PhD in Microsystems Engineering


Read more about this program on the school's website

Program Description

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Explore the future of nanotechnology as you work to address the technical challenges of micro-and nano-systems through analysis, research, and integration.

The multidisciplinary doctorate degree in microsystems engineering builds on the fundamentals of traditional engineering and science combined with curriculum and research activities addressing the numerous technical challenges of micro- and nano-systems. These include the manipulation of electrical, photonic, optical, mechanical, chemical, and biological functionality to process, sense, and interface with the world at a nanometer scale. This nanotechnology Ph.D. program provides a foundation to explore future technology through research in nano-engineering, design methods, and technologies and their integration into micro- and nano-scaled systems.

The microsystems engineering doctorate includes the following areas of exploration:

  • Next-generation nanoelectronics including:
    • development of new techniques, processes, and architectures for nanoelectronic and nano-optoelectronic devices
    • exploration into new materials research including germanium, III-V materials, carbon nanotubes, and spintronics
  • Photovoltaic research in silicon, compound semiconductor, and organic solar cells
  • Photonics and nanophotonics imaging, communications, and sensing research including couplers, micro-lasers, micro-detectors, integrated silicon waveguides, silicon spectrometers, and biosensors
  • MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical systems), MEOMS (micro-electro-optical-mechanical systems), and NEMS (nano-electro-mechanical systems) device, processing, and materials research for smart sensors, actuators, biochips, and micro-implantable appliances
  • Scaled micro- and nanoelectronics for integration into biomedical systems
  • New and improved technologies in organic electronic components and devices
  • Nanomaterials research including carbon nanotubes, nanoparticles, quantum dots, self-assembly materials and their applications in electronics, optics, and materials science
  • Microfluidics research on the behavior, control, and manipulation of fluids at the micro-scale


The program fulfills a critical need for an expanded knowledge base and expertise in the innovation, design, fabrication, and application of micro- and nano-scale materials, processes, devices, components, and systems. RIT is an internationally recognized leader in education and research in the fields of microsystems and nanoscale engineering.

The curriculum is structured to provide a sound background and a thorough foundation in engineering and science through world-class education in the innovative application of educational technologies and research experiences.

Program highlights

The program is designed for students with a strong background in engineering and the physical sciences, and with an interest in a hands-on exploration into new fields of micro- and nano-systems.

  • The program has a renowned, multidisciplinary faculty that shares resources and expertise over a wide variety of micro- and nano-scale technologies. The program is administered by core faculty from RIT’s colleges of engineering and science.
  • Unique state-of-the-art research laboratories have been developed to provide a focus for microsystems and nanoscale engineering research across traditional disciplinary boundaries. A semiconductor and microsystems fabrication clean-room constitute part of the research facilities, providing students access to the most advanced micro- and nano-electronic processing capabilities.
  • Students explore applications of microsystems and nanotechnology through close collaboration with industry and government laboratories.
  • Graduates have discovered exciting opportunities in new technology frontiers.

Plan of study

A total of 66 credit hours of combined graduate course work and research are required for completion of the program. The course work requires a combination of foundation courses, major and minor technical area courses, and electives. The student must pass the qualifying exam, the candidacy exam, and the dissertation defense exam to complete the degree requirements.

Phase 1: The first phase prepares students with the foundation in science and engineering required for the program as well as to determine the student's ability to do independent research. This includes the foundation and specialization courses taken during the first year together with the successful completion of the qualifying exam. The qualifying exam tests the student’s ability to think and learn independently, to critically evaluate current research work in microsystems engineering, and to use good judgment and creativity to determine appropriate directions for future research work.

Phase 2: The second phase continues students course work and preliminary dissertation research. Much of this course work supports the dissertation research to be conducted in the third phase. This phase is completed when the student has finished most of the formal course work as prescribed in the program of study, has prepared the dissertation proposal, and has passed the candidacy examination.

Phase 3: The third phase includes the completion of the experimental and/or theoretical work needed to complete the student’s dissertation along with the required publication of results. The research review milestone is held as a meeting during this phase, as is the defense of the dissertation, which consists of a public oral presentation and examination.

The course work requirements are divided into four parts to ensure that students complete a well-rounded program of study with the necessary concentration in their specialized field.

Foundation courses

Students complete the following foundation courses: Microelectronics I (MCEE-601), Introduction to Nanotechnology and Microsystems (MCSE-702), Material Science for Microsystems Engineering (MCSE-703), and Theoretical Methods in Materials Science and Engineering (MTSE-704).

