Doctor of Philosophy in Operations Research (Ph.D.) | NC State OR

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Ph.D. in Operations Research

Last Updated: 07/19/2022 and all information on this page is accurate and up-to-date

The Doctor of Philosophy in Operations Research (Ph.D.) is for you, a student with outstanding abilities and strong research interests, and prepares you for a career as a research scientist in government, industry or academia. To obtain this degree you must:

  • Complete a minimum of 72 credit hours (54 credit hours if you already have a master’s degree from another institution),
  • Successfully complete your written qualifying exam. The written qualifying examination is given once a year by an OR faculty committee member appointed by the OR program director.
  • Successfully complete your oral preliminary exam. This exam is given to each student separately by your Academic Advisory Committee.
  • Write and successfully defend your dissertation. This defense is conducted for each student separately by your Academic Advisory Committee.

Course Requirements

  • You must satisfy the course requirements for the MSOR degree.
  • 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.
  • If you received your MS degree from NC State, you can transfer up to 36 credit hours towards your Ph.D. I you received your MS degree from a university other than NC State, you may transfer up to 18 credit hours towards your Ph.D.

OR Seminar

You are expected to attend the OR 801 Seminar in Operations Research during each semester, and to register for the seminar for two semesters. Your previous registration for OR 601  Seminar in Operations Research 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 your potential to pursue high-quality, independent research at the early stage of your graduate studies.


The OR Ph.D. 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, you complete a sequence of courses and a written examination. Area exams are offered in Dynamic Programming and Dynamical Systems (DPDS), Data Analytics, Mathematics, and Industrial and Systems Engineering. Part I and Part II should be taken at the same time.

Part I

LNS Area

Linear (OR 505 Linear Programming), Nonlinear (OR 706 Nonlinear Programming) and Stochastics (MA/ST 546 Probability and Stochastic Processes and MA/ST 747 Probability and Stochastic Processes II or ISE 760 Applied Stochastic Models in Industrial Engineering) examinations.

Part II


Take both Dynamic Programming (OR 709 Dynamic Programming) and Dynamical Systems (OR 531 Dynamic Systems and Multivariable Control I) courses, and take either the OR 709 or the OR/MA 531 examination.

Data Analytics Area

Take both CSC 505 Design and Analysis of Algorithms and ISE 537 Statistical Models for Systems Analytics in Industrial Engineering and take the ISE 537 examination (there is no CSC 505 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 Numerical Analysis I and MA 780 Numerical Analysis II)
  • Applied Matrix Theory (MA 523 Linear Transformations and Matrix Theory and MA 723 Theory of Matrices with Applications)
  • Analysis (MA 515 Analysis I and MA 715 Analysis II)
  • Ordinary Differential Equations (MA 532 Ordinary Differential Equations I and MA 732 Ordinary Differential Equations II)
  • Partial Differential Equations (MA 534 Introduction To Partial Differential Equations and MA 734 Partial Differential Equations)

OR PRO TIP: 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 (ISE 515 Manufacturing Process Engineering and ISE 716 Automated Systems Engineering)
  • Production Systems (ISE 723 Production Planning Scheduling and Inventory Control and ISE 754 Logistics Engineering)
  • Ergonomics (ISE 540 Human Factors in Systems Design and ISE 544 Occupational Biomechanics)

OR PRO TIP: OR students may NOT use the SA&O option of the Industrial and Systems Engineering Qualifying Exam as their sequence.

The LNS, DPDS, and Data Analytics examinations are offered by the Operations Research Program, and study guides are available from the OR administrative offices. You should check with the individual departments offering the other Area examinations for more information. Under exceptional circumstances, you may petition to be allowed to take an exam in an area not listed above. Such a petition will be evaluated by the Ph.D. qualifying examination committee to determine its appropriateness in view of your 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 Ph.D. qualifying examination at the time when they are ready. Only after passing the exam, can you formally organize your Ph.D. 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 are determined by the OR Director and faculty who actually conduct exams in each area.

If you enter the program with a master’s degree, you should take the exam within one year. If you enter the OR program with a bachelor’s degree, you should take the exam within two years. You may take the exam even before a master’s degree is conferred. Taking the Ph.D. qualifying examination is 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 the Area examination.

The examination committee, in evaluating your performance, will include consideration of your coursework, impressions of faculty who have had contact with you and any other factors that indicate your potential for successful completion of the Ph.D. degree.

If you fail either Part I or Part II (or both), you 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 Ph.D. Candidacy

After successfully passing the qualifying examination, you will formally organize your Ph.D. 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 you take certain courses in your areas of specialization and conduct a preliminary oral examination. You are awarded “Ph.D. Candidacy” when you pass all the courses recommended by the committee and the preliminary oral examination.

The purpose of the preliminary oral examination is to determine your knowledge of the subject in which you intend to conduct research.

Failure in the preliminary oral examination may be cause for termination of enrollment in the Ph.D. Program. This decision is at the discretion of your Advisory Committee.

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.

Final Oral Defense and Dissertation

Final Defense

  • You will be awarded the Ph.D. degree when you:
  • Pass all courses required for graduation
  • Write a satisfactory Ph.D. dissertation
  • Successfully pass the “Defense” conducted by your Advisory Committee
  • Fulfill all other conditions required of the Graduate School

You must pass a final oral examination conducted by your advisory committee. You must show that your work meets the scholarly and originality standards required by the University for awarding a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

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 your graduate study unless your advisory committee unanimously recommends re-examination. Only one re-examination is permitted, and at least one semester must elapse before the re-examination is held.

Submission of Dissertation

Upon passing the Ph.D. final oral examination, you must have the dissertation approved by each member of your 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

If you expect to complete all requirements for the degree by the end of the semester or summer session, you 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.