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Doctoral Program

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The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is intended primarily for students who desire a career in research, advanced development, or teaching. Students in the PhD program obtain a broad education in the core areas of Aeronautics and Astronautics through coursework, while also engaging in intensive research in a specialized area, culminating in a doctoral thesis.

Minor in Aero/Astro

A student who wishes to obtain a PhD minor in Aero/Astro should consult with the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for designation of a minor advisor. The minor may be obtained by completing 20 units of graduate-level courses in the Aero/Astro Department, following a program (and performance) approved by the department’s candidacy chair. The student’s PhD Reading Committee and University Oral Committee must each include at least one faculty member from Aero/Astro.

Ph.D. IN AERONAUTICS AND ASTRONAUTICS

Department requirements are stated below for students admitted for Autumn 2021-22. Students admitted prior to Autumn 2021-22 should refer to the section “Ph.D. Aeronautics and Astronautics for Students Admitted Prior to Autumn 2021-22” (at the bottom of this page) for Qualifying Examination procedures.

Aero/Astro Doctoral Study

Students admitted to our Ph.D. program who do not already have an M.S. in a related discipline conferred when they begin the Ph.D. program must complete the Aeronautics and Astronautics M.S. degree requirements prior to receiving the Ph.D. This requires submission of the Graduate Program Authorization Petition in Axess ($125 fee) to add the M.S. program to his/her record, and submission of the Master’s Program Proposal with advisor’s signature to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office. This must be completed at, or before, the beginning of year three of the Ph.D. program.

All Ph.D. students must complete the department qualifying procedures and apply for candidacy by the end of their second year of graduate study to remain in good standing in the Ph.D. program. Requirements for remaining in good standing for the duration of the program are described in the “Ph.D. Requirements for Good Standing”, below. The Qualifying Examination is given once in the Autumn Quarter and once in the Spring Quarter. The application must have the signed approval of the student's Ph.D. advisor.

Ph.D. Requirements and Good Standing

Ph.D. students maintain good standing by:

  • Meeting the university requirements for graduate enrollment and minimum progress (see below).
  • Receiving official commitment of one faculty member to advise their Ph.D. program by the end of quarter four. This is recorded on the Ph.D. Advisor Commitment form and submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office.
  • Passing the Qualification Examination. Ph.D. students must complete this in the second year of graduate study. (Students admitted from the Stanford M.S. program must take the examination in Spring Quarter of year two of their graduate studies.)
  • Submitting the Application to Candidacy before the end of the quarter when they pass the Qualification Exam. Once achieved, candidacy is granted through year seven of graduate study for students completing the M.S degree, or through year six of graduate study for students admitted with an M.S. degree in a related discipline, unless terminated by the department (e.g., for unsatisfactory progress).
  • Participate in research, retain advisor, and sustain satisfactory research progress as determined by advisor.
  • Satisfy coursework requirements.
  • Secure advisor approval for any internship or leave of absence.
  • Form a Dissertation Reading Committee.
  • Pass the Oral Examination, in which dissertation results are presented and defended.
  • Submit the final dissertation to the university. (See Doctoral Dissertation below)
  • Apply to Graduate in AXESS during your final quarter in the program.
  • Complete all these requirements for the Ph.D. within the candidacy period, or receive department approval for an extension of candidacy (for up to one year) and complete the requirements during that period.
Dissertation Advisor, Research Topic and Progress

Students are expected to participate in research with a faculty member each quarter until you identify a Ph.D. advisor, and the first quarter rotation must be with an Aero/Astro faculty member. Research activity is evaluated by the faculty advisor each quarter for all Ph.D. students and the result is recorded using at least one unit of research credit. Before the start of the quarter, expectations for research will be set at an initial meeting between you and the research advisor. The Student Services Office will monitor your research rotation participation each quarter. If you do not participate in research, you may no longer be in good standing in your Ph.D. program and risk losing funding support. Funding for new students supports up to four quarters in a rotation program. The arrangement between you and the faculty member supervising your research may be for the entire academic year or for a shorter period. The latter would enable a student to work with different faculty members exploring different areas of research until you identify a Ph.D. advisor. This provides you with the opportunity to find the group that is best suited to your research interests.

