Dr. Steve Shepard, Peter Pierre (Advisor)
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The Mechanical Engineering (ME) program at The University of Alabama (UA) offers the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Mechanical Engineering, the terminal degree within the field. Traditional students complete this degree on the main campus (MA), taking classes on campus and working directly with faculty in a research setting. There is also a distance learning (DL) option for students located with the borders of the United States or serving on a U.S. military installation. Note that the distance program involves students taking the same courses, completing the same assignments, and completing assessments via the same exams and on-campus presentations as the on-campus students. Because each distance course operates synchronously with a corresponding on-campus course, distance students should carefully plan course loads each semester and consider assignment and exam schedules. Applicants interested in completing a PhD via distance are strongly encouraged to contact faculty members in the applicant’s area of study interest to inquire about possible research projects that are suitable for completion via distance.
The remainder of this section provides some general information related to the PhD program in ME. Applicants and current students are directed to the official University of Alabama Graduate Catalog for more detailed information and specific official policies. Nothing described here supersedes the graduate catalog.
For detailed information on admission requirements and required application documentation for the Mechanical Engineering PhD program, please refer to the official section in the UA Graduate Catalog.
Current Mechanical Engineering (ME) and Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics (AEM) undergraduate students at The University of Alabama that meet the admissions requirements for the Accelerated Master’s Program (AMP) are able to start their ME PhD while still in the undergraduate program. AMP allows undergraduate students to simultaneously count up to 9 hours of graduate coursework toward both the undergraduate and graduate degrees. Note that AMP is available to both main campus (MA) and distance learning (DL) students currently enrolled in the ME and AEM undergraduate programs at UA. Note also that students in the direct-admit PhD program may obtain an en route MSME once they complete 30 hours per the MSME curriculum and pass a comprehensive exam, which can be satisfied via the PhD Qualifying Exam. These 30 hours will apply toward both degrees.
While applications are evaluated on a rolling basis and there are no formal deadlines, applicants interested in applying for assistantships or being nominated for a fellowship should apply for admission early. For example, internal fellowship nominations typically start in early January for the following academic year. Applicants must be admitted before they can be considered for these funding opportunities. International applicants should also consider the time needed to obtain a travel visa from the country of origin after being admitted. The latter process can often take two to six months and must be completed so that students can arrive on campus prior to the first day of class.
The doctorate requires 48 credit hours of coursework past the bachelor’s degree, a comprehensive qualifying exam, a proposal, and a dissertation. Students with an earned master’s degree may receive credit for up to 24 hours of previously earned course work, including those with a previously earned MSME from UA. Students must also complete 18 hours of dissertation research after passing the qualifying exam. The dissertation will document original research that makes a significant contribution to the profession. Specific information on the Curriculum requirements can be found on the official section of the UA Graduate Catalog.
Many unconditionally admitted full-time (MA) PhD students seek and receive financial assistance in the form of a fellowship or graduate assistantship. Assistantships and fellowships generally include a monthly stipend, tuition, and health insurance. Because the admissions process is separate from the financial assistance application process, applicants are encouraged to read this section to learn about different funding options and how to pursue them. Due to the nature of these opportunities, only students in the main campus (MA) PhD program are eligible for assistantships and fellowships.
Graduate Research Assistantships (GRAs) are awarded by individual professors with funded research. Applicants should communicate directly with a faculty member in the applicant’s area of study interest concerning the availability of GRA positions and a potential match. Visit the department web site for additional information about research areas. Funding is not considered during the admission process.
The ME Department also offers Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) for students assisting faculty members with undergraduate courses and laboratories. GTA awards are determined by the ME Department Head. There are a very limited number of GTA positions each semester. It is also necessary to work with a faculty member to inquire about the possibility of obtaining a teaching assistantship. A university-wide requirement for all GTAs is that they should either have English as their native language or have successfully completed an English language proficiency course and passed an English language proficiency exam administered by UA’s English Language Institute. The English language proficiency exam and course process typically require at least one semester.
Half-time assistants must register for at least six credit hours of graduate credit during the semester. In addition, assistants are expected to perform 20 hours of work per week as part of their position. Accepting an assistantship implies an obligation on the part of the student. Students supported by an assistantship are expected to fulfill their roles as students, meeting all academic requirements, as well as carrying out teaching and/or research assignments. Students who do not maintain good academic standing, as defined in the UA Graduate School, are not eligible for assistantships. Assistantships may also be terminated for unsatisfactory performance of the assigned research and/or teaching duties.
