The doctoral program in DMSE provides an advanced educational experience that is versatile, intellectually challenging, and of enduring value for high-level careers in materials science and engineering. It develops students’ ability, confidence, and originality to grasp and solve challenging problems involving materials.

The core courses define the basis of materials science and engineering as a discipline—what every PhD materials scientist or materials engineer from MIT ought to know. The first-year student seminars and core subjects provide a rigorous, unified foundation for subsequent advanced-level subjects and thesis research. Here are the required subjects:

  • 3.20 (Materials at Equilibrium) (15 units, Year 1, fall)
  • 3.22 (Structure and Mechanics of Materials) (12 units, Year 1, fall)
  • 3.201 (Introduction to DMSE) (3 units, Year 1, fall)
  • 3.21 (Kinetic Processes in Materials) (15 units, Year 1, spring)
  • 3.23 (Electrical, Optical, and Magnetic Properties of Materials) (12 units, Year 1, spring)
  • 3.202 (Essential Research Skills) (3 units, Year 1, spring)
  • 3.995 (First-Year Thesis Research) (18 units, Year 1, spring)

English Evaluation Test

International graduate students may be required to take the MIT English Evaluation Test upon arrival in the fall semester. Results from the test will indicate whether the student will be required to take an English class at MIT.

Some students may qualify for a waiver of the English Evaluation Test:

  • Students who studied at a US university or an international university whose primary language of instruction is English for at least three years and received a degree from that US/international university.
  • Students whose language of instruction was English during primary and secondary school years.

The DMSE Graduate Academic Office informs incoming students by early summer if they qualify for this waiver.

Doctoral students must take three post-core graduate electives approved by the thesis committee. Refer to the MIT Subjects Listings and Schedule for the subjects offered and their schedules.

Graduate students can use the three electives to create a specialization or concentration in a particular research area of materials science and engineering, or they can choose a broader educational experience by picking subjects in three different areas.

Sample Concentration Areas

Students who choose a concentration area have several options. Below is a list of sample concentrations available.

  • Electronic, magnetic, and photonic materials
  • High-performance structural materials
  • Computational materials science
  • Biomaterials
  • Polymeric materials
  • Materials for energy and the environment
  • Nanoscale materials
  • Materials processing materials economics and manufacturing, entrepreneurship
  • Laboratory/characterization/instrumentation
  • Materials design
  • Experimental/characterization computational materials application/design

Electives Outside the Department

Students may enroll in one non-DMSE graduate elective that is 9-12 units with the approval of their thesis committee. Students may propose to enroll in two or more non-DMSE graduate electives by submitting a petition to the Departmental Committee on Graduate Studies (DCGS).

Submit the petition form in advance of enrolling in the subjects to the DMSE Graduate Academic Office for committee review, including a statement on why you would like to enroll in these subjects, your signature, and your thesis advisor’s signature.

The minor requirement is designed to encourage the development of intellectual breadth at an advanced level. A program of study must be discussed with and approved by a student’s research supervisor, so it should be proposed early in a student’s doctoral program.

DMSE Doctoral Track Students

There are two minor requirement options for DMSE graduate students on the doctoral track.

Here are some general guidelines regarding an academic minor.

  • The selected subjects may or may not be related to the thesis research area.
  • The subjects taken must be at an advanced level. It is recommended that two graduate-level courses be taken (24 units).
  • Minor programs composed of one graduate level and one advanced undergraduate-level course (24 units), or three advanced undergraduate courses (33 units) that were not used to obtain a bachelors or master’s degree may also be acceptable. An exception is a minor in a beginning Global Languages sequence in which two 9-unit G subjects would most likely be approved.

Only DMSE doctoral track students who have passed their doctoral examinations may submit a teaching minor program proposal. Students generally begin a teaching minor in Year 3 of graduate study.

Here are some general guidelines:

  • Students must serve as a teaching intern for two semesters. They are designated teaching interns during the semesters in which they are earning academic credit toward the teaching minor requirement.
  • Students must earn 24 units of academic credit for 3.691-3.699 (Teaching Materials Science and Engineering).
  • Students must take 3.69 (Teaching Fellows Seminar) while serving as a teaching intern. The subject is offered each fall semester and provides instruction on how to teach lectures and recitations; how to prepare a syllabus, writing assignments and examinations; grading; and how to resolve complaints.

Students must submit a form outlining the proposed minor program to the DCGS Chair for approval.

  • Attach copies of the catalog descriptions of all subjects included in the program proposal form.
  • List the subjects to be taken to fulfill the minor requirement.
  • Preview the Minor Program Proposal (pdf) and prepare your responses. Then click the button below, add the responses, and submit the proposal via DocuSign.

