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Doctoral Program

The PhD degree in MS&E is intended for students primarily interested in a career of research and teaching, or high-level technical work in universities, industry or government.

The program requires three years of full-time graduate study, at least two years of which must be at Stanford. Typically, however, students take four to five years after entering the program to complete all PhD requirements. The PhD is generally organized around the expectation that the students acquire a certain breadth across all areas of the department, and depth in one of them. These current areas are:

  • Decision analysis and risk analysis
  • Economics and finance
  • Information science and technology
  • Organization, technology and entrepreneurship
  • Policy and strategy
  • Probability and stochastic systems
  • Production and operations management
  • Systems modeling and optimization

Doctoral students are required to take a number of courses, both to pass a qualifying exam in one of these areas (or the Systems Program which is a combination of several areas), and to complete a dissertation based on research which must make an original contribution to knowledge.

Each student admitted to the PhD program must satisfy a breadth requirement and pass an area qualification procedure. The purpose of the qualification procedure is to assess the student’s command of the field and to evaluate his or her potential to complete a high-quality dissertation in a timely manner. The student must complete specified course work in one of the areas of the department (or in the Systems Program, which is a combination of several areas). The qualification decision is based on the student’s coursework and grade point average (GPA), on the one or two preliminary papers prepared by the student with close guidance from two faculty members, at least one of whom must be an MS&E faculty member, the student’s performance in an area examination or defense of the written paper(s), and an overall assessment by the faculty of the student's ability to conduct high-quality Ph.D. research. Considering this evidence, the department faculty will vote on advancing the student to candidacy in the department at large.

The PhD requires a minimum of 135 units, up to 45 units of which may be transferred from another graduate program. All courses used to satisfy breadth and depth requirements must be taken for a letter grade, if the letter graded option is available.  Finally, the student must pass a university oral examination and complete a PhD dissertation. During the course of the PhD program, students who do not have a master’s degree are strongly encouraged to complete one, either in MS&E or in another Stanford department.

Breadth requirement

All first year students are required to attend and participate in MS&E 302 Fundamental Concepts in Management Science and Engineering, which will meet in the Autumn Quarter. 

Each course session will be devoted to a specific MS&E PhD research area. At a given session several advanced PhD students in that area will make carefully prepared presentations designed for first-year doctoral students regardless of area. The presentations will be devoted to: (a) illuminating how people in the area being explored that day think about and approach problems, and (b) illustrating what can and cannot be done when addressing problems by deploying the knowledge, perspectives, and skills acquired by those who specialize in the area in question.

Faculty in the focal area of the week will comment on the student presentations. The rest of the session will be devoted to questions posed and comments made by the first year PhD students.                                       

During the last two weeks of the quarter groups of first year students will make presentations on how they would approach a problem drawing on two or more of the perspectives to which they have been exposed earlier in the class.

Attendance is mandatory and performance will be assessed on the basis of the quality of the students’ presentations and class participation.

Qualification procedure requirements

The qualification procedure is based on depth in an area of the student’s choice and preparation for dissertation research. The qualification process must be completed by the end of the month of May in the student’s second year of graduate study in the department. The performance of all doctoral students will be reviewed every year at a department faculty meeting at the end of May or beginning of June. PhD qualification decisions will be made at that time and individual feedback will be provided.

The PhD qualification requirements comprise these elements:

