M.S. Program

Each M.S. student must have an Advisory Committee. This committee must be formed before the plan of study is filed. Some graduate students may be assigned an interim, while others are recruited to work with a specific faculty member, who will serve as the major professor. A permanent major professor should be selected prior to forming the Advisory Committee. The student’s major professor serves as the chair of the student’s Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee will consist of three faculty members (including the advisor).  Each Advisory Committee should include at least one external (Non-BSE) faculty member.

Each graduate M.S. student’s plan of study must be approved by the departmental Graduate Committee prior to completion of the second semester. The plan of study should include a listing of all courses, giving name and credit hours, using the appropriate form, depending on type of M.S. program. The student should submit a copy of the program of study, signed by all Advisory Committee members, and a brief, one page, research prospectus (PDF) to the Graduate Program Coordinator. Upon approval by the Graduate Committee and the Department Head, the Graduate Program Coordinator will electronically submit the program of study to the Graduate School. Additional requirements include the following:

  • A minimum of 6 credit hours of courses in Biological Systems Engineering Department approved for graduate credit;
  • A minimum of 6 credit hours of Math and/or Statistics (or approved equivalents); and
  • A minimum of 24 credit hours of course work; and
  • A minimum of 30 total credit hours (which includes the 24 course credits plus an appropriate amount of BSE-5994 Research and Thesis credits for a total of 30)

It has been determined that MATH 4554 is inappropriate for inclusion in graduate programs of study.

Graduate credits taken as an undergraduate may be used for graduate credit only if the student was dual-registered when the course was taken and the credits were not used to meet an undergraduate degree requirement. The BSE course requirements for all degrees may not be satisfied through independent study (5974) courses. The Graduate Committee will advise and make judgments on overall program quality, always seeking to maintain a consistent and high standard of quality.

Each M.S. degree candidate is required to submit a written proposal to the student’s Advisory Committee stating the significance, goal, and general approach to be taken to accomplish the stated objectives. The thesis proposal must be submitted no later than 9 months after the beginning of the M.S. Program. The student’s major professor will then call a meeting of the student’s Advisory Committee to discuss the proposal. Upon approval of the proposal, any significant variations must have the approval of the student’s Advisory Committee.

Frequent progress reports, either oral or written, must be made by the student to their Advisory Committee. The frequency of the reporting and the manner of presentation will be determined by the student’s major professor. However, a Graduate Student Annual Report, required by the Graduate School, should be submitted to the Graduate Program Director in January.

Graduate students are expected to register for the BSE departmental seminar course (BSE 5944) every semester and attend all regular and special departmental seminars unless approved by the major professor or faculty member in charge of seminar.

Graduate students at the M.S. level are required to present a seminar at the time of their final examination.

Each graduate student should prepare an article based on his/her thesis research for an appropriate technical journal and, after approval by the major professor, submit it for publication.

Each M.S. candidate is required to pass an oral final exam administered by the student’s Examining Committee, normally composed of members of the student’s Advisory Committee with additional members added, if necessary. This examination will cover not only the thesis, but the student’s general preparation in Biological Systems Engineering as well. A typed draft copy of the student’s thesis, approved by the major professor, must be submitted to the Examining Committee members at least two weeks prior to the examination. In addition, each member of the Examining Committee should be furnished with a copy of the student’s approved program of study. Normally, the candidate will be asked to make a short presentation to the Examining Committee highlighting important aspects of the research. The first half of the examination will be devoted to examining the thesis. The second half of the examination will be more general in nature, and will draw from the student’s background, including course work.

On the basis of the candidate’s performance during the examination and the quality of thesis, the Examining Committee will determine whether the student has passed or failed:

  • A majority vote of the Examining Committee is required to pass. The Committee may, however, require thesis revisions and/or inform the candidate of areas of weakness revealed by the examination.
  • If the student is not successful, the Examining Committee will point out deficiencies and recommend a possible date for the second examination.
  • Any student failing the final examination twice will be subject to dismissal from the program.

Non-thesis M.S. students must schedule a final exam with the Graduate School to satisfy university requirements. The final exam should be taken during the semester in which the student is enrolled in his or her last course for the degree. The content of the Final Examination is determined by the Examination Committee. The student's plan of study will be reviewed to ensure that all requirements have been met. The final exam shall be scheduled at least 2 weeks in advance.

Each student should arrange an exit interview with the Department Head prior to leaving the campus. The student should also provide the Graduate Program Coordinator with a forwarding address and phone number.

All keys, books, equipment, and other materials used by the student in the graduate program should be returned to the appropriate person or location unless other arrangements are made. The major professor will ensure that the student has returned all materials prior to his/her leaving the campus.

Ph.D. Program

All Ph.D. students must have an Advisory Committee. This committee must be formed before the plan of study is filed. The major Professor normally serves as chair of the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee will consist of minimum of four faculty members (including the advisor). At least two members of the committee must be from the BSE Department, and at least one must be from outside the BSE Department.

Each Ph.D student’s plan of study must be approved by the departmental Graduate Committee prior to completion of the third semester. The plan of study should include a listing of all courses, giving name and credit hours, using the appropriate form, depending on type of Ph.D. program. The student should submit a copy of the program of study, signed by all Advisory Committee members, and a brief, one page, research prospectus (PDF) to the Graduate Program Coordinator. Upon approval by the Graduate Committee and the Department Head, the Graduate Program Coordinator will electronically submit the program of study to the Graduate School.

