PhD Online Programs in Math, Science & Engineering

Online PhD Programs in Math Science and Engineering are a convenient format in which to earn a terminal degree in your chosen technical field. Often, an online PhD program in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) is geared to working professionals. PhD students might therefore be encouraged to problem-solve current issues faced by their employers as part of their studies.

Why earn a doctorate degree in STEM Online?written by Rana Waxman

Online PhD Programs in Math Science and Engineering: Overview

Online PhD programs in math science and engineering are research-based degrees that are offered in diverse areas within these broader disciplines. Many programs include three parts: (1) academic coursework, (2) independent research (3) dissertation.

  1. Coursework: Online PhD students typically take a full set of academic courses and classes in research methods. The purpose of these courses is to help individuals develop breadth and depth of knowledge. Sometimes the series of courses is prescribed, while other times, a student may create their own degree plan with an academic advisor. After their courses have been completed, students may be tested on the material.
  2. Research: Ultimately, the courses serve as a platform for independent research in a student’s chosen area of emphasis. Often the area lines up with active faculty research projects at one’s university; therefore, students have a faculty mentor who may be able to guide them through their process.
  3. Dissertation: The goal of the independent research is to produce a dissertation. A dissertation is meant to show a PhD student’s thought leadership. Therefore, it is usually a substantive document, often of publishable quality that relates new insight or theory to one’s discipline.

Per the BLS, “A graduate degree will allow an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or

to do research and development.” i

Online Doctor of Computer Science (DCS)

An online Doctor of Computer Science is a professional doctorate degree. In contrast to a research PhD, graduates may be expected to propose solutions to issues related to big data analytics. This means that students could learn to use prevalent theory and technology in innovative ways, but are not necessarily expected to produce a new theory. Rather, they might be expected to apply their knowledge to do things such as improve information security.

Some online DCS degree programs could be structured in a three-year format.

First-year students might take a series of courses in computer science and information topics. The range of these courses could cover business intelligence, database systems, and analytics for big data. Also, students might be oriented to research methods and quantitative analysis as well as how to write at the doctoral level. The research component might result in a broad overview of the student’s area of emphasis to put the research into context and inform the student’s selection of a dissertation topic.

In their second year, online students might further develop an in-depth grasp of their coursework and the research methods needed in their chosen area of study.

The third year is often the time where the rest of the instructional and emphasis courses are taken. Also, students take the rest of their doctoral research courses so they could complete their independent study.

To graduate, students usually must successfully complete and defend their research proposal and final dissertation. The dissertation is an extensive document that often melds a literature review, a major study, and a proposal for further investigation.

Online PhD Programs in Engineering

An online PhD in Engineering often highlights innovation, research, scholarship and education. Specific program requirements could depend on a student’s prior education and the area they choose to anchor their research. In terms of this research, a university may have active faculty research projects and usually lists these in their program description. Therefore, each school may have quite distinct areas of emphasis on offer.

For those who enter with a MS, the course of study might include at least six courses (18 credits) that include a graduate-level math course. An extra 30 credits might be devoted to research. At some point – possibly before the end of the second semester, a student often takes two qualifying exams. These might be in math and a specific discipline. In addition, he/she is required to defend a proposal of dissertation as well as a final dissertation defense.

Online PhD in Biochemical Engineering

An online PhD in Biochemical Engineering could offer advanced courses in areas such as polymer science, biopharm facility design, and chemical kinetics. Biochemists involved in basic research might study the molecular mechanisms by which cells feed, divide, and grow. Others might study the evolution of plants and animals to understand how genetic traits are carried through successive generations. Those who conduct applied research attempt to develop products (e.g. biofuels, drugs) that might improve people’s lives.ii

Consequently, in some universities students might anchor their research in one of the areas listed below.

  • Computational Modeling
  • Biomaterials and Drug Delivery
  • Gene Therapy and Blood Substitutes
  • Pharmaceutical Processing
  • Systems Biology

Online PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering

An online PhD in Civil and Environmental Engineering might explore basic ecological principles, regulatory issues, fluid mechanics, forensic evaluation and many more topics. Students may choose to focus their studies in a specific area. For instance, a focus in geotechnical engineering could cover courses in transportation, water resources, environmental, and structural engineering. A structural engineering emphasis might balance courses in design, analysis and theory, with emphasis placed on modern structural codes and practical applications. In a transportation engineering focus, students might learn about planning, management, traffic and environmental studies, highway design and construction.

Online PhD in Electrical Engineering

An online PhD in Electrical Engineering might allow students to study topics such as renewable energy policy, biomedical signals and computer communication networks. Students may learn to design, develop, test, and oversee the manufacture of electrical equipment. Equipment could include things such as electric motors, radar and navigation systems, communications systems, or power generation equipment.iii Online PhD students might anchor their research in a variety of topics. 

