7.1 PhD Degree Requirements

Normative Time


5 years or 10 semesters


Minimum Number of Units


36 Semester units.  For students who are in the process of obtaining or have obtained their master’s degrees at UC Berkeley, master’s degree units that meet the restrictions below can be used towards their PhD unit requirement.


Minimum Units Required In Order to Be Registered Each Semester


Students must enroll in 15 units each semester


Maximum Amount of Independent Study Units (298, 299, 300 and Above)


Independent course units are not counted towards the 36 semester units needed to graduate.  The maximum units in which you can enroll per semester are listed below.

  • 298s: 8 units
  • 299s: 12 units
  • 300s: 6 units
  • 600s: 8 units


Maximum Number of Courses That Can Be Transferred Towards Degree


  • Students can transfer up to 2 courses from another school towards the PhD
  • -Courses must be in the major field of study
  • -Courses must be letter graded
  • -You cannot have used the course(s) for credit to receive your BS degree
  • -Courses cannot be from the student's undergraduate course of study; courses must have been taken while in graduate standing


Notes on Transferring Courses


Unit credit from Backdated Graduate Standing:


Berkeley undergraduates who take graduate course work during their last undergraduate semester may petition to backdate graduate standing in order to receive graduate credit for that course work.  Graduate standing may be backdated for only one semester, and students may petition for credit only for the course work that was not required for the undergraduate degree.  To petition to backdate courses, please see the ME Student Services Office.



To Transfer:


  • -Obtain an official transcript from the school the course will transfer from as well as a syllabus of the course
  • -Complete your portion of the Graduate Petition to Transfer Courses and attach the syllabus to this form.
  • -Obtain the syllabus of the UCB equivalent course as well as the approval of the instructor who would teach the equivalent course here.
  • -Attach all materials to the form and bring it to the ME Student Services Office for review.


GSI/ME 300-Level Course Requirement


Each student must take a 300-level course on teaching and/or serve as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) for at least 1 semester.


Minimum Grade Point Averages (GPAs)


All students are required to have the following minimum Grade Point Averages:

  • 3.5 in Major
  • 3.0 in Minors


In order for students to be in good standing, they must maintain an overall grade-point average of at least 3.0 on the basis of all upper division and graduate courses (100 and 200 level) taken in graduate standing.  Only courses with a C- or better can count towards graduate requirements.  Grade-points earned in Berkeley courses numbered below 100 or above 300 are not included in determining a student's grade-point average for remaining in good standing or earning a degree.  Only 1/3 of your unit total at the time of graduation may be pass/not pass or satisfactory/unsatisfactory.  Please note that to earn a “pass” or a “satisfactory” grade in a graduate course you need a grade of B- or better.


Failure to maintain this minimum GPA can result in your being placed in Academic Probation.  If you cannot raise your cumulative GPA back to the minimum GPA or higher in the next semester after being put on academic probation, you are subject to dismissal from the University.


Required Number of Courses


  • -5 Courses in your major, all of which must be letter graded
  • -3 Courses in your First Outside ME Minor (only 1 of these courses can be taken with the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory option rather than letter graded)
  • -2 Courses in your Inside ME or 2nd Outside ME Minor, all of which must be letter graded
  • -2 Courses to support your Major or one of your Minor


Please note that 2/3 of the courses counted towards your degree must be letter graded.


Required Emphases


Each student must declare 1 Major area as well as 2 Minors.  At least one Minor is required to be outside of the department.  The minor fields should serve to broaden the base of the studies and lend support to the major field as well as the dissertation research.


Required Emphases Notes


  • Each minor program should have an orientation different from the major program and the courses involved should contain concepts not present in the major program.
  • One minor program should consist of courses taken outside of the Mechanical Engineering department.  The qualifier that minors should lend support to the major field as well as the dissertation research should be taken strictly.  In general, minors that neither lend support to the major field nor the dissertation research are discouraged.  These include minors in areas outside of engineering, mathematics, statistics and natural sciences, unless they lend support to the dissertation research.  Examples of minors that generally are not allowed include education, languages, and business, unless these courses demonstrably lend support to the dissertation research or the courses for the minor are crosslisted with a Department in the College of Engineering other than Mechanical Engineering.
  • Three courses (of advanced undergraduate and graduate level) typically represent a minimum program for a minor.  In some programs of study, a minor that consists only of high-level, upper-division courses taken in a department outside the College of Engineering may be acceptable.
  • Use of the number 298 shall be restricted to "Group Studies, Seminars, and Group Research." No 298 units shall count toward the minimum unit requirements for master or doctoral degrees.  All 298 courses in the College of Engineering are offered on a "Satisfactory/ Unsatisfactory" basis.
  • The qualifier that minors should lend support to the major field as well as the dissertation research should be taken strictly.  As the intent of the qualifying examination is to ascertain the breadth of a student's knowledge and preparation in their field of study, the minors play a critical role in this demonstration of breadth.  The use of mechanical engineering courses, including cross-listed courses, as part of an outside minor is not permitted except by petition to the Vice Chair for Graduate Study.  In selecting your minors you should work with both your research and major field academic advisors in identifying the minors that are best suited to your doctoral research and academic program, and then obtain the approval of your major field advisor regarding your selections.