  1. Courses and GPA:Students must complete the depth requirements of one of the areas of the MS&E department (or the Systems Program which is a combination of several areas). (The Ph.D. area course requirements are given in Appendix 1.)  All courses used to satisfy depth requirements must be taken for a letter grade, if the letter graded option is available.  Course substitutions may be approved by the doctoral program advisor or the MS&E dissertation advisor on the candidacy form or on a request for graduate course waiver/substitution form.
    A student must maintain a GPA of at least 3.4 in the set of all courses taken by the student within the department. The GPA will be computed on the basis of the nominal number of units for which each course is offered.
  2. Paper(s): A student may choose between two options.  The first option involves one paper supervised by a primary faculty advisor and a second faculty reader.  This paper should be written in two quarters.  The second option involves two shorter sequential tutorials, with two different faculty advisors.  Each tutorial should be completed in one quarter.  In both options, the student chooses the faculty advisor(s)/reader with the faculty members’ consent.  There must be two faculty members, at least one of whom must be an MS&E faculty member, supervising and evaluating this requirement for advancement to candidacy.  The paper/tutorials must be completed before the Spring Quarter of a student’s second year of graduate study in the department if the student’s qualifying exam is during the Spring Quarter, and before the end of May of that year otherwise.  A student may register for up to three units per tutorial and up to six units for a paper.
  3. Area qualification: In addition, during the second year, a student must pass an examination in one of the areas of the MS&E department (or the Systems Program which is a combination of several areas), or defense of the written paper(s).  The student chooses the area/program in which to take the examination.  This area examination will be written, oral, or both at the discretion of the area faculty administering the exam.  Most areas offer the qualifying exam only once per year, which may be early in the second year.

Degree Progress and Student Responsibility

Each student’s progress will be reviewed annually by the MS&E faculty.  Typically, this will occur at a faculty meeting at the end of Spring Quarter, and email notifications will be sent over the summer.

First year students should complete 30 units of breadth and depth courses, including MS&E 302, and develop relationships with faculty members who might serve as dissertation advisor and reading committee.

Second year students should complete most, if not all, of the required depth courses, work with two faculty members, at least one of whom must be an MS&E faculty member, on tutorials/research paper, and pass an area qualifying exam.  Most areas offer the qualifying exam only once per year, which may be early in the second year.  Students should continue to develop relationships with faculty members who might serve as dissertation advisors and reading committee, and select a dissertation advisor before the beginning of the third year.

Third year students should complete any remaining depth courses, select a dissertation topic, and make progress on the dissertation.

Fourth year students should select a reading committee, and complete, or nearly complete, the oral exam and dissertation.

It shall be the responsibility of the student to initiate each step in completing the Ph.D. program. 

It is strongly recommended that each student, in the first year of graduate study at Stanford, make it a special point to become well acquainted with MS&E faculty members and to seek advice and counsel regarding possible Ph.D. candidacy.  A faculty member will be more likely to accept the responsibility of supervising the research of a student whom he or she knows fairly well than a student whose abilities, initiative, and originality the faculty member knows less.

It is expected that advanced students will regularly report to their full Reading Committee on the progress of their dissertation. It is also expected that the student avail him/herself of the different expertise represented on the Committee continually.  Each member of this Committee must certify approval of both the scope and quality of the dissertation.

The Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee consists of the principal dissertation adviser and two other readers.  At least one member must be from the student’s major department. 

As administered in this department, the University Oral Examination is a defense of the dissertation; however, the candidate should be prepared to answer any question raised by any members of the Academic Council who choose to be present.  Students should schedule three hours for the Oral Examination, which usually consists of a 45 minute public presentation, followed by closed-session questioning of the examinee by the committee, and committee deliberation.  The University Oral examination may be scheduled after the Dissertation Reading Committee has given tentative approval to the dissertation.  The student must be enrolled in the quarter of their Oral Examination.

The examining committee usually consists of the three members of the Reading Committee as well as a fourth faculty member and an Orals Chair.  It is the responsibility of the student's advisor to find an appropriate Orals Chair.  The Chair must be an Academic Council member and may not be affiliated with either the Department of Management Science and Engineering nor any department in which the student's advisor has a regular appointment.  Emeriti Professors are eligible to serve as an Orals Chair.  The student needs to reserve a room, and meet with the Student Services Manager to complete the Oral Examination Schedule and pick up other paper work. This paperwork, along with an abstract, needs to be delivered to the Orals Chair at least one week prior to the Oral Examination.

Departmental course requirements for the doctoral degree are described in the Management Science and Engineering section of the Bulletin.

University requirements for the doctoral degree are described in the "Graduate Degrees" section of the Bulletin.