  • Advanced antenna design
  • Advanced emission control algorithms for engines
  • Digital hardware and FPGA security
  • Electrical communications
  • Photonic fiber sensors

Online PhD in Mechanical Engineering

An online PhD in Mechanical Engineering could enable students to study a wide range of topics, as mechanical engineering is a broad discipline. Course curriculum could help students learn to design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices, such as tools, engines, and machines.iv Students might take classes in the biomechanics of soft tissues, robotics, continuum mechanics and digital control. Areas of emphasis might include thermal sciences, nanotechnology, mechanics or bioengineering.

Online PhD in Systems Engineering

An online PhD in Systems Engineering might enable students to refine their ability to solve problems within complex systems. To do this, students might learn to utilize tools from a variety of fields. This could include detailed study of control systems, operations research, reliability and performance engineering, risk analysis, software engineering, and networking and security. Some of the topics students might address in their courses could include the following.

  • Information technology
  • Engineering project management
  • Systems engineering processes
  • Systems engineering architecture
  • Simulation modeling and experimentation

As Ph.D.-level scientists, candidates might learn to drive innovation and lead improvements in an area of focus for their company and/or their discipline.

Online PhD in Engineering Management

An online PhD in Engineering Management may help students gain the skills to assess the potential of new ideas, protect a company’s intellectual property, and see projects to fruition.

Students may take a variety of required courses in topics such as statistics, technology policy, risk, and business intelligence. Courses in research design and methods for technology leaders are usually included in this core. Emphasis courses could help students refine their knowledge and tailor studies to suit their goals. These could draw from an approved set of courses in areas such as engineering law, quality management, and systems analysis.

Online PhD Programs in Math, Science and Engineering: Admissions

Since Online PhD Programs in Math Science and Engineering have diverse admission requirements, interested students should refer to individual schools. In many cases, applicants need a minimum of a Bachelor's degree. However, other programs might stipulate they require applicants to have earned a Master of Science (MS) and have prior research experience.

Further admission requirements might include references (academic and professional), GRE score, resume and a statement of purpose. A statement is often the place that an applicant could describe their background, interests, and why the specific PhD program and school draws a student’s attention.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a PhD Online?

The time it could take to earn an online PhD in math, science or engineering fields could vary for several reasons.

Prior Education: For one, students who enter a program with a Master of Science (MS) might need to take fewer graduate courses than the student who enters with a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree

Exam(s): Second, students must usually take and successfully pass a comprehensive exam before they could move to the final stage (dissertation) of their program. If not, they may need to retake the exam

Full- or Part-Time: Also, while it might take a full-time student from three to six years to earn a PhD in some subjects, part-time PhD programs may also be available, and these extend the length.

Why a PhD Online Program?

Why choose an online PhD program in math science and engineering? Distance students might have identical course material, instructors and course pace as students in the on-campus classroom. Once earned, the PhD award may not indicate that you completed your degree online. It might simply reflect that you earned your degree from a specific university.

Per Bureau of Labor Statistics data, some statistics show that unemployment rates have been “consistently lower and earnings are significantly higher for people with a Ph.D. degree than they are for people with lower levels of educational attainment."v

Format and Structure

Universities with online PhD programs in math science and engineering might vary in how they format their programs. Sometimes students attend only select courses in person, and may or may not require a campus visit for the dissertation. Other times, there is no need to go to campus.

Traditional universities might offer a choice of synchronous or asynchronous delivery.

In fact, when a program is synchronous, students may be welcome to attend class on campus whenever their schedule permits. This format allows students to watch and interact via web conference while the lecture takes place live on campus. Or, they could watch a recorded version after work or on the weekend.

By contrast, some universities might have 100% online PhD programs, where there is no need to attend campus. These might be very flexible, and could feature things such as weekly course starts to suit the at-work student’s busy schedule. Also, individualized online interaction might take the place of any campus visits; therefore, one could live out of proximity and not have to relocate.

Other features of online PhD programs in math, science and engineering might include some or all the items below. Make sure to read through individual program descriptions.

  • Take part in real-time. Log in from anywhere in the world with internet access.
  • Access archived class material at your convenience, 24/7.
  • Download class material to review it anywhere – no connection required.
  • Earn your degree entirely online or supplement online courses with those on campus.
  • Access your lectures years from now. Your class is a virtual reference library.

Take the Next Step

Easily compare sponsored schools with online PhD programs in Math, Science and Engineering next. Filter by subject to find the topic that might suit your career needs and personal interests. Then, contact universities directly through the on-page form provided.

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