DMSE Program in Polymers and Soft Matter (PPSM) Doctoral Track Students

To complete the minor requirement, PPSM students must do the following:

  • Take 3.20 (Materials at Equilibrium) and 3.21 (Kinetic Processes in Materials).
  • Take one other graduate subject of at least 9 units that is not related to polymeric materials for academic credit.
  • List the subjects to be taken to fulfill the minor requirement and submit the proposal. The written request will need to have the catalogue description of the third subject.
  • Preview the Minor Program Proposal (pdf) and prepare your responses. Then click the button below, add your responses, and send the proposal via DocuSign.

MIT requires that all doctoral students successfully complete written and oral evaluations to qualify as a candidate for the doctoral degree. The DMSE qualifying exams consist of two-step procedure.

In the first two semesters of the graduate program, doctoral track students enroll in the four core subjects:

  • 3.20 (Materials at Equilibrium)
  • 3.21 (Kinetic Processes in Materials)
  • 3.22 (Structure and Mechanical Properties of Materials)
  • 3.23 (Electrical, Optical, and Magnetic Properties of Materials)
  • 3.201 (Introduction to DMSE)
  • 3.202 (Essential Research Skills)

Students must also demonstrate satisfactory performance in research, including the selection of a research group in the fall term and receive a “J” grade in 3.995 (First-Year Thesis Research) in spring term.

First-Year Performance Evaluation

DCGS evaluates first-year performance on a Pass/No Pass basis:


The student has successfully completed the first-year requirements and is eligible to register for step two of the qualifying procedure, the Thesis Area Examination.

No Pass

The student has not fully completed the first-year requirements and is not eligible to register for the Thesis Area Examination without DCGS approval. In situations in which students complete only some of the requirements, DCGS will consult with the student’s advisor and the instructors of the core classes to develop a remediation plan (for example, retaking a course). If a student’s overall GPA is below 3.5 or the student earns more than one grade of C or lower in the core classes, the student will receive an official academic progress warning letter from the Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education, in addition to a DCGS remediation plan.

After completing the core curriculum and review of first-year research progress, students select a research project for their PhD thesis. Selection of this topic is a decision made in agreement with their advisor. The TAE tests the student’s preparedness to conduct PhD research and provides feedback on the chosen PhD thesis project.

  • The TAE consists of a written proposal and an oral presentation of the proposed research to the student’s TAE Committee. The written proposal is due in mid-January before the oral examination.
  • TAE oral examinations are administered during the first two weeks in the spring term of Year 2. The DMSE Graduate Academic Office schedules the TAE oral examination after confirmation of the TAE Committee with DCGS.

Preparation for the TAE requires that a student work through aspects of a successful research proposal, including motivation, context, hypothesis, work plans, methods, expected results, and impact. A working understanding of relevant concepts from materials science and engineering core knowledge should be demonstrated throughout.

TAE Committee

The Thesis Area Examination is administered by a TAE Chair and two committee members.

  • The chair of the committee is appointed by DCGS: a DMSE faculty member whose principal area of research and intellectual pursuits differ from that of the student’s thesis advisor(s).
  • The identities of the other committee members should be discussed between the student and thesis advisor(s). The student is responsible for contacting these potential committee members and requesting their participating as part of the student’s TAE committee. At least one of the other two faculty examiners must also be DMSE faculty. The third member of the committee may be an MIT DMSE senior research associate, lecturer, or senior lecturer. If the student wants a Thesis Committee member from outside of the department, that member can be on the thesis committee but will not be part of the TAE Committee.
  • The thesis advisor(s) is not formally a member of the TAE Committee but is a non-voting attendee at the TAE who may make comments to the committee and provide information regarding the student and their research and progress following the examination after the student is excused from the examination room.

TAE Committee assignments are finalized by the end of October in the semester after the completion of the first-year requirements.

TAE Performance Evaluation

The TAE Committee evaluates performance on a Pass/Conditional Pass/No Pass basis:


The student has met all requirements to register in the program as a doctoral candidate starting the following term.

Conditional Pass

The student needs to address areas that require further mastery in the written proposal or oral presentation. The TAE Committee will outline an individualized remedial plan. After completing this requirement, the student will be eligible to register as a doctoral candidate.

No Pass

The student is required to retake the TAE by scheduling another oral presentation and preparing another written proposal, if recommended, by the TAE Committee.

