Doctoral Degree

Earn Your Ph.D. in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

The Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Graduate Program Membership reviews the degree requirements for Ph.D. students on a regular basis and determines what requirements students must fulfill to successfully earn their graduate degree.  Students must follow the degree requirements that were in effect during their first quarter of enrollment, although the department will allow students to petition the Graduate Adviser for Continuing Students if they would like to change their degree requirements to the most current year’s requirements. Please note that students cannot petition to change their degree requirements to any year before they were an enrolled graduate student.

The Ph.D. degree is for students who have a major interest in developing deep knowledge and performing independent, extensive research in their area of specialization, conducted in close collaboration with faculty. Students may apply directly to the Ph.D. program whether or not they have already obtained an M.S. degree.

If you are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. degree, it is highly recommended that you contact faculty members with aligned research interests prior to application. Admission to the Ph.D. program is highly competitive, and requires the support of a faculty member. Applications that indicate interest and/or financial support from one or more MAE faculty tend to be reviewed favorably. Competitive financial support for this pathway may be available through GSR positions on funded research projects or partially through Teaching Assistantships in the MAE Department.

Current MAE Graduate Degree Requirements.

Doctoral Student Milestones

Finding a Permanent Major Professor

You will be assigned an initial advisor who serves as a mentor for your first quarter. They may or may not end up being your permanent major advisor. They will assist you in choosing courses, monitor your academic progress and refer you to other faculty members who might end up being your permanent advisor. Your permanent major advisor will assist you in preparing a detailed program of study, supervise your research and serve as chairperson of your dissertation committee. You must notify the Graduate Program Coordinator once you have established a permanent major professor.  

Taking the Preliminary Exam

All doctoral students in mechanical and aerospace engineering are required to take the Preliminary Examination at their first opportunity. One session of the Ph.D. Preliminary Examination is offered each year in the spring. The exact dates and times of these exams vary, but they are generally held during the first week of spring quarter.

All students must take the Engineering Analysis exam. In addition, students must choose two subjects from the following: Dynamics, Fluid Mechanics, Heat Transfer, Strength of Materials, System Dynamics and Controls, and Thermodynamics. The graduate program coordinator will send out an application via email to current graduate students in January to determine which exams they will be taking.

If you pass all three preliminary exams, you are done with prelims. If you do not pass one or more of the preliminary exams, you will have the opportunity to take an optional oral exam for each of the subjects you failed. If you pass the oral exam(s), you are done with that subject. If you fail the oral exam(s), you will have one more opportunity to retake the preliminary exam for that/those subject(s) the next year.

Establishing a Program of Study

Once you pass the preliminary exams, you must consult with your major professor to constitute a Guidance Committee that will assist you in defining a program a study adapted to your goals. Please review our degree requirements for committee constitution requirements. You must fill out the Ph.D. program of study form, have it signed by your guidance committee and return it to the Graduate Program Coordinator within one quarter of passing the preliminary exam. While constructing your program of study, be sure to adhere to our degree requirements.

Ph.D. Program of Study.

Taking the Qualifying Exam

The Qualifying Exam should be taken by your third year in the program. You must have passed the Preliminary Examination, filed an approved Ph.D. Program of Study and have completed or be in your last quarter of graded coursework on your Program of Study in order to take the Qualifying Exam. In addition, you must have completed all coursework with a 3.5 GPA and removed all academic deficiencies before taking the exam.

The Qualifying Exam consists of written and oral examinations, which are reviewed by a five-person Qualifying Exam committee. Please review our degree requirements for committee constitution requirements and details regarding what the written and oral portions of the Qualifying Examination require.

At least one month prior to the planned date of your Qualifying Exam, submit the following application form to the Graduate Program Coordinator:

Qualifying Examination Application for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy

Advancing to Candidacy

Doctoral students must complete all coursework, pass their qualifying exam and establish their dissertation committee before advancing to candidacy. Please review our degree requirements for committee constitution requirements. Students should plan to advance to candidacy as soon as possible after passing their qualifying exam. In order to advance to candidacy, students must complete the form below. Ask the Graduate Program Coordinator if you have questions on how to fill out this form.

Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy – Plan B

Holding an Exit Seminar

An exit seminar is required of each doctoral candidate. This is a formal public presentation of your research before the program faculty and students. The dissertation committee will not sign the dissertation until after the exit seminar has taken place. It is the student’s responsibility to schedule an Exit Seminar. Once your seminar is scheduled, let the Graduate Program Coordinator know, so a seminar announcement can be distributed.  

Filing your Dissertation

Once you have held your exit seminar and completed your dissertation, you will have your dissertation signed by your dissertation committee and then you must file it with the Office of Graduate Studies. Signatures must be in ink and original. More information on how to prepare and file your dissertation, as well as deadlines to be on each quarter’s degree list, can be found on the UC Davis Graduate Studies website.  


You must have advanced to candidacy, be in good standing and either be registered or on filing fee status in order to graduate. Review the deadlines to file your dissertation in order to graduate during your desired quarter and plan ahead in order to meet them.

Graduate Studies commencement is held once a year in June. You are eligible to register for the commencement ceremony once you have advanced to candidacy.

Quick Links

Bylaws and Mentoring Guidelines.

Dates and Deadlines.

Ph.D. Program of Study.

Qualifying Examination Application for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Candidacy for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy – Plan B.

How to Receive your Diploma.