Graduate Program

The IMSE offers an interdisciplinary PhD program in Materials Science & Engineering designed to allow students to easily work across departmental boundaries.

IMSE students (2023)

Student apply directly through the McKelvey School of Engineering, pursue coursework offered by several of the member departments and conduct their thesis research with the mentorship of interdisciplinary faculty teams. This allows our students to take advantage of the rich breadth of materials science expertise and facilities across the University.

Apply to the IMSE graduate program

Application deadline: December 15

The Institute of Materials Science & Engineering (IMSE) brings together a uniquely interdisciplinary group of faculty and students to explore the boundaries of materials research. The IMSE graduate faculty is a growing group of researchers from the McKelvey School of Engineering, School of Arts & Sciences and the School of Medicine.

As an interdisciplinary degree, the IMSE PhD program accepts motivated students with bachelor’s or master’s degrees from a vast array of science and engineering-based backgrounds.


Full support & funding

Our PhD students are fully funded, including full tuition support and health insurance. As a doctoral candidate, you will also receive a generous 12-month stipend to cover living expenses. Ongoing support is contingent on satisfactory academic performance and your acceptance into a research group that will support you.

You are encouraged to apply for additional fellowships as well.  More information about funding and support opportunities can be found on The Financial Aid website as well as the following:

Internal fellowships

The Ann W. and Spencer T. Olin – Chancellor’s Fellowship

  • Students must be of the highest caliber having an exceptional academic record as well as a compelling and diverse background and vision for the future. Students must be admitted to their program of study to receive a fellowship.
  • Students must be pursuing a terminal (e.g., PhD, MD or JD) degree in their field. This can be a terminal practice degree.  
  • Students must have received an undergraduate degree from a U.S. institution. A U.S. institution is one whose accrediting agency is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Dean's International Fellowship

  • Full-time undergraduate student or master’s degree student at any of the universities listed
  • Meets the eligibility criteria for fall enrollment
  • Applying to an eligible PhD program (includes Materials Science and Engineering) 

Additional Internal Fellowship & Award Opportunities

External fellowships

Brief summary of requirements for PhD program

  • Base competency in core subject areas demonstrated by passing the qualifying examination prior to the second year of study
  • Research rotations in first and second semester of study prior to choosing a permanent adviser
  • Mentored teaching experience
  • Minimum of 36 credits for coursework and minimum of 18 credits for PhD research; total of 72 credits to earn the PhD degree
  • Defend a proposal by the 5th semester
  • Defend PhD dissertation by making an open oral seminar presentation, followed by questions from the dissertation committee members



The doctoral degree requires a minimum of 72 credits beyond the bachelor's level, with a minimum of 36 consisting of course credits (including the core curriculum) and a minimum of 18 credits of doctoral dissertation research.

The core curriculum that must be satisfied by all PhD students consists of the following:

  • MEMS 5610, Quantitative Materials Science & Engineering (3 units)
  • Physics 537, Kinetics of Materials (3 units)
  • MEMS 5619 Thermodynamics of Materials (3 units)
  • Chem 5620, Solid State and Materials Chemistry (3 units) or Physics 5072, Solid State Physics (3 units)


Additional detailed information on course requirements can be found in the “IMSE Graduate Student Handbook.”



Each entering student is guided by the director of Doctoral Studies. The director will help in the selection of courses and in the selection of rotations with the aim of matching an individual's research interests with those of a research mentor.

As a student progresses through the doctoral program, the director's role is replaced by the dissertation mentor to reflect the increasing focus on an area of specialization. After passing the qualifying exam, the student in consultation with the dissertation adviser will select a mentoring committee involving, at least two more IMSE graduatefaculty besides the dissertation adviser. This committee meets once a year, or more frequently if needed, to assess progress on the dissertation research and provide guidance. The members of the mentoring committee may change as the research topic evolves.

By the time research is completed, this committee is amended with two more faculty members who form the dissertation committee.


Research rotations

Research rotations serve three important purposes:

  • Materials Science and Engineering is a very diverse and interdisciplinary discipline. Research rotations provide an opportunity for each student to be exposed to different areas of materials research. This broadening experience, prior to the subsequent necessary specialization, should prove to be useful as their careers develop.
  • Serve as an introduction for both students and potential research mentors for the long-term affiliation that is associated with a doctoral dissertation research.
  • The area of research represented in one rotation report serves as the basis for the qualifying examination.

While also enrolled in classes, within the first year of matriculation, students are required to complete two research rotations — each typically lasting one semester — by the end of their first full year of enrollment. The rotations can be performed under the mentorship an IMSE graduate faculty member.  A written report, co-signed by the rotation mentor signifying completion of the rotation, is required at the end of each semester. The student may complete both rotations with the same mentor.


Available Fall 2024 Research Rotations


Qualifying exam and thesis proposal

No later than the end of the summer prior to the second year of enrollment in the doctoral program, students are required to take and pass both written and oral qualifying examinations. The written portion consists of one of the rotation reports, while the oral portion covers academic material from the core courses.

