Frequently Asked Questions


How do I register for classes? What are the credit limits? Do I need to register if I'm writing my thesis?

All students are required to register for every term--fall, spring, and summer--from the time of their matriculation until the term of their graduation from the Institute. Those who are writing their thesis are still required to enroll in thesis units (3.ThG). Visit the MIT Registrar's Office website to learn more about online registration and access to the online registration system. The DMSE Academic Office sends department-specific registration instructions via email prior to the start of each term. Please refer to this email regarding appropriate registration units. Continuing students are required to pre-register for courses before the next term.

Doctoral students can learn more about general registration requirements on the doctoral guidelines and subjects pages. Master's students can learn more about registration requirements on the master's requirements page.

What if I'm off-campus?

All students who expect to be off-campus should contact the DMSE Academic Office at well in advance of their time away regarding their unique situation and MIT registration. Depending on the student's situation--such as length of time away for leave, research conducted at another US institution or abroad, or internship--the student's registration and graduate appointment may be affected.

The Office of Graduate Education also outlines the policies for graduate registration at the Institute, including but not limited to the following:

The DMSE Academic Office will work with the student to apply for special status.


How do I pick an advisor? What if I want to switch advisors? What if I want to work with an advisor in another department?

Doctoral students are required to join a research group by the last day of classes in their first fall term at the Institute. Master's students usually join a research group at the start of their first term. Choosing an advisor is an important process that determines the people students work with for the next several years, the area that their thesis will focus on, and a potential career focus. After arriving at MIT, students may spend several weeks meeting faculty and discussing their research before joining a group. Advisors will consider funding, group size, and other factors before inviting students to join their groups.

For those who are thinking about switching advisors, a wide variety of resources exist for students looking for advice, both within the department and at the Institute. Within DMSE, students are encouraged to contact the appropriate person – their academic advisor or the DMSE Academic Office. DMSE faculty and staff work closely to support students within our program, encourage their success, and connect them with campus resources when appropriate. Outside of the department, students may want to contact the Office of Graduate Education, the Ombuds Office, and REFS (dREFS and iREFS) for advising and support services. For a comprehensive list of institute resources, visit Once you have accepted an offer in another lab, make sure to inform the DMSE Academic Office to update your student records and graduate appointment.

Some DMSE students work with advisors in other departments. If a student chooses an advisor external to the department, an internal departmental thesis reader is required as part of the doctoral student or master's student committee. An internal departmental thesis reader is required if the student’s advisor is outside of the department.

If my advisor goes on a leave of absence or leaves the department, what is the guidance for the graduate students in the research group?

For faculty on a leave of absence (sabbatical, parental leave, etc.), departmental guidelines include expectations on continuing to advise their students. For faculty who leave the department, departmental administrators review each student's individual academic progress and expected path towards completion/graduation and take steps to ensure that progress is maintained, which may include transitional support, continuation of the project with another faculty member, or change of project if desired.


What if I miss a deadline? What if I need to substitute a class?

The Department Committee on Graduate Studies (DCGS) considers petitions related to missed departmental deadlines, substitutions for required subjects, changes in committee membership, and other matters. The general graduate student petition form is available from the Office of Graduate Education and submitted to the DMSE Academic Office ( for review with the DCGS. This form is used to request changes to a student's academic record or propose program changes that are either non-standard actions or are outside of stated deadlines. Once this form is submitted, students will then be notified by email whether their petition has been approved, requires further action, or rejected. Further information is available from the Academic Office.


How do I pick a thesis topic? What does my thesis committee do?

You and your advisor will work together to determine the area of your thesis. The subject of the thesis, however, must have a clear materials-related component.

For doctoral students, the thesis committee will be made up of a thesis advisor and two committee members. The committee members participate in the thesis area examination, 3.998 doctoral update meeting, plan-to-finish meeting, guidance during the writing of the thesis, and the thesis defense. For master's students, committee membership consists only of their thesis advisor. If a student's advisor is outside of the department, then an internal departmental thesis reader is required as part of the doctoral student or master's student committee. The advisor and thesis reader must sign the title page of the final thesis.

Graduate Appointments

What do I need to do about my appointment? I got a notice from Student Financial Services—is this a problem?

Doctoral-track students are supported by different types of funding such as research assistantships (RA), teaching assistantships (TA), fellowships (FE), or external funding. Students entering their first fall term are generally supported by departmental fellowship funds—including stipend, tuition, and health insurance—until they have chosen an advisor (required by the end of the fall term). Once a student has joined a research group, the advisor and student will play an active role in securing the student's funding for following terms.

Students receive an automated email with a notice of award once their graduate appointment has been processed. The notice includes details about the appointment such as the award start and end dates, salary/stipend, tuition, and health insurance coverage. This only includes details of the graduate appointment and is separate from the notifications from Student Financial Services (SFS). Students who receive notices from SFS should make sure to contact that office regarding any issues.

If you have any questions regarding your graduate appointments, please contact the Academic Office (

Curricular Practical Training

Can DMSE international student degree candidates on an F1 visa apply for internships with Curricular Practical Training?

Students who wish to carry out internships during their degree program are urged to review current information posted on the MIT ISO F-1 Curricular Practical Training site, in particular the section for Master’s/Ph.D. Students, Thesis, and F-1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT). The proposed internship must be related to the student’s field of study, and the student’s thesis advisor must support the student in the CPT application. Students with an interest in this are encouraged to discuss this with their thesis advisor before submitting an email to DMSE Academic Office ( for the Department Committee on Graduate Studies’ (DCGS) review. This email should contain the student’s field of study, the proposed internship location, and outline briefly the connection between the two. Once the student’s plans are reviewed and approved by the DCGS, the Academic Office will inform the thesis advisor of additional information needed in the official CPT letter for the international students office (ISO) to begin processing the request. Requests will be considered on a term-by-term basis, and eligible authorizations would generally be for no longer than two terms.