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Ph.D. Program

Admissions

Ph.D. students apply for and enter a specific degree program. A faculty advisor is either immediately designated (in the case of a student being recruited by a specific faculty member) or temporarily assigned; in the latter case, the student is expected to identify a research advisor by (at the latest) the end of the first year. There are two phases and associated milestones for Ph.D. students: (i) a qualification phase with a candidacy milestone and (ii) a dissertation phase with a final defense milestone.

General Degree Requirements

Qualification and advancement to candidacy are contingent upon: (i) successfully passing Ph.D. coursework, (ii) designating a research advisor, and (iii) writing and orally defending a research proposal. Individual degree programs may, at their discretion, also require a comprehensive examination (probing coursework and knowledge of other relevant subject areas). Possible outcomes include pass, failure with complete retake, failures with partial retake, and failure with no retake. The maximum allotted time for advancement to candidacy for a student entering with an MS degree is two years; three years for the B.S. degree entry option.

Coursework

Students entering the Ph.D. program must complete at 96 credit hours, (inclusive of previous Master's Degree coursework). Qualification and advancement to candidacy are contingent upon: (i) successfully passing Ph.D. coursework, (ii) designating a research advisor, (iii) successfully passing a qualifying exam, and (iii) writing and orally defending a research proposal. Possible outcomes include pass, failure with complete retake, failures with partial retake, and failure with no retake. Students not permitted to retake the exam, or who fail the retake, will be dismissed from the University. The maximum allotted time for advancement to candidacy for a student entering with a M.S. degree is two years; three years for students entering with a B.S.

The required coursework is outlined below:

M.S. Degree

  • Core courses
  • Elective courses

Ph.D. Degree

  • Two or more courses at the 300 level
  • Graduate seminar if required by the program

Students entering the program with a relevant M.S. from another institution may transfer coursework toward the requirements of the M.S. degree listed above upon approval of the program.

Students entering the program with a M.S. from KAUST may transfer coursework toward both the M.S. and Ph.D. requirements listed above upon approval of the program and based on their program of study at KAUST.

Students entering with a B.S. from another institution may transfer in up to 9 credits of graduate level coursework towards the above requirements upon approval of the program. In addition, students entering with a B.S. may also qualify to earn a M.S. degree by satisfying the MS degree requirements as part of the Ph.D. program.

Some degree programs may require a diagnostic entrance exam as a basis for admission, and students may be required to complete additional coursework depending on their degree-granting institution. If the M.S. degree is from a subject other than the Ph.D. degree program, there may be additional courses required and specified by the advisor.

Dissertation Research Credits

Besides coursework (6 or more credit hours), dissertation research (course number 397) must be earned during the first (proposal preparation and defense) and second phases of the Ph.D. program. A full-time workload for Ph.D. students is considered to be 12 credit hours per semester (courses and 397) and 6 credit hours in summer (397 only). There is a minimum residency requirement (enrollment period at KAUST) of 2.5 years for students entering with an M.S. degree, 3.5 years for students entering with a B.S. degree. The maximum enrollment period is 5.0 years, extendable upon approval of both the faculty research advisor and the division dean.

Candidacy

Achieving Ph.D. candidacy is contingent upon successfully passing a qualifying examination, acceptance by the research advisor of a written research proposal and successfully passing an oral examination. Details should be confirmed in the individual degree program material. View a list of eligible faculty advisors.

Passing the qualification phase is achieved by acceptance of all committee members of the written proposal and a positive vote of all but, at most, one member of the oral exam committee. If more than one member casts a negative vote, one retake of the oral defense is permitted if the entire committee agrees. A conditional pass involves conditions (e.g., another course in a perceived area of weakness) imposed by the committee, with the conditional status removed when those conditions have been met. Once constituted, the composition of the qualification phase committee can only be changed upon approval by both the faculty research advisor and the division dean.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

The Dissertation Defense is the final exam of the Ph.D. degree. It is a public presentation that consists of an oral presentation followed by questions. As a general rule, the dissertation advisor is appointed to chair the defense committee, which consists of five faculty members, three of whom must be program faculty members. One of the non members should be from another program at KAUST and is responsible for making sure that the process is run in accordance with University requirements. The fifth member of the dissertation committee should preferably be from outside KAUST. It is the responsibility of the student to inform the dissertation committee of his/her progress, deadlines for submitting graduation forms, the defense date, etc. It is advisable that the student submits her/his dissertation six weeks prior the defense date in order to receive feedback from the committee members in a timely manner. The thesis format requirements are described in the KAUST Thesis and Dissertation Guidelines.

The result of the defense will be made based on the recommendation of the committee. There are four possible results: (1) Pass: the student passes the exam and the dissertation is accepted as submitted; (2) Pass with revisions: the student passes the exam and the student is advised of the revisions that must be made to the text of the dissertation; (3) Failure with retake: normally this means the student must do more research to complete the dissertation. The student must revise the dissertation and give another oral examination within six months from the date of the first defense; and (4) Failure: the student does not pass the exam, the dissertation is not accepted, the degree is not awarded, and the student is dismissed from the University.

Program Descriptions

The Master’s and Doctoral degree program requirements listed above represent general university-level expectations. The specific details of each degree requirements are outlined in the descriptions of the individual degree programs.