The target population of incoming direct PhD students is expected to be from undergraduate nuclear engineering programs as well as the general undergraduate engineering and physics pool. However, the target population for Master's to Ph.D. will be from Master's level nuclear engineering programs. Recruitment efforts will also focus on having the best M.S. nuclear engineering students at Virginia Tech continue on to obtain their Ph.D. Emphasis will be placed on recruiting a well-qualified, diverse background (gender, race, disabled, etc.) of students into the nuclear engineering program.

In the process of earning his/her degree, a Ph.D. student gains a deep knowledge of the nuclear engineering subject matter and independently carries out a comprehensive research project. Accordingly, each student's curriculum will be specifically tailored by his/her Advisory Committee within the requirements listed below.


Earning a Ph.D. in Nuclear Engineering requires the completion of a minimum 90-credit-hour program. A cumulative GPA of 3.0 ("A" = 4.0) is required for all coursework taken at the University. This policy is consistent with Mechanical Engineering department policy and University policy. No grade below B is allowed for any Ph.D. core course. Failure to earn a grade of B in a Ph.D. core course requires retaking the course.

The 90 credit-hours are made up of (1) 30 graded credit-hours of coursework consisting of Master's-level core courses and required Ph.D. core courses (see Sample Plan of Study), (2) 30 credit-hours of research, and (3) 30 credit-hours of enhancement courses which may consist of either research credits or graduate-level courses taken from any unit of the University.

  1. Master's-level and Ph.D. core courses: A minimum of 30 graded credit-hours of courses must be taken as follows:

    • NSEG 5124 Nuclear Reactor Analysis (3 cr)
    • NSEG 5204 Nuclear Fuel Cycle (3 cr)
    • NSEG 5424 Reactor Thermal Hydraulics (3 cr)
    • NSEG 5604 Radiation Detection and Shielding (3 cr)
    • Mathematics course from Appendix A (3 cr)

    Students with a M.S. degree in Nuclear Engineering from another institution or those with a M.S. degree in another discipline who are accepted into the Ph.D. program will undergo an evaluation of their graded course work from their Master's degree to determine whether the courses which have been taken satisfy the above requirements. If not satisfied, the missing courses must be taken in their Ph.D. program at Virginia Tech. Not more than 15 credit-hours of graded coursework may be transferred from another institution. These transfer credits may be applied to the Master's core course requirement above, the Ph.D. core course requirement below, or the enhancement requirement as approved by the student's Advisory Committee. All transferred course credits must have the grade of "B" or higher and have been earned while enrolled as a graduate student. All transfer credits must be accompanied by transcripts which verify the grades earned. Course syllabi might also be required.

    In addition, all doctoral students will complete the following five Ph.D. core courses (15 credit hours):

    • MSE 5384G Advanced Nuclear Materials (3 cr)
    • NSEG 5134 Monte Carlo Methods for Particle Transport (3 cr)
    • NSEG 6124 Advanced Nuclear Reactor Analysis (3 cr)
    • NSEG 6334 Nuclear Reactor Safety Analysis (3 cr)
    • Mathematics course from Appendix A (3 cr)*

    *The "Mathematics course from Appendix A (3 cr)" represents 3 graded credit hours of mathematics or statistics courses beyond the Master's level coursework math requirement listed above. Appropriate input is provided by the Advisor to determine which mathematics/statistics course(s) is/are to be taken by the student in support of their dissertation.

  2. Research Requirement: A minimum of 30 credit-hours of research (NSEG 7994 Research and Dissertation (variable; up to 12 credits per semester)).

  3. Enhancement Requirement: A minimum of 30 additional credit-hours consisting of a combination of either graduate coursework (5000-level or higher) from any unit of the University and/or research and dissertation credits (NSEG 7994), as approved by the student's Advisory Committee. These credits are tailored for the specific research topic and background of the student. Additional in-depth courses related to the student's research area, if applicable, would be included under this requirement. Moreover, students who plan to enter academia after completion of their PhD are encouraged to take electives such as GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate and ENGE 5014 Foundations of Engineering Education. Those planning to enter industry are encouraged to take electives such as GRAD 5314 Future Industrial Professional in Science and Engineering. These electives satisfy part of the 30 credit-hours enhancement requirement.