Students must receive an official commitment from a Ph.D. Advisor by the end of quarter four of the Ph.D. program. This is recorded on the Ph.D. Advisor Commitment form and submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office. By signing the form, a faculty member indicates a commitment to supervise the student, and work toward securing funding. The principal dissertation advisor must be a member of the Academic Council. Former Academic Council members, emeritus Academic Council members, or non-Academic Council member may serve as co-advisor with the appointment of a principal dissertation advisor who is currently on the Academic Council.

Faculty research advisors guide students in key areas such as selecting courses; designing and conducting research; developing of teaching pedagogy; navigating policies and degree requirements; and exploring academic opportunities and professional pathways. The primary responsibilities for monitoring the research progress of a Ph.D. student lies with the Ph.D. research advisor. An acceptable research dissertation must be presented for the Ph.D. degree. Because development of a dissertation is usually an intense and personal process involving you and your research advisor, it is not possible to abstractly define an acceptable dissertation. You should be very careful to reach a clear understanding of your advisor’s expectations and standards before embarking too far into the research project. Switching your research topic without the consent of the research advisor will affect the status of good standing.

When the research advisor is emeritus or from outside the Aero/Astro department, the student must also identify a primary faculty co-advisor from within the department to provide guidance on departmental requirements and opportunities. The co-advisor must be a member of the student’s Reading Committee and Oral Exam Committee.

Students and advisors should be aware of the University’s policies regarding minimum progress requirements for graduate students described in the Stanford Bulletin in the section titled "Graduate Degree”, including the quarterly grading expectations for research units and for the TGR course. If these are not met, the advisor and department will follow the University’s guidance, as explained in the “Guidelines for Dismissal of Graduate Students for Academic or Professional Reasons” section of the Stanford Bulletin.

Occasionally, a student's research may diverge from the area of competence of the adviser, or irreconcilable differences may occur between the student and the faculty adviser. In such cases, the student or the faculty adviser may request a change in assignment. If the department decides to grant the request, every reasonable effort must be made to pair the student with another suitable adviser. This may entail some modification of the student's research project. In the rare case where a student's dissertation research on an approved project is in an advanced stage and the dissertation adviser is no longer available, every reasonable effort must be made to appoint a new adviser, usually from the student's reading committee. This may also require that a new member be added to the reading committee before the draft dissertation is evaluated, to keep the reconstituted committee in compliance with the University requirements for its composition. Please see the Aero/Astro Student Services Office immediately if you have any questions or concerns about this.

Ph.D. Qualifying Procedures in Aero/Astro

Time

All Ph.D. students must attempt the department qualifying procedures by the end of their second year of graduate study to remain in good standing in the Ph.D. program. The Aero/Astro Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is given once in the Autumn Quarter and once in the Spring Quarter, usually in the second week of November and May. Exact dates are announced several weeks before the exam. The Application for the Aero/Astro Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is made available early each examination quarter, with the application deadlines early in April and October. The application must have the signed approval of the student's proposed Ph.D. advisor.

General advice for Quals research:

  1. Be sure that the faculty member understands your timeline for taking the qualifying examination - the type of project and level of interaction may differ from a simple "let me try this field" AA 290.
  2. If the supervising faculty member is not in the Aero/Astro Department, you should consult with the Aero/Astro Student Services Office and your Aero/Astro advisor in advance to ensure that this research will meet the Quals requirement.
Eligibility

To be eligible for the Aero/Astro Qualifying Examination, a student must meet the following conditions by the appropriate deadline.

