​​​​​​​Ph.D. Program ​

Applications for Spring and Fall 2018 open in September. Please check back soon.


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 three phases and associated milestones for Ph.D. students: 
  • ​Passing a qualifying exam;
  • Passing an oral defence of the dissertation proposal
  • Dissertation phase with a final defense milestone.

Ph.D. Degree Requirements

Ph.D. program requires the successful completion of at least 96 credit hours, (inclusive of previous Masters 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.

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:

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 an 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 nine 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 M.S. degree requirements as part of the Ph.D. program.

Some degree programs may require a diagnostic entrance exam as the 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. 


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. Click here​ for a list of eligible faculty advisors for any degree program.

Passing the qualification phase is achieved by acceptance of all committee members of the writtesn 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 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 (enrolment 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 enrolment period is 5.0 years, extendable upon approval of 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 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 thesis and attend the thesis defense. Qualified Visiting Professors may be involved as on-campus committee members. 

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 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 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.