A written and oral thesis proposal should be completed by the fifth semester of enrollment. The mentoring committee must meet annually, however, so this committee must be formed within one semester of passing the qualifying exam.


Dissertation research

After the thesis proposal is approved, dissertation research occupies the bulk of the student's effort. Upon completion of the dissertation, students will defend the dissertation.


Performance review, probation and dismissal

All students in the PhD program are expected to satisfy the academic performance requirements of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which can be found in the Graduate School Bulletin's General Requirements section.

In addition, all doctoral students are expected to satisfy the department's additional academic performance requirements, which are described in the “IMSE Graduate Student Handbook" 

Students can use the PhD worksheet to keep track of their course requirements.



All doctoral students are required to attend a weekly research seminar sponsored by the department. These seminars provide exposure to state-of-the-art materials research by scientists both within and outside of WashU. Regular attendance over the duration of a student's tenure provides an invaluable educational experience.


More information

Teaching requirements

The Graduate School requires all PhD students at Washington University to gain teaching experience. Students in the PhD program will receive formal pedagogical training by attending a minimum of two Teaching Workshops offered by the Washington University Teaching Center, and will be expected to fulfill a total of at least 15 units of teaching experience. A unit of teaching is broadly defined as an hour spent communicating with a group of students or scholars. The teaching requirements must be completed before the student submits his/her doctoral dissertation to the graduate school. There are two paths that an IMSE student could follow to meet the 15 units of teaching requirement: 

"Traditional" Mentored Teaching Experience (MTE) 

For students pursuing a “traditional” MTE path, the required 15 units could be completed by assisting with 1-2 courses. IMSE students who choose to follow the  MTE path will be assigned to assist with courses where they will engage with the students in recitation/discussion sections, small groups, or laboratory settings. They may also be asked to prepare and present guest lectures. The course instructor will be expected to provide the appropriate mentoring during the MTE, and will provide a summary of the teaching activities and expectations required successful completion of the MTE, prior to the IMSE student being assigned to the course. The mentor will also indicate the total number of teaching units (hours) completed and provide feedback to the student and IMSE Graduate Studies Director at the end of the course.

“Outreach” Mentored Teaching Experience

IMSE students who choose to follow an “outreach” focused MTE path will gain experience working on K-12 or public outreach activities focusing on science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) and organized by their research advisor, the IMSE, or other campus organizations. Credit will be given for time spent preparing and presenting these activities. Again, the student’s advisor or a representative from the lead organization will be expected to provide the appropriate mentoring during the MTE, and will provide a summary of the teaching activities and expectations required successful completion of the MTE. The mentor will also indicate the total number of teaching units (hours) completed and provide feedback to the student and IMSE Graduate Studies Director at the end of the experience.Additional Teaching Opportunities

In addition to the above opportunities, IMSE students may use the following activities to
complete up to 5 units of the teaching requirement:

  • Leading a journal club session
  • Presenting their research in the IMSE or other departmental seminar attended by students and faculty (max 2 units)
  • Presenting their research as a speaker at a professional society or similar national meeting (max 2 units)

Other activities similar to those listed here will be considered for inclusion by the IMSE Graduate Studies Director on a case-by-case basis.

Course plan for IMSE PhD candidates entering the program beginning Fall 2023

Year 1

Fall semester (12 credits)

  • Quantitative Materials Science & Engineering (MEMS 5610)
  • IMSE First Year Research Rotation (IMSE 500)
  • Thermodynamics of Materials (MEMS 5619)
  • Solid-State and Materials Chemistry (Chem 465) or Elective
  • IMSE Graduate Seminar (IMSE 501)

Spring semester (12 credits)

  • Kinetics of Materials (Physics 537)
  • Solid State Physics (Physics 472) or Elective 
  • Elective
  • IMSE First-Year Research Rotation (IMSE 500)
  • IMSE Graduate Seminar (IMSE 501)


  • Begin thesis research
  • Prepare for Qualifying Exam (August)
    • Written document and oral presentation on research rotation
    • Oral examination on fundamentals from core courses
    • Participate in Graduate Student Mentored Teaching Orientation offered through the Teaching Center in August

Years 2 and beyond

Electives (discuss with PhD adviser)
  • IMSE Graduate Seminar (IMSE 501)
  • Doctoral Research (IMSE 600)
  • Teaching Requirement
    • Attend 2+ Teaching Center Workshops
    • Complete 15 units of Mentored Teaching Experience
  • Annual (or more frequent) meetings with Faculty Mentoring Committee
  • Thesis proposal and presentation (fifth semester)
  • Dissertation and oral defense
Research rotations
During their first year, students are required to register for and complete one research rotations with IMSE Graduate Faculty mentors. A presentation and report on one of the research rotations will be an integral component of the qualifying exam. The rotations are chosen in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) and must be mutually agreeable to both the student and the mentor. At the completion of the rotation, the student must submit to the DGS a written report approved by the mentor.
Past program requirements (pdfs)

Dr. Kelly Kranjc '17,  shares how she benefited from access to materials characterization equipment at Washington University in St. Louis.