Procedures to Change Major Field Areas


In order to change major, you must either request the transfer during the first three weeks of your FIRST semester or have taken and passed the preliminary examination.  Beside the exam in your admitted major field area, you must also take and pass the one in the new major field area.


After your first semester, you will need to meet with the Major Field Advisor (MFA) of the area you wish to transfer into.  If the MFA approves your transfer they need to notify the ME Student Services Office by email.


Preliminary Examination (also known as Prelims)


This written exam covers various undergraduate and graduate coursework.  All students must pass the exam in their Major Field Area.  Those students who do not have an exam in their major field must select one of the other available exams as their declared Major Field Area exclusively for the Preliminary Examination requirement purpose.  Students receive 2 attempts to pass the exam.  Please see the FAQ on the department website for the latest information.  Please note that students must have a minimum graduate GPA of 3.3 overall and 3.5 in the major field from courses taken at UC Berkeley to take the Preliminary Examination.


  • The examination will be given twice a year, the first week of the Spring and Fall semesters.  The examination must be taken following two semesters of registration as a graduate student at the latest.  Tests cannot be taken before entering the program.


Completing a Master's Degree as Part of an MS/PhD


For each degree you plan on earning, you must first Advance to Candidacy for that degree.  I.e. if your goal is to earn the MS/PhD, you are required to Advance twice - once for the MS and once for the PhD.  Students should advance to MS Candidacy by their 3rd semester.  The opportunity to apply occurs during the first two (2) weeks of each semester.


Both the Advancement to Candidacy Form for Plan I and the Advancement to Candidacy Form for Plan II are completed in consultation with your Major Field Advisor.  Both the Major Field Advisor and the Vice Chair of Graduate Study must sign these forms prior to being sent to the Graduate Division for Advancement.


Filing Your MS Report


The Engineering Library requires uniformity in the Title Page and binding of your MS Report.  The Engineering Library will not accept ring bindings for your Report.  It should be a plastic braded binding.  Most copy stores will be familiar with the binding style and examples can be found at the ME Student Services Office.  Once you have presented your MS Report to your committee, you need to bring a signed, bound copy of the MS Report to the Student Services Office.  All reports are filed in the Engineering Library at Bechtel.


Qualifying Examination


This is an oral exam which covers courses and research.  Students should submit the required paper work at least 1 month in advance of the scheduled exam date.  In addition, the exam should be taken no later than the end of student's 3rd year/6th semester.  Students receive 2 attempts to pass.


To be eligible to take the Qualifying Examination, the following coursework requirements must be completed:


  • -3 courses in the major for a GPA of 3.5, all of which must be letter graded
  • -1 course in the inside or first minor for a GPA of 3.0
  • -2 courses in the outside minor for a GPA of 3.0


Qualifying Exam Committee Requirements


  • -Chair (the first Inside ME member)
  • -Second Inside ME member
  • -Third Inside ME or additional members
  • -Member outside ME Department


Qualifying Exam Membership


  • -At least 2 members must be from the ME Department.
  • -A Co-Chair of a Student's Dissertation Committee can sit as an inside ME member but they cannot serve as the Chair or outside ME Member of a student's Qualifying Examination Committee.
  • -Two members of the qualifying examination committee represent the major field area, the third member must represent the inside (or second outside) minor, and the fourth member represents the (first) outside minor.  A list of ME faculty and their areas can be found in the Research Areas and Major Fields section.
  • -All Qualifying Examination Committee Members must be Members of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.  The outside committee member cannot be a member of the faculty of the Department of Mechanical Engineering.
  • -The Chair of the Qualifying Examination Committee cannot serve as the Chair of the Dissertation Committee for the same student.  (However, a student's Qualifying Examination Committee Chair may serve as a -Dissertation Committee Co-Chair if both Co-Chairs are from Mechanical Engineering.)
  • -There cannot be Co-Chairs for the Qualifying Exam.
  • -One additional member beyond the required number may be added to the Qualifying Examination Committee.
  • -Two members beyond the required number may be requested by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Study in a memorandum addressed to the cognizant Associate Dean, in care of the Graduate Services: Degrees Office (318 Sproul Hall, #5900).
  • -If a student is reexamined, the committee for the second examination must be the same as for the first exam.
  • -Permission to take the exam must be obtained from the Graduate Division and they require at least a three week notice minimum to approve your request for taking the Qualifying Examination.
  • -If there is a serious need to change your Qualifying Exam Committee, please log in your CalCentral and complete the "Higher Degree Committee Form" under "Student Resources", as far in advance of the exam as possible.  All changes must be reviewed and approved by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Study and then the Graduate Division to be official.  There is no guarantee that requests will be granted.


