Admission to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program requires the satisfactory completion
of an undergraduate or master's degree in science in a relevant or related area, such as
Engineering, Mathematics or the Physical, Chemical and Biological Sciences.
There are three phases and associated milestones for Ph.D. students:
- Passing a qualifying exam
- Passing an oral defense of the dissertation proposal
- Dissertation phase with a final defense milestone
Ph.D. Degree Requirements
The Ph.D. program requires a three and a half year residency for students entering
with a bachelor's degree and two and a half years for students entering with a master's degree.
Qualification and advancement to candidacy are contingent upon: (i) successfully passing
Ph.D. coursework, (ii) designating an academicadvisor, (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
master's degree is two years, and three years for students entering with a bachelor's degree.
Satisfactory participation in the KAUST Summer Session and Winter Enrichment
Period (WEP) is mandatory. Summer Session courses are credit bearing and apply toward the
degree. WEP courses do not grant credit towards the degree.
The required coursework
is outlined below:
Master of Science (M.S.) Degree
- Core courses
- Elective courses
- Two or more courses at the 300 level
- Graduate seminar if required by the program
Some degree programs may require an assessment entrance exam as the basis for
admission, and students may be required to complete additional coursework. If the
master's degree is from a subject other than the Ph.D. degree program, there may also be
additional courses required and specified by the advisor.
Achieving Ph.D. candidacy is contingent upon successfully passing a qualifying
examination, acceptance of a written research proposal, and successfully passing an
oral defense examination. Details should be confirmed in the individual degree program
material. Click here
for a list of eligible
academic advisors for any degree program.
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 academic
advisor and the division dean.
Dissertation Research Credits
Besides coursework (six or more credit hours), dissertation research (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 six credit hours in summer (397 only). There is
a minimum residency enrolment period at KAUST of 2.5 years for students entering with an
master's degree, and 3.5 years for students entering with a bachelor's degree. The
maximum enrolment period is five years, extendable upon approval of both the academic
advisor and the division dean.
Dissertation and Dissertation Defense
The dissertation defense is the final exam of the Ph.D. degree. It involves a public
presentation of the results of the dissertation research followed by a question and
answer session. The dissertation and defense committee consists of four members
of which at least three must be KAUST faculty members. The committee chair plus
one other member must be an affiliated faculty member. The committee must also
include one external examiner who must write a report on the dissertation and attend
the defense. Qualified visiting professors may be involved as on-campus committee
It is the responsibility of the student to inform the dissertation committee of
his/her progress and meet deadlines for submitting a defense date and graduation
forms. It is expected that students will submit their dissertations to their
committee six weeks prior to the defense date in order to receive feedback from the
committee members in a timely manner. However, the academic advisor may approve
exceptions to this expected timeline. The dissertation 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
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.