Ph.D. Program Requirements

All Ph.D. requirements should be completed within five (5) academic years. Students who have not yet completed their M.S. will also have two (2) additional academic years to complete their M.S. degree requirements. Ph.D. students must maintain a minimum GPA of 3.5 through all stages of their graduate program.

M.S./Ph.D. Students

Ph.D. students admitted without an M.S. degree must complete their M.S. degree before beginning their Ph.D. program requirements. The only exception to this rule is the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination, which may be taken while a Ph.D. student is completing M.S. degree requirements.

Ph.D. Course Requirements

Ph.D. course requirements must be completed before a student takes their Oral Qualifying Examination. It is by this point that Ph.D. students are expected to complete a Ph.D. Program of Study that has been approved by their advisor. The Ph.D. course requirements are as follows:

  1. Four (4) formal graduate courses chosen in consultation with a student’s faculty advisor.
  2. At least two (2) of the four formal graduate must be from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.
  3. The EC ENGR seminar series course EC ENGR 297. (The course must be taken once per degree level, even if it was previously taken to satisfy M.S. degree requirements.)
  4. The EC ENGR 295 Technical Writing Course

A formal graduate course is defined as any 200-level lecture course taken for a letter grade. Formal graduate courses taken by the student to meet the M.S. degree requirements cannot be applied toward the Ph.D. course requirements. Additionally, Ph.D. students may not apply 500-level courses, 400-level courses, 300-level courses, undergraduate courses, or other seminar courses toward their course requirements.

Ph.D. Preliminary Examination

Purpose and Format of the Exam

The purpose of the PhD preliminary exam is to assess the student’s preparation and potential for PhD research.  This includes:

  • knowledge of fundamental concepts within a broad area of specialization relevant to ECE,
  • presentation and communication skills,
  • depth of understanding of research literature,
  • creativity and potential for independent research,
  • ability to engage in extemporaneous technical discussion and answer questions in real time.

Each student is examined by a committee of three ECE faculty members. During the exam, the student first presents a paper selected by the committee. Following the presentation, the student is examined on the presented paper and on fundamental topics related to the student’s research area. This preliminary exam format also allows the faculty to provide useful feedback to the student.

Eligibility and Timing

  • Students who were admitted to the PhD program with an MS degree (“PhD students”) can take the preliminary exam after completing two graduate lecture courses (8 units). The courses must be 200-series courses taken for a letter grade and used to satisfy the PhD degree requirements. PhD students must take the preliminary exam no later than the fourth academic quarter of enrollment as a PhD student, and must pass the exam no later than the sixth academic quarter. (Academic quarters are Fall, Winter, Spring.)
  • Students who were admitted as MS/PhD students (“MS/PhD students”) can take the preliminary exam after completing three graduate lecture courses (12 units). The courses must be 200-series courses taken for a letter grade and used to satisfy the MS degree requirements. MS/PhD students must take the preliminary exam no later than the fourth academic quarter and pass the exam no later than the sixth academic quarter after completing the MS course requirements.
  • Students who were admitted as MS students and are in the process of transferring to the PhD program can take the exam with the support of a faculty member who agrees to serve as the prospective PhD advisor. The course requirements and deadline for passing the preliminary exam are the same as for MS/PhD students.
  • A student must be registered and enrolled in the ECE PhD program or MS program during the quarter in which the examination is held.
  • A student must have a minimum GPA of 3.5 by the start of the quarter in which the examination takes place.
  • Students who do not pass the exam must wait at least one quarter (which may be the summer quarter) before retaking the exam. The exam may be repeated only once, and only if the second opportunity is granted by the first examiner committee.


  • The exam is offered in the Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters. Students register for the exam before the start of the quarter via an online registration form.
  • On the registration form, students are asked to specify three courses that best describe the topics that they feel most competent about and would like to be tested on. The selection of courses is meant to indicate a general area of specialization, and will be used to match the examiners to the student’s background. The three courses are chosen from the following list of upper-division Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering curricula at UCLA.
    • ECE 101A, Engineering Electromagnetics
    • ECE 101B, Electromagnetic Waves
    • ECE 102, Systems and Signals
    • ECE 110, Circuit Theory
    • ECE 113, Digital Signal Processing
    • ECE 115A, Analog Electronic Circuits I
    • ECE 115C, Digital Electronic Circuits
    • ECE M116C, Computer Systems Architecture
    • ECE 121B, Principles of Semiconductor Device Design
    • ECE 131A, Probability and Statistics
    • ECE 132A, Introduction to Communication Systems
    • ECE 132B, Data Communications and Telecommunication Networks (or CS 118, Computer Network Fundamentals)
    • ECE 133A, Applied Numerical Computing
    • ECE 141, Principles of Feedback Control
    • ECE M146, Introduction to Machine Learning
    • ECE 170A, Principles of Photonics
    • CS 111, Operating Systems Principles
    • CS 180, Introduction to Algorithms and Complexity
    In addition, the registration form allows students to provide a short paragraph describing their interests.
  • On the registration form, students are also asked to suggest five papers to present at the exam. The student or any other member of the advisor’s research group cannot be an author of the suggested papers.
  • The student’s advisor has the option to provide a letter of support. Through this letter, advisors have the opportunity to share comments with the Preliminary Exam Administrative committee and the student’s examiner committee. The letter is optional, and absence of a letter should not be interpreted as lack of support from the advisor.
  • Students who have a conflict of interest with a potential examiner should communicate their concerns with the graduate vice-chair or the department chair.