Domestic students may be eligible for student loans and other financial aid and should visit the UA Financial Aid Office website to learn more about these options.
Additional support is available in the form of fellowships, available from The University and other funding agencies. Applicants are encouraged to visit the Graduate School and Mechanical Engineering websites to learn more about these opportunities, application requirements, and deadlines. Some professional societies also offer assistance to new graduate students. Qualified applicants are encouraged to apply for fellowships like the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, the DoD SMART Scholarship, the Alabama Space Grant Consortium Fellowship, and UA’s Graduate Council, National Alumni Association, and McNair Fellowships. Note that most of these have early application deadlines and some require interaction with and support from a nominating faculty member.
The ME department holds a seminar series each regular academic term. In addition to student presentations, outside speakers distinguished in some area of engineering are also invited to make seminar presentations. PhD students are expected to attend these seminars and must enroll in the seminar course at least three separate times during their academic career. There are three one-hour courses (ME 695, ME 696, and ME 697) that students take to obtain course credit for this seminar series.
Graduate courses are those with numbers in the 500-level and 600-level. 500-level courses are intermediate-level courses and are often associated with MSME-level work. 600-level courses are advanced-level courses and are often associated with PhD-level work. However, both MSME and PhD plans of study can contain both 500- and 600-level courses. Graduate courses are listed in the Graduate Catalog.
It is acceptable to take a limited number of graduate-level courses from other engineering departments (e.g. AEM or MTE) as part of the primary program of study. However, if more than a couple of these classes are to be considered as part of an ME degree program, it may be necessary for the faculty advisor to submit a petition to the graduate registrar noting the reasons for such an exception.
Courses taken for graduate credit generally cannot be repeated. This includes audited courses. Required courses can be repeated for credit if the student makes a D or F grade with the recommendation of the Department Head and the Dean of the Graduate School.
Note that 400-level courses are generally not acceptable for meeting PhD degree requirements. There are strict exceptions to this rule as described in the graduate catalog, such as requiring approval for a 400-level course prior to enrollment. Students interested in pursuing this option are required to work with their advisor as well as contact the ME graduate program director well in advance of pursuing this option. 400-level courses cannot count toward a graduate degree retroactively once enrolled without advanced approval.
Graduate student offices are typically reserved for those conducting research and/or assisting with teaching duties. The location of graduate student office space for main campus (MA) students is coordinated through the ME Department. Graduate student offices are located in the South Engineering Research Center, the North Engineering Research Center, Hardaway Hall, and in other nearby buildings. Graduate students with questions regarding student office space should contact their faculty advisor.
The successful completion of a PhD in ME at UA will require extensive interaction with a faculty advisor. Although it is encouraged and beneficial, it is not required that students have such an advisor prior to enrolling. For the first semester, students are encouraged to take graduate-level courses that are of interest (see the official curriculum requirements). After classes start, students should then interact with faculty members that conduct research in the student’s area of study and research interest. The goal is to find a faculty member who will provide advice on coursework as well as chair the dissertation research. Students should focus on finding an advisor in order to begin their research as soon as possible. The section on Funding above contains additional information that is relevant with regards to the faculty advisor. Admitted students are encouraged to interact with a faculty member prior to arriving on campus to ensure that there is a good match between the student’s interests and a faculty member that is willing to serve as the advisor and dissertation committee chair.
The Mechanical Engineering department conducts assessment of its graduate programs as part of the SACS Accreditation process. Part of that process includes the direct evaluation of graduate-student-provided material. For the first assessment, each graduate student prepares a Course Portfolio to present to their PhD committee. This Course Portfolio is typically a set of slides summarizing the learning outcomes in 3 to 4 graduate-level courses taken during the program. This material is typically presented during the qualifying examination. Then, a second assessment is made with regard to the dissertation defense. Electronically fillable forms that are used as part of the program assessment are available to faculty members. These assessment forms must be completed by the entire advisory committee and submitted by the committee chair to the ME Graduate Program Director after the qualifying exam and then again after the dissertation defense. Please contact the graduate program director if you have questions on this process.
For additional information about mechanical engineering graduate programs, contact Dr. Steve Shepard.