  4. Seminar Program: All Ph.D. graduate students must participate in the nuclear engineering program seminar series. No course credit-hours will be given for this requirement. The seminars will consist of periodic presentations by on- and off-campus speakers to address technical issues, policy issues and professional growth issues. Policy issues should address public concerns and controversies of nuclear energy and science, nuclear weapons proliferation, national energy policy, nuclear security, public education on radiation, cybersecurity, etc. One purpose of the seminars is to broaden student interest in the policy arena and encourage them to take elective policy courses outside the nuclear engineering discipline such as in international policy, nuclear security, science and technology in society, political science, etc. In addition, seminars/workshops will be conducted on technical communication skills involving both oral and written communications. All Ph.D. students must present one technical seminar before graduating.

  5. Residency Experience: The nuclear engineering degree follows the Ph.D. residency requirement as set forth by the University. The purpose of the residency requirement is to ensure immersion in scholarship, research, and professional development. This will be satisfied through full-time enrollment for two consecutive semesters.

    The residency requirement applies to students and not to specific campuses. The students located in Northern Virginia will meet the residency requirement by enrolling full-time for two consecutive semesters at the Virginia Tech Northern Virginia Center in Falls Church, VA.

  6. Formation of Advisory Committee: Before registration for the second semester of study, each graduate student must confer with the members of the faculty and obtain the agreement of one to serve as the student's advisor. Students are expected to take the initiative in selecting their advisor. Advisors are not assigned to students; rather, they are determined by mutual agreement between individual students and professors. A student's advisor provides guidance in many areas including defining a plan of study and monitoring the student's progress toward his or her degree.

    The Ph.D. student and his or her advisor, jointly select the other members of the Advisory Committee. The student is responsible for obtaining, from those selected, their agreement to serve on the Advisory Committee. The Advisory Committee for a Ph.D. candidate consists of a minimum of five faculty members, neither more than four nor less than three of who are in the Mechanical Engineering Department. The advisor or a co-Advisor must be a faculty member in the Nuclear Engineering Program. Exception to these norms may be considered in cases where outside people of comparable credentials are involved in the research. The Ph.D. student and his or her advisor are responsible for arranging meetings of the Advisory Committee at appropriate times. It is strongly recommended that the Advisory Committee meets when the student is starting his or her research to discuss the undertaking. As a minimum, each student should arrange a meeting with his or her Advisory Committee at least once per semester. Each student is expected to meet with the advisor regularly, usually weekly to biweekly, to discuss the status of the research progress towards degree.

  7. Admission for Candidacy for Ph.D. Degree: Before admission to candidacy for the Ph.D., all doctoral students must satisfactorily complete the following:

    • Qualifying Examination - used to evaluate the student's mastery of the subject, to determine deficiencies, and to formulate judgments on whether the student should be encouraged to pursue Ph.D. studies. The Qualifying Examination is designed and administered by a Committee consisting of at least three nuclear engineering faculty members. The examination will be offered at least once per year, and may be offered more frequently if student demand warrants. The examination will consist of two 3-hour written tests given on the same day. The morning exam will involve solving problems in mathematics and physics. The afternoon exam will cover core nuclear engineering courses. The examination will ensure the student is properly prepared to conduct Ph.D. level research. Ph.D. students must take the qualifying examination within their first three semesters of study if they have an M.S. in nuclear engineering, or four semesters otherwise, and are given two opportunities for success.
    • Preliminary Doctoral Examination - an oral presentation given before the student's Advisory Committee. The student prepares a written description of his or her proposed dissertation research in the form of a prospectus and distributes it to the members of the committee one week in advance of the examination. The purpose is to determine if the student is prepared to undertake the proposed research. This examination is held after the student has passed the Qualifying Examination and has completed all of the required coursework and before the student has made significant progress on the dissertation research. The Preliminary Examination must be passed at least 6 months before the Final Examination. Students are given two opportunities for success.
  8. Final Examination: The final examination comprises a written dissertation and an oral defense centered on the dissertation. This exam is advertised in advance, and all professorial rank faculty members are invited to attend. All members of a student's Advisory Committee are required to participate in that student's final examination. If suitable communication resources are available, committee members may participate from a remote location. In accordance with University policy, all graduate examinations are open to the faculty and faculty members are encouraged to attend and participate in such meetings. The examination is oral in nature, during which the candidate gives a brief review of his or her work, and answers questions on that work. To pass the final examination, a student is allowed at most one Unsatisfactory vote from a program committee member. If a student fails an examination, one full semester (a minimum of 15 weeks) must elapse before the second examination is scheduled. Not more than two opportunities to pass the final examination are allowed. A student failing the final examination two times will be dismissed from the program.

Sample Plans of Study

Direct PhD

Masters to PhD