Examiner Committee

  • A Preliminary Exam Administrative Committee is formed with two representatives from each area and the graduate vice-chair. This committee meets at the start of every quarter to assign the examiner committees to the individual students.
  • The Preliminary Exam Administrative Committee assigns an examiner committee of three ECE faculty members for each student. The assignment is based on the inputs provided by the student in the registration form and (possibly) the student’s advisor via the support letter.
  • One of the examiners will serve as the chair of the committee. The committee chair serves as the contact person for the student when scheduling and preparing for the exam. The chair also moderates the exam, and announces the exam results and committee feedback to the student.
  • The student’s advisor is excluded from the examiner committee.

Scheduling the exam

  • The time of the exam is set by the student in coordination with the examiner committee.
  • The examiner committee will assign a paper at least three weeks before the exam. There is no guarantee that the paper will be selected from the student’s suggested list.


  • The student and the examiner committee should be all present at the same time during the exam. However, remote participation via video conference is allowed if necessary to resolve scheduling problems.
  • The student’s faculty advisor can attend the examination although this is not encouraged, but not the committee deliberations, as a silent observer. The student’s advisor will not be part of the decision process.
  • The student first gives a 20-minute presentation of the assigned paper. The presentation is followed by questions about the fundamentals on the topics related to the student’s research area, the presented paper, and the subject matter of the three courses selected by the student. This may include questions that require written answers (on a board or tablet).
  • The duration of the Prelim exam is between 1 and 1.5 hours.
  • The committee chair moderates the exam and manages the time.


  • The deliberation by the examiner committee is closed to all, including the student’s faculty advisor.
  • There are three possible outcomes for the Prelim exam: (1) pass, (2) fail with the chance to retake the exam, or (3) fail with no chance to retake the exam.
  • The decisions are made by the examiner committee with a majority vote.
  • The decision along with feedback should be relayed to the student by the committee chair within one week after the exam.


  • Students who wish to appeal the result of the preliminary exam may do so for the following reasons: (1) procedural errors, (2) evidence that non-academic criteria determined the decision (e.g., violations of university nondiscrimination policies). Disagreements over the academic evaluation (e.g., exam content and questions, or correctness of answers) are not considered valid grounds for an appeal. Illness and other extenuating circumstances affecting the student’s performance are generally not accepted, because they should be brought to the committee’s attention before the start of the exam, if needed with a request to reschedule.
  • Students have 30 days from the day they receive the exam results to submit an appeal. To submit an appeal, the student files a petition with OGSA, describing the reason for the appeal and including supporting documentation. The petition must be signed by the student’s advisor, and include a letter from the advisor supporting the appeal.
  • Appeals are decided by the graduate vice chair, in consultation with the student’s examiner committee or the Preliminary Exam Administrative committee. Students can expect a decision on their appeal within two weeks. Repeat appeals will not be considered.

Ph.D. Oral Qualifying Examination

Students must pass the Oral Qualifying Examination either within their first three academic years in the Ph.D. program or within one year of passing the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination (whichever comes first).

To take the Oral Qualifying Examination, a student must have passed the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination, completed all Ph.D. course requirements, and nominate a doctoral committee. As doctoral committees require the approval of the Graduate Division, our department requires that students notify our office of their committee members at least three weeks prior to the proposed that of their Oral Qualifying Examination. Doctoral committees must abide by the following guidelines:

  • Two of the three doctoral committee members from UCLA must hold the rank of professor or associate professor (regular or in-residence series).
  • The Chair always must hold a current UCLA Academic Senate faculty appointment per #1 above in the same department or IDP as the graduate student. If a committee has co-chairs, at least one must be from the student’s major department or IDP at UCLA
  • It is not required that doctoral committees consist of at least one outside member. It is possible for the four committee members on a standard doctoral committee to be from the ECE Department

A full list of policies regarding doctoral committees may be found the Graduate Division’s website.

The student’s doctoral committee evaluates their performance in the Oral Qualifying Examination. A successful result on the examination confers upon the student the title of doctoral candidate.

Ph.D. Final Oral Examination

After passing their Oral Qualifying Examination, Ph.D. students are expected to defend their dissertation in a Final Oral Examination. If their doctoral committee has changed since their Oral Qualifying Examination, the student must follow the appropriate procedures for reconstituting their committee and must notify the ECE Office of Graduate Student affairs at least three weeks prior to the anticipated date of their Final Oral Examination.

After passing the Final Oral Examination, Ph.D. students must file their dissertation by the filing deadline of the given quarter. The filing deadline is the final day of the quarter at 5:00 p.m. For their dissertation to be considered filed, students must submit their dissertation through the Graduate Division’s Electronic Thesis and Dissertation (ETD) portal and receive approval from all committee members.