Doctor of Philosophy


The Doctor of Philosophy program, offered by the School of Aerospace Engineering, is a comprehensive academic and research program lasting approximately four years. After successful completion of the program, a Doctor of Philosophy degree is awarded by the Georgia Institute of Technology.

This program is structured to foster the multi-faceted growth of doctoral students, progressively shifting its emphasis across technical skills, non-technical skills, and subject matter expertise that are developed and matured over time. The first year of the program is directly aligned with the Master of Science program, featuring a strong emphasis on deep understanding and practical application of aerospace systems design techniques, methods, and principles that extend well beyond the scope of undergraduate design courses. Students are immediately challenged with very relevant applications addressing real needs of government and industry partners with whom ASDL maintains strong collaborative relationships. In their first year, doctoral students complete an important portion of the core course work and actively engage in research efforts under the close and direct supervision of the ASDL academic and research faculty.

Design core courses, as well as additional courses associated with Ph.D. qualifying examination areas, are usually completed by the second year. After the qualifying examination, the program’s emphasis shifts towards the development of skills associated with successfully conducting independent research of the highest quality. The selection of courses from this point is carefully planned by the student and his/her advisor to satisfy course-related academic requirements, and to mature the student’s subject matter expertise on the doctoral research topic. Although students remain fully engaged with academic and research faculty, their supervisory role in research efforts is gradually reduced. Doctoral students are thus given the opportunity, as well as the challenge, to reason creatively and critically in the formulation of a doctoral research problem and a proposed research plan. At this point, the program also emphasizes the development of self-instructive skills, independent learning, and scientific reasoning. This effort is materialized in the doctoral research proposal, presented to the academic faculty of the School of Aerospace Engineering, and more specifically to the members of the doctoral thesis committee chaired by the student’s academic/thesis advisor. Doctoral research topics are directly aligned with ongoing funded research initiatives addressing relevant needs in real-world applications. Once the thesis topic is proposed and approved, the student is recommended as a Ph.D. candidate. During the remainder of the program, each student focuses on his/her doctoral research, engaging regularly with the thesis advisor as well as with the other members of the thesis committee, as needed. It is common for one of the committee members to be a leading and well-recognized technical subject matter expert from the government or industry entity sponsoring the research initiative underlying the doctoral thesis. Ph.D. candidates present their work to the thesis committee during the thesis defense where the faculty and student body of the institute have an opportunity to attend.

After earning a Ph.D. degree from this program graduates are typically employed as mid-to-high level systems analysts, designers, and systems engineers, as well as researchers and subject matter experts in specialized aerospace and defense fields. Doctoral graduates fill these positions across a wide variety of government entities, premier industry organizations with well-renowned R&D programs, and research laboratories in the government and private industry. Ph.D. graduates pursuing a career in academia also succeed as tenure-track professors and researchers in some of the most prestigious higher education institutions around the world. Employers of Ph.D. graduates include the Federal Aviation Administration, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Air Force Research Laboratory, NAVSEA, NAVAIR, Boeing, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, Rolls Royce, Pratt & Whitney, Booz-Allen-Hamilton, RAND Corporation, Georgia Tech Research Institute, Volpe Research Center, Purdue University, California Polytechnic University, University of Manchester, Queen’s University – Belfast, and many others.

Academic Requirements

All academic requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree offered by the School of Aerospace Engineering can be found in in the Graduate Student Handbook. Students must complete a total of 42 credit hours, plus AE 8801 – Graduate Seminar (1 hr). Of these, 9 credit hours of approved mathematics/ISYE courses are required, comprising the Doctoral Minor/AE Math Requirement.

Core Courses

The Doctor of Philosophy program offered through the ASDL prescribes a series of core courses, listed below, that students complete within four academic terms.

Fall Term

  • Advanced Design Methods I – AE 6373 (4 credit hours)
  • Aircraft Design I – AE 6343 (3 credit hours)
  • Applied Design Laboratory I – AE 6383 (1 credit hour)
  • Introduction to System of Systems Engineering Principles (3 credit hours)

Spring Term

  • Aircraft Design II – AE 6344 (4 credit hours)
  • System of Systems Engineering Applications – AE 6394 (4 credit hours)
  • AE Graduate Seminar – AE 8801 (1 credit hour), may be taken in first or second semester

Please visit Core Courses for information.

Grand Challenge projects are introduced in Applied Design Laboratory in the fall term. These are open-ended problems driven by real needs of industry and government partners. In class projects, teams are formed and basic instruction of fundamental techniques takes place. Application of theoretical principles in aerospace systems engineering are applied to a team-based class project. At the end of the second semester, the ASDL External Advisory Board (EAB) critically reviews the Grand Challenge teams during the first day of the annual ASDL EAB review, providing a chance for the students to present to and interact with high-level government and aerospace industry representatives.

Other Systems Design and Optimization Courses

  • Optimization for the Design of Engineered Systems – AE 6310
  • Air Breathing Propulsion Systems Design – AE 6361
  • Safety by Design – AE 6362
  • Aerospace Systems Engineering – AE 6372

Qualifying Examinations

Students are generally expected to take this examination during their second year of full-time graduate study. Each student must have a GPA of 3.25 or above, a minimum of 12 credit hours counting towards doctoral degree credit hour requirement, and be recommended by his/her academic advisor to the AE Graduate Committee in order to register for the examination. In consultation with the academic advisor, each student selects two out of eleven areas of examination. These areas can be found in the Graduate Student Handbook, along with detailed information about the structure, format, and applicable rules of the examinations. Ph.D. students in the ASDL program register for the Systems Design & Optimization exam and a second exam area aligned with the student’s anticipated thesis topic and selected in consultation with the academic advisor.

Thesis Proposal and Defense

The thesis proposal is expected to take place no later than one year after the student has passed the Ph.D. qualifying examination. The proposal document and presentation outline the general formulation of the problem, motivation, and underlying research questions. It also proposes a research plan to address research questions and objectives, along with anticipated results and contributions to the field. Approval of the research plan by the thesis committee is required, and is formalized with an “Admission to Candidacy” presented to the Office of Graduate Studies.

Within 1-2 years after the successful proposal, the candidate must write and submit a dissertation documenting the investigation and results. After the academic advisor concludes editorial review of the document, the student must conduct a final examination, consisting of a formal presentation to the final doctoral examination committee and open to members across the Institute (commonly known as “thesis defense”). Upon completing this process, the committee signs a Certificate of Thesis Approval, which is submitted with the dissertation document to the Office of Graduate Studies.

Updated September 23, 2020