Phd Dissertation Proposal Mechanical Engineering

The PhD Qualifying Examination (QE) consists of two components: the Research Core Curriculum (RCC) (formerly GCC) and the Research Fundamentals Exam (RFE).

Research Core Curriculum (RCC) Exam

The goal of the RCC is to ensure proficiency in technical topics both within and outside of the student's primary research area.

All PhD students must take four Research Core Curriculum (RCC) courses in the first two semesters. Typically students will enroll in two Research Core Curriculum courses in the first term, however some exceptions exist where students will only enroll in one or will opt to take three. During the second term of study, the remaining Research Core Curriculum courses are taken. Change-of-program students should refer below.

The RCC consists of four 500+ level graduate courses that satisfy the following course distribution requirements:

  • At most, three may be in the student’s research area
  • At least one must be outside of the student’s research area
  • At most, one may be from a department other than Mechanical Engineering. Note: Multiple cross-listed courses in the RCC plan will prompt additional consideration by the Graduate Program Committee (GPC)

In consultation with their research advisor a student should develop and submit a RCC plan. If a student does not have a research advisor, the student should submit a preliminary RCC plan by the Friday before the first day of classes. The ME Graduate Chair will then work with the student (if necessary) to arrive at a satisfactory plan. An RCC Plan is comprised of the following components:

  • A list of the four courses on which the RCC will be based (a list of all ME graduate-level courses scheduled for the Fall and Winter terms is located here).
  • A short (3-4) sentence statement that specifies how the courses fit into the student's current or intended research plan (this can be general if the student does not yet have a research advisor).
  • The approval of the student’s research advisor and/or the ME Graduate Chair.

The GPC will review and (if appropriate) approve RCC course plans based on their accordance with the course distribution requirements specified above and their academic rigor. The GPC will monitor the historical record of GPAs for courses selected on the RCC, and may ask a student to revise the student's RCC plan if the plan is judged to be insufficiently rigorous.

RCC plans may need to change after the start of the semester or between the first and second semester of the RCC. Typical circumstances that may necessitate a revision include course cancellations and a change in the student's research area and/or research advisor. Revised RCC plans require GPC approval. Requests for modifications to RCC plans should be submitted via the RCC form prior to the deadlines listed below in order to give the GPC sufficient time to review the request before the add/drop deadline.

Fall 2017September 25, 2017
Winter 2018January 22, 2018

GPC approval is required for dropping a course after the above dates and will only be given in rare circumstances. Changes in research area and/or research advisor are not sufficient reasons for dropping an RCC course.

Evaluation of the RCC (for those who entered the PhD program after Winter 2014): The grades students receive in RCC courses will be averaged to determine an RCC GPA. The GPA is based on Rackham's new 4.0 scale where A+ = 4.3 , A = 4.0, A- = 3.7, and B+ = 3.3. The RCC GPA will be used to determine the outcome of the RCC and will follow these guidelines:

RCC GPARCC OutcomeRFE Stipulation
≥ 3.7Pass Unconditionally--
≥ 3.5 - < 3.7Conditional PassStrong RFE Pass*
< 3.5Fails Unconditionally**--

*Note: A student must demonstrate proficiency by performing very well on the RFE (as judged by the RFE examiners) to pass the PhD qualifying examination. The student has two tries on the RFE to perform very well.

**Note: The student may petition the GPC to take an additional course in the third semester if that course grade could increase the overall GPA (of all five courses) to at least a 3.5 (or a 6.5 via the old Rackham 9.0 scale).

Petitions for a deviation from the above guidelines due to rare and extenuating circumstances can be made to the GPC. There are no course retakes in the RCC.

Change-of-Program Students. The GPC will evaluate the prior courses taken by a change-of-program (i.e. MSE to PhD) student to determine which (if any) courses may be eligible to include in an RCC plan, thus reducing the total number of RCC courses required to be taken after the student enters the PhD program. In some cases, a student's previously completed coursework may satisfy the RCC entirely; thus, the student would not be required to take any additional coursework.

Research Fundamentals Exam (RFE)

The RFE is an oral examination to test the student's potential to conduct independent research at the PhD level along with her written and oral communication skills. There are four primary objectives:

  1. Assess the depth of knowledge in the area of research specialization and the ability to relate this to research, 
  2. Assess the ability of the student to propose an interesting and relevant problem for PhD research
  3. Test ingenuity, creativity, and problem-solving skills, and 
  4. Assess written and oral communication skills and the ability to respond to questions.

Students who have a research advisor and have successfully completed the RCC coursework or who have successfully petitioned are eligible to apply for the RFE. Students must have a 3.5 GPA or higher to take the RFE. If a student does not have this GPA, he is required to submit a petition form to the graduate chair for consideration to take the RFE.

PhD students who successfully complete the RCC coursework must take the RFE the following semester. Change of Program students must take the RFE within one year. It is not mandatory for Change of Program students to take the RFE in their first semester as a PhD student.

Exams are held in the first two weeks of November (fall) and last two weeks of March (winter). The RFE is an oral exam lasting for 45 minutes which is structured with a 15 minute presentation followed by 30 minutes of question and answer with two faculty members.

