PhD Overview

Stoerzinger in laboratory

The doctoral program in materials science and engineering is designed to integrate core courses that apply across the field, specialty courses selected with the adviser, and research. Students have opportunities to develop presentation and writing skills through participation in individual research groups, presentations at national and international meetings, and submission of papers for publication. Students also participate as full- or part-time teaching assistants in graduate and undergraduate courses.

The Northwestern PhD Experience

The PhD program at Northwestern has three major components: coursework, research, and professional development. As a PhD student, you will undertake graduate level coursework to achieve a greater depth of understanding in the foundations of materials science including thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, and solid state physics.

You will begin graduate research shortly after joining a research group in the fall quarter. You will propose an independent research project leading to a PhD by the fall of your third year (second year for students with prior MS degree). The defining experience of the PhD program is the completion of a dissertation that describes groundbreaking work in your field of study.

The third essential component of the PhD is professional development. You will develop as a teacher, mentor, and researcher by serving as a teaching assistant for at least two courses. You will network with fellow students by participating in numerous professional society student chapters, many of which are led by Northwestern MSE students.

2011-2012 PhD Student Handbook

Students Entering with Bachelor's (BS) Degree

Students entering with a BS degree must take at least 15 courses. All courses must be taken for a grade rather than pass/fail. Full-time students are required to take at least nine academic courses during their first three quarters (excluding the summer quarter) of graduate study. Enrollment in the core curriculum is mandatory. Petitions for exceptions due to course conflicts, etc., must be signed by the adviser and approved by the associate chair. In addition to the core courses, four additional 400 level MSE courses (excluding 499) are required. According to University policy, students must maintain a 3.0 grade point average to receive financial assistance.

Students Entering with Master's (MS) Degree

A maximum of eight quarter courses taken during study for an MS degree may be counted toward the 15 quarter course requirement if a grade of “B” or better was obtained in each course. All other requirements must still be satisfied. In the event that an entering student has been enrolled in, but not completed, a degree-granting MS program, a maximum of eight courses satisfactorily completed with a grade of “B” or better while in that program may, with Graduate School approval, be counted toward the PhD requirements.


Each PhD candidate works closely with a faculty adviser on a research project. Projects may be experimental, theoretical, or a combination thereof, depending on student and faculty interest. Through faculty involvement in collaborative research and through the science and technology centers, research teams often include other Northwestern faculty members, professors from other universities, scientists from national laboratories (particularly nearby Argonne National Laboratory), postdoctoral research associates, and other graduate students. All research done in the department directly applies to the dissertation or thesis. We believe that active involvement in and reporting of original research are key elements in a graduate student’s maturation.


The PhD curriculum includes five courses that provide a foundation for any specialization within materials science and engineering. Students take ten additional courses, two of which constitute a recognizable minor and four of which must be in materials science at the 400 level or above. The other courses are appropriate to the specialization or are useful for dissertation research. 

A wide variety of courses in other science and engineering departments may be used for the minor or as electives.

Crown Family Graduate Internship Program

PhD candidates may choose to participate in the Crown Family Graduate Internship Program, gaining practical experience in industry or national research laboratories in areas related to research interests. An internship can significantly boost the thesis effort and may provide a basis for future employment.

A student may elect the graduate internship option in the latter stages (e.g., third year) of PhD study. A proper position is found with the help of the student’s PhD adviser, the associate dean of graduate studies and of research, and the director of industry relations. The student works full-time for three, six, or nine months and generally is paid by the participating sponsor.

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Featured Alumni

Alpana Ranade headshot

Alpana Ranade

PhD, Materials Science and Engineering, 2011

Alpana’s PhD research was supported by a Ford-Boeing-Northwestern University collaboration project in Professor Yip-Wah Chung’s group. Her research focused on the synthesis and characterization of visibly transparent films with enhanced infrared reflectance in order to reduce heat load on vehicles.

During her time at Northwestern, she visited both Ford and Boeing and had a summer internship at Boeing. She now works at Boeing Research & Technology in Seattle.

Students interested in learning more about Boeing internships and co-ops should visit the Boeing careers Facebook page.

Department of Materials Science and Engineering

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