  • Current enrollment in a graduate program at Stanford University with at least 30 units of coursework completed.
  • The candidate should have the official commitment of one faculty to advise them. There is no explicit requirement regarding having taken one or more AA290 classes with the advisor.
  • The student must take two courses in each of three core areas. The three core areas must be chosen from the following list of four core areas: Controls/Dynamics, Fluids, Structures, and Applied Mathematics and Computation. The average GPA for these classes (considering, for any waived courses, the Stanford grade obtained during the course waiver exam, which is recorded by the AA Student Services Manager) should be higher than or equal to 3.8. Furthermore, the overall average GPA should be higher than or equal to 3.5.
  • Students can waive one or more of these classes by following a two-step process: (step 1) showing that they have taken a sufficiently related class at a prior institution (which needs to be certified by the AA Director of Graduate Studies) and (step 2) taking an exam for each of the classes the student desires to waive and achieving a grade of A or higher (the instructor can handle the exam in the form of their choosing, e.g., through an oral exam or a written exam).  

Qualifying Examination core courses per area:

Controls and dynamics:

ENGR 205: Introduction to Control Design Techniques

AA 242A: Classical Dynamics

Fluids:

AA 200: Applied Aerodynamics

AA 210A: Fundamentals of Compressible Flow

Structures:

AA 151: Lightweight Structures

AA 240: Analysis of Structures

Applied Mathematics and Computation:

AA 203: Optimal and Learning-based Control

AA 214: Numerical Methods for Compressible Flows

AA 222: Engineering Design Optimization (CS 361)

AA 228: Decision Making under Uncertainty (CS 238)

Application for the Aero/Astro Qualifying Examination

The Application for the Aero/Astro Qualifying Examination serves as the basis for exam scheduling. The application form is made available early each Quals quarter and is due approximately two weeks later. The application must have the signed approval of the student's Ph.D. advisor.

All petitions (to waive specific Quals conditions or to defer the exams) are due prior to the start of the Quals quarter (deadline announced); they must include advisor signature and appropriate documentation.

Examination Procedures

  1. The candidate student will be examined by 3 faculty members (advisor not included; the advisor may attend the exam session as a “silent observer”). At least 2 of the faculty should be AA faculty (no courtesy). The student, in consultation with their advisor, will provide a list of suggested examiners (at least five, ranked in order of preference). The AA Student Services Manager will determine the final list of examiners, based on the provided list and faculty availability.
  2. The advisor submits a one-paragraph recommendation of the student to the examiners. The recommendation will inform the discussion and evaluation of the student at the end of their exam.
  3. The student is asked to prepare a 30-minute presentation based on their research work. The presentation should clearly address the following points:
    1. What is the research problem? Why is it hard? Who does it impact?
    2. What is the state of knowledge in the field today? What are the limits of current practice?
    3. What is the new technical idea? Why can we succeed now?
    4. Are there others dedicated to finding a solution to the problem?
    5. What is the impact if successful?
  4. The student supplies to each examiner a 1-page report summarizing the student’s research project and a plan for the Ph.D. The report is due to the examiners two weeks before the exam. The role of the report is to give some time to the examiners to familiarize themselves with the student’s research project.
  5. The exam is 1 hour long and is divided in two parts:
    1. During the first half hour the student presents the research project. The second half hour comprises a 30-minute QA session related to the research project. During this session the examiners can ask questions related to the fundamental concepts covered during the presentation. This gives the opportunity to the examiners to assess general mastery of the area the student is working on, beyond the traditional confines of coursework. The examiners should make sure that there is enough diversity in the questions asked.
Qualifying Decision

Right after the exam, the examiners meet for approximately 30 minutes to discuss student’s performance, and make one of the following decisions:

  1. Pass
  2. Pass, with a list of classes the student should take to strengthen their background (at most three); the student should receive a grade of at least B in these classes in order to defend their thesis
  3. Fail, with retake option (if first time) or removal of the student from the PhD program (if second time)

After a decision has been made, the decision should be promptly communicated to the AA Student Services

Manager. If there is no consensus on the exam outcome, the examiners will send a summary of the discussion to the Department Chair, who will make the final decision. Exam results will be sent to the student via email by the AA Student Services Manager.

The student can take the quals at most twice. The first time should be either in the Fall or Spring of the second year; the second time, if applicable, should be the next available Qualifying Examination.

