immediately.
  12. When the dissertation work is completed to the satisfaction of the advisor, the student prepares a written dissertation according to the specifications available in the departmental office or Office of the Associate Dean. Copies of the dissertation must be submitted to the members of the examining committee ten days before their defense, after which the student will defend the dissertation in an oral examination before the committee. The examining committee is appointed by the Graduate Program Chairperson and normally consists of the advisor, the dissertation committee, and at least one additional examiner. One member of the examining committee will normally be from outside the department or the University. The time and place of the examination are announced in advance, and the opening part of the examination is open to the public. At the discretion of the advisor, the final part of the examination may be public or may be restricted to the candidate and the examining committee. If the dissertation and the defense are accepted, the advisor and the Graduate Group Chair will sign the Ph.D. Degree Certification form, which is then submitted to the Associate Dean for further action. The committee may require changes in the dissertation, and, in exceptional cases a second dissertation defense.
  13. The minimum time required for the Ph.D. degree for a student entering with an MSE or equivalent degree is two calendar years. The average time for a combined MSE/Ph.D. program is four and a half to five years. It is considered unusual for a Ph.D. program to extend more than five years, and financial support will not be continued beyond five years without careful consideration and formal action by the Graduate Group Committee based on the availability of funding.
Modifications and Exceptions
Requests for exceptions to or modifications of these requirements must be made in the form of petitions to the Graduate Group Committee. Such requests should be discussed in advance with the advisor, and should include the reasons for seeking the change. Petitions to modify requirements of the University or of the School must be further approved by the Graduate Affairs Committee of the School.