Detailed requirements can be found in Graduate Division's Guide to Graduate Policy.


Program of Study Form (To Schedule the Qualifying Exam)


When you and your research advisor decide on the time of your Qualifying Exam (at least a few months in advance to ensure room availability), you will need to complete a Program of Study for Doctoral Candidates.  List all classes you have taken as a graduate student at Berkeley.  They are to be organized and listed in your required major and two minors.  At the bottom of the card please provide the date, time and location of the examination.


After having completed the form, please see staff in the Student Services Office for the approval and signature of the Vice Chair, submission to the Graduate Division for the Dean's approval, and to reserve a room for your exam.


All courses that are used toward the major and the second minor must be taken for a letter grade prior to taking the qualifying examination.  The exceptions are ME research units (298s, 299s), 300-level and 600-level courses.  At most, one third of the total units may be taken S/U.


Advancement To Candidacy


For each degree you plan on earning, you must first Advance to Candidacy for that degree.  I.e. if your goal is to earn the MS/PhD, you are required to Advance twice - once for the MS and once for the PhD.  After you pass the Qualifying Exam you will be asked to complete the advancement to candidacy application (Higher Degree Committees Form) in CalCentral under "Student Resources" as well as the Graduate Verification Form.  You need to complete and return these forms along with a check for the application fee within three (3) weeks of passing the examination.  It is important that you return this application as soon as possible as:


  • You cannot go on Filing Fee or file your dissertation if you are not Advanced to Candidacy;
  • You must be Advanced to Candidacy for at least two (2) semesters before you graduate.  The semester you advance to candidacy counts as the first semester.


The Advancement to Candidacy eForm (Higher Degree Committees Form) are completed in consultation with your Research Advisor.


Doctoral Candidacy Review


The Graduate Council of the Academic Senate requires a Doctoral Candidacy Review (DCR) to be completed each year for all doctoral students after they advance to candidacy until completion of their degree.  This review is designed to assist you to stay on track and help facilitate the completion of your doctoral program in a timely manner.


The Doctoral Candidacy Review form is located online through the Graduate Student Information System (GLOW).


After completion of report, you will need to notify your dissertation committee chair and schedule a meeting to review it.  Once you have met with your dissertation chair then they will complete their section of the report and submit the APR through GLOW.


PHD Dissertation


Dissertations are required of all students.  Each dissertation committee must include:


  • -Chair (the first Inside ME member)
  • -Second Inside ME member
  • -Member outside ME Department


Dissertation Committee Notes


  • -A third ME member may be added but is not required.
  • -Two co-chairs may replace one chair (one of these may be a faculty member in a department other than ME).  However, in the end you must have more ME faculty than those of any other department in your committee.
  • -The Dissertation Chair or Co-Chair cannot be the same person as the Chair of the Qualifying Examination for the same student.
  • -If there is a serious need to change your Dissertation Committee, please complete the eForm "Higher Degree Committees Form" in your CalCentral under "Student Resources" as far in advance of the exam as possible.  All changes must be reviewed and approved by the Vice-Chair of Graduate Study and then the Graduate Division to be official and there is no guarantee that requests will be granted.


All members of the dissertation committee must be members of the Berkeley Division of the Academic Senate.  Detailed requirements and restrictions can be found in Graduate Division's Guide to Graduate Policy.


Turning In Your Dissertation


  • All PhD Dissertations must now be submitted on line.  You will submit the dissertation as a PDF document in a single copy via ProQuest/UMI's ETD Administrator site.
  • The document will be reviewed by staff in the Graduate Services Degrees unit for formatting.
  • When the dissertation is in an acceptable form, the student will bring to the Degrees Office (318 Sproul) an original approval page signed by the dissertation committee and the two exit surveys that the Graduate Division asks doctoral candidates to submit.
  • After conferral of the degree for the semester in question, the PDF will be forwarded to the University Library and to ProQuest/UMI for release to the public.  A doctoral candidate will be able to request with the support of the dissertation committee chair that the dissertation be withheld under certain circumstances from release to the public for a reasonable length of time.  A form for this purpose will be available through the Forms and Application section of the Graduate Division web site. 


For further details see Instructions for Preparing the Filing Your Thesis or Dissertation or contact Assistant Director for Degrees, Jeret Lemontt (lemontt@berkeley.edu), (510) 642-7330.


PHD Candidate Seminar


Each student must present their dissertation findings with at least one member of their dissertation committee present.  The seminar must take place prior to the end of the semester in which you receive your degree.


Setting Up Your Seminar


  1. Email the Graduate Student Services Officer in the ME Student Services Department with the proposed date and time of the seminar, as well as the abstract of the talk.
  2. Check with the ME Student Services Office to confirm your room reservation.
  3. The ME Student Services Office will announce the date, time and details of the talk to the department.
  4. Complete your portion of the Ph.D.  Candidate Seminar Form and take it to your seminar.
  5. Obtain the signatures of any faculty present from your committee.
  6. Return the form to the ME Student Services Office.