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Department of Mechanical Engineering

Requirements for students entering with an M.S.

Candidates are required to complete the equivalent of 8 courses and 24 semester hour units (SHUs) to graduate from this program. Full-time Ph.D. candidates generally complete their degree requirements in five academic years.

1. Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam is designed to evaluate the student's preparation for doctoral work, including knowledge of core disciplinary material in mechanical engineering, the ability to apply that knowledge to solve problems, mathematical preparation, and the ability to communicate technical material.  The exam will also seek to evaluate the student’s ability to conduct research as evidenced by an oral presentation related to research.

The exam will be offered twice a year – typically in September and January.

  • Students in the PhD program (that entered with a BS) must take the qualifying exam in their third semester.
  • Students in the PhD program (that entered with an MS) must take the qualifying exam by the end of their third semester.  However, they may choose to take it earlier than this.
  • Students in the MS/PhD program must take the qualifying exam in the third semester of their MS program.
  • Students in the MS program that are considering a PhD are encouraged to take the qualifying exam in their third semester, but are not required to.

Students intending to take the qualifying exam must notify the department (via e-mail to the department administrator or graduate program director) the semester prior to the given exam.

The first time that students take the qualifying examination, they may pass outright.  If a student does not pass on the 1st attempt, they may be asked to repeat selected portions of the exam during the next qualifying exam period (exams will be held twice a year).  After the 2nd time taking the exam, students will either pass, or be asked to withdraw from the PhD program.  Any student who is asked to withdraw from the PhD program, and has not previously completed a masters degree in mechanical engineering, will have the opportunity to complete the requirements for a MS degree before leaving the program.

The ME qualifying exam consists of 2 written components and 1 oral component:

  • Written Exam, part 1 (1 or 2 topic areas) on Day 1
  • Written Exam, part 2 (1 or 2 topic areas) on Day 2
  • Oral Exam on Day 4

Written Exam

Students must select three or four topic areas for the written part of the exam.  If taking 4 written exams, the students should take Oral Exam Version #1 (see below).  If taking 3 written exams, the student should take Oral Exam Version #2 (see below).  The written exam topic areas are selected from the following nine options:

  1. Cognitive Human Factors
  2. Controls
  3. Dynamics
  4. Fluid Dynamics
  5. Heat Transfer
  6. Materials Processing
  7. Physical Ergonomics
  8. Solid Mechanics
  9. Mechanical Design

Students will take one written exam in each of the areas selected.  A faculty examining committee will be convened after students have selected their topic areas.

A topic list is available for each of the 9 areas.  The topic list specifies the material that students should study in preparation for the exam.  These topic lists will be made available via Trunk once the student informs the department of the intention to take the quals.  Students are welcome to review the topic lists prior to selecting their topic areas. 

Students are welcome to bring a calculator, textbooks, and notes to the written exams.  Phones, computers, and tablets are not allowed.  Students may speak with any member of the faculty or student body about the exams, but it is emphasized that the published topic lists on Canvas are the ONLY official source of information about the breadth of material covered on the written exams.  The exam topics are NOT taken from any particular course, and the authors of the exams vary from year to year.  Students should NOT assume that the questions will be the same as in previous years or have any particular relationship to problems given in courses. 

Students will be evaluated both on their KNOWLEDGE and on their THOUGHT PROCESS.  When taking the exams, students should attempt to clearly demonstrate both knowledge, and a clear and logical thought process.

The written exams will be distributed over two consecutive days.  Two hours and 30 minutes will be available for the student to complete each written exam. It is intended that the exam questions are of reasonable length so that the exam can be completed within this time period without undue time pressure on the student.

Oral Exam

The oral exam will be offered after the written exams are complete (on day 4 of the process – see schedule above). There are two versions of the oral exam that the students may select.

Oral Exam Version #1 (If this version is selected, the student should take four written exams)

The version #1 oral exam is intended to examine the student’s ability to:

  1. Conduct independent research
  2. Answer technical questions related to that research
  3. Communicate technical content in an oral presentation

Students will give a 20 minute presentation based on any past technical research topic of the student’s choice.  This can be previous undergraduate research, summer research, a master’s thesis, a previous published paper, or research directed towards the future PhD dissertation.  The research that is described in the presentation need not be complete; it can be ongoing work.  After the 20 minute talk is complete, the qualifying exam committee will ask questions based on the research talk.  Questions will explore technical content related to the presentation, the results of the research that was presented, and the process by which the student conducted the research that was presented. The student will NOT be questioned on any content from the written examinations.  The purpose of the oral is NOT to explore the dissertation topic the student will select in the future.

