The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the terminal degree for those seeking a technical or research career in ECEE.

Download the PhD Milestone Checklist
If you started your PhD program before fall 2021, please use this checklist

Table of Contents

Admission Requirements

A bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering or a closely related field is generally required so that you will have sufficient preparation to succeed in your courses and research. The Graduate School also sets admission and application requirements for all PhD programs.

You do not need an MS to enter the PhD program. If you are interested in pursuing a PhD, you should apply directly to the PhD program, not the MS program.

Before applying, research our faculty to see if any have ongoing research which best suits your academic pursuits and career goals. You are not required to secure an advisor before applying, as all our faculty noted in your application will review your application, however, it is in your best interest to be sure CU Boulder's ECEE program conducts the type of research you wish to pursue in a PhD. 

Please carefully review our application instructions for next steps.

The annual deadline for fall admission is Dec. 15.

Research Areas

  • Computer Engineering
  • Electromagnetics, RF and Microwaves
  • Nanostructures and Devices
  • Optics and Photonics
  • Quantum Engineering
  • Power Electronics and Renewable Energy Systems
  • Remote Sensing
  • Learning, Information, Network, Communication & Data (LINCD) Sciences
  • Systems and Controls

Research (Faculty) Advisor

The faculty advisor directs a student’s research, helps develop the degree plan and acts as chair of their comprehensive exam and dissertation committee.

  • A faculty/research advisor must be a member of CU Boulder regular graduate faculty.
  • Research (dissertation) topic will be determined by you with the aid of your faculty advisor.
  • It is your responsibility to find the faculty member who best suits your interests and goals. You may change your faculty advisor, but it is recommended that this only be done once.


With few exceptions, PhD students are fully funded with a combination of departmental, faculty and external grants/funding. After advancing to candidacy, you are encouraged to apply for external, College of Engineering and Applied Science and Graduate School funding. Our students often win prestigious awards and fellowships from national organizations and government agencies.

Prospective students do not need to submit a separate application for funding. All PhD applicants are considered for funding with their application.

Residency Requirements and Registration

For state residency requirements, please visit the Office of the Registrar. Domestic non-resident graduate students must apply for Colorado residency for tuition purposes after admission.

  • Four semesters of residence credit are required to advance to candidacy, a minimum of six to graduate.
  • Students who are admitted to the Graduate School with deficiencies may expect to receive little or no residence credit until the deficiencies have been removed (the Graduate School rules require that at least 30 semester hours of 5000- and 6000-level coursework appear in the Application for Candidacy).

Common Requirements and Policies

The following requirements and policies apply to all PhD students in the Department of Electrical, Computer & Energy Engineering.

General Requirements

  • 60 hours of study
    • 30 hours or relevant coursework (determined in consultation with faculty advisor)
      • 18 credit hours of ECEN 5000-level or above courses are required.
      • The remaining 12 credit hours can be ECEN courses or technical courses in science, mathematics, or engineering. All of these should be at the 5000-level or above. This can include taking ECEN 5930 one (1) time.
        • Non-technical courses will not count toward your degree (i.e. telecomm, cybersecurity and engineering management). If you are unsure if your course meets technical requirements, contact your advisor.
        • Generally, a "technical" courses is one with technical undergraduate or graduate pre-reqs, and is not policy focused, but is math/engineering problem-solving focused.
      • Transferring Courses: PhD students may transfer up to 21 graduate-level credit hours from previously attended programs. Transfer credits from accredited institutions are accepted by CU Boulder only after you have passed the preliminary examination.
      • You must maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.0 on all coursework. Even courses that do not count toward the degree are calculated into your GPA. You cannot be admitted to candidacy or graduate with a cumulative GPA below 3.0.
        • A course grade below "B-" will not be counted toward the 30-credit hour requirement, but it will be included in your overall GPA calculation.
        • You must have no incomplete course work.
      • No more than 15 hours of 5000-level or above courses in a single semester are allowed.
  • 30 thesis/dissertation hours
    • No more than 10 thesis hours in a single semester are allowed.


  • Preliminary (first or second year)
    • Preliminary exams are required of all PhD students.
    • Exams are held annually in the spring semester, with dates and content determined by your research group.
    • You may attempt the preliminary exam twice. Failure to pass the second time will result in dismissal from the program.
  • Comprehensive (third or fourth year)
    • Before admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree, you must pass a comprehensive examination. At a base level, the comprehensive exam is a presentation of what you have and will contribute to your field, including a demonstration of your understanding of the field and where your contribution fits in; some contribution already made to that field (i.e., theoretical or experimental results that have been submitted/published/presented to the larger field of scientists); and a plan that you convince the committee is feasible to complete your contributions. The committee judges those three areas and gives their approval that if you complete that work, your contribution will be significant enough to get a PhD.
  • Dissertation Defense (semester of graduation)
    • The dissertation is a work of original research completed by you with the guidance of your faculty advisor.

Time Limit

All work, including the final examination, should be completed within six years from the time of admission. A student is expected to complete the work with reasonable continuity. Extensions must be formally requested from the graduate school.

Leaves and Withdrawals

You may apply for a leave of absence according to the Graduate School rules. This enables a student to leave and return without having to reapply. If you need to take a leave of absence or withdraw from the University, there are a few steps you must follow:

  • Understand the difference between a leave and withdrawal so you know which one better works with your situation.
  • Talk to your faculty advisor and your graduate program advisor so they are aware and can further walk you through the next steps.
  • For a Leave of Absence, fill out this form, and send it to your graduate program advisor who can send it through Docusign for the appropriate signatures and submission. This includes your signature, so you do not have to print it and re-scan it.
  • For a withdrawal, use this checklist, and the link from the withdrawal webpage.
  • Prior to leaving, either set-up a time to meet with your graduate program advisor for an Exit Interview or fill out this Exit Interview survey. We will use this information to look for ways to improve our program in the future. All questions are optional. We respect your honesty and willingness to share with us. We abide by the ECEE Inclusive Excellence Statement and the ECEE Conduct Code and its reporting structures.