Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering

Course Requirements and Residency

There are no formal course requirements for the doctoral degree. Course requirements are established solely by the doctoral committee. Typically, 45-55 credits of 400- and 500-level courses (including your master of science program) plus NucE 600 credits are needed. About half of the course credits should be in nuclear engineering courses and the other half in another engineering discipline or in another field, such as math or physics.

A student entering the doctoral program without a master of science in nuclear engineering must meet the course requirements for an M.S. in NucE. Courses are: NucE 301, NucE 302, NucE 450, NucE 403, and six credits from NucE 500-level courses, excluding NucE 596 courses.

You must spend at least two consecutive semesters in a twelve-month period as a full-time registered student, during which time you must be engaged in full-time academic work at the Penn State University Park campus, before taking your comprehensive exam.

Ph.D. Candidacy

To become a doctoral candidate, you must first be approved for candidacy by the graduate faculty. This approval is based partly on the results of a qualifying examination given to assess your potential to excel in doctoral studies and conduct high-level research.

The Graduate School requirements for the qualifying examination are:

  • The examination must be taken within three semesters of entry into the doctoral program, not including summer sessions.
  • You must be registered as a full-time or part-time degree student for the semester in which the examination is taken.
  • You are required to demonstrate a high level of competence in the use of the English language, including reading, writing, and speaking.

Students may select one of eight areas when taking the qualifying examination:

  • Nuclear Science
  • Reactor Physics and Analysis
  • Thermal-Hydraulics
  • Nuclear Materials and Fuel Performance
  • Reactor Design, Dynamics, and Systems
  • Nuclear Security
  • Plasma Science and Engineering
  • Radiochemistry

We strongly encourage you to take your qualifying exams as early as possible. The exam will be administered each fall and spring semester. Dates will be announced by the Graduate Programs Office by email to all graduate students.

The qualifying exam may include questions on all areas of basic engineering including radiation protection, nuclear science, reactor physics, heat transfer, radiation detection, reactor kinetics, nuclear systems, radiochemistry, and computational methods. The oral exam will be scheduled no sooner than one week following the written exam but as soon as practical thereafter. The topic is to be related to your field of interest but different from the thesis topic.

Comprehensive Exam

The purpose of the comprehensive examination is to demonstrate that you are qualified to successfully complete the research phase of the program. This requires that you:

  1. Have substantially completed the program of courses approved by your committee with a minimum grade point average of 3.00
  2. Have satisfied the English proficiency requirement
  3. Have spent at least two consecutive semesters in a twelve-month period as a full-time registered student during which time you were engaged in full-time academic work at the Penn State University Park campus (see Graduate Bulletin).

The type of examination is determined by the doctoral committee but usually consists of a literature review and thesis proposal. Additional questions can cover the major and related areas of study.

Dissertation Defense

The purpose of this examination is for students to defend their doctoral dissertation. It is the responsibility of the doctoral candidate to provide a copy of the thesis to each member of the doctoral committee at least one week before the date of the scheduled examination. Other requirements are as follows:

  1. The final oral examination may not be scheduled until at least three months have elapsed after the comprehensive exam was passed.
  2. Two weeks’ notice must be given to the Graduate School for scheduling.
  3. You must see the Graduate Programs Office Staff Assistant to schedule this exam and complete the required paperwork.
  4. The deadline for holding the exam is ten weeks before commencement. This date is listed in a calendar produced by the Graduate Programs Office, which you can get from a staff assistant.
  5. You must be registered full- or part-time during the semester in which you take the final oral exam.

The final examination is an oral examination administered and evaluated by the entire doctoral committee. It consists of an oral presentation of the thesis by the candidate and a period of questions and responses. The examination is related largely to the thesis, but it may cover the candidate’s whole field of study without regard to courses that have been taken either at Penn State or elsewhere. The defense of the thesis should be well-prepared including any appropriate visual aids. The portion of the exam in which the thesis is presented is open to the public.

Contact Information

  • Ashley Ammerman
    Graduate Program Assistant
    113C Hallowell Building

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The Ken and Mary Alice Lindquist Department of Nuclear Engineering at Penn State is one of the top ranked nuclear engineering programs in the United States. The department distinguishes itself with a strong focus on experimental research. The actively growing department leads four educational programs for students pursuing a bachelor of science, a master of science, a master of engineering, or a doctoral degree. The Radiation Science and Engineering Center (RSEC) facilities, including the Breazeale Reactor, are available to nuclear engineering faculty and students at Penn State for research and instruction. RSEC houses the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, the country’s first and longest operating licensed nuclear research reactor. Having access to an operating research reactor is a key strength for the department and enables Penn State to harness research and educational opportunities that are unique in the United States. See how we’re inspiring change and impacting tomorrow at

Department of Nuclear Engineering

206 Hallowell Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-4400

Phone: 814-863-6222