Oral Exam Version #2 (If this version is selected, the student should take three written exams)

Goal: Check the candidate’s capability - on his/her own - to understand work done by others (as expected in R&D environments).

A research paper will be assigned in one of the following research directions. Students must choose which area they would like, and inform the department at least 45 days before the date of the exam. The paper should be chosen (by a responsible faculty) from a journal of general significance (like Nature or Science, or similar top journals of the field).  The paper will be provided to the student 15 days before the date of the oral exam.

  1. Mechanics, Materials & Manufacturing
  2. Fluids & Thermal Engineering
  3. Dynamics, Systems & Controls
  4. Human Factors Engineering
  5. Machine and Product Design

The paper will be critically analyzed and assessed by the candidate. Ideally if the paper has some weak point/assumption/premise that can be improved in the future.

The critical review of the paper will be presented as a 20 minute talk prepared according to the template shown below. In the following approximately 30 minute discussion, the candidate should defend her/his critical assessment of the paper and suggestions for further development. 

The preparation should be completely independent. Help from anyone (other students, advisers, friends, etc) is strictly prohibited.

Time to prepare: 15 days.

Template for the presentation

At a minimum, it should contain the following two elements:

  1. Technical analysis:
    1. Determine whether the contents of the paper are technically sound. For example, are there any logical flaws?
    2. Are the assumptions correctly stated and justified?
    3. Explain the analysis method and determine whether the approach is appropriate?
    4. Are the conclusions supported by the data presented?
  2. Context:
    1. Without reiterating the contents of the paper, identify the key contribution(s) of the paper and evaluate whether these are significant. You should identify and state the nature of the contribution. For example, does the paper present a new method of analysis? Does it present new data? Resolve a conflict in the literature?
    2. Do the results of the paper lead to new research questions? If so, what are they? Most importantly, be ready to defend your judgment based on your knowledge and scientific reasoning. Please note that your presentation should not be just a summary of the article, but should take the article as a starting point for a critical assessment of the article, which includes suggestions for further development.

Evaluation of the presentation and questions

A minimum of three faculty should evaluate presentation. Below is the template for the evaluation. It should be anonymous. Evaluation is on the level between 1 and 10 (10 is the best).

  • How well are main points of the paper described? 
  • How thoughtful and solid is the critical analysis of the paper given by the student?  
  • How well did the student defend his/her viewpoints?

Passing level will be identified by the faculty based on the above scores.

The first time that students take the qualifying examination, they may pass outright. If a student does not pass on the first attempt, they may be asked to repeat selected portions of the exam during the next qualifying exam period (exams will be held twice a year). After the second time taking the exam, students will either pass, or be asked to withdraw from the Ph.D. program. Any student who is asked to withdraw from the PhD program, and has not previously completed a masters degree in mechanical engineering, will have the opportunity to complete the requirements for a M.S. degree before leaving the program.

2. Focus Course Work (5 courses, 15 SHUs)

Coursework should be selected by students in consultation with their advisor(s). These elective courses should be relevant to dissertation work, and must be at the graduate level (100 or above).

For students that did not take the Design Core, the Department recommends a design course as part of the program of study (e.g. ME140, Inventive Design), although this is not required.

These courses need not be taken in mechanical engineering. With advisor approval, students may take their focus coursework at the graduate level in other disciplines.

3. Seminar (no credit)

  • ME 291 ME Graduate Seminar (fall semester)
  • ME 292 ME Graduate Seminar (spring semester)

Regular attendance at Mechanical Engineering weekly Seminar Series is an integral part of full-time graduate studies. The seminars, held on Thursday afternoons, feature speakers from both inside and outside of Tufts. The seminars provide students and faculty with an opportunity to learn about the latest developments in mechanical engineering research and practice.

All full-time mechanical engineering graduate students are required to register for the ME Seminar every semester. As part of this requirement, a student must pass the seminar course by attending at least 80% of the seminars in the semester. Students who pass the seminar will receive an "S" on their transcript; students who fail the seminar will receive a "U" on their transcript.

