Ph.D. Exams and Dissertation | NC State ISE

Ph.D. Exams and Dissertation

The Ph.D. program should be completed in six semesters after receiving your MS degree. It can be completed in eight semesters with a direct path from BSIE to Ph.D. It includes the following requirements.

Qualifying Exam

The purpose of the written qualifying examination (QE) is to determine if you have adequate skills, integrated knowledge, and the potential for successful completion of the Ph.D.

  • You will take four of eight subject examinations. The exams are grouped into four areas: Ergonomics, Manufacturing, Production, and Systems Analysis and Optimization
  • Two exams are offered in each area
  • Two of the exams must be from the same area and the other two exams can be from any of the other three areas
  • Each of the eight exams will be scheduled for a separate day. This starts at least eight days before the start of the Fall semester.
  • Each of the eight exams will be graded by the end of the second week of the semester
  • Each subject exam will be either an approximately four-hour on-campus exam or an up to twenty-four-hour take-home exam
  • You should indicate in writing to the Graduate Services Coordinator your intent to sit for the QE. Also, list what four subject exams you will be taking, no later than May 15.

An Exam Review will be available for each subject exam that provides:

  • A list of the topics to be covered
  • Whether it is on campus or take home
  • The exam’s format, any relevant references, any relevant courses, and sample examination questions

The relevant topics covered in each subject exam will be based on the material from the following background courses:

  • ISE 540: Human Factors in Systems Design
  • ISE 544: Occupational Biomechanics


  • ISE 515: Process Engineering
  • ISE 716: Automated Systems Engineering


  • ISE 723: Production Planning, Scheduling and Inventory Control
  • ISE 754: Logistics Engineering

Systems Analytics and Optimization

  • ISE 505: Linear Programming
  • ISE 760: Stochastic Processes

Each background course will be offered at least once each year. If you deem yourself proficient in a relevant subject, you are not required to take the corresponding background course. You may decide to use just the Exam Review materials as background for studying for your exam.

The recommended time for taking the QE is within the first year of entering the Ph.D. program. Each year the Director of Graduate Programs (DGP) will designate a “coordinator” for each subject exam. This normally would be the instructor who taught the exam’s background course during the previous year. The coordinator will be responsible for:

  • Updating the Exam Review
  • Compiling the exam
  • Soliciting review of the exam by other faculty as needed

This assures that a faculty member is available to answer questions during the exam, and coordinating the exam grading.

Prior to the QE, you’ll receive a number to use instead of your name on subject exam answer pages. This assures that grading will be “blind”. For take-home exams, the DGP will transmit any computer files submitted by you for the exam to the coordinator. You must ensure that the title and contents of each file don’t identify you beyond your assigned number.

Coordinators will evaluate each exam question, with other faculty members as needed, and assign a grade for the exam.

The DGP will be responsible for the overall coordination of the QE. This includes scheduling, location, and informing you and the faculty of the results. The eight exam coordinators along with the DGP will constitute the “examination committee.” After coordinators assign grades for each subject exam, the committee will meet to review the grades in each subject area. They will decide the overall outcome of your QE exam. The overall outcome could be High Pass, Pass, or Fail.

However, in the event that your performance is marginal, a Conditional Pass may be assigned. If this occurs, the examination committee will decide the conditions you must meet. They will also choose the verification process to determine that the conditions have been satisfied. The DGP will bring the decisions to the faculty for notification.

You will have two opportunities to pass the QE. If you fail the exam on the first try, you may choose to try again in the following year. If you choose to try again, you will need to repeat the entire exam on the second try. If you fail the exam on the second try, you will be terminated from the ISE Ph.D. program.

Preliminary Exam

The primary purpose of this event is to examine you on your dissertation proposal. Also, to make a determination on whether your research objectives are reasonable and achievable. At its discretion, the committee can also question you on material from the QE or from the minor area. This is especially true in the case where written performance has been marginal. For this latter purpose a separate session, if deemed to be desirable, should be scheduled. Conduct of the Preliminary Oral Exam should permit the committee to answer such questions as the following:

  1. Is there a “hole in the technology” as demonstrated by the literature review?
  2. Do the proposed problem and research objectives adequately address this hole?
  3. Is the problem adequately structured for a solution?
  4. Will the proposed solution approach solve the problem?
  5. Can the student solve the problem with his background capabilities?
  6. Can the problem be solved in a reasonable time period or should the scope be narrowed?
  7. Is the research worthy enough to recommend the award of the doctoral degree?

You should take the Preliminary Oral Exam within twelve months of passing the QE. If you fail the Preliminary Oral Examination, you shall be granted one opportunity for re-examination no earlier than the next semester in residence.

Ph.D. Dissertation

The dissertation is an original paper that contributes to the literature in the field of industrial engineering. To complete the Ph.D. program, its publication is expected and encouraged. Prior to scheduling the preliminary oral exam, you are required to write a dissertation proposal for your committee to review. This proposal should contain a problem description, literature review, research objectives, solution approach, and research plan. The final oral defense is the examination of your methodology used and conclusions reached in your research. These should reflect those as reported in your dissertation.

Note: ISE 899 – Doctoral Dissertation Preparation does not count towards your degree and should only be taken after all requirements are met so that the requirement of continuous registration is satisfied.