Students take outdoor noise measurements on a small runway.

Doctor of Philosophy

The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is conferred in recognition of high attainment and productive scholarship.

Two-step Admission Process

Admission to the Ph.D. program is a two-step process. First, the candidate must apply to the Graduate Program in Acoustics for admission as a Ph.D. student. Admission to the program will permit the student to begin taking classes and working toward a doctor’s degree. However, the student is not a doctoral candidate until he or she has completed the second step and passed the Acoustics Ph.D. candidacy examination.

Admission to Candidacy will be based on: the academic record of the student, the results of a candidacy examination, and the opinion of the Graduate Faculty of the Program and the Program Director regarding the student’s overall fitness for Candidacy.

Acoustics Ph.D. Candidacy Exam

The purpose of the candidacy examination is to assist in the determination of whether or not the student is competent to pursue a Ph.D. program. In addition to the candidacy examination, the student is expected to demonstrate sufficient intellectual capacity and maturity to progress successfully through the course work and other organized aspects of the Ph.D. program. Potential candidates are required to take the candidacy examination within the first three times it is offered after they have enrolled in the doctoral program.The candidacy examination is administered twice a year, usually during the summer (June/July) and late January.

The Acoustics Ph.D. Candidacy Exam consists of three parts:

  • English Competency (written): A 250-500 word essay in response to a given topic.
  • Written Exam: A 4-hour exam (usually on a Saturday morning), consisting of 8 worked out problems based on material covered in ACS 501 and ACS 502.
  • Oral Interview: A 1.5-hour oral interview in which students field questions from the faculty committee members (roughly 15 minutes for each of the four committee members). Passing the oral interview also satisfies the oral English Competency requirement.

The Candidacy examination is supervised by the Ph.D. Candidacy Exam committee, which is composed of four faculty members from the Acoustics Program. The committee administers the examinations as required by the Acoustics Program and the Graduate School and then reports the outcome to the Graduate School via the Program Office. Thereafter, the student’s course work and research is supervised by his/her doctoral committee, which is usually chaired by the student’s adviser.

English Competency

English competence has been formally designated as part of the Ph.D. candidacy requirements as outlined in the Graduate Bulletin. This requirement applies to all entering Ph.D. students. The Graduate Program in Acoustics and advisers will identify any deficiencies before or at the Candidacy Examination and direct affected students into appropriate remedial activities. Both domestic and international candidates must meet the English Competency Requirements set down in this policy statement before they are accepted into the Ph.D. Program.

If a non-native speaker fails the verbal part of the exam, the candidate will be required to take (and pass with a B or higher grade) SPCOM 115G (English as a Second Language: Speaking/Listening). If a native candidate fails the verbal test, then he/she will be required to take (and pass with a B or higher grade) either SPCOM 100A (Effective Speech, Public Speaking) or SPCOM 312 (Informative Technical and Presentational Speaking). For failures in the written part English competency, native candidates must complete successfully (B or higher grade) ENG 198G (Writing in the Disciplines); for the non-native failures, SPCOM 116G (English as a Second Language: Reading/Writing).

Residency Requirements for the Ph.D.

All Ph.D. students must satisfy the University residency requirement. Between admission into the Ph.D. program and completion of the degree, the candidate must physically spending two consecutive semesters (Fall and Spring) as a registered full-time student engaged in academic work at the University Park campus. 601 courses (thesis research) may not be used to meet the full-time residence requirement.

Course Requirements for the Ph.D.

Ph.D. students are required to take 21 credits of 500-level Acoustics core courses, but the student’s Ph.D. committee may require the doctoral candidate to take specific additional courses they deem relevant to the specific research topic.

