Online Ph.D. in Systems Engineering

We will begin accepting applications for the fall 2024 cohort starting in January 2024

View the current program flyer

Visit the Application Page to apply

The GW Online Engineering Program offers the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in systems engineering. The doctoral programs meet on Saturdays to enable professionals who are employed full-time to pursue doctoral study and research in an intense, focused environment alongside like-minded fellow students and leading faculty.

Program Learning Objectives

The objectives of the doctor of philosophy program in systems engineering are to ensure that graduates:

  • Demonstrate, orally and in writing, mastery of broad-based knowledge in systems engineering, and of a specific area of knowledge relevant to their own research interests, including theories and methodologies, along with mastery of a research methodology.
  • Demonstrate mastery of the methods, tools, and ethics of conducting primary research, and mastery of discovering and effectively evaluating appropriate secondary research sources, to support an original idea of their own.
  • Develop and present an original study to the scholarly community that is based on research in primary sources and that makes a significant contribution to the field, and that demonstrates the ability to engage in a productive research career.

Program Format

The program consists of a minimum of 54 credit hours divided into two stages: the classroom phase and the research phase.

Classroom Phase

The first stage is a classroom experience of eight graduate-level, three-credit-hour courses. During the classroom phase, students take two classes each session, and course sessions are ten weeks long. Classes are held on Saturdays, and each class meeting is three hours long. Morning class meets from 9:00a-12:00pm (Eastern Time) and afternoon class meets from 1:00-4:00pm (Eastern Time). During the classroom phase, classes must be taken in lock-step with the cohort and cannot be taken out of sequence. Class attendance is expected. Distance learning classes meet online through Blackboard and Zoom. Classes will also be recorded for future viewing.

Classroom courses include work in such areas as discrete systems simulation, data analysis, knowledge management, advanced systems engineering, and research methods for Ph.D. students. These courses are designed to provide students the necessary technical knowledge and research techniques to complete the dissertation successfully.

Ph.D. students must complete the classroom phase of the program with a GPA of 3.4 or higher. If a doctoral student receives a grade below B−, graduate study is terminated and further enrollment prohibited.

Research Phase

The second stage is an independent effort of at least 30 credit hours of research culminating in the dissertation defense. In this stage, the student’s progress is measured in three milestones:

  1. Successfully passing a qualifying oral exam before a faculty panel
  2. Acceptance of an original article for publication in an approved journal
  3. Successful defense of an original dissertation

See the “Milestones” section below for more information.

In the research phase the student begins specialized study and research under the supervision of a member of the faculty. Faculty research directors meet regularly with students (via distance learning) to develop and refine the dissertation. Students are expected to attend each meeting. Students usually complete the research phase in two years.

Upon successful completion of the classroom phase, students will be registered for 3 credit hours of EMSE 8999 Dissertation Research in Summer semesters and 6 credit hours in each Fall and Spring semester culminating in the dissertation defense. Extension beyond 30 credit hours of EMSE 8999 may be approved depending on the student’s satisfactory progress toward achievement of the milestones. In such a case, the student will be registered for the same number of credit hours as described above. The overall time limit for earning the degree may not exceed five years (including any leaves of absence). Candidates who make good progress may accelerate the rate of their dissertation research by registering for more than the standard credit hours per semester, and thus may finish the program early.


To progress through the Online Engineering Ph.D. program, students must satisfactorily complete four Milestones as requirements toward completion of the degree.

Milestone 1: To be admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree, the student must earn a grade point average of at least 3.4 and finish with no grade below B- in the eight classroom courses taken for the doctoral program.

Milestone 2: By no later than the first semester of research, the student must be accepted to present their proposed research at an appropriate engineering professional society conference. This will serve as the qualifying exam. If the candidate is unsuccessful in being accepted to a conference, their studies will be terminated and their work will be transferred to a professional degree program.

Milestone 3: Next, the candidate must submit an article based on the results of the dissertation research to an approved, refereed scholarly journal. Credit must be given in the publication to the fact that the material is abstracted, summarized, or developed from a dissertation submitted to the George Washington University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Before the candidate is permitted to defend the dissertation, this original article must be accepted for publication.

Milestone 4: The student defends the dissertation in the Final Examination before a committee of faculty members. The SEAS Online Programs Office schedules the examination in consultation with Professor Sarkani and the student. The Final Examination must be taken within 2 months after the journal article is accepted for publication. When the Final Examination committee is convinced of the quality and originality of the candidate’s contribution to knowledge as well as his or her mastery of the scholarship and research techniques of the field, the committee recommends the candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

Candidates who do not successfully complete the requirements within five years will be awarded a professional degree.

Graduation and Scholarship Requirements

To meet graduation requirements, Ph.D. students can have no grades below B-, and they must complete the classroom phase of the program with a GPA of 3.4 or higher. If a doctoral student receives any grade below B-, graduate study is terminated and further enrollment prohibited.


For more information about program tuition and financial aid for the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program, please visit the Tuition & Financial Aid page.

View the current program flyer

Visit the Application Page to apply

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