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PhD Degree

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The PhD 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 University requires a minimum of 135 units for a PhD, up to 45 units of which may be transferred from another graduate program, or used toward a master's degree at Stanford.

Areas of research

Doctoral students are required to take a number of courses, both to pass a qualifying exam in one of these areas, and to complete a dissertation based on research which must make an original contribution to knowledge. The PhD is generally organized around the expectation that the student acquires a certain breadth across all areas of the department, and depth in one area.

The current areas are:

Computational Social Science
Decision and Risk Analysis
Operations Research
Organizations, Technology and Entrepreneurship
Policy and Strategy
Quantitative Finance

Breadth requirement

Each student admitted to the PhD program must satisfy a 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

Each student admitted to the PhD program must 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. 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 PhD research. Considering this evidence, the department faculty will vote on advancing the student to candidacy in the department at large.

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 the following elements:

Courses and GPA: Students must complete the depth requirements of one of the areas of the MS&E department. 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 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.

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.

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 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 doctoral student’s progress is reviewed annually by the MS&E faculty. Typically, this occurs at a faculty meeting at the end of Spring Quarter, and appropriate email notifications are sent over the summer to the students and their advisors. It shall be the responsibility of the student to initiate each required step in completing the PhD program. To maintain good standing in the PhD program,

First year students must:
1. Complete 30 units, including MS&E 302 and doctoral courses taught by faculty in their research area;
2. Develop relationships with faculty members who can potentially serve as dissertation advisor or reading committee member. A faculty member is 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 recommended that students participate in research rotations with MS&E and related faculty to facilitate the development of these relationships.

Second year students must:
1. Complete at least two one-quarter research rotations or tutorials, or one two-quarter research rotation, tutorial, or research paper, continuing to develop relationships with faculty members who might serve as dissertation advisor or reading committee member;
2. Pass an area qualifying exam or defense of the written paper(s);
3. Submit a candidacy form signed by at least one MS&E faculty member with whom they have or will complete research rotations, tutorials, or papers, and listing the course requirements agreed upon by both the student and the program advisor;
4. Complete 30 units, including most, if not all, of the required courses listed on the candidacy form;
5. Be advanced to candidacy by the faculty.

Third year students must:
1. Submit a progress form listing the dissertation topic and signed by the dissertation advisor (if the dissertation advisor is not an MS&E faculty member, the form must also be signed by an MS&E faculty member who agrees to be on the student's reading committee, as well as the student's point of contact within the department);
2. Complete 30 units, including any remaining depth courses.

Fourth year students must:
1. Select a reading committee (a dissertation advisor and two readers) with at least one member from the student's major department, and submit the reading committee form signed by each member on the reading committee;
2. Make satisfactory progress on their dissertation as determined by their dissertation advisor;
3. If the student has not transferred any previous graduate units to Stanford, complete 30 dissertation units.

Students beyond their fourth year must make satisfactory progress on their dissertation as determined by their dissertation advisor and approved by the faculty. Indeed, the dissertation advisor will have to present the case to (and seek approval for good standing of the student from) the faculty in the annual faculty meeting for student review. It should be noted that each student inherently has to pass the oral examination (see below) and submit their dissertation before their candidacy expires.

Oral Examination

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. The examining committee consists of the three members of the reading committee as well as a fourth faculty member and an 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 adviser has a regular appointment; emeriti professors are eligible to serve as an orals chair. It is the responsibility of the student's adviser to find an appropriate orals chair. 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. 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 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.