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    University of Tennessee Chattanooga
  Jul 27, 2017
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2012-2013 Graduate Catalog Archived Catalog

Computational Engineering, Ph.D.

Return to: College of Engineering and Computer Science

Dr. Tim Swafford, Coordinator
(423) 425-5507 or email at

The purpose of the Computational Engineering program is to prepare graduates to develop and apply advanced computational engineering modeling, simulation, and design software for a broad range of real-world engineering analysis and product design problems. Graduates are also prepared to contribute their expertise in an environment of interdisciplinary teamwork.

The program has a strong focus on computational engineering analysis and design areas involving physical space-time field phenomena such as mechanics and electromagnetics. This area encompasses engineering problem formulation, physical modeling, space-time discretization for complex geometries, numerical solution algorithms, scientific computer programming, and interpretation and application of results for engineering problem solving.

The Ph.D. program and the M.S. degree with a major in Engineering and a Concentration in Computational Engineering are thoroughly integrated with research at the SimCenter: National Center for Computational Engineering The SimCenter mission is to establish next-generation computational engineering technologies and innovative interdisciplinary education in computational modeling, simulation and design, with consequent leadership and national impact in critical technology areas affecting defense, sustainable energy, environment, and health care. Computational Engineering thereby offers a unique educational environment in which students participate in interdisciplinary team research at the SimCenter, with exposure to real-world problems and opportunities for significant interaction with multiple researchers.

Admission to the Computational Engineering program is open to qualified bachelor’s or master’s graduates of recognized curricula in engineering, mathematics, or engineering-related natural sciences. Although students with a bachelor’s degree can be admitted into the doctoral program without first obtaining a master’s degree, these students are strongly encouraged to apply instead for admission into the Master’s in Engineering program with a concentration in Computational Engineering Engineering: Computational Engineering, M.S. 

Each student’s Program of Study, including possible prerequisite requirements, is tailored to his or her background and research goals. Each applicant is advised about any prerequisite courses before entering the program. Although students entering the program from outside engineering should have a strong background in mathematics and physical sciences, these students are required (as a minimum) to enroll in three undergraduate engineering courses, such as vector statics, fluid mechanics, and thermodynamics. The intent of these courses is to provide exposure to engineering problem solving as well as important research-related topics that typically are covered only in engineering-related curricula. Also, because the computational engineering curriculum is very project oriented, it is strongly recommended that all students entering the program be reasonably proficient in a high-level programming language such as C, C++, Fortran. Students lacking strong aptitude and interest in mastering programming skills will have considerable difficulty in meeting classroom and research project deadlines.


In addition to regular graduate admission requirements, applicants must receive a positive recommendation by the Computational Engineering screening committee and submit the following documents:

  • Computational Engineering Application Form
  • A one-page statement of purpose
  • Three completed recommendation forms
  • Scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) are required for international applicants. Successful applicants usually have a score of 700 or better on the quantitative exam. Other applicants are encouraged to submit GRE scores.
  • Current scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Testing System (IELTS) for applicants whose native language is not English and who do not meet the conditions outlined in “Admission Examinations” under “Doctoral Degree Programs” to apply for an exemption to the TOEFL/IELTS requirement. A minimum score of 550 (213 on the computer-based test, or 79 on the Internet-based test) on the TOEFL, or a score of 6.0 or higher on the IELTS, is required.

Course Requirements

Doctoral students must complete a minimum of 72 hours beyond the bachelor’s degree, exclusive of credit for the master’s thesis. These hours must include a minimum of 24 semester hours in doctoral research and dissertation (ENCM 7950r  and/or ENCM 7999r ) and a minimum of 48 semester hours in other courses. At least 12 of the required 24 research and dissertation hours must be in Dissertation (ENCM 7999r ). The courses must include:

  • A minimum of 24 semester hours of graduate coursework in engineering in courses numbered 5000 and above, with at least 12 of these in computational engineering. A minimum of 6 semester hours of courses is required at the 7000 level. These are exclusive of thesis or dissertation credit. The student’s supervisory committee can approve a student’s petition to replace one 7000-level course with one or more 5000-level course(s) that are more appropriate.
  • There are multiple pathways toward accumulating the required coursework: a) all coursework may be performed at UTC, b) credit may be earned through coursework performed within the University of Tennessee system, up to the maximum allowed by the University, c) credit is normally granted for up to 24 semester hours of program-relevant coursework credited toward a master’s degree at another university, and d) transfer credit may be granted for courses applicable to the program of study and accepted for graduate credit at another university.