Ph.D. Committee

A Ph.D. student’s Doctoral Committee must be formed within 12 months of passing the Acoustics Ph.D. Qualifying Exam. The candidate and the candidate’s research advisor should discuss possible committee members. The student’s advisor must propose the committee make up to the Acoustics Program Director for approval, before inviting faculty members to serve. The committee must have a minimum of four members. Three of these must be members of the Acoustics Faculty and one must be from a department other than Acoustics (and preferably from a designated related area that the student will pursue). In special situations, a member of the Acoustics faculty who is also a member of the faculty in another department at the University may be approved as the outside member. All members of the doctoral committee must be members of the Graduate Faculty. The specific rules for forming a doctoral committee are outlined in policy GCAC-602. The Program Office will supply a Graduate Student Committee Policies and Procedures and Committee Appointment Signature Form which must be signed and dated by the student, the committee chair, members of the committee, and the Acoustics Program Director. This form then gets turned in to the Program Office and will be sent to the Graduate School for approval. After the Graduate School approves the committee, the committee assumes the function of providing guidance for the remainder of the student’s program.

The chairperson of the doctoral committee is responsible for the administrative aspects of the doctoral program such as coordinating the committee’s activities and convening meetings of the committee. In most cases, the chairperson is also the research adviser. The research adviser has the following responsibilities:

  • Serves on the student’s doctoral committee.
  • Directs the research program.
  • Assists the student in selecting courses.
  • Supervises preparation of documents such as research proposal, draft of thesis, and final copy of thesis submitted to the Graduate School.

Immediately after the doctoral committee is formed, a planning meeting must be scheduled with these objectives:

  • Review of student’s academic record as well as work and educational experiences.
  • Presentation of research proposal by the student.
  • Identify courses relevant to the research program that the student should take, in addition to the core courses.
  • Approve a tentative time schedule for the student’s program and taking the comprehensive examination.

The doctoral committee chairperson will provide a written record of the planning meeting to the Acoustics Program Office for inclusion in the student’s file.

The doctoral committee should meet regularly (at least once a year) to review the status of the student’s program of study and research. The committee may meet at any other time the adviser feels the objective or character of the research has changed significantly. The results and recommendations of the meeting should be communicated in writing by the Committee Chairperson to the Acoustics Program Chair for review and inclusion in the student’s file.

Comprehensive Examination (Revised 2013)

The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to evaluate the candidate’s mastery of acoustics and assess a student’s general preparedness to do research in his/her chosen research area. The examination is not intended to be only a defense of a specific research topic, because that topic may change during the Ph.D. research. The comprehensive exam consists of two parts which can be taken in any order determined by the Doctoral Committee. However, while Part I and Part II may be completed in any sequence approved by the Doctoral Committee, both parts must be passed before notification of passage is communicated to the Graduate School.

The first part of the comprehensive examination (Part I) cannot be attempted until after the student has substantially completed all the courses required by the Doctoral Committee. However, Part I must be passed no later than 24 months after the completion of the candidacy examination unless a delay is approved by at least two-thirds of the Doctoral Committee because of special circumstances. The student must be registered as a full-time or part-time student for the semester in which the comprehensive examination is taken. A minimum grade point average of 3.00 for work done at the University is required for admission to the comprehensive examination and for graduation.

Part I of the comprehensive exam is a written and oral examination, which is administered and evaluated by the student’s Doctoral Committee. A favorable vote of at least two-thirds of the members of the Doctoral Committee is required for passing. In case of failure, the Doctoral Committee will determine whether the candidate will be permitted to take another comprehensive examination. The examination will consist of a written part to be administered first and then an oral part to be administered within two weeks of the written part. The written part may be either open book or closed book, at the discretion of the Doctoral Committee. The written examination primarily covers material related to the thesis research area, and it is posed and evaluated by the Doctoral Committee members; at least one question from every Doctoral Committee member is included in the examination. The written examination will last no longer than two consecutive days. The Doctoral Committee chairperson requests the Program Office to contact the Graduate School to schedule the oral portion of Part I and to notify the Doctoral Committee members of the time and place of the examination. At least two-thirds of the Doctoral Committee must vote in favor of passing for the student to have passed the examination.

Part II of the comprehensive exam is the Thesis/Dissertation. Instructions for the content of this Proposal (e.g., Title, Problem Statement, Justification and Significance, Methodology, Resource Requirements and Literature Search), and its oral defense, must be followed.