Doctoral degree programs must include, in addition to the Graduate School requirements:

  • A minimum of 9 credit hours of Biological Systems Engineering approved for graduate credit;
  • A minimum of 12 credit hours from Mathematics and/ Statistics equivalents); and
  • A minimum 36 credit hours of coursework (these totals may include acceptable graduate courses from master’s degree programs or other graduate studies, completed either at Virginia Tech or other universities up to a maximum of 50%); and
  • A minimum of 90 total credit hours (which includes the 36 course credits plus an appropriate amount of BSE-7994 Research and Dissertation credits for a total of 90).

Doctoral students must satisfactorily complete both written and oral preliminary examinations. The preliminary examination should be taken no later than 18 months from the date of initiation of the Ph.D. program, in order to continue graduate assistantship support without interruption. The planned date (semester and year) for the examinations must be submitted with the program of study.

All Ph.D. students are encouraged to take a college teaching courses (such as courses within the Graduate School’s Future Professoriate Graduate Certificate program) as part of their program of study. Preferably, the course should be taken prior to satisfying the departmental teaching requirement for Ph.D. students.

The Preliminary Examination should normally be taken near the end of the Ph.D. course work and no later than 18 months after the beginning of the Ph.D. program. Students admitted to the Direct Ph.D. program should take the Preliminary Examination no later than 2 years after the beginning of their Program. The purpose of this examination is two-fold: 1) to test the student’s mastery of doctoral course work, and b) to evaluate the student’s ability to initiate ideas and pursue scholarly research. The examination is administered by the student’s Examining Committee and should have both oral and written components. The Examining Committee may include members of the student’s Advisory Committee and others, if necessary. At least one-third of the required credits (including research credits) must be taken after passing the preliminary examination. The procedure for the examination is as follows:

  1. Upon the request of the major professor, written questions are prepared by the Examining Committee members and made available to the student about one month in advance of the oral examination. Individual committee members may choose the format to administer their portion of the written examination (the exam may be open book or closed book; in class with specified time limits; or out of class without time limits.) The nature of the written questions is up to the individual committee members. However, they are normally related to the student’s course work or general area of his/her studies. Upon completion of the written examination, the student will return the answers to the major professor who will then submit them to the committee members at least one week prior to the oral examination.
  2. Request to schedule a preliminary examination must be made through the Graduate School website. 

Within 18 months after the start of the program, each Ph.D. student must present a written research proposal of the dissertation topic to the Advisory Committee for its approval. The student’s major professor will then call a meeting of the Advisory Committee where the student will make an oral presentation of the proposal and discuss it with the committee.

The purpose of the written and oral presentation of the research proposal is to determine the feasibility and originality of the proposed research, and to offer suggestions to the student regarding the proposed research. Significant variations to the dissertation proposal must have the approval of the Advisory Committee.

Frequent progress reports, either oral or written, must be made by the student to their Advisory Committee. The frequency of the reporting and the manner of presentation will be determined by the student’s major professor. However, a Graduate Student Annual Report, required by the Graduate School, should be submitted to Graduate Program Director in January.

The students are advised to keep all Advisory Committee members well informed of their research and dissertation progress. This could be accomplished by meeting with the Advisory Committee members on a regular basis. The review of progress should be carried out at least once every six months after the dissertation proposal has been presented.

Graduate students are expected to register for the BSE departmental seminar course (BSE 5944) EVERY fall semester and attend all regular and special departmental seminars unless approved by the major professor or faculty member in charge of seminar.

Doctoral students will present two seminars. The first seminar should be scheduled during the semester in which the oral preliminary examination is taken, and the second seminar at the time of the final examination.

A high percentage of those who complete a terminal degree choose academic careers. To prepare our graduates for such a career, each student pursuing a Ph.D. degree in the Biological Systems Engineering Department is required to have classroom teaching experience prior to graduation. Specifically, each Ph.D. candidate is expected to teach the equivalent of at least one semester credit hour. The department head, in consultation with the student’s major professor, will make the appropriate assignment. International students whose first language is not English are required to pass the Test of Spoken English (SPEAK) before teaching in the classroom.

Each graduate should prepare at least one article, based on his/her research work, and after approval by the major professor, submit the article to peer refereed publications. Publications accepted and appeared in print before graduation will enhance the success of completing the program.

Each Ph.D. candidate is required to pass an oral final examination administered by the student’s Examining Committee.  It is the responsibility of the student to allow all members of his/her Ph.D. Examining Committee sufficient time to closely evaluate the Ph.D. dissertation and judge the creativity and adequacy of the research work. Copies of the final typed draft of the dissertation must be made available to all members of the Examining Committee at least two weeks prior to the date of the defense.

The final Ph.D. oral examination is primarily devoted to the defense of the dissertation, and the evaluation will be based on the following criteria:

  • Originality of content
  • Significance of the problem studied
  • Methods of analysis
  • Achievement of the research objectives
  • Interpretation and discussion of results
  • Clarity of presentation and adherence to the format requirements

At the final defense, the Ph.D. candidate generally makes a 30-minute presentation, unless specified otherwise by his/her major professor.

Request to schedule final examination must be made through the Graduate School website.  Requests must be made no less than two weeks prior to the examination date. The exam card will be sent directly to the major professor. The student is expected to return the card to the Graduate Program Coordinator within 24 hours with appropriate signatures.

Students who fail the final oral examination will be required to correct deficiencies in the dissertation as indicated by the Examining Committee. Any student failing the final oral Ph.D. examination twice will be subject to dismissal from the program.

Each student should arrange an exit interview with the Department Head prior to leaving the campus.  The student should also provide the Graduate Program Coordinator with a forwarding address and phone number.

All keys, books, equipment, and other materials used by the student in the graduate program should be returned to the appropriate person or location unless other arrangements are made.  The major professor will ensure that the student has returned all materials prior to his/her leaving the campus.