After the Exams

A student who passes the Qualifying Examination must file for candidacy before the end of the quarter. A student who fails to qualify may remain in the Ph.D. program only if he or she passes the next available Qualifying Examination. A student who fails to qualify after two attempts may remain in the AA-Ph.D. program for one additional quarter. After this additional quarter, a student will be formally dismissed from the PhD program by the Aero/Astro Faculty Committee. In this quarter, the department will not approve a leave of absence or reduced tuition requests.

If a student elects to formally enter the Engineer degree, they must discontinue the Ph.D. at the same time they add the Engineer degree via the Graduate Program Authorization Petition in Axess.

Candidacy

There are two requirements for admission to Ph.D. candidacy in Aeronautics and Astronautics: students must first pass the departmental qualifying exam and must then submit an application for candidacy. The Application for Candidacy for Doctoral Degree (PDF) must be submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office before the end of the quarter in which a student passes the Qualifying Examination. The candidacy form lists the courses the student will take to fulfill the requirements for the degree. The form must include the 90 non-MS units required for the Ph.D.; it should be signed by the advisor and submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for the Director of Graduate Studies’ approval signature. Aero/Astro uses a department-specific candidacy form, which may be obtained in the Aero/Astro Student Services Office. It is incumbent upon Ph.D. students to request letter grades in all courses listed on the Application for Candidacy form. Students must receive a passing grade, and maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0, on all courses listed on the Candidacy form. Changes can be filed at any time by submitting a revised Candidacy form with advisor's signature, and submitting the form to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for the Director of Graduate Studies’ approval. In order to graduate or go TGR, you must have completed all units listed on your current Candidacy form.

Once achieved, candidacy is granted through year seven of graduate study for students completing the M.S degree, or through year six of graduate study for students admitted with an M.S. degree in a related discipline, unless terminated by the department (e.g., for unsatisfactory progress). This term is not affected by leaves of absence. The candidacy end date is listed on the student’s record in AXESS. Students who are unable to graduate before their candidacy expires may submit an extension request for up to one additional year of candidacy.

Candidacy extensions requests require review of a dissertation progress report, a dissertation draft, timetable for completion of the dissertation, and any other factors regarded as relevant by the department. Students must submit the candidacy extension request before the end of their program's time limit. Once candidacy has expired, registration privileges are terminated and the student will need to apply for reinstatement into the Ph.D. program. Extension requests should be submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office. Note, the department is not obligated to grant an extension, and all requests are subject to final approval by the Aero/Astro Department Chair.

Ph.D. Funding

AA-PhD students who are in good standing relative to program requirements are funded to the department’s 50% academic year post-quals research assistantship level. Arranging for this funding is the responsibility of the faculty Ph.D. advisor and the department, and can include fellowships, research assistantships, training grants and teaching assistantships.

Students receiving summer funds, including RAs and fellowships, must be registered. If there is a reasonable expectation for a student to be making progress toward the degree in the summer or during a graduation quarter, and the student is in good standing, the student should be funded at minimum to the 50% post-quals research assistantship level. However, arrangements may be made during the summer for a research assistantship percentage increase/decrease depending on the expectations of research progress agreed upon by the student and advisor. When students near the end of their degree program, the student and advisor may agree to end the graduate funding; it’s necessary, for instance, if students begin their new employment before Ph.D. conferral.

Course requirements

Each individual Ph.D. program, designed by the student in consultation with the advisor, should represent a strong and cohesive program reflecting the student's major field of interest. Ph.D. candidates must complete a minimum of 135 units. Ph.D. candidates who received their MS from Stanford may count up to 45 units towards the 135-unit total. Students who received an MS degree at another institution may petition (through the university Registrar’s Office) to transfer up to 45 units toward the 135-unit requirement.