Core Requirements

The program of study must adequately address the following core requirements, with appropriate course content in each of three primary areas that are essential to computational engineering: 1) an engineering application area, 2) scientific supercomputing, and 3) mathematics of computation, as determined by the student’s supervisory committee and the Graduate Program Coordinator. Courses completed at the master’s level can be included to satisfy the core requirements. Required courses in the program of study can vary, based on each student’s background and goals. It is the responsibility of the student’s supervisory committee, with the approval of the Graduate Program Coordinator, to ensure the student’s adequate exposure to each area, which may involve completion of some undergraduate prerequisite courses.

The program of study must establish a primary applications focus, with additional coursework in both scientific supercomputing and mathematics of computation that logically relates to the applications focus. A Program of Study Form must be signed by the student, the student’s major advisor, and the Graduate Program Coordinator and then submitted to the UTC Graduate School for final approval. The student should file the Program of Study Form during the second semester of coursework (or before completing 12 hours of coursework for part-time students).

Major Advisor and Supervisory Committee

Full time students are encouraged to select a major advisor and form a committee during the second semester of coursework (or before completing 12 hours of coursework for part time students). Each student’s major advisor normally serves as the student’s research or project director.

The supervisory committee is made up of four or five members of the Graduate Faculty and selected by the student in consultation with the major advisor. At least three committee members must be Computational Engineering faculty, including the major advisor, and at least one committee member must be external to Computational Engineering. The supervisory committee must be comprised of members who collectively have expertise in the core areas: 1) a computational engineering application area, 2) scientific supercomputing, and 3) mathematics of computation. Upon establishing a committee, each student should complete a Dissertation Committee Approval Form, obtain signatures of committee members and department head, and submit the form to the UTC Graduate School.

Standards of Academic Performance: Continued Enrollment

Continued enrollment in the doctoral program is dependent upon satisfactory performance in the courses, in research, and progress toward completion of the degree. To achieve satisfactory performance, a student must maintain a “B” average on all undergraduate prerequisite courses, all graduate courses completed, and all graduate courses included in the student’s Program of Study. Students must also maintain a grade of “Satisfactory Progress” (SP) in all dissertation research hours that are counted tward satisfying degree requirements.

Students must conform to all general regulations of the UTC Graduate School. A student must maintain a 3.0 grade point average (GPA) on all courses taken for graduate credit. A grade less than C is included in the GPA but cannot be counted for credit toward the degree. In the event the student fails to meet this standard, one of the following actions will be taken.


A student will be placed on probation whenever the grade point average falls below a 3.0 on courses taken for graduate credit, or a grade of “No Progress” (NP) on the doctoral dissertation.


Decisions regarding continuation will be made by the Dean of the Graduate School based on the recommendation of the faculty of the Graduate School of Computational Engineering. Graduate students will be placed on academic probation when their institutional cumulative GPA falls below a 3.0. By the end of the next two terms of enrollment (counting the entire summer session as one term), students must raise their institutional cumulative GPA to 3.0 or higher. Students will be academically dismissed if they fail to achieve this institutional cumulative GPA within the two semester probation or if they fail to achieve a 3.0 or higher for either probationary semester. A student is automatically academically dismissed upon receiving a third grade of “C,” upon receiving more than one grade less than “C,” or upon receiving a second grade of “No Progress” (NP) on the doctoral dissertation.

Dismissed students may appeal to the Graduate Council for readmission. Upon readmission, students may resume graduate study on probation with the same continuation standards.

Continuous Enrollment

Once admitted into the program, all active students are expected to remain enrolled until graduating. This requirement can be satisfied being registered in at least one credit-hour of ENCM 7999 Doctoral Dissertation or ENCM 7950 Doctoral Research each semester. Note that once a student registers for ENCM 7999 Doctoral Dissertation, the student must continuously register for ENCM 7999 until graduating. This is not true for ENCM 7950 Doctoral Research, which allows students to engage in doctoral-level research that may or may not lead to a dissertation. A maximum of 12 credit hours of ENCM 7950 can be counted toward satisfying research/dissertation degree requirements.

Residency Requirement

Students must be in residence at UTC for a period of at least two semesters during the period in which doctoral studies are performed. If the Program of Study includes coursework completed within the University of Tennessee System, then residency on these campuses associated with this coursework will be counted toward this residency requirement.

Admission to Candidacy

A doctoral student is admitted to candidacy upon successful completion of all courses included in his or her Program of Study, acceptance of a research topic by his or her committee, successful completion of the preliminary examination, submission of the Application for Admission to Candidacy form to the UTC Graduate School and the Computational Engineering Department by the student’s major advisor, and approval by the UTC Graduate School.