Major technical interest area

Students complete a sequence of three courses in the major technical research area and a sequence of two courses in a support area.

Minor technical interest areas

Students complete a two-course sequence in a minor technical area which should be outside of the student's undergraduate degree major.

Elective courses

Students complete at least two elective courses, in addition to the foundation and technical interest courses.

General course requirements

The total number of credit hours required for the degree depends upon the highest degree level completed by the student before entering the program. Students entering without prior graduate work must complete a minimum of 39 credit hours of course work as outlined above. A minimum of 18 research credits and a total of 66 total credits are required. Credits beyond the minimum of 39 course and 18 research requirements can be taken from either category to reach the 66 credit total.

Students entering the program with a master’s degree may be permitted up to 24 course credit hours toward those required for the degree, based on the approval of the program director.

All students are required to maintain a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) to remain in good standing in the program.

Preparing a program of study

Students should prepare a program of study after passing the qualifying exam and no later than the spring semester of the second year. The program of study should be reviewed periodically by the student and the adviser, and modifications should be made as necessary. Leading up to or upon completion of the candidacy exam, the student’s adviser and the advisory committee may add additional course work requirements to ensure the student is sufficiently prepared to carry out and complete their dissertation research.

Qualifying examination

Every student must take the qualifying examination, which tests student’s ability to think and learn independently, to critically evaluate current research work in the field of microsystems engineering, and to use good judgment and creativity to determine appropriate directions for future research work. The exam must be completed successfully before a student can submit a thesis proposal and attempt the candidacy examination.

Research proposal

A research topic, chosen by the student and their research adviser, becomes the basis for the dissertation. The research proposal sets forth both the exact nature of the matter to be investigated and a detailed account of the methods to be employed. In addition, the proposal usually contains material supporting the importance of the topic selected and the appropriateness of the research methods to be employed.

Candidacy examination

The candidacy examination is an oral examination based on the dissertation research proposal and allows the advising committee to judge the student's ability to execute a research task and to communicate the results. The exam also serves to evaluate the proposed topic to ensure that if completed as posed it constitutes an original contribution to knowledge.

Research review milestone

The research review milestone is administered by the student's adviser and the advisory committee between the time the student passes the candidacy exam and registers for the dissertation defense. This normally occurs approximately six months prior to the Dissertation Defense.

Dissertation defense and examination

The culmination of a student’s work toward the doctorate degree is the publication of their research. In addition to developing experimental and technical skills during the creation of research, a student needs to acquire the necessary literary skills to communicate results to others. The preparation of the proposal and the dissertation manuscripts will demonstrate these skills. It is also expected that these skills are developed through the publication of technical papers and communications. The dissertation defense and examination is scheduled after all course requirements for the degree have been successfully completed.

Typical Job Titles

Process Engineer Device Engineer
Development Engineer Research Engineer
Equipment Engineer Principle Engineer
Process Integration Engineer Manufacturing Yield Engineer
Photolithography Engineer Field Applications Engineer

Admission Requirements

To be considered for admission to the doctorate program in microsystems engineering, candidates must complete a graduate application and fulfill the following requirements:

  • Complete a graduate application.
  • Hold a baccalaureate degree (or equivalent) from an accredited university or college in the physical sciences or engineering.
  • Submit official transcripts (in English) from all previously completed undergraduate and graduate course work.
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 (or equivalent).
  • Submit scores from the GRE with minimum requirements of 156 (verbal), 156 (quantitative), and 3.5 writing.
  • Submit a current resume or curriculum vitae.
  • Submit a personal statement of educational objectives that specifically addresses research interests.
  • Submit at least two letters of academic and/or professional recommendation.
  • International applicants whose native language is not English must submit scores from the TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE. A minimum TOEFL score of 100 (internet-based) is required. A minimum IELTS score of 7.0 is required. The English language test score requirement is waived for native speakers of English or for those submitting transcripts from degrees earned at American institutions.

Additional Info


Doctoral students’ work is overseen by an adviser, the advisory committee, and the program’s director.

Last updated May 2020

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With more than 80 graduate programs in high-paying, in-demand fields and scholarships, assistantships and fellowships available, we invite you to take a closer look at RIT. Don't be fooled by the word "technology" in our name. At RIT, you will discover a university of artists and designers on the one hand, and scientists, engineers, and business leaders on the other – a collision of the right brain and the left brain. Read less