Skip to main content

Interdisciplinary Materials Science Program

Ph.D. Program of Study

The interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree in Materials Science requires a total of 72 hours with a minimum of 24 hours of formal course work, of which 12 hours will be from the materials science core. (Students must complete each course with a grade of B or higher).

Core Program Courses

  1. MSE 6310 Atomic Arrangements of Solids
  2. One of the following:
     - CHEM 5350: Statistical Thermodynamics
     - PHYS 8040: Statistical Mechanics
  3. One of the following:
     - PHYS 5640: Physics of Condensed Matter
     - EECE 6301: Introduction to Solid-State Materials
  4. One of the following:
     - CHEM 5040 Nanoparticles
     - CHEM 5610 Chemistry of Inorganic Materials
     - CHEM 5620 Chemistry of Biological Materials

If the student has previous equivalent training for core courses 1, 2, and 3, they may take a more advanced or alternative course with the permission of the IGPMS director and their advisor.

First year students will also complete MSE 6391 Special Topics: Research Rotations (1 hour) in fall and MSE 6392 Special Topics: Research Rotations (2 hours) in the spring.

The remaining 9 credit hours of hours of formal coursework can be any course in Astronomy, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Science, Neuroscience, Physics or the School of Engineering numbered 5000 and above.  Exceptions for courses outside of this list may be made with permission of the IGPMS director and must be appropriate to the individual's research.

Below are some suggested electives from which students have benefited in the past. Students are not required to choose their elective courses from these lists.

Chemistry of Materials
CHEM 5030: Physical Methods in Inorganic Chemistry
CHEM 5150: Electrochemistry: Theory and Analysis
CHEM 5320: Quantum Chemistry

Fabrication and Spectroscopy of Materials
CHEM 5330: Spectroscopy
MSE 6343: Introduction to Electron Microscopy
PHYS 8158: Interaction of Photons with Atoms, Molecules and Solids
PHYS 8159: Experimental Nanoscale Fabrication and Charaterization

Nanoscale Materials
CHBE 5840: Applications of Nanostructures
ME 8364: Nanophotonic Materials
PHYS 8159: Experimental Nanoscale Fabrication and Characterization

The remainder of the 72 hours can be taken as dissertation research, coursework, or transfer credit (if applicable). Performance in dissertation research does not affect the student's GPA.

Temporary Advisor. 
For students entering the IMS program without an adviser (most matriculates), the director of IMS will act as a temporary adviser.  Students will sign up for classes based on recommendations of the director and the program administrator.  In cases, where the student has already identified an adviser, course selection will be made in cooperation between the adviser and program administrator.

Thesis Adviser. By the end of the first academic year, the student will identify two thesis/project advisers.  The selection is by mutual consent of the advisers and student.  Each adviser must be associated with the Materials Program and have primary appointments in different departments

Advisory Committee. The student, with the advice of the IMS director, will select additional members of the faculty to serve on the advisory committee.  The advisory committee will oversee administration of the preliminary examination, and consists of at least five (including the two co-advisers) faculty members, representing three departments.  At least three must be members of the Graduate Faculty, and at least three must be affiliated with the Materials Program at Vanderbilt.

Ph.D. Committee. The Graduate School appoints a committee of at least five members to oversee all Ph.D. qualifying examinations, dissertation research and final examinations.  The requirement for this committee is the same as the advisory committee, where a committee consists of five faculty members, representing at least three departments and at least three members from the Materials Program faculty. The student’s advisor will nominate this committee and forward the nomination to the Director of the IMS program.

Research Rotations

First year students will participate in a series of three research rotations. Each research rotation will last 10 weeks with the expectation that ~ 9 hours per week should be devoted to working with the particular research group. Since the semesters are almost 15 weeks in length, the second rotation would span the end of the fall and the beginning of the spring semesters. A report summarizing the research conducted during the rotation will be submitted upon completion of each 10-week rotation. See handbook for specific formatting requirements.

Ph.D. Preliminary Examination

To proceed with study for the PhD degree in the materials science program, a student must demonstrate proficiency in the fundamentals of materials science and potential for conducting high-quality original research by fulfilling the following two requirements.

  1. Students must earn a grade of B or better in each of the four core courses. Students who fail to receive at least a B in any of the core courses will be required to repeat each course in which a B was not earned.  If a student fails to receive a B (or better) in a course that is being repeated, that student will be terminated from the program.  For purposes of repeating coursework, enrollment is considered an attempt.
  2. Students must pass an exam administered by the Advisory Committee that consists of a) submission of an area paper to the Advisory Committee at least one week prior to the oral component, b) oral presentation in a program seminar format of the work contained in the paper, and c) defense of the work presented and examination. The format and extent of the area paper are at the discretion of the advisers, but the expectation is that the paper will describe original research efforts conducted so far and should be written as if the work were to be submitted for publication in a refereed journal. The presentation will be based on the research included in the area paper, but the examination is not limited to those fields of study or technology. Students should be prepared to address questions related to a) the core course work already completed, b) any other materials-related course work already completed, c) work conducted during research rotations, or d) research conducted in the student’s research group.  The examination can encompass areas both directly and indirectly related to the paper.  

The test should be administered after the student’s second academic semester and before the last day of classes of their third academic semester. Failure to sit for the exam before the end of their third semester will result in an automatic “U” for that semester. For students who have transferred from another graduate institution, scheduling of the exam will be established on an individual basis, but the test must be taken within 12 months of beginning studies at Vanderbilt. If a student fails any component of the exam, the Advisory Committee can grant the student a second chance.  If a second chance is granted, the second test, which will have the same format, must be retaken within 3 months. A second failure will result in termination from the Ph.D. program.

Qualifying Examination

The Qualifying Examination will be given in accordance with the regulations of the Graduate School and administered by the Ph.D. committee. It will consist of a written dissertation proposal, an oral presentation of the proposal, and defense of the proposal. The oral segment may include an examination of concepts both directly and indirectly related to the dissertation proposal. Students should complete the Qualifying Examination after 24 graduate hours and within 42 months of beginning graduate study in the IGPMS. The examination can be taken a maximum of two times. For students with any other prior graduate work, the timeline for Ph.D. qualifying exam can be established on an individual basis.

In the oral qualifying examination, the student should:

  • demonstrate competency with fundamentals in the areas that required remedial action as a result of the  preliminary examination
  • demonstrate in-depth knowledge of subject matter related to the dissertation project, and
  • present a written proposal containing a reasonable research plan and some demonstration of original work in the area of the dissertation to the Ph.D. committee two weeks prior to the examination.

The formal request for appointment to the qualifying examination committee must be received by the Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the date of the examination. Forms for this request are available in the program office.

Final Public Oral Examination

The final public oral examination is an oral defense of the student's thesis presented before the Ph.D. committee and the public in accordance with the Graduate School requirements. The student must pass the oral and the dissertation must be approved by the committee. These two requirements do not have to be concurrent. The student can take the oral examination a maximum of two times. The dissertation is considered approved once it has been signed by all committee members.

In general, the final oral examination will be conducted in two parts. The first part consists of a public presentation of the thesis followed by questions from the gallery. The second part will be in the form of a question period attended by the Ph.D. committee and invited faculty only.

The student shall submit, not later than two weeks before the end of the final exam period of the term in which the student expects to graduate, two approved copies of the thesis to the Graduate School office, one to the program office and one to each of the thesis advisers. Approval requires at least five signatures on the thesis title page of members of the Ph.D. committee. The candidate shall also furnish an abstract of the thesis, not to exceed 250 words in length, to the Graduate School office.