There are three major steps to completition of the Ph.D. degree in EE-Systems after admission to the Ph.D. program: Screening Exam, Qualification Exam (Quals), and Dissertation Defense.
A typical time frame for a student is to take the screening after completing the MSEE (~1.5 years after BSEE). Around this time, the student usually finds a research advisor. For students recruited by faculty, this obviously occurs much earlier. For students who come to USC without an advisor, this usually occurs by taking classes with a professor, then directed research, etc.
Once a student has passed the screening exam and has an advisor, he/she typically begins research in earnest and completes the majority of the required EE coursework. This is typically another 1.5 years. Once the student has a good plan for the disseration and some good preliminary results, the quals are taken. At this time, the student forms a committee. This is usually 3 faculty in communictaions, 1 in EE, not in communications, but from the students EE-minor area, and another outside member, from the students minor area (outside EE). The current format of the quals is a written proposal and a presentation to this five-member committee, typically scheduled for 1 hour. After successful completion of this exam, the student forms his/her disertation committee comprising the chair (dissertation advisor), the outside member and one of the other three EE faculty from the committe. A qualification exam is not open to other students.
After passing the quals, the student must register for EE794, Ph.D. Dissertation, which is two units. Six units of EE794 must be completed, and no more than two units per semester can be taken. So, 3 semesters of disseration are required, with the summer semester allowable.
Students must also complete a minor outside of EE. The area depends on research focus, but is typically in Mathematics, Computer Science, or Physics. Each professor will have specific preferences for his/her student.
Once the student has prepared his/her disseration and is ready to defend it (this is by agreement with the advisor), the 3-member committee is convened. The defense is usually and interactive presentation by the student, scheduled for approximately 1 hour, but typically lasting 1.5-2 hours. All Ph.D. defense exams are open to other students and faculty.
So, a typical timeline is 1.5 years to screening, 1.5 years to quals, and another 1.5 years to defense. This varies considerably depending on the student, the advisor, and most significantly, the unpredictable nature of research.
As always, students should refer to the graduate student handbook, available from the EE Department Webpage, for details and officail degree guidelines.
Below are informal, but detailed guidelines provided by SIPI Ph.D. students:
All graduating Ph.D. students in the SIgnal and Image Processing Institute should also refer to the SIPI Student Exit Checklist which contains a list of other tasks they must perform in the process of finishing their studies and leaving USC.