Sample RFE Presentation

The RFE is organized by research subject areas as listed below:

Dynamics & VibrationsSolid Mechanics
Fluid MechanicsThermodynamics and Combustion
Heat Transfer 

Registration. Eligible students must register their intent to take the RFE to the Academic Services Office. The online registration form is announced to students via email in the first two weeks of each Fall and Winter semester. In addition, students are responsible for submitting an electronic document with the following elements:

  1. Bio-sketch using NSF fellowship application format, 
  2. Research abstract describing research: the purpose of the research being examined, key related research, research hypotheses, research methodology, and results to date. The abstract should be formatted with 11 point font, single spacing, one-inch margins, and be a maximum of 2 pages. These two pages include citations and bibliography.
  3. A list of RCC courses with discussion of how the RCC courses match the RFE topic and future research plans (less than 200 words).

Examiners. Two faculty are selected by the Graduate Program Committee to act as examiners for each RFE thematic area. A student's research advisor cannot be an examiner. The research advisor is not allowed to be present during the RFE.

Grading. Students are evaluated on a scale ranging from excellent to poor in each of the following areas:

  1. Synthesis of course material in research problem context.
  2. Input to research project.
  3. Research conduct and methodology.
  4. Research outcomes.
  5. Communication.

A sample grade sheet with more information about grading criteria can be found here.

All areas are considered when determining the student's examination outcome (pass/fail). The two examiners will produce a written report to the Academic Services Office indicating if the student has passed or failed the RFE with specific reasons for their decision.

Communication of Results. The result of the RFE is communicated by the Academic Services Office to the student by way of individual email. Successfully completing the RFE does not mean a student passes the RCC.

Retaking the RFE. Only one repeat is permitted and must be taken no later than the next offering of the RFE after the original RFE. Students will automatically be sent a registration email for the next available RFE session.


The objective of the Ph.D. Proposal is to allow an early assessment of your chosen topic of research for the satisfactory completion of the doctoral degree.  The proposal should delineate your specific area of research by stating the purpose, scope, methodology, overall organization, and limitations of the proposed study area. The proposal should include a review of the relevant literature and indicate the expected contribution of the research.


All graduate students who have successfully completed the Ph.D. Qualifying Examination should submit a Ph.D. proposal to the Woodruff School Office of Student Services within one year after completion of the qualifying examination. A student will not be allowed to graduate without a minimum of six calendar months between the time that his/her Ph.D. Proposal is approved and the time in which he/she completes the Ph.D. Dissertation Defense.


A well-conceived Ph.D. proposal will help you:

• Develop the critical research questions
• Lay the foundation for the research work to be done
• Isolate pending problems
• Manage your time efficiently
• Map your research progress
• Think through the whole process, indicating the need for an integrated approach

Your proposal should contain a concisely stated hypothesis.  After a successful proposal presentation, the Woodruff School Graduate Committee will inform you if the topic is appropriate and that the committee understands what is planned.  After the proposal is presented, you are ready to move from perception and comprehension of critical questions to a resolution of the problem.


Cover Sheet: The cover sheet for the Ph.D. proposal is the Request for Admission to Ph.D. Candidacyform.  The cover page is essentially a formal statement that names the dissertation advisor, sets forth the dissertation topic selected for the investigation, and enumerates a 200-word summary (or abstract) of the proposed dissertation research.  The title of the proposed dissertation topic should be brief, scientifically and technically valid, understandable to a scientifically or technically literate reader, and suitable for use in the public press.

The 200-word summary of the proposed research should be a self-contained description of the activity.  The summary should be written in the third person and include a statement of objectives, methods to be employed, and the significance of the proposed work to the advancement of knowledge.  It should be informative to other persons working in the same or related fields and, insofar as possible, understandable to a scientifically literate reader.

Table of Contents: A table of contents is required and should show the location of each section as well as the major subdivisions of the project description, such as a summary of previous work, and the methods and procedures to be used.

Project Description: The main body of the proposal should be a clear statement of the work to be undertaken.  It is limited to 15 pages and should include:

•  Objectives of the proposed research and its expected significance
•  Relation to longer-term goals of the investigator's project
•  Relation to the present state of knowledge in the field, to work-in-progress elsewhere
•  Plans of work, including the broad design of activities to be undertaken, an adequate description of experimental methods and procedures, and, if appropriate, plans for preservation, documentation, and sharing of data, samples, physical collections, and other related research products.

Bibliography: Citations must be complete (including the full name of the authors, title, year and location in the literature).  There is no page limit for this section of the proposal. 

Style and Format: Brevity will assist your Ph.D. Dissertation Reading Committee in reviewing the Ph.D. proposal.  The project description must not exceed 15 pages (30 double-spaced pages is acceptable).  Graphical elements, including charts, graphs, maps, photographs, and other pictorial presentations are included in the 15-page limit.  Pages should be of standard size (8½" x 11"; 21.6 cm x 27.9 cm) with 1" or 2.5 cm margins at the top, bottom, and on each side.  The type font size must be clear and readily legible and in standard size, which is 10 to 12 points. (Nothing smaller than 10 points should be used.)

Pursuant to the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, as amended by the Omnibus Trade and Competitiveness Act of 1988, your proposal must use the metric system of weights and measures, unless impractical or inefficient.

For more information, please refer to the Thesis Manual, Thesis Templates, and Citation Tools at:

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