4. Dissertation (3 courses, 9 SHUs)

  • ME 297 Ph.D. Thesis (fall semester)
  • ME 298 Ph.D. Research (spring semester)

Preparation of a dissertation representing an independent research work is a pivotal phase of the Ph.D. degree program. It provides the student with an opportunity to work on an open-ended problem, developing a particular solution that is not pre-determined and involving synthesis of knowledge and intellectual creativity.

All Ph.D. candidates must submit a thesis prospectus summarizing the thesis problem and planned approach. The prospectus should also identify the four members of the thesis committee including the primary advisor(s), other faculty members at least one of whom is from outside the ME Department, and another member from outside of Tufts University. The purpose of the prospectus is to inform the department about the candidate's research program and those involved. The proposed research must be formally defended in an oral presentation before the end of the sixth semester in the program. The prospectus must be signed by all committee members, except the outside expert, and submitted to the Department. Copies of past prospectuses are available in the ME Department office. Students receive a grade of Y (incomplete) in the above courses as long as the thesis in progress. Eventual dissertation grades replace the incomplete grades upon formal completion of the dissertation.

The examining committee for doctoral candidates should consist of a minimum of four (4) members with one member from a different Tufts department, and one member from outside the University. The committee chair is normally a full-time, tenure-track faculty member from the department. Exceptions must be approved by the dean.

Degree Completion

The Ph.D. dissertation is completed upon:

  • A successful oral defense, open to the community
  • Submittal of an approved dissertation to the Office of Graduate Studies

The thesis examination committee is composed of at least four members:

  • The dissertation advisor
  • An additional ME Department faculty member
  • One faculty member from outside the department
  • One technical expert outside of Tufts University

The student should consult the Graduate Student Handbook for specific dates and deadlines for this process in the graduation semester.

Degree completion and recommendation for the award of the appropriate degree involves a coordinated set of steps within and outside of the Department. In order to ensure completion of all the program requirements, a degree candidate should complete the Ph.D. Tracking Form.

Special Note: As students complete the steps listed below, they should pay careful attention to the deadlines set by the Office of Graduate Studies for submitting a thesis and other degree related work to complete degree requirements in time for February, May, or August degrees.

Step 1: Filing the Degree Sheet

  • The first step in the process is filing the Doctoral Degree Sheet and submitting the Graduate Exit Survey.
  • The student fills out the degree sheet, obtains approval from his/her academic advisor, and submits it to the Department Chair for approval.
  • The Department then sends the approved form to Student Services for processing and retains a copy as part of the student's record.
  • Upon receiving of this form, Student Services places the student on the "Graduate Degree Listing" for the next degree awarding cycle (February, May, or August).
  • Specific due dates for these forms are provided in the Graduate School handbook for the graduation year.

Step 2: Scheduling and defending the dissertation

The second step in the process is scheduling and defending the dissertation.

The student, in consultation with his/her thesis advisor is responsible for selecting:

  • The date of the defense
  • The dissertation committee
  • The required room reservation

Ask the department office staff for assistance. The dissertation defense is a public presentation open to the entire community. In order to provide adequate time for publicizing this event, the student must inform the department of the impending defense in advance.

A minimum of ONE WEEK before the defense, the graduating student must provide the department with the following information electronically (via email to Pat Fennessy).

  • Student's Name
  • PhD Dissertation Title
  • Date, Time, and Place of Dissertation Defense
  • Committee Members and Affiliations including identification of thesis advisor(s)
  • 100-200 word Abstract

In the interest of public presentation, this requirement is strictly enforced and no exception is granted.

Step 3: Finalizing the thesis

Upon a successful defense of the thesis, the third step in the process is finalizing the thesis in accordance with the examining committee's recommendations. The thesis in its final form is submitted electronically along with the appropriate paperwork as per Graduate Student Handbook. The handbook also provides a detailed description of the thesis format and requirements.

Degree Continuation

  • ME 501-PT Part PhD Time Continuation
  • ME 502-FT Full PhD Time Continuation

Students whose research requires work beyond the semesters in which they are registered for Ph.D. dissertation must register for continuation. A student must be enrolled at Tufts for every semester during the academic year until graduation; otherwise they will be administratively withdrawn from the University. A per semester continuation fee is assessed to students who require additional time over the expected completion period: four and a half years for full-time doctoral programs. Tuition scholarship CANNOT be applied to this fee. An exception to this rule is when a student is granted a leave of absence. International students must have full-time status at all times. International students cannot take a leave of absence and remain in the United States.