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 complete the preliminary exam requirement within their first four quarters 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. Students are required to take ECE 291 in order to become eligible to be a teaching assistant.

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.

* ECE Ph.D. students may petition for a transfer of up to 20 credits for commensurate coursework completed at a previous institution with regional accreditation. The approval for credit transfer is contingent upon the assessment by the instructor of the corresponding UCSC course and the ECE graduate director.

The ECE Department sponsors a weekly graduate seminar course, ECE 290, in fall, winter, and spring quarters. All graduate students are required to register and attend for at least one quarter during their graduate student career, and are encouraged to enroll every quarter. The graduate seminar consists of talks by invited speakers from industry and academia.

Some faculty also sponsor a weekly lab seminar or lab meeting, ECE 280. Faculty advisers can require their students to enroll for these seminars and they do count toward maintaining full-time enrollment, however they do not count toward the coursework requirements for the degree.

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 three comprehensive exams from subjects in their chosen core area
  • Pass one additional section of the comprehensive examination from a different core area.

The preliminary exams are only available for ECE graduate courses approved in the four core areas. Graduate courses approved in the four core areas outside ECE (such as AM or CSE) are not available for the preliminary exams.

At the end of each quarter, students will have the opportunity to take the section(s) of the preliminary examination relevant to the courses offered that quarter that are approved for the core areas. The preliminary examination will focus on fundamental material related to the subject matter of the course and will be offered, typically, the Friday before finals week. The results of these examination sections, when integrated, will comprehensively test the student’s mastery of the curriculum. In order to pass the overall preliminary examination, a student is required to pass at least three preliminary exam subjects in their core area, plus one exam that is not approved for their core area.

Students may attempt more than one subject per quarter. A maximum of eight exams may be attempted, and a student must pass a minimum of four subjects—three within their selected core area, and one from a different core area. Students who have obtained approved course substitutions for one or more courses within their core area may attempt the preliminary exams for those substituted courses without having taken the course at UCSC. In such cases, students are strongly encouraged to contact the instructor of the UCSC course at the beginning of the quarter to request course materials and/or audit the class.

Students must register for the exam subjects they wish to take each quarter when the call for exam registrations is sent. Students who do not register may not be permitted to take the exam.

Passing three preliminary exam subjects within one core area satisfies the comprehensive exam capstone requirement for the ECE Master’s degree. Ph.D. students who wish to apply for a non-terminal Master’s degree once they have completed this requirement are welcome to do so, provided that they have also met the coursework requirements for the M.S. degree.

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 fourth year will be recommended for academic probation.

Post-Qualifying Requirements

Advancement to candidacy requires that the student:

  • pass the preliminary examinations;
  • 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

ECE Ph.D. students may petition for a transfer of up to 20 credits for commensurate coursework completed at a previous institution with regional accreditation. The approval for credit transfer is contingent upon the assessment by the instructor of the corresponding 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 advisor and the graduate director immediately. Students may appeal their dismissal to the graduate committee.

Normative Time

Normative time for completion of the dissertation is three years from the date of advancement to candidacy, and six years in total. Students who fail to complete the degree in six years must request a program extension from the Graduate Division. A written request, signed by the student and their faculty adviser, detailing the timeline to degree completion should be approved by the graduate director prior to submission to the dean of graduate studies. Multiple extensions may be considered.

Students who fail to complete their dissertation within three years of advancement to candidacy, or who fail to complete the Ph.D. degree within six years, may be recommended for academic probation. In order to maintain good academic standing, students must advance to candidacy within the first three years, and complete the degree within the subsequent three years.

Students who are on part-time status accrue time-to-degree at one-half the rate of full-time students for those quarters during which they are on approved part-time study. Doctoral students who have advanced to candidacy accrue time-to-degree at the regular rate, regardless of part-time or full-time status. Taking a leave of absence does not “stop the clock” on normative time. Time-to-degree continues to accrue at the normal rate while students are on approved leave.

If the Ph.D. degree is not awarded within seven years from the date of advancement to candidacy, the student's candidacy will lapse and the student will be required to pass a new Qualifying Exam prior to submitting the dissertation, or to undergo another formal review as directed by the student's department, and the result of this examination or review will be transmitted in writing to the Graduate Council (Academic Senate Regulation 18.6).

Applying for Graduation

All candidates for a degree must submit an Application for Doctor of Philosophy Degree to the Graduate Advising Office by the date stated in the Academic and Administrative Calendar for the quarter you wish to receive the degree. Failure to declare candidacy by the deadline means that you cannot be considered a candidate until the next term.

A student is required to be registered or on Filing Fee Status, whichever is applicable, during the quarter in which the degree is conferred. Students should consult the department adviser to determine which option fits their situation. For more information about applying for graduation, visit the Baskin School of Engineering Graduate Studies website.