Electrical and Computer Engineering Ph.D.


The Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) offers master of science (M.S.) and doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) degree programs and conducts research in the following core areas:

  • Electronic Circuits and Energy Systems
  • Photonic and Electronic Devices
  • Robotics, Control, and Cyber-Physical Systems
  • Signals, Image Processing, and Communication Systems 

For more information about the core areas and associated graduate courses, the department, and its faculty, please visit the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department website.

Students begin the program with the completion of courses in a core area of interest and then proceed to do research in their area of specialization. Ph.D. students are required to take a preliminary exam within their first two years of study. After completing the course requirements, students must pass an oral qualifying exam and write a dissertation. Part-time study is possible for students working in industry while attending school.

Advancement to Candidacy

Course Requirements

Each student is required to take 55 credits which must consist of:

  • At least 20 credits in one of the four core areas defined above.

  • At least 30 of the total 55 credits must be satisfied through ECE graduate courses.

  • At most 10 credits of independent study (ECE 297, ECE 299) will be counted toward ECE course requirements.

  • A combined total of 5 credits from ECE 290 and/or ECE 291 are mandatory, but no more than 5 credits from these two courses can be counted toward degree requirements.

Total credits required for the Ph.D. degree is 55.

The 30 credits of ECE graduate courses can include courses from the core areas only if they are ECE graduate courses. Graduate courses offered by other departments and approved for the core areas are not counted as ECE graduate courses.

* For students already holding a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering (M.S.E.E.) or equivalent degree, at most 20 credits of transfer credit may be granted for equivalent coursework performed at the students’ M.S. granting institution. Credit transfer is subject to approval by the instructor of the equivalent UCSC course and the electrical and computer engineering graduate director.

Pre-Qualifying Requirements

Preliminary Examination

At the end of the first year (i.e., no later than the fall quarter in the following year after their entry), students admitted to the Ph.D. program must satisfy the requirements of the preliminary examination to continue in the Ph.D. program. This examination is as follows:

  • Pass the comprehensive exam for the M.S. program in one of the core areas
  • Pass one additional section of the M.S. comprehensive examination from a different core area of the comprehensive examination.

Qualifying Examination

This oral examination is a defense of the student’s thesis prospectus and a test of the student’s knowledge in advanced technical areas of relevance to the dissertation topic. This oral examination consists of a seminar-style talk before the examining committee, where the student describes the thesis prospectus, followed by questions from the committee on the substance of the talk and the areas of presumed expertise of the student. The examination, taken typically in the third year of Ph.D. study, is administered by a Ph.D. qualifying examination committee, consisting of at least four examiners. The composition of the committee must be approved by the graduate director and the dean of graduate studies whereupon the student and the committee are notified.

If the student does not pass the qualifying examination, the student may be asked to complete additional coursework, or other research-related work, before retaking the examination. The student may be allowed to retake the qualifying examination once, and the composition of the examining committee will remain the same for the second try. Students who fail the qualifying examination twice may be dismissed from the Ph.D. program.

Ph.D. students who have not advanced to candidacy by the end of the third year may be recommended for academic probation.

Post-Qualifying Requirements

Advancement to candidacy requires that the student:

  • pass the preliminary examination;
  • complete all course requirements prior to taking the qualifying examination;
  • clear all Incompletes from the student’s record;
  • pass the qualifying examination; and
  • have an appointed Ph.D. dissertation reading committee.

Transfer Credit

For students already holding an M.S.E.E. or equivalent degree, at most 20 credits of transfer credit may be granted for equivalent coursework performed at the student’s M.S. granting institution. Credit transfer is subject to approval of the instructor of the equivalent UCSC course and the ECE graduate director.

Non-Terminal Master's Degree

Students not already holding an M.S.E.E. degree, who are studying for the Ph.D. degree, may apply to be granted a M.S. degree when they have fulfilled all the M.S. degree requirements (including submission of an M.S. thesis or project, or passing the comprehensive examination).

Materials Fee

Please see the section on fees under School of Engineering.



After advancement to candidacy, work on the dissertation research progresses until the dissertation is completed. The Ph.D. dissertation must show the results of in-depth research, be an original contribution of significant knowledge to the student’s field of study, and include material worthy of publication. The student is strongly advised to submit research work for publication in advance of completing the dissertation so that the latter requirement is clearly satisfied. The Ph.D. dissertation results are presented in both oral and written forms, the oral form being a dissertation defense (see below) and the written form being the Ph.D. dissertation. The student must submit his or her written Ph.D. dissertation to the dissertation reading committee at least one month before the defense.

Dissertation Defense

Each Ph.D. candidate submits the completed dissertation to a Ph.D. dissertation reading committee at least one month prior to the dissertation defense. The appointment of the dissertation reading committee is made immediately after the qualifying examination and is necessary for advancing to candidacy. The candidate presents his or her research results in a public seminar sponsored by the dissertation supervisor. The seminar is followed by a defense of the dissertation to the reading committee (only), who will then decide whether the dissertation is acceptable or requires revision. Successful completion of the dissertation fulfills the final academic requirement for the Ph.D. degree.

Academic Progress

Each year, the faculty reviews the progress of every student. Students not making adequate progress toward completion of degree requirements (see the Graduate Student Handbook for the policy on satisfactory academic progress) are subject to dismissal from the program. Students with academic deficiencies may be required to take additional courses. Full-time students with no academic deficiencies are normally expected to complete the degree course requirements at the rate of at least two courses each quarter. Full-time students must complete all course requirements within two years for the M.S. and three years for the Ph.D.

Students receiving two or more grades of U (unsatisfactory) or below B- in the School of Engineering courses are not making adequate progress and will be placed on academic probation for the following three quarters of registered enrollment. Withdrawing or taking a leave of absence does not count as enrollment. Part-time enrollment is counted as a half-quarter of enrollment.

If an electrical and computer engineering graduate student fails a School of Engineering course while on probation, the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department may request the graduate dean to dismiss that student from the graduate program. If after being removed from probation, the student again fails a School of Engineering course, he or she will return immediately to academic probation.

Graduate students experiencing circumstances or difficulties that impact their academic performance should contact their adviser and the graduate director immediately. Students may appeal their dismissal to the graduate committee.