Doctoral Thesis

Doctoral candidates (who have passed the qualifying examinations) must complete a doctoral thesis that satisfies MIT and departmental requirements to receive the doctoral degree. General Institute Requirements are described in the MIT Bulletin and MIT Graduate Policies and Procedures.

The doctoral thesis committee advises the student on all aspects of the thesis experience, all the way up through the preparation and defense of the final thesis document.

The student and thesis advisor will hold progress reviews with the thesis committee at least once a year. Written feedback to the student is required and also must be submitted to DCGS. The thesis advisor holds responsibility for assembling this written feedback and sharing it with the DMSE Graduate Academic Office and the student.

After the TAE is completed, the final doctoral thesis committee is constituted of the members of the two (non-chair) Thesis Area Examination (TAE) committee members and the student’s advisor.

  • The chair of the oral thesis area examination committee steps down.
  • The final PhD Thesis Committee will have at least two members who are not advisors or co-advisors.
  • At least half the members of the thesis committee must be DMSE faculty.

Petitions for thesis committee changes, including the addition of new committee members or committee members from outside of DMSE must be submitted the DCGS Chair.

After successful completion of the TAE, this meeting is held in the fall term or spring term of the student’s third year. The purpose of this meeting is to update the thesis committee of the student’s plans and progress and to seek guidance from the thesis committee on advancing toward the doctoral degree. Students must register for 3.998 (Doctoral Thesis Update Meeting).

Starting with the thesis proposal as a point of departure, the student presents the revised vision of the path forward including challenges and obstacles. All members of the thesis committee are expected to be physically present at this meeting. This meeting is exclusive to the student and the thesis committee. The 3.998 Doctoral Thesis Update Meeting DocuSign Form must be sent to the DMSE Graduate Academic Office.

Approximately one year before the expected graduation, but no later than six months before the planned PhD defense, the student will schedule a Plan-to-Finish meeting with the thesis committee. The purpose of the meeting is for the committee to determine whether the student will likely be ready for graduation within a year. The student will present the projected outline of the thesis, important data that will become part of the thesis, and what still needs to be done.  

The student will prepare a written document for the committee that will include the following:

  • Research results
  • Graduation timeline
  • List of papers published or in preparation
  • List of classes the student has taken to satisfy the PhD course requirements

The document must delivered to the committee one week before the presentation. This presentation is exclusive to the student and the thesis committee. At the end of the meeting the committee decides whether the student is likely to proceed toward the PhD defense, or whether another Plan-to-Finish meeting is necessary. The committee will then prepare brief written feedback to the student.

DMSE’s long-standing emphasis on original research is a key element in the candidate’s educational development.


  • Scheduling of the final PhD defense can take place no earlier than six months after a successful Plan-to-Finish meeting.
  • The PhD thesis will be delivered to the committee members one month before the defense. 
  • The committee members will respond in two weeks with comments on the written document, giving the student two weeks to modify the thesis.
  • At least one week before the defense the candidate will provide copies of the final thesis document to Thesis Committee members and to the DMSE Graduate Academic Office along with the confirmed date, time, and room for the defense.

Defense Process

The DMSE Graduate Academic Office will publicize the defense.

  • The defense begins with a formal presentation of the thesis of approximately 45 minutes.
  • The floor is then opened to questions from the general audience, which is then excused.
  • The Thesis Committee continues the examination of the candidate in private.
  • The candidate is finally excused from the room and the committee votes.
  • A majority yes vote is required to approve the thesis.
Doctoral Thesis Examination Report Form

Before the thesis defense, the student must prepare the Doctoral Thesis Examination Report Form, filling out the top portion of the form—term, name and email address, dates of Plan-to-Finish Meeting, Thesis Defense, and Thesis Examination Committee Member names.

Preview the Doctoral Thesis Examination Report Form (pdf) and prepare your responses. Then click the button below, add the responses, and send the form via DocuSign.


Scheduling a presentation in May and August may be difficult because of faculty unavailability and availability of presentation rooms. Faculty are not on academic appointments in the summer and are often on travel. This may lead to the need to reschedule your defense, in some cases into the next term. 

Thesis Format

The usual thesis format, a cohesive document, is traditional. Occasionally, the thesis may separate naturally into two or more sections, which are more directly publishable individually.

  • The thesis should include a general introduction, abstract, and conclusions.
  • The sections should be arranged so that the document reads as a whole.
  • Put detailed descriptions of procedures and tables of data in appendices so that the thesis sections may be comparable in length and scope to journal articles

Use of this alternate format does not imply a change in the requirement for original research, in the student/thesis advisor relationship, or in their respective roles in producing the thesis document, all of which still apply.

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