Of the 90 units required beyond the M.S., a student must complete a minimum of 27 units (including 9 units of mathematics) of approved courses in advanced study in engineering, science, and mathematics (excluding research, directed study, and seminars) beyond the MS degree. These units must be taken for a letter grade, and all courses must be numbered 200 and above. Note: One math course may be taken at the 100 level if approved by the advisor. The remainder of the 90 units may be in the form of either Ph.D. dissertation units or free electives. Units which were applied toward the M.S. degree cannot be used again. An advisor approved Ph.D. course proposal must be submitted when applying for Ph.D. candidacy.

Ph.D. students in Aeronautics and Astronautics must take 3 mathematics courses (a minimum of 9 units), with at least 6 units from courses numbered above 200. The Aero/Astro Department and the other engineering departments offer many courses that have sufficient mathematical content that they may be used to satisfy the mathematics requirement; a pre-approved list of mathematics requirements (PDF) is included in the department's handbook, but there are many others which may be acceptable. Please consult with your advisor and the Aero/Astro Student Services Office before assuming that a particular course will be accepted in your own program.

Ph.D. Minor

If choosing to take a Ph.D. minor in another department, a maximum of 9 units from the minor program may be included in the 27 units of formal coursework; the remaining minor units may be considered free electives, and included within the 90-unit total (beyond the MS) required for the Aero/Astro Ph.D.

Grade Point Average

A minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 is required to fulfill the department’s Ph.D. It is incumbent upon Ph.D. students to request letter grades in all courses listed on the Application for Candidacy form.

Dissertation reading committee

Each Ph.D. candidate is required to establish a reading committee for the doctoral dissertation within six months after passing the department's Ph.D. Qualifying Examination. Thereafter, the student should consult frequently with all members of the committee about the direction and progress of the dissertation research. The student’s principal advisor and dissertation reading committee have the responsibility of supervising the research work and insuring that high standards of performance are maintained. Conversely, it is the student’s responsibility to keep their reading committee members informed about their research progress. The signatures on your dissertation represent the final certification of its adequacy.

A Dissertation Reading Committee consists of the principal dissertation advisor and at least two other readers. If the principal advisor is emeritus or the principal research advisor is not within the Aero/Astro Department, there should be a non-emeritus co-advisor. It is expected that at least two members of the Aero/Astro faculty will be on the reading committee. Although all readers are usually members of the Stanford Academic Council, the Department Chair may approve in special circumstances that must be justifiable, one non-Academic Council reader if the person brings unusual and necessary expertise to the dissertation research, and has no conflict of interest (for example, this person should not be part of the research project or directly associated with the funding authority). Generally, this non-Academic Council reader will be a fourth reader, in addition to three Academic Council members. It is the student’s and the advisor’s responsibility to justify to the Chair why this non-Academic Council member is proposed as a fourth reader.

The student must submit a Doctoral Dissertation Reading Committee form, signed by each of the readers, to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for approval by the Department Chair. Approval of a non-Academic Council reader requires submission of a Petition for Non-Academic Council Doctoral Committee Members. Any changes to the committee must be submitted to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office for approval by the Department Chair prior to submission of the dissertation. The Change of Advisor or Reading Committee Form requires the signature of anyone who is added to the committee; advisors/readers who signed the original form do not need to sign again.

University oral examination

Each Ph.D. candidate is required to take the University Oral Examination after the dissertation is substantially completed but before final approval of the dissertation. The dissertation draft must be in writing, with the expectation the final dissertation will be ready to submit within one quarter of the examination. The student should make available the draft copy of the dissertation to members of the examination committee prior to the exam. The examination itself is intended to verify that the research represents the student’s own contribution to knowledge and to test their understanding of the research. Candidacy must be valid and the student must be registered in the quarter in which the University Oral Examination is taken. The coordination of this exam is the responsibility of the department (primarily the student and advisor). The Registrar reviews but does not participate in the examination. The examination normally begins with a presentation by the PhD candidate during which clarifying questions may be asked. This part of the examination is typically open to the public. After a brief recess, the examination continues in private session, with only the candidate and members of the examining committee in attendance.