Once a student has passed both parts of the comprehensive examination, the doctoral program must be completed within six years or a second comprehensive examination is required. After passing the comprehensive examination, a student usually registers for the noncredit course ACS 601 (Thesis Preparation, full time) or ACS 611 (Thesis Preparation, part-time). Under University rules, students registered in ACS 601 may also take 3 credits (maximum) of course work for audit at no additional fee while students registered in ACS 601 may take 3 credits (maximum) of course work for credit by paying an additional flat fee.

Continuous Registration

All students who have passed their comprehensive exam and who have satisfied the two-semester full-time residence requirement must register each fall and spring semester until graduation, with one exception. Summer session registration is required if either the Comprehensive or Final Oral Exam is taken after the first six-week summer session has begun. However, summer session registration is not required if the Final Oral Exam is taken prior to the first day of classes for the first six-week summer session. Also, a student must be registered in the semester that the Candidacy Exam is taken.

If, for compelling reasons, a Ph.D. student will not be in residence for an extended period then the senior associate dean of the Graduate School will consider a petition for a waiver of the continuous registration requirement. This petition must come from the doctoral committee chairperson and must carry the endorsement of the Program Chair.

Written Dissertation and Final Oral Exam

All Ph.D. candidates must write a dissertation. The topic of the study must be original and must be developed in large part by the student. Thus, the purpose of writing the dissertation is for the student to demonstrate the ability to pose a new relevant problem, conduct the necessary research, and summarize the results in a well organized written form. The dissertation should be completed within three to four years after a student has been admitted to Ph.D. candidacy. Further information on the required format of the dissertation can be obtained from the Thesis Guide published by the Graduate School.

Once completed in manuscript form and approved by the research adviser, the dissertation is given to the student’s Doctoral Committee whose members read it and then administer a Final Oral Exam, or Defense. A clean draft copy of the thesis should be provided to the student’s Doctoral Committee at least 2 weeks prior to the oral exam (defnse). This final oral exam is scheduled by the Graduate School in the same way that the Comprehensive Exam was scheduled; as with the other exams, the student must be registered and the current tuition bill must have been paid in order to take the exam. The final oral examination consists of an oral presentation of the dissertation by the student and a period of question and responses. This phase of the final oral exam is open to the public. Following the presentation and question and response phase, the public is excused and the student meets with his or her doctoral committee. The committee members may continue the questioning. Although the questions should relate in large part to the dissertation, they may cover the student’s whole program of study, since one of the purposes of the examination is to assess the general scholarly attainments of the student.

The Program Office should be notified at least two weeks prior to the scheduled dissertation defense so that announcements of the defense can be circulated to faculty and students. The committee decides whether a student passes the exam; as with the Comprehensive Exam, at least two-thirds of the committee must vote in favor of passing the student for the student to have passed the exam.

When the final oral examination has been passed and the dissertation accepted (after incorporating the changes made by the committee), it should be submitted in final form to the Graduate School (see the Thesis Guide, which can be obtained from the Graduate School Thesis Office). The unbound master copy of the thesis is required by the Graduate School and one (1) bound copy is to be presented to the Acoustics Program Office. An additional bound copy may be required by the thesis adviser. Traditionally, committee members are presented with bound copies as well. The costs of dissertation preparation, copying, and binding are the responsibilities of the student.

Time to Completion for Ph.D.

Penn State’s Graduate School allows 8 years after successful completion of the candidacy exam for completion of a doctoral degree. The Acoustics Program anticipates a student will complete the doctoral degree in approximately 3 years beyond the completion of a Master’s degree, or 5 years without a Master’s degree.



Founded in 1965, Penn State's Graduate Program in Acoustics has become the leading resource for graduate education in acoustics in the United States. The interdisciplinary program leads to the degrees: Master of Engineering in Acoustics (M.Eng.), Master of Science in Acoustics (M.S.), and Doctor of Philosophy in Acoustics (Ph.D.)

Graduate Program in Acoustics

College of Engineering

The Pennsylvania State University

201 Applied Science Building

University Park, PA 16802