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George Mason University
2002-03 University Catalog

Electrical and Computer Engineering

Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering

The Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering, offered by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is the only combined electrical engineering and computer engineering doctoral program in Virginia. The program prepares students for leadership positions in research and development in industrial, government, and academic settings. The program includes course requirements, a qualifying examination testing fundamental concepts and the ability to think creatively, a teaching requirement, a research competency examination and dissertation proposal defense, dissertation research, and a dissertation defense. Students may choose to emphasize in such areas as communications, networking, computer engineering, control and robotics, signal processing, electronics, photonics, and electromagnetics. The general doctoral requirements of George Mason University apply to this program.

Admissions Requirements

All general George Mason University and specific School of Information Technology and Engineering admission requirements apply. Students typically admitted to the program hold M.S. degrees in electrical engineering, computer engineering, and other related areas. Students holding European (or equivalent) diploma degrees may also be considered for admission. The application material for each student is reviewed by the departmental doctoral committee, which makes a recommendation to the department chair.

Advisor/Dissertation Director

Each student, upon admission to the program, is assigned a faculty member as advisor. Upon passing the qualifying examination, the advisor is replaced by (or becomes) the dissertation director. All decisions concerning the student's course requirements and selections have to be approved by the Ph.D. advisor with the consent of the chair of the ECE Department.

A dissertation committee is formed within a year after the student has passed the qualifying examination. The committee is headed by the dissertation director, and has two more faculty members from the ECE Department and one from outside the department. One more member, from outside the university, may be added to the dissertation committee if justified by the subject of the dissertation. The composition of the dissertation committee must be approved by the chair of the ECE Department.

Course Requirements

The total credit required after the B.S. degree is 72 hours, of which 24 hours typically is thesis research. Students entering with M.S. degrees may use up to 24 credits of course work from their M.S. programs, subject to approval. Students entering with European diploma degrees may use some course credit, subject to individual consideration, but not more than 24 hours.

Of the required 48 credits of course work, at most 12 credits may be at the 500 level and at least 12 credits have to be at the 700 level or higher. For courses taken elsewhere, the equivalent levels are to be determined by the Ph.D. advisor, subject to the approval of the chair of the ECE Department. Individualized reading courses at any level cannot account for more than 6 credits.

Each student is required to take one graduate course (6 credits) at the 600 level outside the department in a subject considered foundational for his/her area of specialization. Typical examples would be advanced mathematics or statistics courses for those wishing to pursue an emphasis in signal processing or control, physics courses for those desiring an emphasis in electronics, and computer science courses for those pursuing the computer engineering emphasis. Since such courses are usually not taken for M.S. degrees, this requirement can rarely be satisfied with a course taken previously.

Each student is required to take two courses (6 credits) within the department but outside his/her area of emphasis. This requirement may be satisfied with courses taken during previous studies, subject to approval.

The 24 hours of dissertation research (ECE 998 and ECE 999) must include at least 12 hours of ECE 999. The dissertation proposal must be approved by the dissertation committee before the student may enroll in ECE 999.

Qualifying Examination

The department offers a doctoral qualifying examination twice each year. The exam is to test primarily the student's familiarity with fundamental concepts and the ability to think creatively.

Students have to take the qualifying examination within the first semester after they have completed 24 credit hours past the B.S.. The qualifier consists of a written, in-class examination and an oral interview, the latter administered by the doctoral committee. Only students passing the written part proceed to the interview. The written exam is offered in at least six course subjects (see tentative course list below). The student has to select three of the course subjects, of which one has to be outside his/her area of emphasis. The exam may be repeated once. A student failing the exam twice is removed from the program.

Tentative list of qualifying exam subjects/courses:

  • CS 571 Operating Systems
  • ECE 511 Microprocessors
  • ECE 521 Modern Systems Theory
  • ECE 528 Random Processes in Electrical and Computer Engineering
  • ECE 535 Digital Signal Processing
  • ECE 542 Computer Network Architecture and Protocols
  • ECE 545 Introduction to VHDL
  • ECE 546 Parallel Computer Architectures
  • ECE 548 Sequential Machine Theory
  • ECE 565 Introduction to Optical Electronics
  • ECE 584 Semiconductor Device Fundamentals
  • ECE 586 Digital Integrated Circuits

Teaching Requirement

To acquire lecturing and teaching experience, each doctoral student is required to participate in the department's teaching activity. This typically takes the form of working as a recitation instructor. The minimum requirement is one full semester of such activity in one course, or equivalent arrangements approved by the doctoral coordinator.

Research Competency Examination and Dissertation Proposal

Upon completing all course work requirements, the student takes an oral research competency examination to demonstrate his or her knowledge and preparation for dissertation research. The exam covers the knowledge derived from higher level courses taken, familiarity with the relevant technical literature, and preliminary thoughts about the proposed research. The exam is administered by the student's dissertation committee.

The student prepares a written dissertation proposal outlining the contents of the dissertation and the research activities leading up to it. The dissertation proposal is submitted to the dissertation committee for approval. The proposal is orally presented by the student, preferably as part of the research competency examination.

Dissertation Research and Defense

The student conducts dissertation research under the guidance of the dissertation director, with regular consultation with other members of the dissertation committee. During this period, the student has to present research results at least once in the form of a departmental seminar. The dissertation must represent an achievement in research; it must be a significant contribution to its field and should be deemed publishable in refereed journals or at highly selective conferences. Upon completion of the dissertation, a public defense is administered by the dissertation committee. This may be preceded by a pre-defense in the presence of the committee members only, at the discretion of the committee. A copy of the dissertation must be placed in the university library four weeks prior to the public defense.

Following a successful public defense, and the completion of the final form of the dissertation, the dissertation committee recommends the candidate for the degree of doctor of philosophy.