This Committee is comprised of four faculty examiners plus a chairman. The examination should be conducted according to the major department’s stated practice, although it should not exceed three hours in length. A typical exam in Aero/Astro is expected to take three hours. At the conclusion of the examination the candidate should be asked to leave so that the committee can confer in private. A vote is taken and the chair tallies the votes of the members. The Orals Chair should submit the results of the examination to the Student Services Office immediately following the exam. The student’s advisor will notify the student of the outcome.

The University Oral Examination Form can be found on the Registrar’s Office website. The form must be submitted with a thesis draft to the Aero/Astro Student Services Office at least three weeks prior to the date arranged for the oral examination. The department will provide a (red) folder which includes the exam schedule, ballots, and department and university guidelines for the exam. Note: Students must be enrolled during the quarter when they take their University Oral Examination. If the orals take place during the break time between quarters, the student must be enrolled in the prior quarter. Once the oral examination has been passed, the student finalizes the thesis for reading committee review and final approval.

Doctoral dissertation

Please refer to the Directions for Preparing Doctoral Dissertations, which outlines the university guidelines for preparing a PhD dissertation. When the final draft of your dissertation has been completed, make an appointment to consult with the Graduate Degree Progress (GDP) officer in the Registrar’s Office to go over a review of the completion of your PhD program and the strict formatting requirements for the dissertation. Submit the final version of your dissertation to the GDP no later than the dissertation deadline of your submission quarter. Note: All members of the Reading Committee must sign the dissertation before the filing deadline.

Mid-year degrees are not officially conferred until the first week of the quarter after degree completion, and actual diplomas are printed only once a year for distribution at the University's Commencement in June. However, students who have submitted the dissertation and have no outstanding Stanford obligations (financial or academic) may obtain an official University "Statement of Completion" in Axess after degree conferral. Prior to requesting a Statement of Completion, the submission must first be approved by both the Final Reader and Registrar's Office. Note: students will receive email confirmation once the submission is approved by the Registrar's Office. This email confirmation will provide instructions for obtaining the letter by essentially logging on to AXESS, and going to the eDissertation/eThesis Center, where it should be ready and available as a link to the student.

Note: Students may be eligible to petition for a Graduation Quarter during the quarter they plan to submit the dissertation. For details, contact the Aero/Astro Student Services Office. International students should consult carefully with the International Center before selecting specialized registration status because their visas may prohibit it.

For Students Admitted Prior to Autumn 2021-22

Ph.D. Qualifying Procedures in Aero/Astro

Before beginning dissertation research for the Ph.D. degree, a student must pass the departmental Qualifying Examination (Quals). Students may be admitted to the Ph.D. program and begin doctoral coursework before taking the Quals. The basis of this examination is a series of oral exams in the general areas of control theory and dynamics; fluids; structures; and applied mathematics and computation.

Time

A student in the Stanford Aero/Astro M.S. program who wishes to pursue doctoral study must take the Qualifying Examination in the second year. Honors Cooperative students who have enrolled at less- than-fulltime for most of their study should take the Qualifying Examination within three years after entering the graduate program. The Aero/Astro Ph.D. Qualifying Examination is given once in the Autumn Quarter and once in the Spring Quarter, usually in the second week of November and May. Exact dates are announced several weeks before the exam.

Eligibility

To be eligible for the Aero/Astro Qualifying Examination, a student must meet the following conditions by the appropriate deadline.

  • Current enrollment in a graduate program at Stanford University with at least 30 units of Master’s coursework completed. A student who has completed fewer than 30 units may petition to take Quals.
  • Stanford graduate GPA of 3.5 or higher.
  • Investigation of a research problem, under the direction of a faculty member who will evaluate this work as evidence of the potential for doctoral research. The minimum requirement for taking Quals is to complete 3 units of AA 290 before the Quals quarter.

