Doctor of Philosophy in Operations Research (Ph.D.)

Degree Requirements

Course Requirements

  • Ph.D. students must satisfy the course requirements for the MSc Degree in Operations Research.
  • A minimum of 72 credit hours is required to receive a doctoral degree. A minimum of 42 credit hours should be in letter-graded coursework.
  • Students who received their MSc Degree from NC State can transfer up to 36 credit hours towards their PhD program. Students who received their MSc Degree from a university other than NC State may transfer up to 18 credit hours towards their PhD program.

OR Seminar

PhD students are expected to attend the OR seminar (OR 801) during each semester in residence, and to register for the seminar for two semesters (previous registration for OR 601 as a Master’s student counts as one of the two).

Written Qualifying Examination


The qualifying examination is intended as a “screening” mechanism to verify students’ potential for pursuing high quality independent research at the early stage of their graduate studies.


The OR PhD qualifying examination consists of two parts, consisting of a total of four distinct written exams. Part I consists of three written exams in the areas of Linear Programming, Nonlinear Programming and Stochastics (LNS). Part II consists of an Area examination, where, for one selected Area, a student completes a sequence of courses and a written examination. Area exams are offered in Dynamic Programming and Dynamical Systems (DPDS), Mathematics, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. Part I and Part II should be taken at the same time.

  • LNS: Linear (OR505), Nonlinear (OR706) and Stochastics (ST/MA546 & ST/MA747, or ISE760) examinations
  • DPDS Area: Take both Dynamic Programming OR709 and Dynamical Systems OR/MA 531 courses, and take either the OR709 or the OR/MA531 examination
  • Mathematics Area: Choose one of the following sequences, taking both courses in the sequence and then the single exam for the sequence:
    • Numerical Analysis MA 580 and MA 780
    • Applied Matrix Theory MA523 and MA723
    • Analysis MA515 and MA715
    • Ordinary Differential Equations MA532 and MA732
    • Partial Differential Equation MA534 and MA734
    • OR students may NOT use the probability option of the Mathematics Qualifying Exam as their sequence.
  • Industrial and Systems Engineering Area: Choose one of the following sequences, taking both courses in the sequence and then one of the two separate exams offered for each course:
    • Manufacturing Systems: ISE515 and ISE716
    • Production Systems: ISE723 and ISE754
    • Ergonomics: ISE540 and ISE544
    • OR students may NOT use the SA&O option of the Industrial and Systems Engineering Qualifying Exam as their sequence.

The LNS and DPDS examinations are offered by the Operations Research Program, and study guides are available from the OR administrative offices. Students should check with the individual departments offering the other Area examinations for more information. Under exceptional circumstances, a student may petition to be allowed to take an exam in an area not listed above. Such a petition will be evaluated by the PhD qualifying examination committee to determine its appropriateness in view of the student’s background and plan of graduate research.

Who Should Take the Exam?

Every student in the Graduate Program in Operations Research may choose to take the PhD qualifying examination at the time when he or she is ready. Only after passing the exam, can he or she formally organize his or her PhD Advisory Committee.

When to Take the Exam?

The LNS and Area examinations are offered once per year in the week before the fall semester begins. The schedule and duration of the exam is determined by the OR Director and faculty who actually conduct exams in each area.

A student entering the program with a master’s degree should take the exam within one year. A student entering the OR program with a bachelor’s degree should take the exam within two years. The student may take the exam even before a master’s degree is conferred. Taking the PhD qualifying examination is totally independent of getting a master’s degree.

Passing the Exam

The standard for passing the exam in an area is determined by the OR examination committee. This committee is appointed by the director and at a minimum, includes the director and the OR faculty members who set and grade the questions in Part I. Where appropriate, written input will be sought from the departments and faculties that provide Area examination.

The examination committee, in evaluating a student’s performance, will include consideration of each student’s coursework, impressions of faculty who have had contact with the student and any other factors that indicate the student’s potential for successful completion of the PhD degree.

A student who fails either Part I or Part II (or both), will be allowed to repeat the entire exam. Only one retry is permitted, and the Area chosen for the second try can be changed.

Preliminary Examination and PhD Candidacy

After successfully passing the qualifying examination, a student will formally organize his or her PhD Advisory Committee. A Plan of Graduate Work, approved by the Advisory Committee, is to be submitted to the Graduate School. The Advisory Committee will ask that the student take certain courses in the student’s areas of specialization and conduct a preliminary oral examination. A student is awarded “PhD Candidacy” when he or she passes all the courses recommended by the committee and the preliminary oral examination.

The purpose of the preliminary oral examination is to determine the student’s knowledge of the subject in which he or she intends to conduct research.

Failure in the preliminary oral examination may be cause for termination of enrollment in the PhD Program. This decision is at the discretion of the student’s Advisory Committee.

Final Oral Defense and Dissertation

Final Defense

A PhD Candidate will be awarded the PhD degree when he or she passes all courses required for graduation, writes a satisfactory PhD dissertation, and successfully passes the “Defense” conducted by the Advisory Committee, in addition to fulfilling all other conditions required of the Graduate School.

Each PhD student must pass a final oral examination conducted by the student’s advisory committee. The student must show that his or her work meets the scholarly and originality standards required by the University for the awarding of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Unanimous approval by the advisory committee is required for passing an oral examination. Such approval may be conditioned on satisfactory completion of additional work. Failure of the examination terminates the student’s graduate study unless the student’s advisory committee unanimously recommends re-examination. Only one re-examination is permitted and at least one full semester must elapse before the re-examination is held.

Submission of Dissertation

Upon passing the PhD final oral examination, each PhD student must have the dissertation approved by each member of his or her advisory committee. The dissertation must be submitted to the thesis editor of the Graduate School and must conform to the Graduate School’s Electronic Theses and Dissertation website guidelines.

OR Theses and Dissertations

Request for Diploma

Each student who expects to complete all requirements for the degree by the end of the semester or summer session should submit a Request for Diploma within the first three weeks of classes in the corresponding semester or first summer session. Forms for this purpose are available from the Graduate School.