Candidacy Time Limits

There is an eight-year limit for completing all degree requirements for the PhD in Computational Engineering. All doctoral course work and the successful defense of the dissertation must be completed in an eight-year time frame that begins with the earliest course applied to the doctoral program of study. The earliest course in the doctoral program of study excludes any courses credited from a previously awarded masters degree or transferred from another educational institution.

Research Topic Approval

For the purposes of candidacy, a student can gain approval of his or her research topic in two ways: 1) by submitting a concise and focused (one or two-page) abstract of the intended research topic to committee members; or 2) by submitting the full dissertation research proposal to committee members (see the section below on dissertation proposal). The major advisor should ensure that all committee members find the research acceptable.

Preliminary Examination

Students must pass a preliminary examination on coursework in the Program of Study covering each of the three primary areas in the core requirements. The preliminary exam is given at the completion of all coursework and can be taken with up to six hours remaining, provided that adequate coursework covering each of the core areas has been completed. The preliminary exam is scheduled in consultation with the student’s major advisor and committee and must be completed no less than six months in advance of the anticipated date of graduation.

The preliminary examination has two parts: 1) a written part including questions from the Computational Engineering examination committee, and 2) an oral examination of the student by the committee. The student receives the questions from the committee, submits the answers to the respective committee members, and then stands for an oral examination by the committee. The student’s major advisor will be responsible for scheduling the examination and reporting the results to the Graduate School of Computational Engineering and to the UTC Graduate School.


Each candidate for the doctoral degree must conduct research and present a dissertation on that research that 1) demonstrates a mastery of the techniques of research and 2) makes a very distinct contribution to the field of computational engineering. Each candidate must present a proposal of the dissertation research for approval by the supervisory committee, and defend the research before the committee when the dissertation has been completed.

Dissertation Proposal

Each candidate must present to his or her committee a formal written proposal of the research to be included in the dissertation. The proposal should be concise, focused, and contain the following: 1) sufficient background information for the committee members, 2) a clear statement of the topic to be addressed by the research, 3) a review of pertinent work by others related to this topic, 4) the precise research questions and issues to be addressed by this research, and 5) justification for the research. Also, the candidate must attach a tentative outline of the final dissertation document. The proposal must be presented in the manner requested by the committee. Acceptance of the proposal and the dissertation outline by all members of the committee is the responsibility of the major advisor.


Upon completion of the research, the candidate submits a draft of his or her dissertation to each committee member one to two weeks prior to the scheduled final defense. The dissertation must be a contribution to knowledge and conform to the policies of the UTC Graduate School. Dissertations will be submitted to UMI Dissertations Services for its on-line and paper-based bibliographic reference collection. At the discretion of the Dean of the Graduate School in consultation with the Head of the Graduate School of Computational Engineering, dissertations containing material of a classified or sensitive nature may be restricted from public dissemination for a specified time.

Final Defense

In consultation with his or her major advisor, the candidate files a request for a final defense at least two weeks in advance of the intended date of the examination. The final defense will have two parts: (1) a public presentation of the dissertation followed by (2) a defense of the dissertation before the student’s committee members. At the discretion of the candidate’s committee, the dissertation defense may be closed to include only the student, the committee, and a representative of the UTC Graduate School.

Sample Program of Study

As mentioned above, for those students entering the program with a B.S. but whose ultimate goal is the Ph.D. degree, the computational engineering faculty strongly encourage these students to first complete the M.S. degree. The reasoning behind this recommendation is twofold: first, the student must complete a minimum of 48 credit hours of coursework for the Ph.D., and therefore the thesis is only remaining requirement to complete the M.S. Second, the computational engineering faculty believe that completing a M.S. thesis is extremely valuable because (a) this is often a student’s first exposure to conducting research, and (b) learning how to function as member of a team and communicating research results via a M.S. thesis is experience that ultimately carries over to the needs of the student’s doctoral program.


A student’s program of study will depend on his or her academic background and undergraduate major, as well as on the intended area of research. For a student entering the program with a B.S. in engineering with the goal of completing the Ph.D., a sample curriculum might include the following courses with a M.S. degree earned along the way:


Beginning the Ph.D. Program

Semester VI (Summer)

Semester X (Fall)


What is shown here is an aggressive schedule and is mainly intended to list the required coursework and the sequence in which it might be completed. As with all research-based academic programs, it is typically the research that governs the length of time needed to complete degree requirements.


Return to: College of Engineering and Computer Science