General advice for Quals research:

  1. Be sure that the faculty member understands you are doing Quals research - the type of project and level of interaction may differ from a simple "let me try this field" AA 290.
  2. If the supervising faculty member is not in the Aero/Astro Department, you should consult with the Aero/Astro Student Services Office and your Aero/Astro advisor in advance to ensure that this research will meet the Quals requirement.
Application for the Aero/Astro Qualifying Examination

The Application for the Aero/Astro Qualifying Examination serves as the basis for exam scheduling. The application form is made available early each Quals quarter and is due approximately two weeks later. The application must have the signed approval of the student's proposed Ph.D. advisor. By signing the application, a faculty member indicates a commitment to supervise the student, and work toward securing funding, if the student passes the Qualification Examination.

All petitions (to waive specific Quals conditions or to defer the exams) are due prior to the start of the Quals quarter (deadline announced); they must include advisor signature and appropriate documentation.

Examination Procedures

Examinations are given in the four fields: Dynamics and Controls; Fluids; Structures; and Applied Mathematics and Computation. Every student is examined in three of these fields: one field for a Major Field Exam and two other fields for Minor Field Exams.

  • The Major Field Exam is a sixty-minute test of knowledge and understanding on topics selected by the committee, based on the student's chosen area, including fifteen minutes devoted to pertinent mathematics. It is conducted by a committee of four examiners, chaired by either the academic or research advisor. Committee members should be from Aero/Astro faculty participating in the exams, from the field closest to the student’s specialty. However, if the student has done significant research in this area with another faculty member outside of the department, the student may request to have that professor on the Major Field Exam committee.
  • There are two examinations in each Minor field. Each Minor examiner conducts a separate 15-minute oral exam. Questions are usually from materials in courses (ENGR 105, AA 242A, AA 200, AA 210A, AA 151, AA 240, courses listed under Applied Mathematics and Computation), or their equivalent at other universities, but may cover fundamentals from earlier (undergraduate) courses as well. Examinations are not intended to evaluate course work, but focus on general understanding, aptitude, and assimilation of knowledge. Minor examiners are to be chosen from faculty participating in the exams in each field.
  • The Qualifying Exam includes a thirty-minute research presentation consisting of a twenty-minute presentation followed by ten minutes of questions and answers. The research presentation committee will be selected from the students’ major exam area, and will include at least three Aero/Astro faculty members, counting the advisor. At times, the Aero/Astro Department may reach out to other Stanford departments for examiners. The content of the presentation should be based on AA 290, focus on what the student has done, and show an understanding of how to approach a research problem.
  • Suggested outline when preparing the Qualifying Examination research presentation:
  1. What is the research problem? Why is it hard? Who does it impact?
  2. How is it solved today? What are the limits of current practice?
  3. What is the new technical idea? Why we can succeed now?
  4. Are there others dedicated to finding a solution to the problem?
  5. What is the impact if successful?
Recommended Courses to Prepare for the Qualifying Exams
  1. Controls and Dynamics

ENGR 105: Feedback Control Design

AA 242A: Classical Dynamics

  1. Fluids

AA 200: Applied Aerodynamics

AA 210A: Fundamentals of Compressible Flow

  1. Structures

AA 151: Lightweight Structures

AA 240: Analysis of Structures

  1. Applied Mathematics and Computation

The exam will be based on two courses selected below.

AA 203: Optimal and Learning-based Control

AA 214: Numerical Methods for Compressible Flows

AA 222: Engineering Design Optimization (CS 361)

AA 228: Decision Making under Uncertainty (CS 238)

AA 242B: Mechanical Vibrations (ME 242B)

CS 229: Machine Learning (STATS 229)

Qualifying Decision

Following the Qualifying Examination, the results will be discussed by the department faculty in a closed meeting. In addition to performance on the examination, the student's research potential and academic performance are considered. Final decisions will be relayed to the student by the advisor. Decisions on the qualification of each student for the Ph.D. program are based on the student's:

  • Ability to assimilate knowledge.
  • Aptitude for independent thought.
  • Fundamental understanding of the basic principles.
  • Potential to conduct research.
After the Exams

A student who passes the Qualifying Examination must file for candidacy before the end of the quarter.

A student who fails to qualify may remain in (or be admitted to) the Ph.D. program only if he or she passes the next available Qualifying Examination. The Qualifying Examination may not be taken more than twice.